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Spring had a terrible reputation for poor snow and crowded glaciers, but spring can be the best time of year to ski if you plan your trip well. The blue skies, quieter slopes and, if chosen well, the fresh snow make for a great end of season break.
Most people will head straight for the glaciers and high resorts, and if you need to book early this is always the safest route to a good week on the slopes. Glaciers hold the snow well and are a little colder in the blistering sunshine, but they can be busy during the Easter holidays.
If you are a late booker, or looking for a second trip of the winter to finish off the season there are some great tools out there to give you a good idea of where to head. For example right now Saas Fee, Zermatt and Cervinia are being covered in about 20cm of snow with nearly 30cm more due this week, and yesterday La Plagne received 10cm of fresh snow. If you are in need of a quick look the snow overview page is a great start. It shows where the latest and next snow is falling, offers changing webcams showing off the best conditions and links to a whole host of useful pages.
If you can make the time there are some in-depth tools out there that will help you make an educated choice on where to head. You can check out the snow history of previous seasons, where the latest snow has fallen and where the next dump is due. Though the Iglu team will look after you, it is always worth doing a little research yourself. You may be surprised to discover that St. Anton boasted conditions similar to Val d'Isere last year with snow depths of 146cm in March and 103cm in April, which were also the two highest figures of the season for the resort.
A great place to start is with the snow history section. Here you can check out the details of our most popular resorts, snow records in resorts on a month by month basis or even by country.
You may or may not be surprised to discover in April last season Squaw Valley in California boasted snow depths of 4m and Passo Tonale in Italy was looking at 222cm on their upper slopes, where as Val Thorens - the highest resort in Europe - by comparison was down to snow depths of 142cm.
For the really late bookers using snow forecast page can offer a really valuable resource for where the snow is looking good. As you would expect the snow forecast tool gives a glance of where all the next snowfall is due. You can use the comparison tool at the bottom of the page, or you can go into the resorts and take a full look at snowfall and weather on a daily basis.
The snow reports page offers a break down of the snow depths for the upper and lower slopes in resorts, giving a reasonably accurate representation of the current conditions. There are country specific pages, full of helpful information and the comparison table at the bottom of the pages where you can again search via a variety of options.
With all the data that is now available you can avoid the typically busy resorts and find yourself a real gem. You may discover a favourite of yours is having an off season, or that an unexpected favourite is expecting fresh powder and blue bird skies.
This spring there are some superb late deals out there to be enjoyed and there is still availability during the Easter Holidays, so get yourself online, check out the details of where the snow is and get yourself a real last minute bargain. Given half a chance I'd be off to Saas Fee at the weekend!
Not Everyone likes the hustle and bustle of resorts like Val d'Isere, Meribel or St. Anton, some people prefer a more relaxed affair yet still want great skiing, so where to go?
With this is mind I had a word with a few of Igluski's resort experts to get the lowdown on how to avoid queues, packed out restaurants and crowded pistes. The team appear to have skied every major resort and many hidden gems, so after banging some heads together here are our Top Resorts To Avoid the Queues.
The French Resistance
France is by far the most popular destination for British skiers, with the big three ski areas — the Espace Killy, Three Valleys and Paradiski accounting for 41%* of British ski holidays. That at least gives us a starting point: for world class, vibrant resorts that cater for everyone then head to the Espace Killy, Three Valleys or Paradiski, but for a more relaxed, less hectic week on the slopes where jumps to mind?
Back in the '60s Megève was the height of chic winter holiday destinations, with a stunning village and a boutique feel. Today it still offers a fantastic ambience and great skiing and the crowds have moved on to the trendier Tarantaise resorts. So for chic, boutique elegance head to Megève.
Montgenèvre is a picturesque alpine village that sits on the French-Italian border. Accessing the Milky Way it offers a huge ski area, yet being among the southern French resorts it has become a forgotten gem. Think families, cheese and vin chaud on a calm sun terrace after a great day on the mountain.
Italy has long been home to some of the best value skiing in Europe, both the Milky Way and the Super Dolomiti ski domains offer huge ski areas, Cervinia is linked with the ever popular Zermatt and from La Thuile you can ski over to La Rosiere in France's Tarantaise Valley. But these resorts, are, well, very popular and therefore not what you are after.
There are some hidden gems in the Dolomites but if you head to the lesser known resorts of Gressoney & Champoluc you can enjoy the flattering skiing underneath Europe's second largest mountain, Monte Rosé. The resorts are in the beautiful Gressoney Valley and the former hot-spots now offer a more serene family experience than the espresso-fuelled fun of Passo Tonale.
The Jung Swiss
Switzerland is renowned for beautiful, charming, chocolate box resorts. It is known for great skiing, glaciers, cheese and chocolate. It is also offers some of the world's most exclusive and famous resorts, just think of St. Moritz, Davos, Klosters and Zermatt. But Switzerland also offers some stunning, quiet resorts with incredible skiing and minimal crowds.
The Jungfrau region must be one of the most stunning ski-able valleys in the world. From the resorts of Mürren & Grindelwald you can enjoy one of the most picturesque train rides to resort, taking in the Eiger, Mönch and the Jungfrau. Mürren is know for its steeps and the legendary 'Inferno' run, whereas Grindelwald offers great cruising and awe-inspiring views.
Austria is a place of split personality, on the one hand you have the famous raucous après ski — from St. Anton's Mooserwirt and Krazy Kanguruh, to the champagne bars of Ischgl & Lech, on the other hand you have the great family skiing on offer in Zell am See, Kaprun and Kitzbühel. Both these personalities offer great holidays, depending on your taste, though they are not far enough from the beaten track for some.
One of Austria's most enchanting resorts, Alpbach, is often forgotten, due to it's smaller ski area, but shouldn't be discounted. The beautiful, traditional village has 52km of piste with 1500m of vertical drop and there are plenty of resorts with less vertical, less pistes and are far less attractive that we visit each year (think Bulgarian resorts for a start). Alpbach offers a charming village, perfect for families on their first trip together or those who enjoy skiing in a more intimate resort.
Now Obergurgl may not be the most attractive of Austria's resorts, but the purpose built village sits at the bottom of a glacier and the combination of great intermediate skiing and a limited amount of accommodation means less lift queues than its surrounding resorts. Linked to Hochgurgl it offers a decent sized ski area and a calm family atmosphere.
Well technically it's British Columbia, but the Canadian province offers some of the finest powder and most famous resorts in the world. You could head to Whistler for the holiday of a lifetime, but being one of the top resorts in the world draws in the crowds.
Head a little further north into Interior B.C. and visit the powder haven of Big White. The name says it all really, the resort regularly receives somewhere around 9m of snow a season, so powder skiing is part of everyday life there. The resort boasts (quietly of course) one of Canada's largest ski areas, fluffy, dry, powder and saloon-style, wooden-clad, gold-rush charm.
Heading inland toward Banff National Park you stumble across the resort of Revelstoke. This is one of Canada's newer resorts, where huge investment has been put into the area in recent years. Revelstoke boasts the status of being the only resort that offers piste, cat and heli-skiing all under one umbrella. This may be an escape for the more advanced skiers and snowboarders among us, but it oozes mountain charm without the queues — especially when you're being taken from spot-to-spot on the back of a snowcat.
The American Mid-West is home to some of the United States' finest skiing, from the world class resorts of Aspen, Breckenridge and Vail to the deep, dry powder, and perfect pistes, parks & lifts. The celebrity filled resorts come at a price and are very popular, yet there are again some forgotten gems to discover.
Beaver Creek is the luxury resort on offer, much like Megève it offers a stunning setting, great hotels and a real feel of elegance. The resort could happily compete with its busier neighbours but chooses not to. This calmer mountain and luxury accommodation are the perfect escape for those looking for a great holiday away from the crowds and are happy to pay the price.
Heading a little further west into Utah is Park City, famous for the Sundance Film Festival and boasts three mountains — including the skier only Deer Valley. The resort has a real American-West feel to it, Park City also boasts its own distillery (which will banish those no alcohol rumours) and some superb skiing.
We all love something different about skiing, I swear by Meribel and Morzine, our Sales Manager is St. Anton through and through and of course there are the Val d'Isere, Whistler and Les Arcs fans among us. The great thing about skiing is there is a mountain, resort or even hotel/chalet to suit all of us. I love chalets, big mountains, fun atmosphere and après ski, others prefer charming villages, family run hotels and understated elegance. They key is to find your own spiritual home in the mountains.
* Stats taken from Igluski 2010/11 bookings
As you may be aware from a news piece posted in the summer the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are considering adding Slopestyle to the 2014 Winter Olympic in Sochi. This has been partly fuelled by the success of the Halfpipe over the past three events but also by the desire of the snowsports community to see snowboard and freestyle skiing's ever popular discipline included.
With this in mind it appears that one of the most influential figures in world snowboarding and co-founder of the TTR World Snowboard Tour, Terje Haakonsen, has written to the IOC to discuss the state of slopestyle and the effective implementation of the spectacle within the next Winter Olympics. One of the reasons this open letter is so newsworthy is due to Terje's past, as he famously boycotted the first ever Winter Olympic Halfpipe event back in 1998 after the IOC handed control of the event from the snowboarder-run ISF to the skier-run FIS.
It now appears the hugely influential character wishes to work with Jacques Rogge, the President of the IOC, to bring Slopestyle to the world famous event as successfully as possible.
Letter to the editor:
As the Olympic slopestyle/snowboarding discussion is peaking, it is time to cast some light on this defining topic for the future of competitive snowboarding. This upcoming weekend, the ski federation FIS introduces slopestyle to their program, on the same weekend as the best slopestyle riders are competing in the Dew Tour. And the IOC is about to decide if they will include slopestyle in the next Olympic program or not. Some remarkable events have taken place in the last year. Let us recap:
After the extraordinary TV rating success of the Vancouver halfpipe contest, top cats from the IOC and NBC saw the potential in expanding the snowboarding program at the next Olympics. Seeing the golden boy Shaun White go double at the next winter Olympics (Sochi 2014) would be a ratings wet dream. In the fall of 2009, USA, Canada and New Zealand had prepared a proposition for the ski federation FIS’s annual congress in Turkey, June 2010. The idea was to prepare slopestyle for the 2018 Olympics by introducing it at the FIS Snowboarding World Championships, as the IOC requires two successful World Championships before considering new sports for future games.
By then, the FIS delegates were euphoric at the hysteria that followed the snowboarding events in Vancouver. They decided to speed up the process, bypassing the existing requirements, by submitting an application to the IOC immediately – before slopestyle had been tried out at a single FIS world championships. It is reasonable to imagine they felt confident that the IOC would react positively to this application.
The only problem was that IOC had a lot on their plate at their next meeting, in Acapulco in October. The most disturbing topic was women ski jumping; a nightmare for the Olympic movement. Women ski jumpers have been fighting for years to enter the Olympics, but have faced serious opposition both within FIS and the IOC. Many believe women ski jumping (including members of the sports media) does not have enough participants, is low on quality and does not have the necessary international reach as a sport to be a credible Olympic event. Women ski jumpers had sued the IOC before the Vancouver Olympics for discrimination, but were ruled against by the Canadian legal system.
Allowing snowboard slopestyle (as well as twintip ski halfpipe and slopestyle) before solving the women ski jumping issue probably made the choice impossible for IOC. Rather than accepting some applications from some sports and denying others, they made one statement for all: We will wait and see the quality of the sports at the upcoming world championships. FIS has several world championships coming up this season, among them the Nordic Ski World Championships in Oslo, the Snowboard World Championships in La Molina, Spain and the Freestyle World Championships in Deer Valley and Park City.
The only problem about this from a snowboarding perspective is that neither Molina nor Deer Valley/Park City had planned for a slopestyle! Even worse, Deer Valley actively bans snowboarding on a general basis and they do not have a terrain park. In Norway, where the snowboard federation is independent of FIS, and are part owners of the TTR/WSF World Snowboarding Championships in 2012, this whole situation culminated in a public debate. IOC executive board member Gerhard Heiberg admitted that IOC wanted to check out more than just FIS events when deciding upon the quality of slopestyle. As FIS did not have slopestyle on their Olympic program, this opened up for a new scenario in the debate: if the IOC could look at non-FIS events, could they also approve these events as qualifiers for the Olympics?
Everyone working with top level snowboarding contest knows how much the date conflicts in Olympic qualifying years is hurting the sport. This has been bad before, but in 2013, when riders are qualifying for both halfpipe and slopestyle, it has the potential to be a nightmare. And this is the fundamental problem of competitive snowboarding: it will never reap its full potential before the Olympic issue is solved. Snowboarding is not a 4 year cycle event. It is a daily operation where progress is happening in all corners of the world – summer, winter, spring and fall. At the moment, the Olympic halfpipe finals is only good for the podium winners, the IOC and the broadcasters. It does not help the sport as a whole.
The potential for date conflict is the most apparent problem. This was cruelly exposed when FIS all of a sudden decided to include slopestyle on the program at the La Molina Snowboarding World Championships – a mere two months before the event! This was obviously a move to impress the IOC before the slopestyle decision was made, but it was not a good move for the sport: the slopestyle contest in Molina happens on exactly the same dates as the Dew Tour stop in Killington. All Dew Tour riders, being the best slopestyle riders in the world, have been already committed to these events, meaning the FIS World Champion in slopestyle (and in halfpipe for that matter) will be crowned without the best riders attending.
Competitive snowboarding has fantastic potential. Right now, judging formats, slope design, prize money, TV production/distribution and rider services are progressing fast in TTR, X Games and Dew Tour events. These are the best events in the world. But they are outside the Olympic family. As the organizers as the biggest winter sports event in the world, we believe that the IOC holds a corporate responsibility for ensuring a workable solution for the sport. This will not only realise the potential of the sport, but also fast-track the quality of snowboarding contests at the Olympics. All of us, including event organizers, FIS, IOC and federations, should find a solution for the better good of the sport. Otherwise, the riders will be the main losers. They will be forced into making impossible choices between conflicting events in 2013 – on any given weekend throughout the season.
We believe a good solution could be a common Olympic ranking, not sanctioned by FIS or TTR, but a joint ranking list based on results from the best events in the world. By embracing this, the IOC would take a credible position for the youth of the world and take charge in the ongoing action sports revolution. We are willing to talk to find a good solution for the sport. But we are also willing to keep fighting for snowboarding like we have done for over a decade. The Olympic system for snowboarding is wrong; preserving the status quo is not an option.
Terje Haakonsen Henning Andersen Owner and organiser of The Arctic Challenge
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