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Less snow is falling worldwide, but these ski resorts are good bets for snowy slopes this season

Dec 6, 2023, 10:13 AM

A skier takes a huge jump at Kirkwood Mountain Resort, which is already open for the '23-'24 ski se...

A skier takes a huge jump at Kirkwood Mountain Resort, which is already open for the '23-'24 ski season. Mandatory Credit: Tomas Cohen/Courtesy Vail Resorts

(CNN) — Skiers, take note.

Less snow is falling worldwide, according to analysis of data gathered since 1973 by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. The Northern Hemisphere’s middle latitudes (the area north of the tropics and south of the Arctic) are seeing the most notable decline.

Last winter, ski resorts in places such as Austria, Vermont, Switzerland and Spain’s Sierra Nevada region had unexpected closures because of unseasonably warm winter temperatures.

“In the United States, winters are now 2.3°F milder than a century ago,” said Bob Henson, a meteorologist and journalist with Yale Climate Connections. “Although heat waves are a huge risk with summer warming, winters are warming even more dramatically than summers in many areas,” he said.

In some ski areas, the effect has been drastic.

Once the world’s highest ski resort at over 17,000 feet (5,180 meters), Bolivia’s Chacaltaya now sits abandoned after a glacier melted away. And a small ski area in Le Sambuy, France, recently closed for good because of a lack of snow.

“The world’s warming winters are especially devastating for ski areas at lower elevations or in other settings that are just barely warm enough,” Henson said.

Planning a ski vacation requires some careful consideration for optimal conditions.

“As a general rule, the highest-altitude resorts – including several in the Colorado Rockies and the Western Alps – will have the most reliably cold weather and the longest snow seasons, since they’re less dependent on periodic Arctic intrusions in order to stay cold enough for snow,” said Henson.

And while high-altitude areas can suffer from prolonged dry periods, the ability to make snow can lessen the impact on ski conditions, he said. However, snowmaking has a “substantial carbon footprint,” he pointed out.

Managing ‘snow-sure’ expectations

As with any especially weather-dependent trip, balancing priorities can be tricky.

“We are really careful about what we say to clients when they ask for snow-sure resorts,” said Sarah Plaskitt of ski travel website Scout Ski.

“Everyone always wants village charm and high altitude and ski-in, ski-out. But charm comes from being old and traditional, and they didn’t build villages right up in the high-altitude slopes hundreds of years ago, nor did they design those villages around ski resorts.”

Plaskett recommends places such as Zermatt, Val d’Isère and Méribel  – popular ski resort towns in Switzerland and France – that have charming villages as well as access to higher-altitude slopes.

“It’s easy to obsess about snow before you arrive,” she said, and for some people, that obsession starts months in advance of a trip.

“All that matters is what the snow is like the moment you are putting on your boots,” she said. “Even if the snow is really bad, we rarely get complaints as everyone just ends up having a great time anyway.”

From Europe and Japan to Alaska and Utah, read on for some of the highest likelihoods for snowy slopes for a ski vacation this winter. (Just keep in mind that great snowfalls in previous years don’t 100% guarantee great snow this season.)

Alyeska Ski Area, Alaska

The ski season usually runs from late November to late-April at Alaska’s largest ski resort, Alyeska, located just 45 minutes from Anchorage in the Chugach Mountains and the resort town of Girdwood.

The slopes here – including what’s billed as the longest continuous double black diamond ski run in North America, on the resort’s North Face – see an average of 382 inches (about 970 centimeters) of annual snowfall, lending new meaning to steep and deep.

And the best news for skiers who suffer from altitude sickness? You’re only 2,300 feet (about 700 meters) above sea level where the cable car drops you at the top of Mount Alyeska, which means you can score all the big mountain ski thrills and powder without the potential altitude effects that can be an issue at much higher resorts.

Zermatt, Switzerland

The Swiss mountain town known for the Matterhorn is one of the biggest ski areas in the world and has the highest cable car station in all of Europe, too, at over 12,700 feet (about 3,870 meters).

You can usually ski year round in Zermatt atop a glacier at Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, where 13 miles (21.1 kilometers) of groomed runs offer views spanning some of France, Italy and Switzerland’s highest mountains in addition to the Matterhorn’s iconic peak.

Zermatt’s car-free village does alpine charm in a big way, especially when you’re staying at central spots such as the grande dame hotel Mont Cervin Palace, open since 1852, or the stylish Schweizerhof, both just steps from the town’s cable car and train station.

Whitewater Ski Resort, British Columbia, Canada

Ski resorts in Whistler and Banff are no slouches in the snow department. But don’t overlook Whitewater Ski Resort along Canada’s Powder Highway in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia, which sees some of Canada’s snowiest skiing conditions, too.

The resort gets roughly 222 inches (about 564 centimeters) of annual snowfall, according to OntheSnow.com, across more than 3,200 acres of total skiing terrain with a season that usually runs from December into April.

Stay close to the mountain at the affordable Alpine Inn & Suites (rates start around $90 per night, converted from CAD to USD) in the artsy mountain town of Nelson, which claims to have more restaurants per capita than foodie hot spots such as Vancouver and San Francisco.

Val Thorens, France

Part of the 3 Vallées (the largest connected ski area in the world), France’s Val Thorens takes the title of the highest ski resort in Europe, at an elevation of over 7,500 feet (about 2,285 meters).

The slopes here usually stay open well into May, with an average snowfall of more than 201 inches (about 510 centimeters) and over 90 miles (145 kilometers) of runs to schuss down

You can take some of the stress out of all the moving parts of a ski trip by making it an all-inclusive vacation when you stay at Club Med Val Thorens Sensations, where kids 3 and younger stay free and your ski pass, group lessons and meals and drinks are all wrapped into the price.

Hokkaido, Japan

A popular destination for keen Australian skiers and other intrepid powder hounds from Japan and abroad, Hokkaido island usually gets about a whopping 1,500 centimeters (590 inches) of snow a year thanks to Siberian winds that lash the region with light and dry powder.

It makes for predictably epic ski conditions at spots such as  Hanazono Niseko and Rusutsu, to name just a couple of Hokkaido’s over 100 ski resorts.

You’re not doing skiing in Japan correctly, of course, if you’re not spending time recuperating from the slopes in an onsen. One of Hokkaido’s best hot springs can be found south of Niseko and Rusutsu at Noboribetsu, a historical spa town known for its mineral-rich waters.

Alta, Utah

Last ski season, 13 of 15 Utah ski resorts broke all-time records for snowfall. But the fairest among them might be Alta Ski Area, just a 45-minute drive southeast of Salt Lake City in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains and consistently ranked among North America’s top ski resorts for snowfall, with an average of 352 inches (about 894 centimeters) accumulating annually, according to OntheSnow.com.

Alta’s 2022/2023 season was the resort’s snowiest on record, with 903 inches (2,294 centimeters) of the white stuff.

Plan to visit midweek for fewer crowds and to score lodging deals at Snowpine Lodge, where the onsite Stillwell Spa beckons for après-ski of the wellness variety and is housed inside a historic mining industry building with its original granite walls.

Kirkwood Mountain Resort, California

South Lake Tahoe saw its snowiest season on record last year, with Kirkwood Mountain Resort leading the resort pack with more than 700 inches of snow (1,778 centimeters).

It was an unusually epic season for the mountain, to be sure (although average snowfall at Kirkwood is a none-too-shabby 343 inches – about 871 centimeters). But the resort’s high base elevation of 7,800 feet (about 2,375 meters) — and its peak elevation of 9,800 feet (nearly 3,000 meters) — make it a reliable, snowy favorite for skiing in the Sierra Nevada.

Wolf Creek Ski Area, Colorado

Breckenridge, Aspen, Steamboat and Vail often take the spotlight in Colorado. But for the ski resort that’s often the snowiest in the state, head to Southwest Colorado and Wolf Creek Ski Area, where OntheSnow’s figure for average annual snowfall stacks up at 319 inches or 810 centimeters (compared to an average of 234 inches in Vail).

You can stay on the mountain, just a few miles from the slopes, at the no-frills Wolf Creek Ranch Ski Lodge, where rooms and cabins with full kitchens start from around $200 per night.

The outdoorsy town of South Fork, along the Rio Grande River about 19 miles away from the ski resort, is a good base for snowmobiling trips into the surrounding Rio Grande National Forest and has breweries, pizzerias and barbecue joints for low-key, après-ski fun.

Terry Ward is a Florida-based travel writer and freelance journalist in Tampa who learned the hard way about T-bars and snowboards in the French Alps.


The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

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Less snow is falling worldwide, but these ski resorts are good bets for snowy slopes this season