What is glacier skiing?

All across the Alps, high-mountain glaciers offer guaranteed snow and skiing all year round. Though it may sound treacherous, glacier skiing isn’t just skiing on ice. The ice of the glacier just prevents the snow from melting fast, ensuring non-stop good powder. But skiing on glaciers during the summer and the winter is different to skiing on regular slopes, so with a little preparation you can decide whether it’s right for you.

Many ski resorts in the Alps offer access to glaciers, which offer long seasons, guaranteed snow and the perfect conditions for skiing and hiking all year round. Some of the most famous Alps glaciers include the Glacier de Péclet in Val Thorens, La Grande Motte in Tignes, the Sarenne glacier in Alpe d’Huez (the largest skiable glacier in Europe) and the Zermatt glacier in Switzerland, which can be accessed from Zermatt and Cervinia in Italy during summer and winter.

If you plan to ski on a glacier during the winter, wrap up warm. Weather in the mountains is always precarious and can change within minutes, but the high-altitude of glaciers – mostly over 3000m – means that they can be cold even on a sunny day. But that also means great snow and often reliable skiing conditions.

The best thing about glaciers, however, is that they offer the chance to ski in spring and summer, as well as opportunities for glacier walking and hiking. Skiing in the summer months is an entirely different experience –it’s warmer, more relaxed and combines the best of both worlds by letting you ski in the mornings before enjoying the sunny mountains in the afternoons.

Summer skiing also ensures that you don’t get too rusty between winter ski holidays – glaciers in the Alps are used by snow sports teams around the world for summer training. And there’s another good reason for that, says Rob Stanford, manager of Warren Smith Ski Academy, which runs a series of technique courses on the Zermatt Glacier from Cervinia every April and during the summer. While the runs are shorter, and only drag lifts can be used to take account for the movement of ice, they offer short, fast repetition and an excellent opportunity for skiers to tune up their technique.

“For people keen on improvement, I refer to it as a skiing gym,” says Rob. “You will be up there skiing next to World Cup athletes in training – and if it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for us. You can really get something out of it, and even out of watching these top skiers train. There are multiple pitches with different gradients – so summer skiing is never to be discounted.”

There are a few things to bear in mind though – the first of which is safety. Glaciers, especially as they recede, are home to huge crevasses, many of which are highly dangerous – and scarily visible – during the summer. In autumn, winter and spring they can be hidden by fresh snow but they are still there.

“The ropes at the sides only really appear in Europe on glaciers – if the ropes are there, you don’t go under them. Even just off the side of the piste, there could be a crevasse – it’s simple, but you must obey the rules, no matter how tempting the snow looks,” says Rob.

Because of the high altitude, skiers and hikers must also pay attention to the harsh sun and snow glare, making sure they drink enough water and ensuring they don’t overdo it. Unlike the winter, when you may ski from 3,500m to the base of a ski area, during the summer you will likely ski all day above 3,000m and this will take its toll, so ensure you drink enough, apply an effective sunscreen (at least a SPF50 or total block sunscreen) and apply it regularly (every two hours maximum).

“And take time to acclimatise” adds Rob, “glacier skiing and hiking is physically tiring.”

The best thing about skiing in the summer is that after a hard morning on the slopes, you can leave your equipment in storage at the top of the mountain, slip on a pair of trainers and head back to the hotel to sunbathe by the pool, read a book or walk in the mountains. What’s not to like?

Ready to hit the Alps? Take a look at our all year round premium Alps holidays range.