Now September has landed and the kids are heading back to school summer is already starting to fade away. For skiers and boarders September is also the time when we officially begin to gear up for winter with thoughts on where to ski this season and what you’ll be wearing on the slopes. Booking a ski holiday can be a daunting experience with so many places to choose from and so many factors to consider. So if you’ve been voted the official party leader this winter and you’re feeling a little intimidated at the prospect check out our tips to organising the perfect trip.
Planning the Perfect Ski Trip
This is one of the make or break factors of the perfect ski trip. Pick the right one, with the right terrain and you’ll be hailed forever as the party leader extraordinaire. Pick the wrong one and you could spend your time carrying your skis back down the steep slope leading to your chalet after an exhausting day fighting the bumps. When choosing your resort you need to consider the following factors:
- Experience/skiing or boarding level of your party – is the terrain better suited for beginners or advanced skiers, or does it cater for both? What is the mix of coloured runs like? A resort with a high number of reds and blacks, including the runs back into resort, will not make an ideal base for a group of beginners.
- Nightlife or après ski – are you 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?
- Reliability of snow – how high is the resort? Is it snow-sure? If you’re going very early or late season this may be an important factor.
- Size of resort – would you prefer somewhere quaint and picturesque or somewhere large which you can explore?
- Feel of the resort – Is the resort pedestrianised or full of upmarket hotels and expensive boutiques. Each resort offers a very different feel and it’s important to pick somewhere that you’ll enjoy wandering around as well as skiing from.
- Location and accessibility – do you plan to drive or fly? How long would the journey take? If you plan on flying, how long are the transfers from the nearest airport?
- Local costs – how does the £ fare against the local currency? How much does a beer cost or a plate of chips at lunch? What are the prices of lift passes? Experienced skiers or boarders may be happier to pay more for an extensive terrain, but for less experienced the higher prices at some of the larger resorts might prove unjustifiable.
- Restaurants – if you’re considering a self-catered trip or gourmet mountain lunches this might be a deciding factor in your trip.
- Layout of the resort – is most of the accommodation close to the lifts or do you need to take a bus each morning and throughout the day. If you’re travelling with children or the bus system runs infrequently his could be a key factor in how smooth your holiday would be.
- Family-orientated – 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?
- Snowboarding – if you’re going with snowboarders, is there a lot of flat terrain that would require boarders to unclip frequently? Are there many button lifts which could prove challenging to boarders.
- Facilities in resort – are there a number of shops, supermarkets and leisure facilities? Does this matter to you?
- Non-skiers in the party? – what alternative activities are available for them? Are there activities like snow shoeing or dog-sledding locally? Is there a pool or ice skating rink?
- Lift system – how effective is the lift system? Are there long queues?
- What language is spoken – do you want to practise your French or German? Or would you prefer a resort where English is widely spoken? For some, the appeal of smaller resorts is the chance to become immersed in the local culture, whereas others prefer the ease of the larger resorts and the States, where English is (or almost is) the first language.
Skiing accommodation has come along way from the chalet hotels popular in the 80s. 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. Chalet-hotels and chalets normally offer half-board accommodation with breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner. Whereas hotels are frequently bed-and-breakfast with the option to eat in the hotel restaurant in the evening. If you prefer to cook for yourselves or eat out, then self-catered accommodation might be an alternative option. When choosing your accommodation type you may want to consider the following factors:
- Catering – would you prefer to go half-board? Or would you prefer the flexibility of choosing your own meal times? If you prefer to choose where you eat in the evening, do you require cooking facilities or would you prefer to eat out?
- Sharing – if you’re considering a chalet holiday, are you happy to share with other parties in a larger chalet? Or would you prefer to fill your own?
- Location – is it Ski-in, Ski-out? Is it close to the slopes or the action? Are you willing to pay the extra for these perks?
- Cost – 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.
This is an important thing to consider when planning a trip, as it impacts on many factors. December (before Christmas week) can be a more cost effective option with many resorts offering a reduced-price lift pass early season. However, this is due to the risk of poor early-season snow. If you’re planning a trip early-season you may want to consider one of the higher, more snow-sure resorts unless you’re happy to book last minute. January is also often a cheaper time to ski with some great last-minute deals once New Year’s week has been and gone. January is normally a great month for snow, but it can be pretty chilly and days are shorter. February is undoubtedly the busiest month and the most expensive with half-term holidaymakers hitting the slopes. If you don’t have children and there are no teachers in your party 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 underfoot on the lower pistes. Then once April hits spring is well and truly in force. Expect long sunny days, slushy slopes and BBQs aplenty.
Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate or advanced level skier or boarder you may want to consider some lessons to help you get the most out of your holiday. Nowadays, many of the more reputable schools offer something for all levels from beginner group lessons to off piste adventures for the more advanced. During school holiday times ski schools get booked up early so don’t leave booking until the last minute. Many ski schools will allow you to pay a deposit to secure the booking, allowing you to pay the balance further down the line. Out of holiday time you can book lessons either before you go or on arrival but to ensure you get the group or instructor you want, it is advisable to book once the rest of the holiday is finalised. When choosing your ski school it is important to check:
- whether their instructors are fully qualified or whether they employ trainees.
- if they have a good reputation and good reviews.
- the size of the groups.
- whether the instructors are fluent in English.
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, and skiing is ingrained in your psyche, 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. It’s also advised to buy 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.
Now all you need to do is to choose your play mates and decide the factors most important to you. Happy hunting!