Tour operators are warning that the February school holiday week in 2009 is going to be tricky as nearly all schools in the UK have the same week off- when usually the holidays are spread over at least a fortnight. The message is that availability will be low and prices high, already visible if you go to a 'low cost' airline website and try to book a flight to the Alps around Valentine's Day, returning a week later. The message from Europe's leading snow report provider, http://www.skiinfo.com target=_blank>skiinfo.com, is why wait? Why not ski in the October holidays instead when availability is high, prices are low, you can book at the last minute and you might even get a late bit of autumn sunshine?
Nearly 20 European ski areas are open in October, and many of them are laying on special festival weekends during the month with new season gear tests in the daytime and live bands performing in the evenings. For terrain park fans, the first of the new parks and pipes will already be open.
Austria leads the way with eight ski areas expecting to be open. The Stubai glacier near Innsbruck, which recently received fresh snow, plans to re-open in mid-September for the winter. The same is true for the Pitztal Glacier which will unveil a new snowmaking system from Israel, capable of making snow at high positive temperatures.
Solden re-opens for the winter ski season on its twin glaciers on Saturday, October 11. Tickets cost 38 Euros ($55.17) per day for adults through December 19. The resort hosts the Northern Hemisphere's World Cup opening races with men's and women's giant slalom events on the 25th and 26th. The event kicks off with a World Cup party in the resort centre on the preceding Friday evening, with the option of paying 100 Euros ($145.20) a seat to attend the Frozen Fire launch event at 9.30pm, including meal.
Four Austrian areas are already open and will still be so in October. The Kaunertal glacier currently has nine kilometres of ski runs open, served by three lifts, with a snow base of 180cm (six feet), which http://www.skiinfo.com target=_blank>skiinfo.com reports was recently topped up with four inches of fresh powder.
The Hintertux glacier currently has snow depths of up to 125cm (four feet) and the centre will organize its famous Pow(d)er weekend winter season opener on October 10th to 12th. This will include testing of the season's new equipment, live bands performing for après ski events and Erdinger 'white beer' parties in the resort's Sommerberg arena. Tux hopes for a powder snow covering of the 60km (37 miles) of runs which will be open for the weekend. Ahead of the festivities the resort opened its Betterpark terrain park on September 13th. Finally, the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier above Kaprun will also be welcoming October guests, as will the Dachstein Glacier which is currently sitting on a 150cm (five feet) base.
In other countries in the Alps the number of opportunities are more limited, but still worthwhile. In Switzerland,
Zermatt is one of the few ski areas still open 365 days a year, with one of Europe's largest and highest glaciers with lifts touching 3,800m (12,468 feet). The glacier at its neighbour, Saas Fee, will also be open. Glacier 3000 above Les Diablerets and close to Gstaad has also announced it will re-open for downhill skiing and boarding in mid-October, subject to snow conditions. Three ski lifts will be operating on the glacier accessing runs including the 7 km (4.4 miles) long Olden ski run. Glacier 3000's Monsterpark will also open subject to snow conditions. Pro-boarders rate it as one of the best snow parks for that time of the year and many arrive to train for the upcoming winter season. The park offers three levels of difficulty and includes a Super Pipe and Big Mama to get the adrenaline pumping in every snowboarder and freeskier. As well as the ski area Glacier 3000 operates the exciting Alpine Coaster, the highest of its kind in the world, which is a kind of downhill roller coaster accessed by a chair lift. The high adrenaline attraction features ten turns, six waves and three jumps along a one kilometre track, with a 520 degree turn culminating the experience.
In France, the glacier at Tignes reopened on September 26 after a four week closure. Les 2 Alpes has limited opening dates in October, but they'll be big days with its annual season opening festivities. The Mondial du Freeski will be staged on October 25th and 26th and the "Mondial du Snowboard" from October 31st to November 2nd.
In Italy, Passo Stelvio and Val Senales will be open. At the latter their 'Gentleman's' terrain park is due to re-open in the middle of the month for winter 2008-9. There will be a Snowboard Opening festival on the 18th and 19th, and an official Park Opening on the 25th and 26th.
The final choices are all in Norway where snow depths are currently up to an incredible five metres (nearly 17 feet) at the country's summer ski destinations, two of which, Folgefon and Galdhøpiggen, aim to stay open in to October.
On top of the list above, keep a weather eye on http://www.skiinfo.com target=_blank>skiinfo.com for details of snow conditions. Resorts in Scandinavia including Ruka and Yllas in Finland, often open in October too if the snow comes early and its cold
enough to fire up the snow guns.