Cheap ski holidays in hundreds of ski resorts worldwide.
Kirsteen, keen skier and mother of two, gives us her top tips on driving to the Alps with kids.
This was our third drive to the mountains — and one of many road trips around France — so we thought we had it all sussed but this time there were a few key differences and we learnt a few new tricks for next time.
Travelling on a peak travel date in the school holidays
This will make a significant difference to your journey, we of course realised this, but underestimated exactly how much of a difference.
Although our previous trips had been during the school holidays they were at Easter. This time we were heading down to the Alps for the week either side of New Year along with an army of 4x4s from the home-counties and half of Holland, Belgium and France.
This resulted in very slow moving traffic from just before Lyon, all the way to Moutiers. There were no accidents or road works just weight of traffic.
We were quite prepared that there would be more traffic and thought we had planned accordingly but had misjudged quite how many other people would be making this road trip too.
We usually incorporate an overnight stop, which makes the journey less stressful in the event of any hold ups.
All but one of our trips have included an overnight stop. On one occasion we were leaving on the Sunday and had to get back for school on the Monday, so had to do it in a ‘oner’ which was fine as there was no snow and we didn’t have any hold ups but could make for an unpleasant day if there were.
On our first two drives to the mountains we did the lion’s share of the driving on day one and stopped overnight near Lyon, leaving a short drive in the morning, a leisurely lunch and plenty of time to explore the resort on the day of arrival. This is what we will do in future — on the most recent trip we decided to leave late in the day and overnight in Reims and although we left Reims at 6.30 am with the aim of ‘beating the traffic’ I think the only way we would have beaten the traffic would have been to have stopped much further south, near Lyon for example.
Channel Crossing - Eurotunnel
I’m not good on ferries so it is the only option for us and I love it. Also if you are early you can usually get on an earlier crossing.
We have developed a habit of relying upon a viaMichelin print out of the route, which nicely details the exact signs that you need to follow and has successfully guided us to many a destination without a hitch, in the last few years we have also started using the sat nav (or not).
However, our latest experience taught us that you do really need to track your route on a proper map and be ready to deviate from these new fangled means of navigation in unforeseen circumstances — unless you are happy to put full faith in your sat nav (even when it appears to be telling you to go in completely the wrong direction). I would also suggest finding a reliable road traffic information site for the country you are travelling in so you can check the travel updates en-route.
Early in the journey the sat-nav kept warning us of phantom traffic works and delays that didn’t materialise, so when it added several hours onto our journey time and tried to send us on a completely different route we ignored it — probably to our peril. But you never get to find out. Whichever route we had taken it was going to be longer than it should have been.
Motorway service stops/aires
There are motorway stops at least every 20kms on French motorways. They vary from a toilet in field with a couple of picnic benches to a full choice of restaurants, shops, petrol station etc. You do have to pay attention to the signs so you know what to expect as they do vary a lot.
On peak dates it is worth having a few essentials with you as many of the motorway services become incredibly busy and there are long queues for everything.
It is also worth filling up on petrol as early as you can as the further south you go, and the later in the day it is, the worse the queues are.
On the southbound journey there is the most fabulous looking ‘aire’ that we are yet to stop at. I have finally noted down where it is so that we can plan accordingly next time.
It is called ‘Aire de Jugy’ and it is on the A6 after Chalon Sur Saone/Saint Remy. It has the most fantastic play park and looks great for a run around. You know you are getting close as there are giant toadstools at the side of the road as you approach it.
Everything you read about snowchains says practise putting them on before you go, we did and it was well worth it.
Our previous journeys were for end of season ski trips so we didn’t need to worry about snow chains — you obviously need to check the weather before setting out as there can be significant late season snowfalls. Even though the forecast was clear and we could see on the webcam before we left that there wasn’t much snow on the roads in the resort we still needed the chains for the last 20 metres of our journey! At the end of a very long day as the light was fading and in freezing temperatures we were very pleased that we had done a practice run at home.
Essential Items for driving in France
It is compulsory to have the following items in your car when driving in France:
For more information on items to take, routes and tips take a look at our ‘Driving to the Alps’ feature.
Snowboards with breaks, really? This is actually a great idea from an Australian company and the boards are set to be used by Thredbo in 2013.
The break helps beginners get over those anxious first few turns on the slopes and looks like a great confidence building tool. It will be interesting to see if any ski schools in Europe adopt these boards over the coming seasons.
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
You do not currently have any holidays in your shortlist.
You currently have in your shortlist.