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Ski safety is a hot topic at the moment, with stories of various accidents popping up in the press recently – most notably, Michael Schumacher’s accident. As with any sport, there is always a risk of injury and there's never a solid guarantee that you won't have an accident. However, if you stay within your capabilities, wear the correct equipment and follow safety guidelines then you can reduce the chances of a serious injury and feel more comfortable when out in the mountains.
What Basic Equipment Do I Need For My Ski Holiday?
When riding on piste, it’s always useful to invest in some good padding to give you extra protection when you do take a tumble - bum pads, knee pads and elbow pads will help save you from unwanted aches and pains in those areas most vulnerable to impact. Wearing a helmet is also highly recommended as it reduces the severity of head injuries by up to 50%.
Another important point to remember when on your holiday is to never ski outside of your abilities. Only take the runs that you know you are capable of completing (if you’re a complete beginner, a black run is not such a good idea!). If you feel that you need to brush up on your technique before you head out, there are some excellent snow domes and dry slopes around the UK offering lessons for the very beginner through to the most advanced. Alternatively, if you want to master those black runs while out at the resort, you can always get one-to-one lessons on piste.
What Do I Need To Know If I Choose To Go Off-Piste?
When venturing out into the back country, it is important that you have a good sense of avalanche awareness, know which terrains to look out for and that you are properly prepared. If you are inexperienced in this type of riding then it is strongly advised that you go with a guide. Alternatively, if you are a more experienced freerider and you want to head out without a guide, then always make sure you have at least one other person with you.
Off-Piste Equipment These pieces of equipment are available for off-piste riding:
• Helmet – There are more rocks and trees in the back country than there are on piste. A helmet is highly recommended and could greatly reduce the risk of a severe head injury.
Helmet prices start at around £15 for a basic model and can go up to and beyond £200 depending on the brand and features, such as built-in goggles.
• ABS airbag – An airbag inside of a backpack, which you inflate in the case of an avalanche. It works on the principal that air will always float to the top, meaning you are likely to be buried less deeply when the avalanche finally comes to a stop.
Airbag prices start from around £450 (bear in mind that the gas canisters used to activate them cannot be taken on the plane and must be bought at the resort). You can also hire them from most resorts for approx. £25 per day.
• Transceiver– This is a radio beacon tracking device that you wear underneath your outer layers. If you become buried, or even injured somewhere remote , then others will be able to find your location and vice versa. Transceiver’s can be bought for around £15 from most outdoor shops.
• Collapsible Avalanche Probe – Once the location of the buried person has been found, the probe can be used to pinpoint their exact location in the snow.
• Shovel – An essential tool if you need to dig someone out.
Some resorts offer full off piste kit hire, including everything listed above. Prices for this are usually around £25 per day without an airbag or £35 per day with the airbag included.
Here’s a video from Roxy Snow, explaining a little more about the equipment needed for off-piste riding.
Weather Conditions Once you have all of your equipment, it is now important to learn how to recognise the warning signs of an avalanche. Before leaving the piste, you should always check the resort weather conditions and make sure to look at the avalanche risk charts. You can usually find this information at the base of the ski lifts. If there has been heavy rain, heavy snow or strong winds then it is likely that the avalanche risk is higher, as these are all elements that can weaken the snowpack. A sudden rise in temperature is also something to look out for, as the melting of the snow can cause a layer of water underneath the snow base, increasing the risk of a slide.
If you have access to the internet whilst at the resort, you can almost always find weather conditions on their website. Some other useful websites to check are: Snow Forecast Weather2 Ski Club of Great Britain
Analysing the Terrain Even after you’ve checked the weather conditions, it’s wise to analyse the mountain terrain. To begin with, avalanches are most likely to occur on slopes of 30-45 degrees (you can buy Slope meter’s which will test the angle of the incline). You can spot signs of previous avalanches by looking to see if there are any obvious cracks and breaks in the snow. Watch out for terrain traps, such as ditches and basins at the bottom of a slope, as in the case of an avalanche, you could end up buried quite deeply in one of these. Stay away from slopes that have cliffs or sudden drops at the bottom as you could be swept over the edge.
Learning to Test the Snowpack The most unstable part of the snow is usually the cornice (the snow that collects at the very top of the mountain). This snow is heavily windblown and often overhangs mountain edges, making it at a high risk of snapping off. To look for avalanche-prone snow on other parts of the mountain, you can dig a snow pit, where it is possible to test the various layers to see if there are any weak spots.
If you want to know more about testing the snowpack, then this video will tell you how to asses stability by performing an extended column test.
When you have found a safe slope to ride on, descend one at a time, leaving a good distance between you. Never descend directly above another rider as this is more likely to breakages in the snow.
The Skiers Code While on your skiing / boarding holiday, it’s important to bear in mind these ten useful points which make up The International Ski Federation (FIS) skiers code. Following these simples rules will help to reduce the chances on injury and can even carry legal implications if you are found not to be following them. 1. Respect others on the slopes and do not behave in a way that may endanger them. 2. You must be able to ski or snowboard in a controlled manner. Learn how to adapt your skiing or snowboarding to allow for changes in weather and terrain. 3. Choose your route carefully when coming from behind – do not endanger skiers or snowboarders in front of you. 4. Overtake carefully and give the other skier or snowboarder enough room to make any further movements. 5. Before entering a run, always look up and down the mountain to make sure it is safe to continue. 6. Stop on the edges of the piste or where you can easily be seen. 7. When climbing the piste always be sure to keep to the side. 8. Follow all signs you come across on the slopes. 9. If there is an accident, alert the rescue service. 10. If you are involved in or witness an accident, always swap names and addresses with the other parties.
Happy skiing / snowboarding all and stay safe!
January can be a financially tight month but offers some of the best skiing of the season. With this in mind, and in our ongoing efforts to help more people hit the slopes, we've refreshed our Guide to Cheap Skiing. And if you're looking for a cheap last minute holiday be sure to check out our Top Tips for Last Minute Skiing.
Cheap ski deals are a bit of a misdemeanour as skiing is never cheap. By the time you have added your travel, accommodation, lift pass, ski hire/carriage, lessons (if needed) and food & drinks in resort, you are often lucky to get away with spending less than £1000. That's not to say that with good planning, realistic expectations and a bit of luck you can of course get a great deal, saving a small fortune.
People often flock toward the likes of Bulgaria and Andorra for a cheap ski break, but the realism is they are catching up with the rest of Europe year-on-year for price, yet the ski areas are not always as snow-sure or as challenging as the more renowned resorts. Andorra's lift pass prices are catching those of France, at £180, and the airfares to Bulgaria mean it often costs more than a cheeky week to a more renowned resort with a shorter flight.
Having taken into consideration the resort costs, including lift pass & ski hire, the holiday costs and the ski areas, I have put together an indication of where the best value cheap ski deals currently lie. There are a couple of self catered apartments, some value chalets and an all inclusive package, to give you a good indication of what to expect and where to look. Bargain hunting for cheap ski holidays starts as soon as the winter is over, so you now don't need to hold on in hope of getting a last minute deal.
To keep things fair and comparable I have looked at mid January, traditionally the cheapest time of the season where the resorts are fully open and for arguments sake have kept to London(ish) airports.
Self catered holidays can be a false economy due to the cost of food in resort, though sneaking some dry foods and packet mixes into your suitcase can help with this — student-style skiing! But if you are there for the skiing and/or the nightlife, accommodation is often at the bottom of the list, therefore squeezing into a 20m2 apartment with three friends won't bother you in the slightest.
Having kept to the dates mentioned before, you might be surprised to hear that the resorts of Avoriaz, La Plagne and Alpe d'Huez topped the list for accommodation costs and reasonable lift pass prices. Okay so €5 or so a pint may be the main downfall here, but there are some great value places to eat in both these ski areas. Pizza Roll in Alpe d'Huez is well used buy the underpaid resort staff and at €3 a pizza who can blame them. In Avoriaz ski down the Les Marmottes restaurant in the Lindarets valley for some great value mountain food — which will be much appreciated if a diet of pasta and sauce is on the menu in the evenings!
Alpe d'Huez offers 260km of great skiing, a glacier, Europe's longest black run — the 16km La Sarenne — the infamous Le Tunnel's moguls and the great value Quartier des Bergers Apartments apartments. The lift pass is £165, but includes use of the both the heated outdoor pool (budgie smugglers required), the indoor pool & sports centre and the resort bus, the ski & boot hire is from £75, ski carriage is £17.50. The cheapest ski deal here is again on the 18th January on a flight from Gatwick airport at £276 per person, based on four people sharing — the cheapest deal, but slightly higher resort costs.
The Cassiopee apartments in Belle Plagne often offer great value, whether getting an early summer deal or a last minute cheap trip you can find prices here for sub £270 per person (based on 4 sharing). The lift pass is around £235 for the Paradiski Unlimited pass and ski hire is around £85 for skis & boots and ski carriage is £35. The best price at the moment from Gatwick airport on the 7th January for as little as £285 per person, based on four sharing a four person studio apartment — offering cosy but low cost accommodation.
Chalet holidays can actually offer better value than staying in an apartment, due to the fact most of your catering is covered (the staff have one night off during your stay). You are usually given a hearty breakfast, afternoon tea and a three course evening meal with wine. If you have good chalet hosts you can usually have a large breakfast with cereals, a cooked option and some fruit, then make yourself a cheese, ham or jam sandwich for lunch (though do this quietly as you are not supposed to) and ski back for tea, coffee and cake at 4pm and still have time for an aprés ski beer.
Based on out-and-out price, the Chalet Alice in Les Deux Alpes offers fantastic value. Again using a Gatwick flight the price for two people in a twin room is only £354 per person on the 25th January. So the difference in cost to have two full meals and afternoon tea, with only one evening not catered, is just £103 pp. Les Deux Alpes is a student favourite, offering good nightlife, glacier skiing and reasonable resort prices — the lift pass is only £190 and ski & hire is again around £85 and ski carriage is £35.
For a great overall deal, great value on the mountain and the chance to ski two countries in one holiday, then the Chalet Quatre Saisons in La Rosiere offers fantastic value. The ski area sits toward the end of the Tarantaise Valley, opposite Les Arcs and bordering Italy. Skiing down to La Thuile you can enjoy fantastic mountain food at great, Italian prices, giving great savings throughout the week. This time based on a flight into Gatwick and with two people sharing a twin room the price stands at £295 per person — at £180 for your lift pass with ski hire from as little as £55 (or ski carriage for £39) you are looking at £530 for a week with everything bar lunch and one evening meal paid for!
Over in Les Deux Alpes, there are some ridiculously good value all inclusive deals with the Club Med Les Deux Alpes, though if you fancy a different resort the Club Med Arcs Extreme often has comparable prices. Club Med offer something different to the typical British ski holiday, first of all they are French run, owned and styled hotels, though they have English speaking staff. If you are here for the skiing and not the resort nightlife the hotels have everything you need. The price include accommodation, transport, all inclusive meals and drinks (apart from champagne etc), lift pass, ski school and on charter flights ski carriage. You can ski back to the hotel for lunch, a beer or a snack, the bar is open until early until the early hours and there is entertainment for all ages. If you head out on the 26nd January you are only paying £1084 per person, based on two sharing — this means if you have your own skis you don't have to spend another penny (apart from travel insurance) and if you don't ski hire starts at £104 pp.
Whilst this deals is great last minute value, Club Med also offer terrific Early bird savings of up to £200 pp so booking early is highly recommended.
In a quick round-up, here are the overall price comparisons for the best value self catered, chalet and all inclusive for seven nights:
So depending on how much you expect to spend on meals both in your accommodation and on the mountain, whether you are heading out into resort to party, fancy a glass of wine over dinner, or want the freedom to enjoy a drink whenever you fancy, depends on what works out best for you. Self catered are cosy, but low cost, chalets are comfortable, yet good value and Club Med include everything you need for a great price.
* The prices in this article were correct at time of publish, though are subject to change at anytime.
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