It is peak season in the Alps and it will be like that at least until the beginning of March. Schools will be closed for one or even two weeks in the big countries like France and Germany and this will results in crowds flooding the ski resorts in the Alps.You can expect a lot of people in the resorts and on the roads the next couple of weeks. From that perspective, it's not the perfect timing to chase storms. Too bad, becasue the snow cover in the Alps is really good.
It will be extremely busy in large parts of the Alps the next couple of weeks. The graph below shows how many people from which countries are heading for the Alps in the coming weeks. Especially the peak in the week from the 10th to the 17th of February is a exceptional.
The Alps are expecting 5 million skiers and snowboarders in that week, but the week before and the week after will also be busy. The graph above does not include all alpine countries, but the biggest ones are included. For example, 15 million skiers and snowboarders live in Germany and 9 million in France. You can also check out the underlying numbers yourself. Laurant Vanat has been researching winter sports for years and publishes a report every year. We have used the 2017 report for this article.
Although it is crowded everywhere and the whole of Europe has holidays, there are differences per week. Not everyone has their week off at the same time and not everyone goes to the same ski resort. For example, the French like to go to the ski areas in France, Dutch and Germans like to go to Austria, Italians like to ski in their own country and the English head for the big well-known and big resorts in France, Switzerland and Italy. You can also see differences within the country itself. People from the north of France prefer to visit the northern French Alps, people from Marseille and Nice prefer to drive to the southern French Alps, while residents from Bordeaux and Toulouse often go to the Pyrenees. Regional holiday allocation also has an effect on the spread of the crowds.
The table below is very useful for a good overview of the regional holidays (check out this link for all the data). The Italian school holidays are not included. These are determined regionally and are therefore difficult to trace.
Storms can not be led and certainly not because of school holidays. Storms come and go and so it may happen that the best PowderAlert of the season will be issued somewhere in the next four weeks. Just imagine you're in the Alps with family and friends, but you're in the wrong place. And if you're at home, hereby some advice how to avoid the crowds during peak season and ride powder.
1. Avoid the large (freeride) ski areas It's much more crowded than normal in the large ski areas during peak season. And this results in more and more people leaving the marked slopes. Not bothered by any kind of knowledge and encouraged by the beautiful pictures in the brochure and on the website of the ski resort or tour operator they leave the marked slopes in search of the white gold. It's powder panic galore, especially after a dump. You can probably only find untracked powder with local knowledge and/or with a local mountain or ski guide. Resorts like Espace Killy, Paradiski, Val Thorens, Chamonix, Verbier, Courmayeur, St. Anton am Arlberg, Ischgl and so on are the ones that you want to avoid.
2. Go for smaller family resorts Although it's also crowded in familiy resorts, this does not mean that the powder will be tracked fast. Especially smaller ski areas with many (dense) forests have a lot of potential. People live according to a certain rhythm in these areas. The ski lessons start (lines at the lifts) between 9 am and 10 am and the crowds spread out after that time. They have lunch between 12 and 2 (lines in the restaurants) and they're back on their skis after 2 o'clock. Add the fact that most families don't like bad weather and snowfall and it results in quiet slopes on a day with snowfall. You can definitely ride powder in these smaller resorts, even days after the dump. Another tip: stay in small cities close to the resorts. More options for often better prices.
3. Switzerland isn't cheap Switzerland has become (too) expensive for pretty much everybody not living in Switzerland the last couple of years. A lift pass of 70-80 CHF is no exception in the bigger resorts and expect to pay around 25 CHF for a spaghetti. The Swiss themselves found out that their strong currency is worth even more abroad and ski more in more in France, Italy and Austria. They can get a four star hotel in Austria for the price of a three star hotel in Switzerland. And as a result it's not crowded at all in smaller ski resorts. It still is in well known resorts like Verbier, Zermatt and Gstaad, but Switzerland definitely offers some options to avoid the crowds.
4. Italië is not crowded when the Italians don't have holidays Germans like to visit Süd-Tirol and the English like to go to the Via Lattea, Courmayeur, Cervinia and Monte Rosa. Livigno is getting more popular as well. The Belgians like to go to the Dolomites and Sulsa and more people from eastern Europeans visit the eastern Dolomites. Nevertheless, Italy mainly is a country for Italians. A lot of the houses in the Italian ski resorts are privately owned and only used during weekends and school holidays. That means it's not that crowded in the smaller Italian resorts when the Italians don't have holidays.
5. No fresh snow? Go for a tour The snow cover is fairly stable in large parts of the Alps, especially for the time of the year. The snow cover is also very thick. It's perfect to go on a tour. If you want to ride untracked powder without the crowds: go touring! Always go out with friends, read the local avalanche forecast and bring the right gear.
6. Less crowded in March? It's not as crowded as February, but March can still be busy. The 80-20 rule also applies to winter sports. 80% of the people go to 20% of the resorts. March is generally cheaper and this attracts different crowds, like students, groups of friends, business trips, etc. Busy destinations are the resorts with good apres or where it's reallly cheap. If you want to ride more powder, avoid the big freeride usual suspects and the resorts mentioned above.
More advice? Do you have some tips? We like to hear them. Do you want unlimited adventure? Go on a road trip. Nothing better than to search for deep powder in different resorts every day.
Sources: wintersporters, Laurent Vanat en Club Val Thorens