Complete guide to summer skiing in the Alps
by Fraser Wilkin, Updated: 6 May 2023
Even if most skiers take their holidays in "winter", lift-served skiing is available in the Alps 365 days a year.
How the winter season is defined may be subject to debate, but we consider it to end in early May when resorts such as Val Thorens, Tignes and Cervinia finally call it a day, regardless of how much snow they still have on their slopes. Until the first proper snowfalls of Autumn, the Alps are then in "summer skiing" mode, which for the most part means skiing on glaciers.
In recent years, even after bumper winters, summer ski areas in the Alps have sometimes struggled to stay open by August due to the increasing frequency of summer heatwaves. Climate change means that fewer and fewer are now even attempting to open in mid-summer. The most striking example of this is France's Les 2 Alpes, which has this year decided to bring its 'summer ski' season forward and open between 2 May and 30 June 2023. In previous years it had run from late June to late August.
Another example is Austria's Mölltal glacier which, until recently, often opened throughout summer but will this year close on 29 May 2023. This follows last summer, when the lack of snow in the southern Alps led to it deciding not to open at all.
This spring (2023), snow depths on the Alpine glaciers are reasonable but not exceptional. Following a generally poor winter overall, it could have been a lot worse, were it not for the Alps seeing a snowy end to the season.
What to expect when summer skiing in the Alps
Most summer ski areas in the Alps are only open in the mornings, typically from 7am until about 12pm or 1pm. If the weather is fine, there will have been an overnight freeze meaning that snow conditions will be rock hard first thing in the morning. However, as the sun is very strong in summer, the snow will quickly soften, with the best snow conditions typically found between 9am to 11am. Later in the morning the snow will often turn very slushy, so the lifts tend to close around lunchtime.
If you are thinking of summer skiing in the Alps, you should be prepared for any weather conditions. Although it can feel hot in the strong summer sun - and you will often see people skiing in t-shirts - the strong sun can mask a low ambient temperature, and it can feel very different the moment there is any shade or wind.
The weather can also change very quickly, with rain and even snow possible at any time of year, sometimes accompanied with thunder and lightning. On the whole, any cloud and showers are more likely in the afternoon than in the morning, but this is not something you should rely on. Always check the weather forecast carefully before seting out, and be prepared for sudden changes.
Last but not least - don't forget the sunscreen! The strength of the sun is brutal on the glaciers in summer, and Factor 50 is strongly recommended.
Here is our complete country by country guide to summer skiing in the Alps in 2023...
SUMMER SKIING IN AUSTRIA
Opening dates: 365 days a year!
Hintertux arguably offers the best summer skiing in the Alps. It is certainly one of the most reliable areas for snow, opening 365 days a year, and is less prone to bad weather than Zermatt - the only other resort that even comes close to attempting all year-round skiing.
Hintertux also offers steeper terrain than most glaciers, making it very popular with race training camps.
This May (2023) the Hintertux glacier still has nearly 3m of snow above 3000m, and is looking in as good shape as anywhere to survive the summer.
In high summer expect to find around 20km of pistes served by up to nine lifts. However, in good snow years you may find more than 20km of runs available in early spring or late summer.
Opening dates: From now until 21 May 2023 (last year 6 June 2022)
When fully open, Stubai offers some of the most extensive and varied glacier skiing in the Alps, with a vertical drop of some 900m often possible down to the mid-station at Fernau, especially early in the summer ski season.
The Stubai glacier 'planned' closing date is creeping earlier each year. This year the ski area is due to close on 21 May 2023, when last year's planned closing was 6 June. In the not so distant past it sometimes remained open until early July.
How much terrain is available towards the end of the summer ski season is highly dependent on snow conditions, but you can usually expect up to 18km of mostly intermediate slopes served by half a dozen or so lifts.
Opening dates: From now until 29 May 2023
The Kitzsteinhorn glacier above Kaprun, in the Austrian Salzburgland, is one of the better known summer ski options in the Alps, even if opening dates have become more variable in recent years.
The Kitzsteinhorn glacier sometimes closes in spring before re-opening for the summer ski season. However, last year the glacier planned to remain open right through until 19 July. This year it plans to close much earlier though, on 29 May 2023.
How much terrain is available depends on snow conditions but at the time of writing there are about 9 runs open between 2450m and 3029m, on a reasonably healthy 2.5m upper base.
When the glacier does open longer in summer, by July the operation would likely be confined to just one run on the upper part of the glacier.
Opening dates: from now until 29 May 2023
Located in the province of Carinthia, the Mölltal glacier is Austria’s most southerly summer ski area.
In the past, the area has opened for summer skiing for variable periods from mid-June onwards. Last year (2022) the glacier did not open for summer skiing at all due to the lack of snow in the southern Alps. This year (2023) it is one of the Alpine ski areas that seem to be having to bring forward and/or limit their 'summer' ski season in response to climate change, and will be closing on 29 May 2023.
When it was open in high summer in the past, you could generally expect there to be three pistes (3km) available. This May (2023) it has around a dozen runs open, though this is expected to dwindle as the month goes on.
Opening dates: From now until 21 May 2023
The Kaunertal glacier in Austria's Tirol region is usually able to offer excellent snow conditions throughout May. As it has no resort base as such, it tends to be favoured by race training camps or frequented by day-trippers.
This year (2023) the glacier has around seven runs open, at altitudes of up to 3100m, though this number may dwindle as the month progresses.
SUMMER SKIING IN FRANCE
Les 2 Alpes
Opening dates: 2 May to 30 June 2023
Les 2 Alpes has historically offered the largest and most varied summer ski scene in France, which tended to run from late June to late August.
Last year (2022) it ran from 28 May to 28 August, but this year (2023) the resort has taken the more radical step of bringing its 'summer ski' season forward, opening from 2 May to 30 June 2023. This is one of the most striking examples of how Alpine ski resorts are having to adapt in response to climate change.
Thanks to a snowy end to the winter season, conditions are pretty good at the time of writing (6 May 2023).
The disadvantage of Les 2 Alpes (compared with its main French rival Tignes) is that its glacier takes a long time to reach – around 40 minutes from base. However, once up there you have access to the largest skiable glacier in the Alps with 11 (mostly easy) runs and, in good conditions, an impressive 770m vertical available between 2800m and 3570m (Dôme de la Lauze), although the vertical range is more likely to be closer to 400m*, especially later in the summer.
Opening dates: 17 June to 23 July 2023
Tignes is one of only three ski resorts in France to still guarantee skiing in summer.
About 30 years ago, at least part of its ski area would open most of the year, and even until recently it would open well into August. However, over the years Tignes' 'summer ski' season has been gradually contracting. Last year (2022) it ran from 18 June to 31 July, whereas this year it will open from 17 June to 23 July 2023.
Summer skiing takes place on the Grand Motte glacier, reached in a matter of minutes via a high-speed underground funicular from Tignes Val Claret.
In good snow conditions you can expect around 18km of easy to intermediate pistes, with a top height of 3455m and vertical drop of around 500m.
Opening dates: 10 June to 7 July 2023
Val d’Isère has the most limited terrain and shortest season of France’s three summer skiing options.
Last year (2022) the resort took the decision not to open due to poor snow cover, however, this year it will open from 10 June to 7 July 2023.
The resort's summer ski area is not directly accessed from Val d'Isère itself, but from the parking lot near the top of the Col d’Iseran, 20-30 minutes away by car/bus, from where you take a chairlift to the Pissaillas glacier.
Early in the summer season you can sometimes ski back to the base of the chair on a non-glacial run, which greatly adds to the appeal of the area. More often though you are confined to just a couple of easy intermediate runs on the glacier, and have to download back to the parking lot by chairlift at the end of the day.
SUMMER SKIING IN ITALY
Opening dates: 24 June to 10 September 2023
Cervinia's ski area is shared with Zermatt, with most of the summer skiing actually taking place on the Swiss side of the border. In high summer, skiing normally takes place between 3400m and 3899m, comprising around 21km of wide open pistes. The summer ski area is mostly easy but very snow-sure, and includes Europe's highest snow-park.
This year Cervinia's summer skiing operation is planned to run from 24 June to 10 September 2023. However, the glacier here (shared with Zermatt) has far more modest snow depths than would normally be expected at this time of year, after a generally poor winter season for snow.
Opening dates: 13 June to 1 November 2023
One of the more underrated summer ski areas in the Alps, Passo Stelvio offers around 20km of wide open and mostly gentle pistes between 2758m and 3450m.
The main glacier is accessed by cable-cars from the Passo Stelvio pass, about 40 minutes' drive from Bormio, and keeps its snow in better nick than most summer ski areas on this list.
This year the Passo Stelvio summer ski area will open on 13 June 2023 and continue through to 1 November 2023. Note that the ski area is never open in winter.
Opening dates: All year round (though some disruption is possible in spring due to maintenance)
Zermatt (combined with Cervinia) offers one of the largest summer ski areas in the Alps. It also has the highest piste (3899m) and the longest vertical - nearly 1000m down to Trockener Steg, in good snow - though this is normally only possible early in the summer.
In high summer you can still expect to find around 20km of wide open and mostly easy pistes, with some of the most reliable summer snow conditions in the Alps. Note that this year (2023) snow depths are lower than would normally be expected at this time of year on its glacier (shared with Cervinia), after what has been a generally poor winter season for snow.
Opening dates: 15 July 2023 to spring 2024
Saas-Fee is one of just two Swiss ski resorts to still offer skiing in high summer. This year the resort is scheduled to open its summer skiing operation on 15 July 2023, with skiing then planned to continue right through until spring 2024.
You can expect around 20km of relatively snow-sure pistes to be open, with slightly steeper terrain than in nearby Zermatt.
Saas-Fee also has a reputation for keeping its glacier snow in better condition than most.
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