Have you somehow inserted the role of party leader for your upcoming ski holiday? Don’t know the 3 Valleys from the 4 Valleys? Have no idea if you need ski-in, ski-out or if you even want an après drink after skiing?
Booking a ski holiday can be a daunting experience with so many places to choose from and so many factors to consider. Some resorts are ideal for beginners, others more suited for advanced skiers and boarders. Some resorts come alive once the lifts shut, others solely focus on snow-based action. Are you planning on heading out solo? Keen to try ski touring or off-piste skiing more your thing?
Choosing the right resort can make or break your holiday, so it’s important to consider what are your non-negotiables. Our guide to planning the perfect ski trip which will have you hailed as the ski trip Don long after your vin chaud headache starts to fade.
How to Plan a Ski Holiday
1. Choosing the perfect ski resort
This is one of the make or break factors of the perfect ski trip. Pick the right one and be hailed forever as the party leader extraordinaire. Pick the wrong one and you could spend your holiday carrying your skis down a steep slope after an exhausting day fighting the bumps.
Things to consider in choosing the perfect resort…
What time of year do you want to travel?
This is a key decision to make early on. If you’re tied to a certain week due to work or school holidays, this may influence where you can ski too.
- Early December can be a cost-effective option with many resorts offering reduced-price lift passes. However, there is always the risk of poor early season snow. You may want to consider one of the higher, more snow-sure resorts. Christmas and New Year breaks are perfect to avoid the stress of the holiday time at home. Have someone else baste the turkey as you kick back with brandy and mince pies.
- January is often a cheaper time to ski with some great last-minute deals once New Year’s week has gone. It’s normally a great month for snow, but it can be pretty chilly and days are shorter.But if you’re looking for great snow and no queues, this is your time.
- February is peak season and probably the busiest month. With half-term holidaymakers hitting the slopes, prices shoot up as well. If you don’t have children, avoid these peak weeks with their high prices and busy pistes.
- With the arrival of March comes warmer weather. This is perfect for leisurely lunches and late drinks on sun terraces on the run back to resort. However, these high temperatures can also mean slightly slushy conditions on the lower pistes.
- Once April hits spring is well and truly spring skiing. Expect long sunny days, slushy slopes and BBQs aplenty. If you have kids, Easter is your last chance to ski with quieter pistes than February half term.
What is the skill level or experience of your party?
If you have beginners in your midst does the resort have adequate beginner areas and nursery slopes? Ideally an area closed-off with a magic carpet for ease or learning and confidence building. Or is your party more advanced and need an expansive terrain to keep entertained? Advanced skiers may love the steep slopes of Val d’Isère. Whereas beginners or intermediates will feel much more relaxed cruising the incredible wide perfectly groomed blues of which Courchevel is renowned.
So do your homework before you choose. Check the skill and experience level of your group and look up the stats of the number of green (gentlest), blue, red and black (steepest) pistes each resort offers to gauge what skill level each cater best for. Some resorts have a great mix of all three, which is perfect for a varied group.
Going with snowboarders? If there’s a lot of flat terrain, they’ll have to un-clip and push often. Tons of button lifts? These can be challenging for boarders.
What is your budget?
You’ll often pay similar amounts for breaks in different resorts, with some sky-high exceptions. The cost of each resort tends to differ with in-resort prices. Lift pass prices are a great indicator, as generally the resorts with expensive lift passes are also the resorts in which you’ll need to re-mortgage your house for a mountain lunch. A week’s lift pass can vary by as much as £100 between different resorts. And a pint can cost you 4€ in some, and 10€ in others. You’ve been warned… Prefer the 4€ pint? You can definitely do a ski holiday on a shoestring.
What do you want to do after the lifts shut?
If your ideal ski holiday involves returning straight home for cake once you’re off the hill before cuddling up by the fire then this may not be a great concern.
If you are coming with children or you have non-skiers in your party then they might need entertaining. It’s worth checking out what non-skiing activities are available. Perhaps there’s a luge (sledging) track, dog-sledging, snowshoeing, bowling or ice skating rink. Or a full on sports centre complete with Olympic-sized pool and climbing wall. Some resorts have excellent facilities, others less so.
Likewise, big kids also need some entertainment once the skiing day is over. Looking for a lively resort with a banging nightlife and clubs open until the lifts do? Or would you prefer one cosy bar which has live music during après before you head home for a cosy night in? Most resorts offer live music – with or without table dancing! – but there are definitely some resorts which “do” après better than others. So if you’re looking for a lively scene, either early evening or late night, be sure to check what’s on before you sign yourself up for a sleepy hollow.
Also, check to see what types of shops and supermarkets are available. Does this matter to you? Restaurants could be another deciding factor, especially if you’re considering a self-catered trip or are looking forward to gourmet mountain lunches.
Bringing the kids along?
If you’re planning on taking children on your next trip, what are the facilities available for your little ones? Is there a crèche or dedicated children’s area? What are the prices for child-care? Are there reputable ski schools in the area with lessons for children in English? Some resorts offer free lift passes for young kids. How easy is it to get to the slopes? This can be a much more challenging task with children, so look into it.
2. What type of accommodation are you looking for?
Skiing accommodation has come a long way from the hotels popular in the 80’s.
Nowadays, you can live it up in swanky modern apartments, luxury chalets or exclusive hotels. Or opt for a self-catered apartment, budget hotel or even hostel accommodation. What’s the difference?
Catered chalet – Some people love chalets. All the hard work is taken out of it with breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner all taken care of. As long as you make it home for dinner……
Sharing – It’s worth noting that unless you book the whole chalet then you will probably share with others. Most chalet guests are like-minded folk and this makes for a fun and sociable setting. Just be prepared to mix and dine with other parties.
Self-catered apartment – Prefer the flexibility of choosing your own meal times? To choose whether you cook for yourself or eat out? Although self-catered may seem the most cost-effective option upfront, if you plan on eating out frequently, high prices in resort mean that costs soon add up. Chalets and chalet-hotels normally offer unlimited wine with dinner which can mean a substantial saving on restaurant alternatives.
Hotel – Hotels frequently are bed-and-breakfast with the option to eat in the hotel restaurant in the evening.
Don’t forget to check the location of said accommodation. Is it ski-in, ski-out? Is it close to the slopes or the bars? And if so, are you willing to pay the extra for these perks? Is the extra cost associated with a ski-in, ski-out location worth it to you and your party? If that’s not an option then be sure to check the transport links and whether ski equipment can be stored in lockers or hire shops close to the slopes to save you lugging them around.
3. How do you want to get to resort?
Plane, train or car? Proximity to airports or train stations can help decide this one. Figuring out the best way to get to resort differs for each person. For those travelling with young children, the success of your next family break depends on minimal time from airport to resort. If you fly, do you want to rent a car once you land to give you a bit of freedom and flexibility? Or do you prefer to pre-arrange an airport transferred not have to faff? How long is said journey from airport to resort?
4. Do you want ski lessons?
What to ask for when choosing your ski school:
- Do they have a good reputation and reviews?
- Are their instructors fully qualified?
- What is the size of their groups?
- Are their instructors fluent in English?
5. What equipment do I need to bring?
With ski hire prices on the increase, many skiers or boarders ponder the age-old question of whether to hire or to buy. To some extent, this depends on how often you ski (and how much money you have) and what level of skier you are.
Once you become an intermediate, a well-fitted pair of boots is one of the most vital pieces of ski equipment. Every foot is different and hire boots are not moulded to your feet often leading to an uncomfortable time on the hill. Believe it or not, ski boots can be comfortable and anyone who had ever suffered shin bang from ill-fitting boots will stress the importance of owning your own – fitted by a professional boot-fitter. We recommend buying in-resort, so that any niggles can be ironed during the week, ensuring optimum comfort. When it comes to skis though, whether you need to invest in your own pair depends on how often you ski and how you travel to resort. The cost of ski carriage, teamed with infrequent trips and the cost of servicing mean that for many ski hire is a more viable option.
Key pieces of gear you will need to bring include goggles, gloves, ski socks, thermals, mid layers, ski trousers, ski jacket, and a buff or bandana. You can rent helmets if you choose to, but many people prefer to bring their own. Not sure where to start when it comes to packing for a ski trip? Start here or here.
6. What else do I need to do before I go?
- Buy ski insurance – You can often get coverage through your credit card you book with, or you can opt for travel insurance
- Exchange some currency – It’s always cheaper to do it at the bank beforehand than those kiosks in the airport
- Check the weather forecast – The weather is unpredictable in the Alps, so check the weekly forecast for your week so you can pack appropriately. And mentally/emotionally prepare ;-)
Whew. Deep breath, it’s going to be okay. Although there is loads to consider, if you’ve got a good group of friends or family with you and the right attitude, your holiday will be a success no matter what. Have some friends who don’t know how to plan a ski holiday? Share these tips via Facebook and let them know!