How Summer in a Ski Resort Will Improve Your Skiing

What? You’ve never seen the mountains green? You’re missing out! A woman once said, “Everyone should spend a summer holiday in a ski resort.” That woman was me.

I guarantee that the slopes in summer will offer at least as many thrills as they do in winter, the same stunning scenery – and wonderful wildlife if you’re lucky. Not only that, taking your summer holidays in a winter wonderland will help you to make the most of your time on the snow, perhaps in ways that you have never considered.

Man_dogs_mountain
This article focusses on European resorts, because Mark and I’s summer holidays with altitude were all in the Alps

They always say ‘write what you know’, so this article focusses on European resorts. That’s because Mark and I’s summer holidays with altitude were all in the Alps. Nevertheless, many of the tips apply equally to mountain ranges around the world.

From Abseiling to Zip-Lining, there is something for the adrenaline junkie in most ski resorts. In Morzine and The Grand Massif in France, Mark and I tried rock climbing, hydrospeeding, white water rafting, paragliding, canyoning and mountain biking. In Arabba, amid the UNESCO World Heritage landscape of the Dolomites in Italy, we dangled ourselves from Vie Ferrate (‘Iron Ways’), which are serious, multi-pitch rock climbs, made accessible by steel cables, ladders and stanchions hammered into the rock. (To see how we got on, check out my blog A Life Lesson Learned on a 3000ft Cliff.) When we reached our vertical limit, we hiked among magical, wild flower meadows that would not have looked out of place as a backdrop to Heidi or The Sound of Music.

Due to the coronavirus lockdown and travel restrictions, Mark and I postponed our propsed tour of the Poland and The Baltics and remain in a deserted ski resort in Monte Rosa, Northern Italy. Our confinement got me thinking about how summer activities in a ski resort can really add value to your next skiing holiday.

1. Fitness

The benefits of a summer holiday in a ski resort go way beyond fitness! Image by photosforyou from Pixabay

This is the obvious one and is certainly a well-covered subject. I want to concentrate on the benefits beyond fitness that summer activities will bring to your skiing, however fitness does warrant a mention here.

The fitter you are, the more skiing you can do. It will be easier on your body and you will enjoy your next trip much more if you stay in shape and will be less prone to injury. Although skiing involves the whole body, the Holy Trinity of ski fitness is Legs, Core and Aerobic Capacity. The good news is that activities such as biking and hiking will work on all of that – and unsurprisingly, these are readily available amid the wonderful scenery of the Alps!

Mountain biking is particularly good for developing the quadriceps – the technical term for the first muscle that will burn after shredding a few ski runs! Biking is also low impact on your knees and in its more extreme forms, offers much the same thrill as downhill skiing.

Hiking up steep climbs with a pack is a full-body, aerobic workout, which also offers a number of other benefits, particularly if you like to ski the back country.

2. Acclimatisation to Altitude

When you spend time in the ‘thin air’ at altitude, your body physiology adapts in many ways

    Ski resorts tend to be located at a level classified as ‘High Alititude’ in mountain medicine; ie 1,500 – 3,500 metres (4,900 – 11,500 ft). Air pressure decreases with altitude, which allows the gases in the air to expand. This effectively reduces the concentration of oxygen in each lung-full, which is why you feel more breathless the higher you go. When you reach 3,000-ish metres (10,000ft), you are breathing in thirty percent less oxygen than at sea level.

    When you spend time in the ‘thin air’ at altitude, your body physiology adapts in many ways; for example the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood is increased by reducing blood volume, increasing the number of red blood cells and the amount and efficiency of haemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein they contain.

    It is well known that acclimatisation, how long acclimatisation lasts and susceptibility to altitude sickness varies greatly from person to person. Facts are hard to come by and often conflict, however, recent research suggests that acclimatisation effects can not only last for months, but also result in more adapting more rapidly on subsequent excursions to altitude.

    While much more research is needed, these findings support anecdotal observations that backpackers and military personnel based in the mountains adapt to altitude more rapidly once they have been acclimatised once.

    So, a summer holiday at altitude may well help you get your ski legs more quickly next winter!

    3. Off Piste Direction Finding

    This bridge is the exit for several off piste routes in Monte Rosa. The notch behind is Leitsch, a steep and narrow canyon

    Monte Rosa is an off piste paradise. Polvere Rosa 3 – Pink Powder is the latest edition of a book an inch thick, which describes the extensive off piste routes in the Monte Rosa ski area. The lockdown in Italy lifted on Star Wars Day (May the Fourth Be With You!) to the extent that we could leave the house to walk. Since then, we not only got ourselves fit by hiking into the mountain wilderness, but familiarised ourselves with route-finding for some of the off piste ski routes on our bucket list. With the lifts closed, we had to hike to gain altitude, but if and when the ski lifts open for the summer season, we can be transported effortlessly into the high mountain environment to explore.

    Hiking offers us a great opportunity not only to visualise routes, but also to practise our GPS and compass navigation skills, which are essential if you aspire to staying safe in the back country. Even if you are with a guide, I believe it is prudent to take some responsibility for knowing where you are, just in case you are the one obliged to summon help. After all it may be the guide who is injured or caught in an avalanche.

    You can keep up your navigation skills anywhere, but familiarising yourself with your proposed back country ski area offers a huge advantage.

    If you want to get out into the wilderness, there are also several long-distance, hut-to-hut hiking routes. We travel with four dogs, so it is worth noting that dogs are not permitted on all routes and in all mountain huts, particularly in National Parks, so check before you set out.

    Top Tip – Buy maps before you go. During our travels, we have found it difficult to buy detailed topographical maps anywhere in Europe! Our maps of Monte Rosa were delivered to us in Monte Rosa by Stanfords of London.

    4. Off Piste Hazard Spotting

    Broken trees – a sure sign of an avalanche chute

      A bit like a jockey walking the Grand National course, hiking not only helps with direction-finding, it is invaluable to spot hazards, such as cliffs or avalanche chutes on your off piste routes.

      We have spent the last four seasons in Monte Rosa, with varying snow conditions, so we have a reasonable grasp of which are the most avalanche-prone slopes. If you do not spend months at a time in resort, a summer walking holiday will allow you to observe some of these potential hazards. For example, rocks, debris or bent and broken trees, which could easily be covered with snow when you return in the winter, are a sure signature of an avalanche chute.

      5. Ski!

      This pair had earned their turns by walking up to the snow line!

      The very best way to keep ski fit is to ski!

      If you don’t want the hassle and expense of a long-haul flight to the Southern Hemisphere in our Northern summer, you’re in luck. The Alps is blessed with a number of high-altitude glaciers, which offer lift-served snow skiing for all or part of the summer, depending on snow conditions. The summer ski areas are not extensive and are often open only in the mornings, so you might want to use it more to tickle up your technique with some tuition and have a few of the other Alpine activities up your sleeve. The km of pistes shown below is an estimate and may vary according to the prevailing conditions.

      Here are some of the better-known summer ski resorts in the Alps;

      Austria

      • Dachstein – Dachstein glacier; 5km pistes, very dependent on weather & snow conditions
      • HintertuxHintertux glacier; 20km pistes, Austria’s only year-round skiing, with steep & varied terrain
      • Kaprun & Zell am See – Kitzsteinhorn glacier; 15km pistes & snow park

      France

      • Les Deux Alpes – Girose glacier; 11 pistes (1 red, 9 blue, 1 green) with snow park
      • Tignes – Grande Motte glacier; 20km pistes & snow park

      Italy

      • Cervinia – Theodul glacier; 25km pistes & snow park. Europe’s biggest & highest summer ski area, shared with Zermatt, is open all year

      Switzerland

      • Saas Fee – Allalin glacier – 20km pistes, snow park
      • Zermatt – see also Cervinia

      It may be some time until the coronavirus restrictions lift, but you can carry out some of these activities closer to home – and like us, you can certainly make plans so that you’re ready to go when they do!

      My personal recommendations;

      • Snoworks – a British company which offers high-quality summer ski tuition in Tignes
      • Collett’s Mountain Holidays – a family-run company who specialise in summer and winter holidays in the Dolomites

      Cover image of Val di Funes by Giampaolo Mastro from Pixabay.

      The blog was first published as a guest post on Ratoong.

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      Summer Skiing Pin

      Published by WorldWideWalkies

      AD (After Dogs) - We retired early to tour Europe in a caravan with four dogs. "To boldly go where no van has gone before" - & believe me, we have! BC (Before Canines) - we had adventures on every continent other than Antarctica!

      5 thoughts on “How Summer in a Ski Resort Will Improve Your Skiing

      1. Great post! We love the mountains as much in the summer as in the winter. Most of our ski resorts in western Canada now are mountain biking destinations in the summer. Many are more busy in the summer than winter!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I didn’t know you two were skiers! The dogs as well? 🙂 Where do you stay during those seasons in the Alps? You mentioned a house…

        I would only go to ski resorts in the summer – I love the landscapes that time of the year and I hate the cold and snow. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. We adore skiing – we can never quite choose which is our favourite between windsurfing and skiing!
          In the past, we’ve rent an apartment for the winter season, but post Brexit, the amount of time we can stay in Europe’s Schengen area is limited, so we plan to ski from our Beast…
          Curiously, our ski holidays are not cold! We ski in the Italian Alps, which are very sunny. Although the temperature is often below freezing, the sunshine is warm enough for you to sit outside for coffee and usually, when we walk the dogs, we do so in a T-shirt.
          The clear bluebird skies and snowy mountains are phenomenally uplifting. I love the scenery almost as much as skiing.

          Liked by 1 person

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