Cheap ski holidays in hundreds of ski resorts worldwide.
Iglu's Sales Manager, AJ, has skied pretty much everywhere worth mention, from Jackson Hole to Les Arcs, and has given us his expert opinion of the largest ski areas the world has to offer.
Here's the run down on the biggest resorts in the World.
Les Trois Vallées, 600km of linked piste — So much skiing you could never be bored even after several visits.
This area is 'The' British favourite. From East to West the three main resorts are Courchevel (1760m) in the St Bon Tarantaise Vallée, Méribel (1450m) in Les Allues Vallée, and Val Thorens (2300m) in St Martin de Belleville Vallée.
Courchevel 1850, note the resort is named 1850 to compete with Val d'Isére and is actually at 1760m, is glamorous and expensive. It's mainly 4/5 * hotels and some sensational chalets. If you try some of the lower resorts like 1550 or 1650 then you can get a reasonably priced holiday but the mountain restaurants are still going to rip an ever expanding hole in your wallet. Stay as far away as possible during the 1st week of January which is the Russian New Year. This place is good for couples on a special holiday.
Méribel is huge and has countless British run chalets. If you don't like the French or French food then this is the place for you. It might as well be Méribel-on-Thames. Very convenient for the ski access but quite low at 1450m and prone to slush late in the season. This place is best for a large group or family who want a chalet to themselves.
Val Thorens is the highest resort in Europe and competes with Tignes and Flaine for the not very coveted title of ugliest resort in the world. However, I love it. The aprésphere is amongst the best in France. It gets loads of Dutch and Scandis and these guys love to party. This place is great for keen skiers and partiers alike.
I like - The touring, the aprés ski in VT, and the restaurants in Courchevel.
I don't like - The Britishness and lack of ski in/ski out in Méribel, the complete absence of decent and reasonably priced mountain huts for lunch [look harder next time there are plenty - Ed]. The restaurants are mainly huge self serve, characterless places.
Top Tip - Pack your lunch and picnic.
Espace Killy, 300km of piste — Great nightlife in Val d'Isére and the most consistent snow in Europe above Tignes.
Named after the famed French skier Jean-Claude Killy who grew up there, this area has the best snow record in France. The two main resorts are Val d'Isére (1850m) with the Pissaillas Glacier and Tignes (2100m) with the Grand Motte Glacier.
Val d'Isére is a mix of chalets and hotels and is very British. The nightlife here rocks and the range of restaurants is excellent but expensive. This is a steep ski area with not a lot for beginners. This place is great for small groups out to party and ski hard.
Tignes is pretty ghastly to look at but you get the convenience of easy access to the slopes. Le Lac is where all the British chalets are and not much happens here. Further up at Val Claret you have all the pokey apartments the French like and the nightlife here is much better. This resort is the best in Europe for early and late season skiing.
I like - The steep slopes, the Folie Douce aprés ski, and the extensive the off piste.
I don't like - The ugliness of Tignes, the lack of good restaurants on the mountain, the long transfer as it's right at the end of the Vallée de la Tarantaise.
Top Tip - Do the out-of-bounds run from the top of the Grand Prix lift into the Vallée de la Manchet. It's the prettiest run in the region (and fairly safe).
Paradiski, 425km of piste — Convenient and extensive skiing in a modern setting and great access by train.
This area in the combination of La Plagne and Les Arcs. They were joined a few years back by the 200 capacity double decker Vanoise Express cable car. The two ski areas are large enough for a weeks skiing on their own and the last time I skied in Les Arcs I never even got over to La Plagne. Neither of these ski areas will ever be known for the beauty of their villages, they are purpose built and some of those building were built in the heyday of the concrete '70s. However, the benefit of purpose built is convenience. If you want ski in/ski out then this is probably where you'll be recommended. Much of the accommodation is also cheap which attracts the families and students. Both areas have modern lift systems and this means very few queues.
This area attracts a lot of French holiday makers because of the self catered apartments that abound. There are some luxury apartments, especially in the newest Village of 1950 in Les Arcs, but the majority are pretty pokey and the facilities are basic. Both resorts offer very high skiing and this means the season starts early and ends late.
I like - The tree runs down to Peisey Vallandry in Les Arcs are steep and beautiful.
I don't like - There are too many flat spots in La Plagne and I had to drag my boarder mates on the end of pole to save them walking many times.
Top tip - There is a back country run from the Aiguille Rouge above Les Arcs down to Vilaroger called the Valley of the Kings. I recommend a guide, my mate skied off a cliff and still moans about his back.
Portes du Soleil, 650km of piste — Great for all day touring to numerous resorts in two countries.
This is a collection of 13 linked resorts that straddle the French-Swiss border near Geneva. The main resorts for Brits are Morzine, Avoriaz and Les Gets. The touring here is first class and you can visit several charming little villages like Morgins in Switzerland, to sample world class Chocolate Chaud for morning tea. I have never seen so many top quality mountain huts and terrace bars in any other area. Every day can be a gastronomic journey covering hundreds of km and experiencing a huge variety of terrain and stunning views as far as Mont Blanc and Lake Geneva.
The only problem with this area is the height. When the snow is good in peak season it can't be beaten but by the third week of March the afternoons can be heavy skiing. I went in April last time and had a superb time with some fresh powder but the afternoons after 2.30pm were spent on sunny decks absorbing rays and drinking the legendary Mutzig beer.
I like - The short transfer from Geneva, the enormous range of terrain, and the 'Secret Valley'. Sorry, but I'm sworn not to tell you where it is.
I don't like - The aprés ski in Morzine is a little tame and links over to Avoriaz take 30 minutes in the morning
Top tip - The Lindarets tree runs include 'The Stash', there is nothing else like this in Europe and it rocks! Try the tartiflette crêpe in Les Marmottes in Lindarets. It is gastronomic perfection.
Skiwelt, 279km of linked piste — Fun and cheap.
This is the largest linked ski area in Austria. The area is low but has a great snow record and the most comprehensive snow cannon coverage in Europe. Soll is the number one destination Brits because of the wild aprés ski and the well priced hotels. This area has a lot of fantastic views of the Wilderkaiser mountains and you can do a bit of touring. I like going to Austria because of the fun Tyrolean atmosphere and proper villages, with this area delivering on both fronts. I guarantee you will have more fun in Austria than in France but the resorts just aren't as convenient. Soll only has one cable car out of town and it gets busy.
I like - The party with the ever friendly Austrians who speak perfect English.
I don't like - The lift queues.
Top tip - If you are staying in Soll then take the free local bus for 7 minutes down to Ellmau and catch the Gondola there that rarely has any queues.
Arlberg, 276km of piste — For the hard skiers and even harder partiers.
This area combines the resorts of St. Anton, St. Christoph, Lech, and Zurs. St. Anton's ski area is quite challenging and the home runs are so narrow they get bumped up in the afternoon. As much as I love this resort I can't recommend it to beginners. The St. Anton ski school would kill me for saying that. They claim to be the oldest in the world and the locals even claim that alpine skiing, as we know it, was invented in the area. In the old days the villages of Lech and Zurs were cut off in Winter and they had to climb the Valluga and ski down to St. Anton. It was too steep for telemarking so they locked their boots in at the heel and alpine skiing was born — or so the story goes.
St. Anton is a fantastic party town. The aprés ski at the Mooserwirt and Krazy Kangaruh bars is justifiably legendary. Lech is the posh and dignified part of the area. The piste grooming in Lech is second to none in Europe and will make even the most timid skier feel like a racer. This is the area for piste cruisers and beginners.
I like - The aprés ski in St. Anton and 'The Beach' on the Rendl side of the valley that overlooks the terrain park.
I don't like - The icy bumpy runs that take you home in the afternoons.
Top tip - Get a guide and do the Valluga run down to Zurs from St. Anton. A world renowned classic.
Zermatt & Cervinia, 313km of piste — Glamorous and stunning.
This area is very much a tale of tow countries. Zermatt on the Swiss side is gorgeous, glamorous, has coolly efficient lift systems, challenging skiing, and is astronomically expensive. The Italian Cervinia side is a jumble of cobbled streets, cheap cafés offering great food, ugly yet friendly hotels, cheerful locals, and typical Italian lift queues. If you are precious about the graphics on the tops of your skis then don't queue with Italians.
No matter where you are in either of these resorts your vision will be filled with the Matterhorn. It is the most iconic mountain in the world. All the best mountain restaurants in Zermatt face the Matterhorn and you will find it hard to tear your eyes away even when eating. The hotels in Zermatt are beautiful in a classic 19th century way and the town is car free so you will see loads of horse drawn carriages dropping off well heeled nouveau rich and Europe's aristocracy at the grand entrances. Be careful not to miss the last lift back to Cervinia in the afternoon as one of our staff did. It cost him 400 Swiss Francs for one nights stay in Zermatt. The way back to Cervinia takes you up to the highest lift in Europe at 3900m which can be very cold and windy and it takes ages to ski back down so they close the last lift at just after 4pm.
The Cervinia side is known for its cruisy red runs that are up to 22 km long. It's great for looking good and the mountain restaurants serve authentically made pasta at reasonable prices. I prefer to stay in Cervinia because it's cheaper but if I could afford the best hotels and the best mountain restaurants then I'd ski in Zermatt every single year.
I like - The stunning beauty of the Matterhorn just can't be beaten and where better to view it than in one of the best mountain restaurants in the world in Zermatt.
I don't like - The prices
Top tip - Save your pennies and splurge on a lunch at either Chez Vrony or Zum See (that's if you can get a table, I highly recommend booking).
Milky Way, 400km of piste — Cheap and cheerful.
There are five main villages in this impressive ski area that bridges the Italian and French border. Sauze d'Oulx is the most popular with the Brits. It is cheap and cheerful and has loads of bars among its ancient cobbled streets. It can get pretty rowdy here and is best enjoyed but young partiers. Sestriere is the highest of the resorts and hosted the Olympics in the '90s but it is a purpose built resort of very little character and no charm at all.
On the French side you have Montgenevre which is very pretty and is where the first French Ski School started. It also hosted the 1st ever International Ski Race in 1907. In those days skiing was just developing and they stopped using a technique called the 'Brianconnais Stop'. This means just falling over. This resort is one of my hidden gems. I highly recommend it for those who have tired of the ugly mega-resorts of France but still want a large high ski area with the good things about France like the food and wine. You can also walk into Italy (2km) at night for a spot of pasta and Chianti.
I like - The short transfer from Turin and the fun atmosphere.
I don't like - The remaining drag lifts and the poor links between the resorts. You really need to plan your day to make the most of this area.
Top tip - Stay in Montgenevre and do the night time skidoo trip to a mountain restaurant, it's a great night out.
Sella Ronda, 1220km of piste — Beautiful vistas and easy cruisy skiing.
The claim of 1220 km of piste is a little misleading. On the Super Dolomiti ski pass you can ski at a lot of resorts, but it's not practical to visit some of them from your base resort if you are on the Sella Ronda circuit, as they are not all linked. Selva is the most popular resort because it is well linked and offers the best access to the most skiing. Cortina is probable the most famous resort on the Super Dolomiti but it is not linked to any other resorts.
The views of the Dolomites have been described as more interesting and striking than those of the Alps. They tend to have sharp features and very steep rocky crags at the top. Skiing here is very laid back. The Italians are even considering banning off-piste skiing here. Apparently they don't like rescuing skiers in trouble if it's not near a good restaurant.
I love the views here but the skiing is not steep enough for very advanced skiers who like a challenge. Come for the beauty, the well-priced food, and the charming villages, but don't expect any excitement.
I like - The views take your breath away, maybe even challenging Zermatt. There is a pink light to the alpenglow on the mountains here.
I don't like - The Italian attitude to off-piste skiing.
Top tip - Most skiers do the excellent Sella Ronda route anti-clockwise for the better views. I much prefer clockwise as it takes in the few challenging steep black runs on the circuit.
Chamonix, 762km of piste — The most challenging skiing in Europe and a Mecca for experts.
The km of piste is deceptive and maybe a bit of marketing. Most people only ever ski the Brévent-Flégère area straight out of town, Le Tour at the end of the Valley and Grand Montets (the best area). This is around 300km of piste. This town is a proper town first and a ski resort second, however, it is one of the worlds extreme skiing Meccas. The town is under the imposing Mont Blanc and your lift pass covers the cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi. Even if you don't want to do the all day back country tour called the Vallée Blanche it's worth going up to see the view across the whole Alps. The Vallée Blanche has many routes and you only need to be a intermediate of four or more weeks skiing to do the easiest route, though you must take a guide.
The local area of Brévent-Flégère is good for one or two days skiing but most of the time I head to Grand Montets which is 20 mins by bus towards Argentiere. This ski area is big, high, and steep. One of the best of its kind anywhere. There is another little treasure at the end of the Valley just before the Mont Blanc tunnel that takes you to Italy. La Tour is usually frequented by beginners as the front area is really easy and cruisy, I use it on bad weather days. On the backside of the mountain there are countless tree runs that lead down to a cute little train station. At the end of the day catch the train back into Chamonix, it's free with your lift pass.
I like - The super challenging steepness you can find in Grand Montets, it's a thrill.
I don't like - No one really likes catching a bus in the morning, but it's worth it.
Top tip - Stay in the 4* Club Med in Chamonix. It is the only ski in-ski out property in Chamonix and Iglu has special deals that make it unbelievably good value.
So which is the best then?
It's not my personal favourite, which is Chamonix (but I'm a crazy for couloirs and crevasses), but I can't really fault Les Trois Vallées. Yes, there are too many Brits in Méribel. Yes, it's pretty ugly up in Val Thorens when the weather comes in. Yes, Courchevel is expensive and full of Russians in the first week of January. However, the variety that's on offer in all these resorts and the unbelievable range of well linked pistes just isn't comparable to anywhere else. The only problem is disappointment at the next ski area you go to. I don't know how many times I've heard the words, 'we skied in the Three Valleys last year and want something similar', sorry folks but there isn't anywhere similar.
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!
Okay so it might only be mid-March but the big tour operators are already preparing for next winter. For those who know exactly what they want there's never been a better time to book early.
Last winter my friends and I realised that after three trips in a row to Morzine it was time for a change of scenery. We knew that we wanted to go to Meribel and that we would go early March 2011, so we booked our holiday by the end of May 2010. On arriving to the chalet three weeks ago we discovered the late bookers had paid the same price as us, but we had our lift passes (including a 3 Valley upgrade) and ski carriage included in the deal.
If you are happy to follow the deals and take the lowest prices around, then last minute bookings have their place, but by booking an early deal we proved to get much better value than the guests who left it until the last minute. With this is mind I've started having a look into my New Year and March 2012 holidays and I've already to discovered that the offers are as good, if not better than last winter.
I must admit we usually go for the chalet holidays, but having had a couple of fantastic summer Club Med holidays, the French all-inclusive hotel chain are looking very appealing for next winter. For those unfamiliar with Club Med they offer all-inclusive ski holidays, mostly in Europe, where the price includes your transport, lift passes (3* local, 4* and above full area), group ski lessons and all the great food you can eat. Plus the bar is free as long as you stay away from the Champagne and luxury brandies and single malts.
Now, we bagged a cracking deal this winter with our lift passes and ski carriage included, but after a week of lunches on the mountain, chalet staff night off and a few après ski drinks, we ended up spending the same as we would in a 4* Club Med. Whereas the initial outlay of around £1000+ may seem a lot, if you are on a catered holiday to the big French resorts you can easily eclipse that by time you come home.
Our French friends are also offering us up to £180 per person discount based on the early booking prices, plus the brochure prices are as low as they will go for the whole season. Throw in the fact that resorts such as Val d'Isere and Tignes have enjoyed a bit of a facelift over recent years and the addition of a new property in a stunning, yet unobvious resort, Club Med Valmorel and the choice is incredible — there's even a Club Med in China these days.
Having taken a cheeky look at Val d'Isere for my 30th during Easter — the prices are still great value. £1149 per person for a 4* Club Med in one of the world's top resorts during a peak week (now tell me that's not great value). With ski carriage, lift pass, all your food and drink included and the option of lunching in Club Med in Tignes, it's the perfect holiday for a romantic week on the slopes.
For the same week a family of four (2 adults, 2 children) can book to go to the 3* Club Med Les Deux Alpes, with everything minus ski hire, staying in interconnecting rooms for only £3080. They could even head to the 4* resort of Club Med Tignes Val Claret for only £4548, again in interconnecting rooms. For all-inclusive, glacier resorts during the Easter holidays that is fantastic value.
With the prices due to go up in July and again in October, these great properties are worth a look. Whether you are looking for a family, group or romantic holiday there is a Club Med for everyone, from the luxurious Club Med Peisey-Vallandry and Club Med Meribel Le Chalet, to the great value of Club Med Arcs Extreme and Club Med Aime La Plagne.
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