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This week a French court in the Alpine town of Albertville ruled that ski hosting offered by British tour operators is illegal and has therefore been banned. Following the news several tour operators we work with have come out and stated they are no longer offering the service.
The court ruled that under French law you have to be a qualified ski or snowboard instructor to lead groups on the mountain and under the scrutiny of safety, the staff offering ski hosting were not qualified to do so. Therefore, under French law the ski hosting that has been offered is both illegal and dangerous.
What Is Ski Hosting?
Ski hosting is where either your resort rep or chalet host take you out for a day on the mountain. The tradition behind hosting has always been to get like-minded, intermediate skiers together, show them the best blue and red runs and to point out interesting runs, sights and good lunches. The good old British etiquette has then been for the group, as a whole, to buy lunch for the host/hosts.
Having offered the hosting as a chalet host myself and also having been on a morning's hosted skiing with a reputable tour operator, it's easy to see what people love about ski hosting, or social skiing as Crystal call it.
Why Do We Love It?
Ski hosting offers three main positives. The first is being shown around the resort and being given a local's opinion on good areas to ski and great places for lunch — more often than not with good food, service and prices.
The second aspect is the chance to meet other skiers of a similar level. Imagine you are away and your other half is in ski school all week, it means on a couple of mornings there are like-minded people to ski with, which is both sociable and fun. Thirdly, it's a good way to get to know your rep or chalet host a little better, and as they are looking after you all week, it has the potential to make for a more fun holiday all round.
The big thing here is the social aspect of skiing — people to ski with, to chat to and to lunch with, regaling the morning's fun with each day. Having hosted guests, it's great fun and you can't beat a week in a chalet when you have a good rapport with your guests or hosts.
What Went Wrong?
There is much debate about why ski hosting has been banned, but with the courts citing safety, let's stick to that.
One problem with hosting is people who turn up, get on the lifts and then are unable to ski the slopes they are being taken down, due to over exaggerating their ability — and believe me it happens. The other is sometimes down to a few bad eggs in resort. The resort rep may know of some irresistible powder, and decide it's safe to take the guests there, even though they are not qualified or insured to do so.
As is often the case, the minority can sometimes ruin it for the many.
Who Loses Out?
So, who loses out? Well, to be honest, everyone. Holidaymakers miss out on the fun of skiing with new people, finding out the best spots to ski & have lunch and the social aspect of skiing within a group. The hosts miss out, whether a chalet host or resort rep, as building up a rapport with guests is both fun and vital to ensuring everyone is having a good time. And finally, many local businesses miss out — restaurants off the beaten track or that may look unappealing, but offer great food, will lose this stream of customers.
Where Do We Go From Here?
I'd like to see a sensible solution to this being put in place. Tour operators don't have the finances to pay ski instructors to offer the hosting and the same guests are never going to book a day's guiding with a ski school. So where do we go from here?
I'd like the ESF, as the national ski school, to work with the operators in resort and to run a two day course with all the reps working in each resort — but based in the resort they will host, as opposed a generic course hub. The course would ensure the ski hosts were safe enough skiers and understood how to safely guide a group of people around the resort's intermediate runs. I would then like the tour operators and the ESF to police this together. Anyone who is deemed to be skiing dangerously, off piste or attempting to teach guests would lose their lift pass along with their job.
This way the ESF will know who the individual ski hosts are in each resort and can be confident they are skiing within pre-arranged guidelines and sensibly. Holidaymakers could continue to enjoy the ski hosting and everything that goes with it, in the knowledge that those hosting them have been approved by the local ski school. Whether this ever happens is another story.
I enjoy going on a morning of ski hosting and used to enjoy hosting my chalet guests on the mountain. Though it won't put me off skiing in France completely, it will mean that Switzerland and Austria are going to be more prominent in my searches from now on.
By Stephen Adam
Long time skier but chalet holiday virgin, Bernard Goyder, stayed in Chalet Rive Gauche, Val d'Isere, before Christmas. Here are his thoughts on what the chalet holiday experience is really like.
So, what is it actually like to stay in a catered ski chalet?
I love skiing, but had never stayed in a chalet before. Coming from a big family, my parents always took us on self-catering holidays, because they felt it was cheaper. We had great trips in resorts like Meribel and Les Arcs. These holidays were followed by the university ski trip, a day on the coach from Victoria on the way, and the panicked cleaning of our tiny Tignes apartment on the way back.
Compared to self-catering, my first chalet holiday has been an incredible experience. Having tasted the food, the service and the atmosphere, it is going to be hard to go back to self-catering. Having yet to turn the heating on tonight in my London terraced house, I'm already missing the warmth and dryness of the chalet, with its under-floor heating and climate controlled rooms.
The Rive Gauche is beautiful. Spacious and cosy, it is ideal for a party of eight. The chalet sits underneath the Fornet cable car, by the ravine that passes through Val D'Isere.
The first impression of the chalet is the warmth of the architecture. Open beams of untreated wood salvaged from Savoie farms give a traditional feel to the interior. But the steam room and plunge pool add a modern touch of luxury.
It is the attention to detail that makes this a 5 snowflake rated property. The mirrors so clean they are mistaken for doors and the wood covered fittings add to a feeling of cosy luxury.
If you haven’t been on a chalet holiday before, it is difficult to estimate quite how well looked after you are with a premium operator.
The tea and homemade cake, the four course meals with canapès, delicious main courses and wine all blow self-catering out of the water as a ski holiday experience. Considering you can pack your breakfast bread and croissants as a packed lunch — the full English cooked breakfast was good enough for me - leaving more money for après-ski.
Val d'Isere has a brilliant apres scene, from the Moris Pub and Saloon via Dicks Tea Bar to Doudoune, a night club over the piste that hosts DJs from across Europe. But a new addition to the after hours festivities that I would recommend is Fall Line — a bar which had a great cover band on, when we went for a pint.
All in all, a great holiday made memorable by the high standard of accommodation and catering. I'd recommend a chalet holiday to a party of keen skiers looking to splash out on something special.
Our friends at SnowAngel have put together a great blog looking at the top aprés ski bars for a 3pm beer. As a site dedicated to visiting, reviewing and sharing the best venues in the Alps and North America, they boast a pedigree of knowledge that even AJ, our Sales Director, would approve of. So, here are SnowAngel's best bars for a sunny 3pm beer...
We stumbled upon Pano Bar in Les Deux Alps accidentally about two years ago, just before we took the last run of the day, and believe us when we say there's no way you'll miss it. You might have to weave your way through a sea of boards and skis to get to it, but it's totally worth it. This is Ibiza-style après, expect two for one beers, a DJ, some serious raving and even the odd topless dancer. By 5pm you'll be locked and loaded and ready for your last run of the day — a black run — back down into resort! Our tip — get there for 3pm to get a table — you'll be dancing on top of it by 5! If you're feeling a bit shaky you can always slide your way back down to the resort.
Now, Austria has a firm place in our hearts for its après scene, and if you happen to be in Lech this season, then you should definitely head to the Balmalp. This place has panoramic views of the mountains, which you can enjoy from the huge sun terrace. Enjoy a Bombardier while you listen to the resident DJ spin the tunes until way after 7pm most days. If you don't mind a bit of night skiing then you can ski back to resort once you're all après-ed out. Leave late enough and the steady blue back into resort will have already been bashed, so it's as good as the first early bird run of the day — what's not to like about that! If you've indulged in a little too much glühwein, the owner will take you home on his skidoo — if you ask nicely!
A few of the Iglu team enjoying the Pano Bar in Les Deux Alps.
Now, if we think about Jack Wills, onesies and Jägerbombs, then the Mooserwirt in St Anton is never far from our minds. Attracting a mixed crowd, but definitely a firm favourite with the uni crowds, this place really needs no introduction. The music gets pumped through the speakers on to the sun terrace and it's as lively inside as it is out, on a blue sky day. The waiters carry impossible numbers of pints on trays around with them, so you can just grab one and pay, no queuing at the bar here — genius! And they'll bring you Jägerbombs if you ask nicely too. It's heaving here by three so, if you're in a group and want a table we recommend settling in from lunch time.
Meribel's has been firmly on the après map for as long as we can remember, with more and more Brits flocking here year on year. If you're heading here, do not leave without paying Le Rond Point a visit. The sun terrace is always jam packed and there's live music most days and the obligatory happy hour of course!
Tucked away on the main street in Morzine, Bar Robinson serves one beer, and one beer only. And it's no ordinary lager, this bad boy is 7.3%! The owners of the bar, two ladies and a gent all over 70, recommend you drink by the half pint. And you really should take heed, because this stuff is rocket fuel. Not that you'll have time to settle in until last orders, as the bar closes at 8pm.
If posh is your thing, then where else would you be heading this season but Verbier. It's refined here, but don't expect the après to be any less raucous. We'd recommend heading to Le Carrefour and the Wax bar, they're next to each other and you can ski back down into resort. It gets busy though, so get there early if you're looking for a table. If you're feeling flush order champagne on ice and a kangaroo steak.
The Folie Douce in Val d'Isere is a regular haunt of ours.
When angels ski, we are always in the market for a bit of sunshine, and with an average of 300 days of sunshine a year, it's safe to say Serre Chevalier is pretty sun-sure. And if it's sunny then a huge terrace is always the order of the day. La Grotte in Villeneuve is the place to head straight from the slopes. You'll get the last rays of sunshine and there's a different happy hour every day. If you get a little bit too comfortable, then don't worry its just as busy later in the evening with theme nights, DJs, live music and games.
Pas de la Casa is probably more famed for its nightlife than it is for its skiing — they really know how to party here. At the hub of the action, the Milwaukee is the resort's largest bar with a two-for-one happy hour which kicks off when the slopes close. If you're a sports fan then there's a big screen and Sky Sports here too, as well as live music and pretty good food to boot.
Last, but by no means least, we couldn't talk about straight from the slopes après ski without mentioning La Folie Douce in Val d'Isere. This is possibly our favourite place in the world to après, DJs, a live sax player and champagne galore. There's nothing understated about this ski hut. Head here at about 3pm if you want to grab a table as by 4pm you won't get a look in. It really is the Rolls Royce of après ski!
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