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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.
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
So far this week has proven to be an interesting one, the skiing romance that is Prince William and Kate Middleton announced their engagement and Pope Benedict XVI blessed our favourite sport.
The Pope has been quoted saying "Skiing makes us feel small and returns us to our true dimension as creatures... It makes us capable of asking ourselves about the meaning of creation, of looking above, of opening ourselves to the Creator. By contemplating creation, man recognizes the greatness of God". However the real news is all about Prince William and Kate Middleton. Rumour has it the royal couple's relationship blossomed in the romantic, luxury resort of Klosters in Switzerland.
With this in mind that sent me to thinking where would be the best ski resorts to head to for a honeymoon. From the über-resorts of Klosters, Lech and Courchevel 1850 (popular with the rich & famous and the Royal Family), to the intimate resorts of Kitzbuhel, St. Martin & Wengen.
Skiing has played its part with the Royal Family over the years with Diana Spencer, Sarah Ferguson and now Kate Middleton invited on the family ski trips before their respective weddings. Prince Charles remains a keen skier and William and Harry are known to be fans of both Klosters and Verbier. So with a possible spring wedding where would William and Kate go if they were to head for a skiing honeymoon?
Klosters - You would have to say that the Swiss Resort of Klosters would be their most likely destination. A luxury resort, superb skiing and the location of many a picture of the pair skiing together. They have stayed in 5* hotels and in private chalets in the resorts. With accommodation on offer for the über-rich and years of Royal connections the resort definitely has a head start.
Verbier - Not as romantic a resort as Klosters but again a luxury resort with world class skiing and world class private chalets on offer. Home to The Lodge, Richard Branson's über-luxury property, as well as a host of other high end accommodation, they would be well looked after.
Courchevel 1850 - France & Russia's favourite exclusive resort, Courchevel 1850, would also be an ideal location. Already a firm favourite among the Royals and a regular haunt of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson. The combination of exclusive hotels, chalets, clubs and restaurants, coupled with one of the world's premier ski areas make Courchevel an attractive destination.
Lech - Lech is often seen as the Courchevel 1850 of Austria. Lech is renowned for über luxury 5* hotels, exclusive bars, restaurants and night clubs and are among the 'it' resorts during New Year. With many an F1 team owner and the truly super-rich heading to Lech you would have to say it is Austria's most likely option. Throw in the awesome Arlberg ski area, linked with St. Anton and St. Christoph and you have a perfect location.
Now where as we may all aspire to staying in £1000 per night accommodation, while rubbing our shoulders with industrial powerhouses and film stars, most of us have more modest budgets and desires for a romantic skiing trip with the other half. Whether on a honeymoon or a romantic week on the slopes there are some fantastic resorts with stunning views, intimate alpine restaurants and affordable bubbly on offer. For those who are looking for a special escape without the celebrity spotting and the prices it brings here are some great resorts.
Kitzbuhel - The quaint resort of Kitzbuhel is often described as the prettiest town in the Alps. The skiing is picturesgue and the hotels range from 5* luxury to family run affairs. Throw in a great mix of night-life from the Michelin star Neuwirt restaurant in the Hotel Schwarzer Adler to the typically entertaining & beef-fuelled Austrian apres-ski.
St. Martin - The hidden gem of the Three Valleys in France, St. Martin de Belleville is a small village at the bottom of the Belleville valley. Offering attractive Savoyard charm, intimate little bars and restaurants and 'the world's largest ski area', on a romantic week for two, do you need anymore?
Grindelwald - The Swiss resort of Grindelwald is one of the country's stunning and stereotypical chocolate box resorts. Set in a picturesque alpine location offering romantic hotels and the superb skiing of the Jungfrau region, with the beautiful resorts of Wengen and Murren included in the lift pass. Grindelwald offers a perfect romantic escape from the hustle and bustle of Europe's major resorts.
These are my thoughts, but where would you go? Comment below or drop us a message on our Twitter or Facebook pages.
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