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.
They always say ‘write what you know’, so this article focusses on European resorts, because Mark and I’s summer holidays with altitude have all been 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 have postponed our propsed tour of the Poland and The Baltics and remain in a deserted ski resort in Monte Rosa, Northern Italy, where we spent the winter. Our confinement got me thinking about how summer activities in a ski resort can really add value to your next skiing holiday.
Fitness is the obvious one and is certainly well-covered elsewhere. 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, you will enjoy your next trip much more – and you will be less prone to injury if you stay in shape. 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 muscle in your thigh that starts to 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
Ski resorts tend to be located at a level classified by mountain medicine as ‘High Alititude’; 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 to the lack of oxygen in many different 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 help you to adapt more rapidly on subsequent excursions to altitude.
While much more research is needed, these findings support anecdotal observations that frequent visitors and military personnel based in the mountains adapt to altitude more rapidly on susbequent visits, once they have acclimatised the first time.
So, a summer holiday at altitude may help you get your ski legs more quickly next winter!
3. Off Piste Navigation
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 Mark and I can now leave the house to walk with The Fab Four, our four Cavapoos.
Since then, we have not only been getting fit by hiking into the mountain wilderness, but familiarising ourselves with route-finding for some of the off piste ski routes on our bucket list. At the moment, we have to drive where possible or 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 could be the guide who is injured or caught in an avalanche.
You can keep up your navigation skills anywhere, but familiarising yourself with the lie of the land around your proposed back country ski routes will offer a huge safety advantage.
If you want to get out into the wilderness, there are also several long-distance, hut-to-hut hiking routes, such as the famous Haut Route from Chamonix to Zermatt, the Tour of Monte Rosa (TMR), which will also take you to Zermatt and the Tour of Mont Blanc (TMB). 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. In summer, there may also be ferocious shepherd dogs guarding flocks, so be wary!
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. Spotting Potential Off Piste Hazards
A bit like a jockey walking the Grand National course at Aintree before the race, hiking not only helps with direction-finding, it is invaluable to spot hazards, such as cliffs, crevasses, potholes 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.
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 the resort and snow conditions. The summer ski areas are not extensive and are often open only in the mornings, so you might want concentrate more on tickling up your technique with some tuition, then have a few of the other Alpine activities up your sleeve. The length in km of pistes shown below is an estimate and may vary according to the snow conditions.
Here are some of the better-known summer ski resorts in the Alps;
- Dachstein – Dachstein glacier; 5km pistes, very dependent on weather & snow conditions
- Hintertux – Hintertux glacier; 20km pistes, Austria’s only year-round skiing, with steep & varied terrain
- Kaprun & Zell am See – Kitzsteinhorn glacier; 15km pistes & snow park
- Les Deux Alpes – Girose glacier; 11 pistes (1 red, 9 blue, 1 green) with snow park
- Tignes – Grande Motte glacier; 20km pistes & snow park
- Cervinia – Theodul glacier; 25km pistes & snow park. Europe’s biggest & highest summer ski area, shared with Zermatt, is open all year
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 and winter ski tuition at their base in Tignes and around the world
- Colletts Mountain Holidays – a family-run company who specialise in summer and winter holidays in the Dolomites, including Via Ferrata and hiking
Ratoong Ambassador, Jacqueline (Jackie) Lambert is a dedicated doggie travel blogger and author of a series of memoirs following her journey since giving up work to tour Europe with her husband and four dogs.
With adventure in her blood, she has rafted, rock-climbed and backpacked around six of the seven continents. A passionate windsurfer and skier, she can fly a plane, has been bitten by a lion and ate fire on Japanese T.V.
Her latest book, Pups on Piste – A Ski Season in Italy is available on Amazon.
All photos © Jacqueline Lambert other that the creative commons, royalty free photos of Lago Federa & the Matterhorn, courtesy of Pixabay.