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Mid-December and it's the time of year where many of us pop out to the mountains before the season hits full swing, to meet new people, check out some new resorts and, of course, to get in the first tracks of the season. Most of us have been to visit resorts new to us as individuals, with staff heading out to the ever popular resorts in the Tarantaise and Austria, but I was lucky enough to go somewhere new for all of us... the only problem is I don't want to tell too many people about it.
Over the weekend, along with Jay from the sales team, I went out to Val d'Anniviers, to visit the resorts of Grimentz and Zinal and to take a look at the new properties we will be featuring and to see what the ski area had to offer. The two resorts offer around 50-60km of piste each and include the nearby resorts of St. Luc & Vercorin on the lift pass, offering an additional 120km of piste and making up a decent amount of skiing for a week's holiday. But that's not what about this ski area is about, yes there is 200km of skiing, and yes the inter resort buses are typically efficient, Grimentz and Zinal is more about the quiet pistes and easy access to countless off-piste adventures.
We arrived in Geneva on Friday night and enjoyed a relaxing, though busy, transfer to resort on the train. Being Swiss, the train was waiting for us when we arrived and even got to the destination on time, with minimal fuss — well, you can't imagine the Swiss letting any pesky leaves get in the way, can you! The drive up to resort was quick, though as the sun had gone down we missed the dramatic views. The valley rises up quite dramatically before getting into resort, as we climbed over 1,000m in altitude in around half an hour.
Chalet Edelweiss was both charming and relaxing, and our hosts Eric & Penny were fantastic. Penny had prepared a fantastic meal for us, while Eric showed off their stock of Scott skis and fitted everyone out with the latest kit, apart from me, as I was apparently their first ever snowboarding guest. The chalet is extremely welcoming, and being run by a mature couple means you felt more like guests in their home.
Eric and Penny are clearly huge ski enthusiasts, and were keen to share their knowledge of the local mountains and to talk about the regular weeks they organise where the guests can ski with a mountain guide every day. Saturday morning, after a hearty breakfast, they whisked us up to the lift station, and by 9:30 we were hitting the slopes for our first runs of the winter.
The resort may have been only half open, but within minutes you could sense the endless possibilities off off-piste riding. After a few runs to warm up, we headed up to the top of the Combe de Sorebois, where a huge bowl offering great back country skiing was shown to us. We hiked along the ridge for ten minutes and dropped into the first knee deep powder of the winter. We skied the area throughout they day, never tiring of what is a relatively small area, only dreaming of coming back later in the season, armed with a transceiver, a guide and some snowshoes.
That evening, after another fantastic meal in the chalet, we went for a short hike along the river basin in the valley, heading up passed the resort into the relative wilderness, where Eric lit a small fire and Penny produced some Vin Chaud to help keep us warm. It was a full moon and the views across to the Weisshorn and the Dent Blanche were impressive. This was just one of the nice little touches that the couple offer their guests, should you chose to take it.
The following morning we took the short drive, around 15-20 minutes over to Grimentz, where our next host Will, would take over the reins. Will had collected us from the station in Sierre and had skied with us the day before, but we were now in his back garden. Grimentz had only opened for the season the day before, the cruisy blues and red runs, filled with rollers and corduroy were fantastic, though the off-piste looked pretty tracked out.
Again, after a hour of warming up and playing around in the sidecountry, we were taken on a short ten minute hike from the highest open lift. I say a short hike, for the skiers it was nice and easy, but for the token snowboarder, hiking in thigh deep snow, was hard work, but rewarding. We ended up in a huge, untracked bowl, with lovely rollers, and small trees to play with, followed by a little bit of tree skiing. The snow was knee deep throughout, and was one of the many hidden gems the region has to offer.
Throughout the morning and early afternoon we enjoyed the easily accessed off-the-beaten-track skiing with Will, Eric and Penny, and definitely got a feel for why the three of them had upped sticks and left London for a life on the slopes.
Later that afternoon we were in for another treat, when we checked into our accommodation for our final night, the gorgeous Chalet C by Chivoone, nicknamed Chalet CBC, much to the owner's dismay. The views from the balcony, all across the valley were truly stunning, as was the chalet itself. The master bedroom boasted a huge standing bath in the middle of the room, offering the same fab views. The terrace has a hot tub, and for those looking to cater for themselves, a kitchen to die for.
After settling in we visited the many high-end chalets on offer, before checking out the charming, and superbly named, Chalet la Legende. This chalet sits in the centre of the old town, filled with typical Swiss charm. After our tour of the accommodation, we left the chalet, expecting a short walk to the restaurant booked for the evening, only to be taken into the little cave, underneath the property, where we were treated to a glass of wine, in charming surroundings — for guests staying here Will can arrange for Raclette and wine to be served here, though unfortunately you don't get to indulge in the owner's wine collection.
We ended the evening with a trip to Le Mélèze, one of the many quaint restaurants offering typical mountain cuisine, where we were in for another treat. Our table essentially had a barbeque built into it, with hot coals and a grill over the top, and after a starter of salad, we where given a bowl of meat to cook for ourselves. We were treated to veal, veal sausage, merguez, beef and bacon — what else do you need after a day of deep powder and good wine!
This trip took me to an undiscovered corner of Switzerland, the valley offers views of the nearby Crans Montana, and is across a ridge from Zermatt along with bieng a short drive from Verbier, but has been left alone for years. The people we met moved there as it offers great skiing, incredible backcountry and no crowds. The only problem now, is I want people to go there and enjoy it for themselves, just not too many...
Iglu ski expert and former Veriber ski instructor, Scotty, takes us through his guide to bumps, offering tips and advice in preparation for taking on the likes of Val d'Isere's Le Face, Avoriaz's Swiss Wall and Verbier's Chasseure.
Skiing bumps is, without doubt, challenging — some are attracted to that challenge, though many prefer to just find an alternative route. They are like Marmite, you love them or hate them.
For those that feel the love, would like to some understanding, or to be inspired here you go.
Firstly mind, then body.
Body and Posture
Absorb vs extending
Practice traversing across the ski field. Low speed, keep your upper body still and let your legs move up then let them fall down as you go over each bump, keep your arms out and forward, in the goal keeper position. Try both directions so you get a feel for each leg being low & high on the slope.
Absorbing: Normally done at the start of the bump. Hit the bump like you're skidding to a stop, when you hit the bump you can let your knees buckle up to your chest and by absorbing you, you can maintain your speed — plus you'll have a smooth transition over the bump. Pushing your feet against the bump will enable you to slow down.
Extension: As you come up to a bump it's possible to extend your legs rather than absorb. This will project you up in the air. The amount you do this depends on the speed that you're going and the steepness of the bump. If you do this it's possible jump over a following, awkward bump.
Turning on a bump
So, you've hit the bump! As you ride over, your tips will be pointing out in the air, your foot and the tail end of your ski will still be resting on the bump. You'll reach a pivot point, pole plant, rotate your skis and scrape the other side of the bump like you're grating cheese. This will also help you control speed.
Control is key, if you feel like you're out of control then slow down! If you're out of your depth, find an exit and join the piste. Start off with hero moguls — small bumps where you can't fail to look good.
Technique: It's hard to teach via the written word, so instruction in resort is recommended. You need to be able to feel and see the same as what the instructor is seeing and feeling. Every mogul is different.
Avoid: South facing monsters — if the ski field goes through regular daytime melt and night time refreeze [freeze-thaw conditions - Ed] the moguls are likely going to be hard under the foot. It's often a one way ticket you'll just have to endure untill the end, unless you find an escape route(!), a compulsory foot massage will be needed at the end of the day.
If you're feeling confident and you're coming up to a long, oval shaped mogul it's possible to rotate your skis 90% and grind across the top of the mogul with just the middle of your ski. You'll find the tip and tail of your ski in the air at this point and you'll kill your speed so remember to rotate your skis back to facing down hill or you'll come a cropper.
Get creative, use the mountain... there's more than one way down.... choose the cool one.
Can you get from the top to bottom in one hit? Three Tortins [Scotty's favourite run in Verbier - Ed] a day, keep the doctor away. Can you beat your mate? Can you get down a single channel? Zig zagging across the mountain is cheating a bit. Can you fit in a few tricks on the way? There's always time for that!
Make sure you don't get yourself down, most people find bumps a challenge.
Two Important Points
Safety: If the terrain is too steep for you then don't do it! Start off on slopes that you feel most comfortable on and work your way up. Bank it for another day... something for you to look forward to.
Most ski schools will offer a ski bumps clinic, though you may have to shop around to find a keen instructor. Most instructors have a disliking for bumps too.
Enjoy yourself: It's supposed to be fun, if you don't like them then try carving, cruising around the rest of the resort or sitting in a restaurant having a long lunch . If you're skiing with a friend or partner don't make them do bump skiing, you may find that your relationship will come to an abrupt end! Just meet them at the bottom and let them choose a route down they're happy with on the Piste.
Last week Iglu's Sales Manager, AJ, was out in Tignes enjoying spring's finest sunshine and snow.
I love spring skiing!
All season I've been reading in the media about poor snow in the Alps. I knew from reports from mates still doing seasons that this media ranting was pretty wide of the mark and pretty irresponsible. I had to get out there to see the snow conditions for myself.
I stayed in the well facilitated Chalet Arktic, with its outdoor hot tub & sauna, in Tignes Le Lac for the week starting 20th March 2011. My first impression when the transfer bus turned into the Vallée de la Tarentaise was a little worrying. The lower areas of the valley as we drove passed the Trois Vallées on the left, and the Paradiski on our right, looked like they were a little low on snow. However, in March anywhere below 1800m is susceptible to freeze/thaw conditions.
The conditions started to look a lot better as we climbed higher towards the Espace Killy and drove passed Tignes Les Brévières. I could see there was plenty of snow as far down as 1550m. As we approached Tignes Le Lac at 2100m I could see that the north facing side of the Tovière was covered in fresh powder tracks and there was plenty more to raid, the moment I could get my Stöckli Corall Snakes on (I'm still in the honeymoon period with my beloved skis).
On our first day we went high to see if there were any powder trails left for us latecomers. Up and up we went to the highest cable car in the region, Le Téléphérique de la Grande Motte, on a blue bird day. From the top we took the first piste on the left and cut high back under the cable car to find ourselves in thigh deep pow. My ski buddy and I exchanged a quick grin before the inevitable race for first tracks commenced. There are no friends on a powder day — fact!
We were enjoying the snow so much we nearly fell into the trap that deep powder causes. As we sprayed our rooster tails left and right we almost missed the last chance to turn off for the lifts. We nearly ended up flying down a valley that had no lifts and no way back to resort, apart from a long hike in four foot of powder. That's a workout I could do without on my first day. After the powder morning we had, we needed a good nosh up. We headed over towards the Folie Douce, where I like to spend my sunny afternoons in the Espace Killy. However, I don't usually eat at the Folie Douce, as the prices at the famous Fruitière restaurant are enough to make even an Oligarch choke on their cuisses de grenouilles. Instead I like to head down towards La Daille, where just off the red piste you will find a little gem called Le Trifollet. This place has the best Tartiflette on the slopes and a charming wind protected deck.
Due to the lovely sunny days we had all week, the snow below 2200m did get a little slushy in the afternoons. Higher we were finding little pockets of powder right up to the time we left, along with fantastic piste conditions. The conditions were even good enough to do the 'out of bounds' tour from the top of the Grand Prix chair down into the Vallée du Manchet. That's a great run that can also be reached by doing a high traverse from the top of the Borsat chair. These are tours that I have not done in the past due to the snow but last week it was fine and Tignes just got hit by another 30cm this week.
So much for this lack of snow malarkey the UK media keep harping on about. There's plenty of skiing left in this season but make sure you go to a resort with lots of pistes above 2500m.
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