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You can tell when summer has arrived at Iglu, as AJ puts down his sales head — giving the sales team some much deserved respite — and picks up his blogging pen. This week's gem is a guide on how to buy skis.
Buying skis has become a lot more popular in recent seasons. This is partly because ski rental prices are soaring in the Alps and partly because British skiers are getting better and want to advance further.
Having your own skis means you don’t have to spend time learning how to ski a new shape every time you go. You can buy much better skis than you can get as a rental and the bindings on rentals are very heavy because they have sliders to fit many boot sizes and must be heavy duty enough to be bashed around by punters every week of the season. No one respects a rental and if you see someone cruising through thin snow with rocks they are more than likely to be on rentals.
Look how pleased Scotty, one of our ski experts, is with his recent purchase — the K2 Kung Fujas
Is it cost effective?
Renting your skis costs between £60 & £120 depending on your level and on the resort. A good set of skis with bindings will set you back £300 to £450, but this can be halved if you buy at the right time, at the end of a season. Then there is ski carriage of £35+ for every time you go skiing.
So, the answer is that, it costs about the same if you use your new skis five times. However, your ski experience will be enhanced, and if you are like me, then there is no price on the love affair you will have with your shiny new kit. It will also increase your real skier cred in the airport queue, in the cable car, and at the après ski bar. So to sum up, you will look better, ski better, and have more friends!
There are so many more skiers taking their own kit that some smaller charter flights have had to limit the number of skis taken onboard. So make sure you book your ski carriage at the time of booking your holiday!
The average UK skier buys a set of skis after going skiing six times and boarders slightly earlier at four times. By this stage you should have a good idea of what kind of skier you are. Beginners, however, should not buy skis! I wouldn't’t recommend buying skis until you are comfortable on black runs and capable of basic off-piste.
I could go on at length about the technical side of ski design. Techies talk about side cut, turning radius, flexibility, camber, rockers, binding risers, bla bla bla. These are important but can be broken down into three very simple categories of ski. There aren’t really any bad skis made anymore, so it’s just a case of finding your preference.
I am going to leave out specialist competition mogul skis, racing GS skis or big mountain, fat heli-skis. If you are in the market for these then you sure don’t need my advice. Actually, maybe you can take me in your helicopter next time — please.
Piste Cruisers and Mogul Masters.
Not everyone wants to blast the frosty lip off a monster cornice and drop through the big blue into bottomless pow on a 50° couloir. Let’s face it, most people don’t do anything remotely like that.
If you’re keen to make nice edge turns, on piste, at high speed then then get yourself a good carver. I’ve always loved the feeling of compression and then spring back energy from the ski, when you are at warp speed and swinging from edge to edge. A carver has a middle width of around or less than 80mm, a nose of 115mm to 120mm and a tail of around 100mm to 110mm. This gives a nice big side cut for classic edging and still offers enough of a shovel at the front to get through any occasional powder or crud.
Get a length that comes up to the bottom of your nose. These shorter and more responsive skis are also the best to get amongst the moguls with. For carvers, you should stick with the established big brands to get a well-made ski that will last 10 years or more. Try Head, Rossignol, Atomic and Nordica. My favourite carvers are made by the best of the US ski makers, K2 — The Stinger 119/72/103 is fast and smooth and The Charger (122/74/106) is just a bit more advanced and capable of really high speed turns and a quite bit of off-piste fun. With this type of ski you may want to get a riser under your bindings to give you a greater angulation for sharper turns.
K2 Stringer. Photo: © K2 Skis
The All-Mountain, Off-piste Adventurer.
This sort of ski has become the most popular in this century. Modern ski manufacture has made skiing off-piste so much easier, that virtually everyone is getting involved. These skis are wider and longer than piste skis, so that they can float on powder and smooth out crud and rough terrain.
They still maintain some side cut, so that you can easily navigate the pistes but they tend to have a much longer turning radius. This means that when you roll over on your edges the turn takes longer to complete. If you want to make short turns it takes more skill to pivot rather than carve. For these skis you need to be fairly advanced to get the most out of them and you should get them at a length just taller than yourself.
There are so many skis in this range that I could fill several pages with reviews. Every manufacturer has at least three models in the all-mountain range. Before you buy a bigger ski, try out a variety of rentals. Most rental shops will offer a package where you can change skis for a little bit more money. If the chance arises then get yourself to a demo day — where plenty of ski makers will gladly give you a chance to ride their latest kit in the hope of making a sale.
I’ll readily admit to being a ski snob as I expect to outlay £500 to £600 for my skis, with good lightweight Marker bindings — go for the £200 in the sales as they'll cost you. But for that I will get the very best ski I can find, and it will last me at least 7/8 years. Mine are made by the best Swiss manufacturer, Stöckli, who are the last of the big manufacturers that hand-make their skis. They will last forever like a Rolls Royce. I can also highly recommend brands Völkl (those Germans make things to last), Scott, Armada, and K2. I love the K2 Kung Fujas (133/102/127) and they are the ones I’d buy right now. They are achingly cool and best in class.
Park Rats and Jibbers.
This is generally a younger crowd that, 10 years ago was only ever going to go boarding, but the new park skis mean you can do more in the park on skis than you ever could on a board.
Skis for the park can be pretty versatile, but your basic needs are twin tips for skiing and jumping, both forwards and switch (backwards). They need to be really flexible to give the most forgiving landing. As an example, I was filming one of our resident park loving sales team this season in the Val d’Isére Terrain park, when he pulled a back flip in the black section. He under-rotated and landed on the knuckle of the down-slope with his weight way over the front which would normally be terminal and painful (like my jumps). His soft park skis with central bindings were so forgiving that he somehow pulled off the landing. I was made to feel much better when he tried a barrel roll on the next jump and over-rotated and face planted. I got it on film and it still gives me a chuckle!
Freestyle skis tend to have wider, straight sided middle sections and spoon shaped shovels at both ends and have the bindings positioned more centrally. These skis will be flakey at high speed carving and too soft to take into the big mountain environment where precision can be the difference between going off a cliff by accident or making the vital stop. They are perfectly fine for normal piste skiing and powder work but they will not carve or float as well as skis designed for that purpose.
These skis are a bit more specialised and therefore you should look for brands that are at the cutting edge of technology. The best park ski out there at the moment is the Dynastar 6th Sense Distorter, with dimensions of 119/87/109. I also like the Scott Punisher Jib and the Armada T-Hall — named after freestyle Guru Tanner Hall. I see lots of jibbers on short skis for easier aerial work, but if you want a more versatile ski that can crank outside the park then get them at a length that comes up to your forehead.
Next time you go into a shop to look for a ski that suits you, think about the three main varieties. Are you the high speed piste blaster, the big air trickster and jibber, or the all-mountain off-pister? All skis can do all things and multi-task, but start with what you love and go from there. Your ski shop techie will love nothing more than to give you his advice. They are all ski-bums at heart and think about the snow all day long. Just don’t get railroaded into a sale.
It may take many visits to many ski stores, just like speed dating, to find your new love affair. And do NOT try to save money on the bindings! Get the very best they have available. They can save your life.
Chalet hotels have once again grown in popularity in the past couple of years, the idea of chalet-style board, with food & wine provided, but on a larger — often more socialable — scale.
Last season we saw a twist on the chalet hotel, with the introduction of two new ski lodge concepts. One concept offering an exclusive feel, including concierge services and elegant, but large properties, the other concept aiming at the boisterous, low-budget freestyle scene.
This summer's addition to the chalet hotel scene sees a couple of our favourite affordable-luxury suppliers bringing us a more traditional chalet hotel experience.
Chalet Hotel Les Chardons
Les Chardons is a interesting addition to our website, the chalet is run by a Val d'Isere specialist who prefer to offer traditional mountain charm, great food and blond chalet girls, as opposed to flat-screen TVs and high-end, modern furnishings. They are running a hotel sized property for the first time in a decade, though there's nothing these guys don't know about Val d'Isere and good quality chalet food.
Chalet hotel Les Chardons is based right in the middle of Val d'Isere, a mere stone's throw from the church, in one of the quieter corners of the resort centre. The slopes are closer to walk to than it takes a snowboarder to strap in, and the nightlife is a simple stumble away. The new owners had expected to need to renovate the place when they took it over earlier this month, but have discovered its charm and quality have meant the only work needing doing, is to add their own personal touches, such as creating a self serving bar and bringing in their simple, but cosy bedding.
The description of the place gives the impression of a family run hotel that has been converted into a chalet hotel and given a new lease of life. The brochure description is fab and shows why we love them so much: "actually, some of them are baths, but those wonderfully short baths only an Oompaloompa could stretch out in, so most people treat them as showers"
Chalet Hotel Montjola
Chalet Hotel Montjola is altogether another beast. Run by another top quality chalet company who specialise in the top, top resorts, the Chalet Hotel Montjola is their largest property — by some margin — and their first in St. Anton.
The chalet hotel Montjola, was formally a family run favourite in St. Anton, but over the summer will be given a complete makeover which will no doubt make the property one on the top chalet hotels in the Alps. The property will be filled with plush furnishings, and will boast flat-screen TVs in each room, plus the usual such as Wi-Fi, outdoor hot tubs, sauna, steam room and a massage room. The Montjola will keep its bar, though it will only be open to guests and will most likely run from late afternoon until around midnight, offering beers, wine and coffee for a small charge.
Though the property isn't being run by one of the typically large family specialists, the Montjola will have two on-site nannies and allow children on all dates, whether the property is filled or not. There will also be a chauffeur shuttle service from 8am-8pm from the ski lifts and resort centre. The Montjola is a good ten minute walk from St. Anton's slopes and nightlife — so the chauffeur service is a touch — but offers stunning views across the valley taking in the Tyrolean region from the sun terrace, as well as several of the rooms.
So, when you start to put plans into place for next winter, if looking for lively, charming properties with great staff, even better food and fantastic wine, make sure you give the Les Chardons and Montjola a look, as neither will let you down. The chalet hotels will be perfect for families, groups and couples alike and I have no doubt they will be among our most popular properties. My biggest problem is deciding whether I want to head to St. Anton or Val d'Isere and convincing the boss to give me a week off!
However much we all talk about trying somewhere new — skiing in North America or joining the growing trend that is heading back to our former favourite skiing destination, Austria — most of us will go skiing in France next year. Whether it's the cheap flights, the large selection of chalets, or maybe we just love to visit our neighbours, for some reason we can't help but go back.
So, if we are going to ski in France next season — which nearly a million of us will be — what should we do while we are there? Cruising motorway pistes and heading to snowsure glacial resorts is the norm, but surely there is more to France than that?
Those who ski in North America will tell you that tree-lined skiing is one of the best ways to spend a day on the mountain; they will also tell you tree skiing in France is terrible. Well, they'd be wrong — about the skiing in France bit. Though France doesn't boast gigantic trees and a lot of the skiing is above the tree-line, there are some fantastic spots for tree skiing to be enjoyed — you just have to know where to look.
Tree skiing is great for a whole variety of reasons, but on white-out days, when many people are rolling around on the piste or sat in their chalets, it comes into its own. The trees break up the snow and offer definition, meaning you can see where you are going. They offer protection from the elements while holding the snow — which also means you can find powder stashes days after a dump, if you know where to look.
Tree-lined skiing is also accessible for skiers of all levels. For beginners and more casual skiers there are resort like Les Gets and Serre Chevalier, which offer tree-lined piste skiing, and for the hardened skier there are plenty of resorts offering some great off-the-beaten-track tree-lined back country skiing.
So, with the office filled with dedicated skiers, where do the Iglu ski specialists recommend for the best tree skiing in France?
Easy peasy, Lindaret Treesy — Portes du Soleil:
Anyone ‘in the know’ skiing the Portes du Soleil starts their powder days at the Ardent Gondola. It’s about a 20 min bus schlep from Morzine, but the views along the way — where you see the ice divers in the frozen lake to your right, and then ice waterfalls on the left — more than make up for it. The Ardent gondola takes you to my favourite spot in all the area, the Lindaret plateau. If you are quick enough you can beat the masses heading over from Avoriaz by taking the Lindaret express quad for the best trees run in the northern French Alps. The area is so good that Burton put The Stash — a park built from natural features — right through the middle of it. The Stash alone is a great tree run, but it runs alongside the lift to make sure the park-rat posers get maximum exposure. That’s not the Iglu way. At the top of the quad, traverse high skiers left, go above and passed the big rocks as far as you dare before dropping into the steep, but well-spaced trees. It looks like a dead end from the top, which keeps the tentative away, but there’s lots of little glades to aim for when the trees get tight and some tasty drops for the well insured to have a go at.
AJ, Iglu's Head of Sales and self appointed ski guru.
Prodains Cable Car — Portes du Soleil:
An easy path followed by undulating pistes that looks innocent enough, before the drop to the right into a densely packed tree lined section underneath the cable car. Usually void of any other tracks bar four legged footprints, this section is as picturesque as it is challenging. No 50 metres are the same, some turns so tight a complete standstill is required, some drops so vertical it's like walking into an empty lift shaft. The gradient and ultra narrow gaps between the trees ensures turning at will mandatory. The only respite is the clearing at the end in front of the lift station and welcoming sight of the Hotel Les Lans.
Thomas Moulton, Iglu's actual ski guru.
Les Arcs' Ultimate Tree Run — Les Arcs 1600
Up the Mont Blanc two man chair then take the Deux Tetes Button lift. Head down (skiers' left) off the button below the Deux Tetes Rocks (a real Kodak moment) and enter the ultimate tree run. You end up on a cat track above and (skiers' right of 1600), on the edge of the ski area boundary. Nicely spaced trees, natural jibbing opportunities and only locals know about it. There is a pretty substantial cliff line half way down, so you need to pick route carefully.
Nick 'Action' Jackson, Iglu's Les Arcs expert.
Le Fornet Cable Car — Val d'Isere
There are a number of reasons why this is the best tree run in France, not only is it steep, but the hill is quiet and the trees are relatively spread out. Plus there's nothing too hard to knock you out. Obviously, if you're going off piste you'll need to be doing this with a guide or with someone who knows what they are doing, but the specific spot is called Le Lievre Blanc or the White Hare. It's been prone to avalanche in the past and the trees that were knocked down have regrown and are relatively young. Therefore there is plenty of space to get some rhythmic powder turns in, top to bottom in one hit... man up and give it a go!
Adrian 'Scotty' Scott, one of Iglu's former ski instructors.
The OK — Val d'Isere
Catch the first ascending Funival with resort personnel at 8.15 to the near empty Bellevarde. Gunning it over the rolling cruisers the Folie Douce rapidly comes into view. The little wall after the legendary restaurant is sufficiently steep to warrant a turn or two but still wide enough to allow any mistakes to go unpunished. This leads to the narrowing tree lined piste G and Raye. Landmarks go by in a blur including the Triffolet restaurant and terrace complete with the smell of 'steak frites' and busy with skiers who by now look as if they're going backwards. The compression three quarters of the way down keeps the mind focused followed by the moguls of decent size and gradient. With the sheltered light and clearly visible terrain, this section offers the most fun regardless of the weather. Cheers from skiers on the chairlift above a bonus, at the very least you'll finish this satisfying run eager for plenty more.
Thomas Moulton, one another of his favourite runs.
If cruising around gentle to intermediate pistes is more up your street, then head to Les Gets. Pretty much the entire area is filled with trees and winding slopes. There is a great loop I'd often do with my girlfriend while working in Morzine, you head up the Pleney, then take the Belvedere chair lift, from there you cruise down the Granges piste, at the bottom we'd take the Charniaz Express chair, then head down either the Fenerets of Amresalles pistes. You then head up the la Rosta chair, head right of the lifts, then drop back into the main bowl taking any line through the tress that takes your fancy. We'd then head to the Choucas piste and round to Nyon, but there are more little tree runs to play with, than I'd have time to describe.
Another favourite of mine — but one I've only ever done a couple of times — is from the top of Le Loze in between Courchevel and Meribel, back down to La Tania through the trees. For this run you head right off the Dou Des Lanches chairlift, then off piste along where the snow blast cannons are — this area is a route that definitely needs a transceiver and a local guide — from here you eventually hit the tree line, which follows the Folyeres piste into town. Following a village local through the trees will take you on a fun-filled schlep all the way back into La Tania.
Having given you a few gems to consider, it's clear to see there is plenty of tree skiing to play with in France, as we haven't even looked at Serre Chevalier, St. Foy, Risoul or the runs from Tignes down to Brevent. Tree-lined skiing in France may not be as obvious as across the pond in North America, but that's not the say there isn't some cracking skiing to enjoy on your yearly pilgrimage to Britain's favourite ski destination.
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