Izzard in the Blizzard

Spring is nearly upon us — and in the Alps that means festival season. The big news is that Eddie Izzard has just been announced as the mystery headliner of Mayrhofen’s Altitude comedy festival. Altitude, on between the 26th to 31st March 2013, has made a name for itself as the place to watch top comedy acts in a stunning ski resort. Meanwhile in Switzerland, the Caprices music festival in Crans Montana kicks off this weekend, hosting a world-class line-up including Bjork, Fatboy Slim, Tori Amos and Pete Doherty.
France is getting in on the action too. Chamonix and Morzine are both hosting mini-festivals, with the steep Chamonix valley under Mt Blanc welcoming a squadron of underground electro artists for Black Weekend. Whilst Morzine, in the enormous Portes du Solei ski area, is welcoming boarders and ravers to Basscamp this month.

Fatboy Slim playing at Snowbombing 2012, picture by Danny North.

Fatboy Slim playing at Snowbombing 2012, photo by Danny North.

And, lest we forget, Mayrhofen again in early April gives us SnowBombing festival. Headlined by Kasabian, Example, Rudimental and featuring appearances by the likes of Foreign Beggars, Skream and High Contrast — SnowBombing brings the dub-infused atmosphere of a Hackney warehouse to the Austrian Alps. For a vital survival guide to Snowbombing, check out this quick guide we wrote for the Mayrhofen madness three years ago.

So what is all the fuss about? Why are these big names winding their tour busses up precipitous mountain roads to join the party?

Eddie Izzard, headline act of the Altitude comedy festival

Eddie Izzard, headline act of the Altitude comedy festival.

First of all, playing in a ski resort has a cachet that attracts big names. During the first week of the 2012-13 ski season, Rudimental played to a sold out Dou Doune nightclub in Val d’Isere. The ski resorts were busy a week before Christmas with rowdy student parties and fresh seasonaires who had yet to max out their overdrafts — so the gig went down a storm. Secondly, après ski renowned resorts are spilling over with young people in full party mode, many of whom love summer festivals. Festivals in the Alps allow those of us who love music, skiing and partying to get in three of these expensive fixes simultaneously. With summer festival fans often prepared to travel as far afield as Croatia and Serbia for an action-packed festival, the lederhosen and fondue experience of Alps starts to seem like a sensible way of having an insanely good time.

Is Early Season Snowfall Making Mid-Season The Time To Ski?

As someone who has been snowboarding now for a decade, March (and even the beginning of April) has often proved to offer the best skiing. There is often a good base, fresh snow and slightly warmer — therefore more pleasant — weather to enjoy the slopes.

However, over the past three winters, this trend has been bucked. Yes, the snow has been good in March, but for the past three years January and — surprisingly — February have offered the best powder the Alps have seen for years. Going through the snow reports, forecast and snow history on Igluski.com and Snow-Forecast.com, you can see the early-to-mid season, is the time to hit the slopes.

Last season was the first time in 20 years that Meribel — one of the most popular resorts with British skiers — boasted more snow than Val d’Isere (an equally popular, but higher resort) and this winter seems to be taking on the same trend. So, to take a look at when the best time to ski really is, I’ve looked through the snow history data for Meribel over the past five seasons, including the current one.

meribel-snow-depth-record-graph

If you look at the graph (above), you can see the in two of the last four seasons the snow peaked in March, whereas for the past two winters there has been heavy snowfall in January and a peak in February. Looking at the current conditions (below), this trend seems to be continuing as there has been over 350cm of snowfall this season, including a whopping 66cm over the past week.

meribel-this-season

The snow forecast in Meribel over the next few days shows the continuing trend of good snowfall during February (see below) and if you have a membership to Snow-Forecast.com you will be able to see on the nine day forecast that snow is continuing to fall until the middle of the month.

meribel-forecast

So, with the slopes often being quieter in January and February — YSE in Val d’Isere are claiming this coming week is the quietest of the season — and the snowfall offering consistent powder over the past few winters, is the first half of the season becoming the time to ski?

I will certainly be looking to take advantage of the January prices next winter, as opposed to paying the March premium, even if it means packing an extra pair of thermals, as opposed to some sun block!