In reply to annak: I've never been in December but Chamonix/Cogne are a good choice because, as often as not, when one of them is "out" the other is frequently "in". Trouble is what you save on accommodation costs you could spend on commuting between the two.
> (In reply to annak)
> By Norway do you mean Rjukan? Or is it turning out to be a problem elsewhere as well?
We were ideally looking at somewhere other than Rjukan as I have done a week's climbing there previously. So Setesdal seemed a good plan but accommodation options appear a lot more limited. Currently Cogne and Ecrins seem the best alternative but have little knowledge on their reliability early season. All venues are still under consideration though!
In reply to annak: The Cogne Ice Opening is held 13-15 December. Presumably this indicates that the organisers trust that there will be climbable ice around then. Of course things change from season to season so take it for what it is worth but as far as I know people were ice climbing around Cogne in the first week of December last year.
Any recommendations for areas in Italy other than Cogne, which might be more reliable early season? I visited Val Splugga a few years back, which I thought was an awesome venue and a suitable altitude for more reliable conditions. I am sure there are other places besides Cogne. What about Livigno like for example, or other areas East of Cogne? I am the partner of the OP btw so this isn't a hijack
Having been to both Cogne and the Ecrins, I'd have strong reservations about early ice conditions in the latter, so much so that I wouldn't even consider it as a new year venue. I've been to the Ecrins several times in January and experienced very mixed conditions there in more recent years. The last time I went was in late Jan 2012 and it was very poor there then; very poor in La Grave too although Alpe d'huez and Ceillac were ok. Cogne and nearby valleys (eg Valsavarenche and Val di Rhemes) were in brilliant condition in late January of this year and Cascades de Lillaz, for instance, seems to have been in climbable condition in the first week in January in the last few years as do the routes at the top end of Valsavarenche. So of the two, my vote would be for Cogne over the new year.
I agree that Maltatal is another contender, but it's difficult to get reliable information about early season conditions there.
In reply to annak: You could go up North? Lots of adventure and chance of the northern lights. Direct cheapish flights to Tromso, we've always found it easy to rent around Lyngen and you'll be there long before ski touring season which is busier.
In reply to annak: If you're looking for accommodation in Setesdal check out the Brokke ski resort. Stayed there last year (for free, long story!) and it was stunning. You'd need fairly big group (6-8) to make it economical but the chalets are extremely nice and it's a great location for ice and skiing.