Just because it’s summer, that doesn’t mean you have to completely give up your love of skiing or snowboarding. One option is to head to the southern hemisphere. Another option is to ski the glaciers.
There are several ski resorts located on glaciers that are open during the late spring, summer and early autumn months. While most of them are in the European Alps, there are a handful all across the northern hemisphere, including in Canada and the US.
Skiing or boarding at these places during this time of the year is a very different experience from the resorts that we’re used to in winter, but it also feels very special that you’re on snow in the middle of summer.
You can usually get good deals, too. Lift ticket prices are usually lower, and sometimes even travel to the resorts may cost you less outside the main winter season.
Terrain & Weather
Since these ski areas are found on high glaciers, keep in mind that it may be a long lift ride up in the morning to reach them. Glaciers also tend to be flatter so expect mostly green and blue grade terrain with little black. These high altitude ski areas are generally smaller than winter ski areas, but many build terrain parks for added fun.
Ski areas on high glaciers often open from around 7am to noon or 1pm. Usually, the snow freezes hard overnight then thaws fast through the day, becoming sticky by early afternoon. That said, if you’re lucky, you could get fresh powder in those altitudes at any time of the year. You also have a higher-than-average chance of sharing those limited slopes with some of the world’s greatest skiers, many times training as part of a national team.
It can be tempting to ski in a T-shirt and jeans, but it’s worth remembering that even when the weather seems moderate, you are in high alpine territory and things can change fast. At those altitudes, it can also get very cold (double digits below zero) overnight even in late spring, so it’s best to be prepared. Among the most important things to wear is a powerful pair of sunglasses and a lot of sunscreen.
Where To Go?
Here are some of the world’s best glacier for summer skiing and boarding.
1. Timberline Lodge, Mt Hood, Oregon, USA
Timberline on the Palmer Glacier is the only real year-round ski area in the United States, although it usually closes in September for annual maintenance work on lifts. There’s a terrain park, summer camps to sign up for and some exciting black diamond graded terrain.
2. Whistler Blackcomb, BC, Canada
Whistler’s normal winter ski season lasts from November to June, but the glacier then re-opens for five weeks into July for summer camps, ending on July 16 this year. In 2016, there were only 10 days between the end of winter season and the start of summer glacier skiing—sometimes it’s less.
There’s also been talk for more than 20 years of building a year-round Canadian ski area on the eastern borders of British Columbia at Jumbo Glacier—but nothing has come to fruition yet.
3. Zermatt, Switzerland
Europe’s highest ski lift rises above Zermatt. Reaching 3,899m above sea level, its lift-served summer vertical still beats most of those offered by ski areas in the southern hemisphere during their normal winter seasons. Zermatt tries to open its slopes 365 days a year, but the high altitude glacier lifts can be closed by strong winds or blizzards at any time of the year.
4. Hintertux, Austria
The Hintertux glacier is another one of the world’s open-365-days-a-year ski areas and it actually manages to maintain up to 3,000 feet of skiable vertical for much of that time, except in high summer. The centre has invested in fast, modern gondola lifts that whisk skiers more than 7,000 vertical feet up from the valley to the glacier in just a few minutes.
5. Tignes, France
Formerly open 365 days a year, Tignes still manages about nine months of operation on its slope atop the Grand Motte glacier. The “winter” season starts from early October and goes until May, while the summer season opens from July 2 to August 9 this year. People come here for springtime fun and to participate in action sports, as the area offers a whole swathe of off-slope extreme options. One of them is jumping onto a giant-sized big air bag and bouncing into the lake, which has been thawed out from winter.
7. Folgefonn, Norway
Norway has three summer ski areas, all located on glaciers and each operating just one or two lifts. Spring snowfall can be meteoric, and these centres commonly operate on a snow base that has snow piled 20-25 feet deep over the summer.
Stryn, one of the three, delayed its season opening in late May as road crews battled to clear access.
Closures & Delays
Sometimes you may find lift closures due to bad weather. It probably won’t be a blizzard at this time of year (although you never know), but because glaciers are in high, exposed areas, they can be prone to strong winds. As a result, the lifts may close or be delayed in their opening. I had that experience in Zermatt in May, but have also enjoyed great summer ski days there and at other glacier resorts.
Hopefully, you’ll arrive a day after a fresh summer snowfall, when the sun has come back out and the wind has dropped. If you’re prepared and it all comes together, there’s little that feels more special than being one of the very few to ski or board on a glacier in the summer!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on June 30, 2015 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy.