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First week of April, with a non skier

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
We have to go first week of April next year, and will be taking my non skiing wife. Val Thorens is the obvious choice, with its superb pedestrian pass for her and good April snow for the skiers, but I would be interested if anyone could recommend other resorts that also tick both boxes?
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So difficult without knowing the person. For myself, I'd not want to do Val Thorens as a non skier - would much prefer somewhere more varied, some trees and (in April) flowers and some lower walking not in snow (I love walking in the woods below my apartment in April, when the violets are out). The skiers could jolly well go up in a lift somewhere!

I would also prefer somewhere with more agreeable buildings and general surroundings.
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@stodge, she has no interesting in learning?
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She did try, 3 years in a row. Not for her. But she is up for walking, and enjoyed the walks in Les Gets - but I wouldn't risk there in April.
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@stodge, @pam w, I concur with pam w. I'm off for 2 weeks in Val Thorens in Jan, as it has so many positives. But it's one negative (to me) is that the small town/village is "not agreeable" as pam w so delicately puts it! The big plus is VT is so high and has such good snow, even in April.

Why not go for Val d'Isere which is just a few valleys down from VT? Much more scenic, and yet the snow in Val d'Isere and Tignes will be just as good as VT. There will be loads to do for your good Lady.

Here are the top 10 late season ski resorts:

http://www.weathertoski.co.uk/top-10s/top-10-late-season-ski-resorts-europe/
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I wouldn't go non-skiing to Val d'Isere either, but it's better than Val Thorens. wink

The are options where your wife could be in agreeable surroundings and you could take a gondola up to the snow. What sort of skier are you?
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Zell am See Austria? Great area for walks, Salzburg is only a train ride away. If it's a good snow year you could ski locally in Zell am See, if not then take the bus to the nearby Kitzsteinhorn glacier, Kaprun
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@pam w, So much to do in Val d'Isere for a non-skier, including some spectacular walks.

And how about under the ice scuba diving in a mountain lake! What's not to like? snowHead

https://www.valdinet.com/news/top-ten-things-for-non-skiers-to-do-in-val-d-isere-val-d-isere-region-694350
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Hmm. I see the perpetual tension between a skier and non skier wanting to holiday in April. Skier wants snow = high and purpose built and more likely to be moonscape. Non skier likely to want pretty and walkable - Arlberg/ Vorarlberg?

Best suggestion probably separate hold.
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Quote:

What's not to like?

well, for most of us, scuba diving under ice would be fairly high up the list of what not to like. Followed by staying in a high, pretty well treeless spot surrounded by unfriendly steep slopes.

You could stay somewhere like St Martin de Belleville - with lift access to high slopes and a huge ski area.

Or - my vote would echo those of @Dave of the Marmottes. Separate holidays. wink
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Thanks all, don't think I will get away with separate holidays! It's striking a balance between stuff to do for the non skier, and decent skiing (by which I mean reliable snow and plenty of intermediate blues and reds). I'll certainly start researching Val d'Isere, and hadn't considered St Martin de Belleville - I will think about that as well!
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Actually Orelle might be worth considering. Good access into Val T but plenty of valley options for the Mrs especially if she has a car. You just have to make sure you get the lift early before the valley daytrippers mob it.
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Serre Chevalier if you like France. Possible to do long valley walks, spa type stuff, walkers can get the lift up the mountain. Plus there's a really interesting town to visit a few mins away on the bus (Briancon).

Ktzbuhel, Schladming, Zell or Saalbach all tick those boxes too if you like Austria.

We go every year at the beginning of April and have never specifically gone to somewhere high just in case. There has always been plenty of snow around, yes it might get warm some days, yes the snow might get sugary/lumpy some days but we've always had fun. We've also had some really cold snowy days too.
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@Dave of the Marmottes, we've stayed in Orelle in the summer. I would definitely want a car or bike if staying there and not skiing.
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I never considered Kitzbuhel in April - I was under the assumption that it is too low for that time of year. But we have done France for the last few years so I would consider Austria for a change.
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 Poster: A snowHead
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I agree with hammerirte Serre Chevalier is an ideal choice if you have a non-skier with you. Great scenery in trees, walking paths to adjacent villages, gondola access to the mountain to join you for lunch if you wish. Proper villages with local shops to mooch in. A thermal spa in Monetier-les-Bains, and a regular bus service right along the valley. Briancon is a walled town with fortresses, churches, museums and art galleries. You won't get that in Val Thorens.
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@stodge, it is low, but the snow generally doesn't melt over night, so if a lot has accumulated throughout the season... You might not be able to ski the Hahnenkamm all the way to the bottom (we could) but most of the skiing is higher than the town.
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Yes, SC - for all the reasons set out by @Hells Bells.
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Just to throw it out there - Lapland is getting more hospitable by April and its in the season (which typically runs Feb to May). The west coast of Norway is spectacular, so you could mix some sight seeing Fjord tours, Whale safari, dog sledding, snowshoe tours, with some skiing. Fly to Bodo, Narvik, Tromso (direct from UK) etc. Obviously a totally different experience to the Alps.
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Its a bit of a myth that you need to be very high in early April to ski and you certainly don't need to stay particularly high. I've been going every year since 2000 and the highest I have stayed at is 1600m or so (Which admittedly was Zermatt which accesses high skiing) You do often need North facing slopes and its an idea to have skiing at a reasonable height, but I have been to Serre Che plenty of times and the snow is usually excellent for most of the day.

Chamonix is down at 1100m but there is plenty of snow up high. I have to agree that I would find Val Thorens pretty unattractive as a non skier(As a skier I don't find its ugly surroundings appealing either).

If I was going with a non skiing partner I would be thinking how much of the day will I be skiing and how much do I want to be meeting up to spend time with my partner. Personally a smaller resort with access to some higher snow sure skiing in attractive surroundings would suit. Monetier in Serre Che is pretty good as suggested, there are plenty of places in the Maurrienne, Les Contamines has a good late season record and judging by autumn visit has attractive surroundings.
Plenty of possibilities in Austria Switzerland and Italy as well, Switzerland in particular tends to be very well geared up for the walker.
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I hadn't thought of Lapland - I'll look into that! And lots of you have recommended Serre Che so Ill investigate that. Thanks everyone for lots of ideas.

Any thoughts on Meribel? Seems to have lots of marked walking trails for the wife, a good access to vt for the skiers - even if we will have to deal with slush on the decent back into Meribel!
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@stodge, never been to Meribel so can't comment on suitability. Worth checking that the walking trails aren't going to be under snow and will be accessible in the winter/spring though.
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They reckon they are regularly maintained. http://loisirs-evenements.meribel.net/fileadmin/PDF/hiver/7_annexes/telechargements/GUIDE_SENTIERS_hiver_2015-16.pdf
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Not Meribel for me - it's sprawling, not particularly attractive and has nothing, really, for a non skier - SC has a lot more, and a trip to Briancon would be well worth while.

Is your wife up for walks on snowhoes? That's a great way of getting around and most resorts will have guided snowshoe walks.
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I reckon that in the first week of April you should be fine almost anywhere in France above about 1300m. You would probably be OK a bit lower too, but with so many great resorts above that height, why bother?
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Yes snow shoeing is definitely an option
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What was it about skiing that she hated? Would cross country be an option?
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I'm biased, i've an apartment in Val Thorens and think it's great for skiing. However 110% agree with Pam in that I think it would be a terrible place for a non-skier. My wife tweaked her knee the first day of one of our stays in April this year and it was purgatory for her. As you say, St. Martin would be a bit nicer for walking, and probably be pretty warm, but there is not a huge amount to do there.


pam w wrote:
I wouldn't go non-skiing to Val d'Isere either, but it's better than Val Thorens. wink

The are options where your wife could be in agreeable surroundings and you could take a gondola up to the snow. What sort of skier are you?
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foxtrotzulu wrote:
I reckon that in the first week of April you should be fine almost anywhere in France above about 1300m. You would probably be OK a bit lower too, but with so many great resorts above that height, why bother?

For a non skier if they like walking there is a lot to be said for being low as you can be, then you are walking on clear paths as opposed to ones with old melting snow which is pretty unpleasant to walk on. Lifts can getr a skier t and from the snow though it is pretty unusual nowadays not to have a strip of artificial to return you to base should you feel the need even in the lowest resorts.
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I'd echo snowshoeing as a great activity. We've started to do this more, following a holiday with my brother-in-law (a skier) and his wife (non) three years ago. Each of us accompanied her for a day, in rotation, and we all enjoyed it so much that we now usually snowshoe for a day or two at least, as part of our holiday. It's particularly good on those days when the weather is grotty or it's snowing heavily and not being piste-bashed. What I like about snowshoeing is that you very quickly get away from the crowds and into lovely forests etc, but you're usually not that far from the resort, so it's easy to go home if you're tired or the weather worsens.

Obviously, you're after a resort that has a good set of racquette trails. Ideally, they shouldn't be shared with skiers, although this is rarely 100% possible. One approach would be to just see what the walking trails are like at a few of the resorts that you know. Remember, you're not after uphill trekking or ski de fond.

One thing I would say is that you don't necessarily ned a lot of trails - it's not like skiing where you want the maximum Kms of piste. Think summer walks that are harder work and take longer. Upside is that snowshoeing is excellent all-'round exercise and more consistent in terms of effort/energy required. Personally, I can see us doing more and more snowshoeing in the future and only skiing on really good conditions and weather days.
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Quite a lot of the summer activities are opening up in April in the Tarrentaise. So thinking of the summer activities from say Val d'Isere, the Grand Sassiere national park has some good hiking, but may need snow shoes and possibly ice axe and crampons. I suspect the via ferrata in Val, though open, will be a tad chilly and have difficult descents.

In Les Arcs I often have the strange feeling of sharing the funicular with mountain bikers who cycle back to Bourg, while we continue upwards.

Bourg st. Maurice has pleasant strolls along the river and you may even be able to hire a bicycle and pedal down to Aime as well as the more "knarly" VTT trails. There is even the cheese factory. It also has the funicular to take you up to Les Arcs for skiing or to Mile8 and the swimming pool complex.

So my suggestion is to combine the winter and summer activities and go to Bourg st. Maurice.
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Quote:

you very quickly get away from the crowds and into lovely forests etc

Indeed - I'm into the forest after 10 -12 minute uphill from my apartment, including a quick nip across a piste. BUT you still need to be avalanche aware - some of the raquette trails round my way are closed because of avalanche risk at times. When in the cross-country area with an instructor, last year, the slope where six kids with a teacher had been fatally avalanched many years previously was pointed out to us, along with a quick lesson on why that spot was dangerous. It was very close to one of the tracks.

Les Saisies has a range of accompanied snowshoe walks from several different providers including both ski schools and I imagine other resorts would be the same. There'd be something on offer every day, some outings being pretty easy, others quite demanding. Walking uphill on fresh snow in snowshoes is quite energy-consuming. Those outings might be a bit isolating if you don't speak French though - indeed, your whole holiday would be more enjoyable if you could go with friends where one partner doesn't ski.

For walking, there are "piste bashed" itineraries - though not very many - and at times they are difficult without snowhoes as they're slippy. Anyone planning to be walking in snow could usefully buy some of those crampon things.

I agree with @T Bar that for walking (as opposed to snow shoeing) the lower the better. In April I would be heading up for snowshoeing but heading down for walking - to find the wild violets, primroses etc.

My apartment is at 1550 metres on a south facing slope. The piste down has snow cannons and it's rare not to be able to ski home until closing day (around 23 April) but it's just a way home. Narrow and slushy at the edges by then, really not much fun whereas the slopes which get less sun can still be fine. Grotty for walking at that stage - the ground is saturated with snow melt and the grass is blackened, though it doesn't take long for it to bounce back and the wild crocuses appear round patches of snow melt (we walked round snow melt surrounded by crocuses in June, at around 1800m).
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I agree with@T Bar, and others that you don't necessarily have to stay in a high resort in early April. Our first week of April guests in Saalbach generally seem to have a good time ( - so much so that some I can think of started looking for an apartment to buy as soon as they had left!) A few seasons ago I recall that the first week of April was possibly the best week of the season, thanks to a cold front and regular overnight snowfalls. Last season my last day of skiing was on 4th April, and I can honestly say that it was fabulous - over 60km covered on nice, very quiet pistes.

However, although early April conditions can be great, it must also be conceded that, if the weather turns mild and spring-like, accompanied by moist winds from the south/south-west, it can be a dampener - literally. I recall a few years ago a particularly unpleasant experience in Alpe d'Huez, when, after a few glorious skiing days, a depression arrived from the south and it rained all the way up to the glacier, and the snow turned yellow with Saharan dust. Staying any higher would not however have saved us, and of course, if you're unlucky with the weather, it's going to be unpleasant and murky, no matter how high you stay.

It boils down to how much of a gamble you're willing to take - but, as I used to say when arranging my annual summer trip to the north-west highlands of Scotland, most years you will be okay, but occasionally you have to be prepared to be philosophical. There will always be ample snow in early April (especially in these days of extensive snow-making), but its quality on lower slopes will depend on whether the weather is wintry or spring-like, and at this time of year, it could be either.

It also boils down to which country you fancy, and whether your non-skier is going to be happy walking around in forests, looking at wild violets, primroses and crocuses. For example, in our village, we have a museum, an art gallery, a ten-pin bowling alley, an indoor swimming pool, innumerable hotels offering "Wellness" facilities, as well as guided snow-shoe walking, sleigh rides, ice-karting, snowmobile excursions, a regular bus service to nearby Zell am See with its beautiful lake, and the opportunity for day-trips to Salzburg (something that our guests regularly take off a day off skiing to do). It is also very easy for non-skiers to meet up with skiers at various scenic, mountain-top restaurants for lunch and a spot of "deckchair skiing".
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These days I think most resorts have an indoor swimming pool, many have bowling, spas, etc. Wherever you go you should be within fairly easy reach of those sort of facilities. Some have extensive (and sometimes expensive - think Megeve) shopping.

That's why I said at the beginning that it's hard to advise on a destination for a "non skier" because people vary so much. I, for example, would need to be paid quite a lot to go to a "wellness" facility. wink And I don't go on holiday to do shopping (though I confess I wouldn't mind being let loose with somebody else's credit card in somewhere like Megeve or Cortina).

For me, a good network of walking paths below the snowline, and a good range of guided snowshoe expeditions above it, plus a couple of good books, would be the best recipe for a "non skiing" week in the mountains. A car would make life easy, but at least a skier can get a lift up to the snow. Harder for a walker to get down, without a car, unless the bus service is suitable.
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Quote:

Harder for a walker to get down, without a car, unless the bus service is suitable.

No problem in Les Arcs - you get the funicular down.

@pam w, I agree with you totally about "wellness" facilities and shopping. I have a friend who doesn't ski but loves rock climbing, walking and especially ice climbing. The indoor climbing wall in Tignes would be a lovely facilitiy to him and me if we were not skiing. In fact with the indoor wall, some good ice climbing pitches, the possibility of scuba diving under the ice, snowmobile courses and treking over GR5 in the winter or up the grande motte, perhaps Tignes would be the best reccomendation.
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Quote:

you get the funicular down

good point. I don't know that area well to say what kind of walks might be available, on foot, from the funicular. Might be a bit urban. It's not far to the road up over the Cormet de Roselend though and the snow line is likely to be a lot higher.

Ice climbing and scuba diving might be a bit aventurous for the OP's wife.....
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Quote:

Ice climbing and scuba diving might be a bit aventurous for the OP's wife.....

Mrs TT would have a fit if I suggested either! (Sun-bathing and sipping prosecco on the other hand.... wink )
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I thought I would post an update here in case anyone else searches for “first week of April, with a non skier”.

Following the suggestion from @hammerite and @Hells Bells I researched Serre Chevalier and we visited from 1st - 8th April 2017. I have to say that the holiday was an outstanding success for both skiers and my non skiing wife.

What really made it was the pedestrian pass. It covers lifts in all 4 of the main villages, so wherever we skied my wife could catch a bus and get the lift up to meet us for lunch. In Briacon she did a self guided tour in the morning, then got the gondola to the very top from where she could walk down a trail next to a green run to a restaurant. She also enjoyed some guided snowshoeing, walked down closed green runs from Serre Ratier and Aravet, and did some nice valley walks. She enjoyed being outside in the sunshine, so did not need to use any of the many spas that were available.

From a skiing point of view, we were very impressed. It was the first week of the Easter school holidays, but the French schools were not on holiday, so we often had pistes to ourselves. We started with two days of snow following by sunshine and warm temperatures. Pistes above 2000m were all in excellent condition for the whole week, but it was a little slushy in the afternoon and the few open runs down to the valley were hard work. However there was enough quality skiing above 2000m that I can wholeheartedly recommend Serre Chevalier for late season skiing. It’s true some of the lifts are slow, and I’d imagine this will cause queues in busier weeks, but you could probably plan your way around them. Some of the runs were fantastic - the only green I have seen better than Barres is Verdon in Courchevel, I have never seen anywhere a blue better than Eychauda, Clot Gauthier is one of the best reds we have skied, and Pylones was a brilliant black to progress onto.

We will be returning next February!
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snowHead snowHead snowHead Sounds excellent!
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