Peak season in the Alps is coming again and that will remain so until the first week of March. In the large European winter sports countries, the schools are locked for one or even two weeks in many places and that means crowds in many ski areas. Especially the beginning of March is really busy and that won't be the perfect week to chase storms.
It will be a bit busier in the Alps every week from the 2nd of February. The graph below shows nicely how many people from which countries are heading for the Alps in the coming weeks. Especially the peak in the week from 2nd to the 9th March is a real outlier.
Despite the fact that the crowds are gone, it can still be busy in the weekends. Just think about the fact that 15 million skiers and boarders live in Germany and 9 million in France. Many of them also regularly go on a weekend trip to enjoy the sun and snow in the mountains and escape the smog and gray skies from the big cities. You can also consult the underlying figures yourself. Laurant Vanat has been researching winter sports for years and publishes a report about it every year. For this article we have used the 2017-2018 report. Crowds during the weekend is something to take into account.
Although it is busy in the coming weeks and Europe has holidays, there are differences per week. Not everyone has holidays at the same time and not everyone goes to the same area. For example, the French prefer to go to the ski resorts in France, the Dutch and Germans mainly head to Austria, Italians like to go to their own country and the English choose for the large and well-known areas in France, Switzerland and Italy. In addition, it is also true that you see differences in the country itself. For example, the people who live in the north of France prefer to go to 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.
For a good overview of the regional holidays, the table below is useful (see this link for all data), whereby it should be noted that the Italian school holidays can not be found there. These are determined regionally and are therefore difficult to trace.
The busiest week seems to be from 2nd to the 9th of March because it coincides with Carnival. As a result, a large part of Europe will be on holiday.
Storms can not be led and certainly not because of school holidays. Storms come and go and so it may happen that the next five weeks may result in the best conditions of the season. If you are not already with family and friends (in the wrong place) in the Alps, you may want to go for that ultimate PowderAlert. Below some tips to still score during peak season.
1. Avoid the big (freeride) areas It is busy in the large areas during peak season. This not only puts pressure on the local facilities, it also results in much more crowds just off the slopes and on roads to and from these areas. But even outside the slopes it is often busier. Not bothered by any kind of knowledge and encouraged by the beautiful pictures from the holiday leaflets and the website of the ski resort or tour operator they dive en masse down the slopes in search of the white gold. Many laymen are overwhelmed by powder panic and pop up everywhere. This applies to all large areas that have a name to keep up. Examples of freeride areas where it can become quite busy nowadays are: Espace Killy, Paradiski, Val Thorens, Chamonix, Verbier, Courmayeur, St. Anton am Arlberg, Ischgl.
2. Go for smaller family resorts Although the family ski resorts are also pretty busy during the high season, this does not mean that the powder is quickly tracked. Especially smaller ski areas with many (dense) forests have a lot of potential. In such areas people live according to a certain rhythm. Between 9 am and 10 am the ski lessons start (crowds at the lifts) after which the crowds spread, they eat between 12 and 14 hours (busy in the restaurants) and they are back at the lift again by 14 hours. In addition, many families don't like bad weather and snowfall. In these family resorts there is plenty to find during and after a dump, often still days after the last snowfall. Another tip: it's often expensive to stay in the ski resorts, but in the villages and cities a bit further the business hotels are often empty so there is plenty to choose.
3. Switzerland is (too) expensive Switzerland simply is (too) expensive. First there was the huge inflation which caused the price of an espresso to rise to 5 Swiss Francs, after which they let go of the connection to the euro and the Swiss Franc got even more expensive. Switzerland has therefore become (too) expensive for the rest of Europe and the Swiss have seen how much they can buy for their Swiss Francs in the surrounding countries. There are simply no crowds in many small areas. Of course it is still busy in the large areas and there are crowds in the freeride areas where the powder jetset spend their weekends.
4. Italy is quiet when the Italians do not have holidays Germans like to go to South-Tyrol and the English like to go to Via Lattea, Courmayeur, Cervinia and Monte Rosa. Livigno has put itself on the international map. There are also some Belgians who like to come to Sulda and we see more eastern Europeans in the eastern Dolomites. Nevertheless, Italy is mainly a country for skiing and snowboarding Italians. Often very friendly locals who are joined in the weekend by some powder searching people from the big cities. Italy is a country with a lot of private ownership (accommodation) in the ski areas, a large part of which is only in use during the weekends, school holidays and as a cool alternative to escape the humid heat of the Po valley in the summer. The ski areas that mainly focus on Italians are often very quiet when the regional schools are open.
5. No fresh snow? Go touring The snow cover is fairly stable in large parts of the Alps. Especially for the time of the year. In addition, the snow cover is also very thick. Perfect for touring. If you want untracked powder and no crowds, then you can still find a lot powder with the help of touring skis, a splitboard or snow shoes. Always do this with friends, study the local avalanche forecast and adjust your plans to it.
6. Less crowds after the 9th of March? It is not necessarily less busy from the 9th of March. The large areas are still busy in March. The 80-20 rule also applies to winter sports. 80% of the people go to 20% of the areas. You also see the buses full of students, employees, groups of friends etc. heading to the Alps in March. Especially the cheaper resorts are popular. And then too many laymen are not bothered by any kind of knowledge and encouraged by the beautiful pictures from the holiday leaflets and the website of the ski resort or tour operator they dive en masse down the slopes in search of the white gold. Party villages and the budget destinations are highly frequented. Do you want to ride more powder in March, avoid the usual freeride suspects where the powder jet set comes, the big resorts, the party villages and the budget destinations.
Any more advice? When you still have tips? We like to hear them. Do you want unlimited adventure? Then go on a road trip. Nothing better than to search for deep powder every day in constantly changing areas.