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In case you haven't seen the news, read the papers of been on any snowsports related websites, the Alps have been under a constant blanket of snow for the last few weeks. After a week or so of sunshine, the snow is gearing up for another go. However you look at it, this season's conditions are pretty epic!
The start of the season was beginning to look slow until mid-December, where dump after dump arrived across the Alps, turning green landscapes into glistening, white mountains just in time for the Christmas holidays. But the snow didn't let up there, with more falling into the new year and only subsiding around 10 days ago.
The huge amounts of snowfall led to resorts being cut off from the outside world over night due to road and rail closures, mostly in case of avalanche, though one or two roads did need clearing in the morning. Val d'Isere, Tignes and Val Thorens were the first resorts, then Zermatt and St. Anton, and finally, Ischgl — where the road was closed off for three days while all danger was removed by the authorities.
What we have been left with is some amazing piste skiing and huge snow depths. The off-piste is a little more tetchy, as the snow settles a stable base is beginning to form, but with a crust appearing any fresh snow could lead to slides quite quickly. Essentially we need the crusty layer to melt or slide before this weekend's snow arrives.
On top of the amazing snow on offer, it looks like we have another 4 days of snow due to arrive in the Alps this Thursday, with an estimated 50cm of snow on offer, if not more. If the snow keeps coming and the temperatures stay low, we could be looking at the best season this century and maybe even rival the amazing winter of '99.
As it stands our snow reports data is showing a story of amazing conditions. The numbers may have dropped as the snow packs down, but with figures that show 460cm of snow in St. Anton, 300cm in La Plagne, 205cm in Tignes, Meribel and Courchevel, the pistes are in great condition. If you look at the snow history over the past five years, the current conditions are blowing everything out of the water.
Val d'Isere's snow history show 171cm in January 2009, as the previous best compared with the current snow depths of 205cm, having seen 375cm fall this season.
St. Anton's snow history shows their deepest snow as 235cm, compared to the current 460cm on the upper slopes.
Ischgl's snow history shows a similar story, with 200cm of snow on the slopes, having seen 275cm of snow this season, compared with previous high of 147cm in January 2008.
I could go on and on and on, looking at the incredible conditions in Les Arcs, La Rosiere and Avoriaz, the amazing snow in Wengen, Crans Montana and Verbier. But I'd begin to bore you.
As more snow is on its way, all I can say is this year looks to be the best since I discovered skiing and snowboard 10 years ago. Holiday prices are low, snow is high and more powder is on its way. Today is supposedly the most depressing of the year, but with the mountains looking incredible and holidays affordable, it's anything but depressing to us!
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...
Though chalet holidays are the bread and butter of British skiing, not everyone likes to go for the full catered holiday experience. Though many of us love to try the local cuisine, and count down the days until our week of cheese, meat and wine in France, or sausage, potato and Jägermeister in Austria, some people still pine for the food of home on their travels.
Surely the ultimate British dish on a ski holiday has to be the Sunday roast, it's warming, filling and is stacked with carbs, protein and veg — perfect for your body and mind. So where exactly are the best Sunday roasts in the Alps? Well I took to Twitter this week and bugged our expert sales team to find out where best to recommend for rosbif and Yorkshire pud.
My personal favourite for a Sunday roast in the Skilodge in La Tania. They only do a roast out of peak season (so not during the New Year holidays and Feb), but they combine a great British atmosphere, good portions and the all important lunch-time kick-off of Premiership football or Six Nations rugby. They also do a cracking Christmas Day roast, if you can get a table!
Another restaurant to get a few mentions in the Courchevel Valley is La Marmotte Rouge in Bozel. The venue was opened last winter by a British couple and is already developing a great reputation for their roast dinners with the locals, so much so, people will happily get the bus ride from Courchevel!
Evolution in Meribel, just across from the Chaudanne has also been getting a few tweets for their Sunday fare. The great thing about Evo, apart from the friendly staff and Jez's dog, is the food and location. Having not eaten in Evo for a couple years now, it's great to hear they are still getting rave reviews for their food and being just across from the slopes it makes for a great lunchtime or evening stop to indulge in a good old Sunday roast.
Another Courchevel restaurant that the Twittersphere recommended is l'Oeil de Boeuf, in Courchevel 1550 — I see a Three Valleys theme developing here! The restaurant is quite quaint, with a sun terrace at the bottom of the Tovets piste. The name says it all really, this is where a serving of rosbif will surely be at it's best.
Finally it is time to leave the Three Valleys and head to Tignes and the Clin d'Oeil. Rumour has it this place would have a Michelin star, but for not being open enough days of the year, and having eaten here, the food is exquisite. The restaurant is near to the Aeroski lift and the Tourist office and only has about 8 tables, offering an intimate experience to go with the fabulous food and attentive service.
Moving over to Les Arcs' village of Peisey Vallandry and the Bar Mont Blanc gets a shout from Crispin, one of our new ski experts. The roast usually consist of a choice of chicken or beef and if they don't take your fancy, they also do a mean burger. The ski in/out location and the great views across the valley all add to this stunning spot for a mountainside Sunday lunch.
Our last spot for France is Les Deux Alpes' renowned Tex-Mex bar, Smokey Joes. Robin, another of our ski tea, recommends this place due to its location, at the base of the Jandari Express and White Egg lifts, as well as the awesome food. I wonder if they do a roast dinner burrito?
Last, but by no means least is another Planetski recommendation, with the Clin d'Oeil being the first, the Chez Vrony in Zermatt. According to the friendly ski news specialist, the sun terrace has great views of the Matterhorn, as well as a decent Sunday roast.
So, here a few recommendations from Iglu and our Twitter followers, but I'm sure there are plenty of goose fat roast potatoes, perfect cooked pieces or meat and ample servings of veggies and gravy that we've yet to discover, so feel free to fill us in with anywhere we've missed at @igluski.
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