Earlier studies have indicated that the soil on groomed ski slopes may be subjected to more pronounced cooling than the soil below a natural snowpack. We analyzed the thermal impacts of ski-slope preparation in a sub-alpine ski resort in central Switzerland (1100ma.s.l.) where artificial snow was produced. Physical snow properties and soil temperature measurements were carried out on the ski slope and off-piste during winter 1999/2000. The numerical soil–vegetation–atmosphere transfer model COUP was run for both locations, with a new option to simulate the snowpack development on a groomed ski slope. Snow density, snow hardness and thermal conductivity were significantly higher on the ski slope than in the natural snowpack. However, these differences did not affect the cooling of the soil, since no difference was observed between the ski slope and the natural snow cover. This might be because cold periods were rare and short and thus any snowpack could protect the soil from freezing. The major impact of the ski-slope grooming was a 4 week delay in snowmelt and soil warming at the end of the season. The newly implemented option proved to be a useful strategy for simulating the snowpack of a ski slope. However, snow density was underestimated by the model as it could not account adequately for compaction due to grooming traffic. Our study demonstrates that there is no site-independent answer as to whether a groomed snowpack affects the thermal conditions in the soil.