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As we all know, skiing over February half term is one of the most costly weeks of the season. Along with New Year, half term is the most popular week for people to hit the slopes.
With the early deals for next winter hitting the shelves we were surprised to see the incredible offers available for Club Med's all-inclusive hotels in the Alps. Having done a quick comparison with some popular chalet/club hotels in the same resorts I felt the need to spread the word. With prices from £4300 for a family of four — including all your food, drink (except super-premium brands and champers), flights, transfers, lift passes, tuition, kids club and twin rooms — during half term, you'll be hard pressed to find anything comparable.
All-inclusive ski holidays have become increasingly popular with the Brits thanks to Club Med's great value and service. Okay, so they are very French, from the food to the entertainment, but people are realising the great value they offer and are going back. Plus, some dodgy French entertainment always goes down well after a day on the slopes and having enjoyed the complimentary drinks at the bar.
Though the staff and instructors are all French speaking there are plenty of English speakers on hand. The lessons are often bilingual, though on busy weeks, English speaking lessons are often offered. The food is always buffet-style, but is of a great standard and local specialties such as Tartiflette, Fondue and Raclette can be found during a week's stay — you can't beat some melted cheese with a glass of wine over lunch.
I've picked three family Club Meds and two chalet hotels as comparisons, and on the off chance you are a half term skier looking to escape small children, an adult only hotel.
All the price comparisons are based on Gatwick flights, transfers, twin rooms and two adults travelling with two 11 year old children. I have factored in the standard prices of the chalet/club hotels and all the extras that Club Med offer, to give a real comparison.
The first thing that caught my eye was the Club Med Val d'Isere, one of the most famous resorts in the world and definitely among the elite in terms of mountain, snow and resort. The Club Med hotel here has enjoyed a recent overhaul and sits in a great location, you can ski the whole of the Espace Killy, and should you not want to ski back into Val for lunch you can stop off at the Club Med in Tignes for lunch or even just a drink in their sun terrace.
The Club Med Val d'Isere is a 4* property so I am comparing it with the 4* Chalethotel Le Val d'Isere, operated with one of our top family specialists. Club Med are coming in at £5,484 for a family of four for their full, all-inclusive package. The Chalethotel Le Val d'Isere on chalet board, with flights and transfers is £6,960, and by the time you add in lift passes for the family you are looking at £7,440. That's up to £1,960 more, and you don't get an all-inclusive bar or lunch! The one problem with Club Med Val d'Isere is the lack of mini-club and kids' ski lessons, though it still represents better value than the chalthotel.
Another great, snow sure resort offering a great deal for Feb half term is Club Med Cervinia. Though this comparison is a little off that is because there wasn't a direct comparison. The Club Med Cervinia is a 4* hotel and has a mountain restaurant, where you can enjoy your all-inclusive lunches and regular drink intake — obviously we are referring to responsible drinking rather than for fun.
The Clubhotel Petit Palais is a 3* hotel, offering clubhotel board and twin rooms. Both properties enjoy a similar location, as you can ski back to the Club Med and within 50m of the Petit Palais. Though the Club Med offer a shuttle service to the slopes, whereas it is a ten minute walk for the Petit Palais. The all-inclusive price, this time with much sought after interconnecting twins (standard twins are a little bit less), the price for a family of 4 is £6,398. Whereas the Petit Palais price is, this time less, at £4,248 and with lift passes & tuition for £5,652. This time the price is £746 less (£180 pp), though this doesn't include, childcare your lunches, all your drinks and a free shuttle bus, so the price once you are in resort will be similar, without needing to carry your wallet.
Les Arcs has a great selection of chalets, hotels and apartments, but the main comparisons here would be the other Club Med hotels, so this is just a quick snippet of the best deal out there. Les Arcs has superb skiing and the Club Med Arc Extreme is at 2000m — plus you get all the usual trimmings (again ski school for under 12s is not included). The 3* hotel here is amazing value at £4,340, which is only £1,085 per person for the most popular week of the season. A 3* with lift pass here will cost you more!
Child Free Half Term Haven
Not everyone who has to, or chooses, to ski during half term wants or needs family hotels or chalets. Some people like to escape to more grown-up environments, yet still want great value and great skiing. Well, thanks again to Club Med Val Thorens, you can. Twin rooms here, with a Three Valley lift pass, all the beer, wine and great food you need and the added bonus of no children is only £2,282, which is a measly £1,141 pp.
Club Med isn't for everyone, some people like to fill a chalet with friends and family — which I agree is great fun — others love grand hotels, or cheap and cheerful apartments. For great value family holidays, escaping with the other half and with friends, Club Med is fantastic and I've always had a great experience. So if you can handle the French, the great food and the world class skiing, I would book a Club Med before they sell out — and probably the Val d'Isere offer!
Last week Iglu's Sales Manager, AJ, was out in Tignes enjoying spring's finest sunshine and snow.
I love spring skiing!
All season I've been reading in the media about poor snow in the Alps. I knew from reports from mates still doing seasons that this media ranting was pretty wide of the mark and pretty irresponsible. I had to get out there to see the snow conditions for myself.
I stayed in the well facilitated Chalet Arktic, with its outdoor hot tub & sauna, in Tignes Le Lac for the week starting 20th March 2011. My first impression when the transfer bus turned into the Vallée de la Tarentaise was a little worrying. The lower areas of the valley as we drove passed the Trois Vallées on the left, and the Paradiski on our right, looked like they were a little low on snow. However, in March anywhere below 1800m is susceptible to freeze/thaw conditions.
The conditions started to look a lot better as we climbed higher towards the Espace Killy and drove passed Tignes Les Brévières. I could see there was plenty of snow as far down as 1550m. As we approached Tignes Le Lac at 2100m I could see that the north facing side of the Tovière was covered in fresh powder tracks and there was plenty more to raid, the moment I could get my Stöckli Corall Snakes on (I'm still in the honeymoon period with my beloved skis).
On our first day we went high to see if there were any powder trails left for us latecomers. Up and up we went to the highest cable car in the region, Le Téléphérique de la Grande Motte, on a blue bird day. From the top we took the first piste on the left and cut high back under the cable car to find ourselves in thigh deep pow. My ski buddy and I exchanged a quick grin before the inevitable race for first tracks commenced. There are no friends on a powder day — fact!
We were enjoying the snow so much we nearly fell into the trap that deep powder causes. As we sprayed our rooster tails left and right we almost missed the last chance to turn off for the lifts. We nearly ended up flying down a valley that had no lifts and no way back to resort, apart from a long hike in four foot of powder. That's a workout I could do without on my first day. After the powder morning we had, we needed a good nosh up. We headed over towards the Folie Douce, where I like to spend my sunny afternoons in the Espace Killy. However, I don't usually eat at the Folie Douce, as the prices at the famous Fruitière restaurant are enough to make even an Oligarch choke on their cuisses de grenouilles. Instead I like to head down towards La Daille, where just off the red piste you will find a little gem called Le Trifollet. This place has the best Tartiflette on the slopes and a charming wind protected deck.
Due to the lovely sunny days we had all week, the snow below 2200m did get a little slushy in the afternoons. Higher we were finding little pockets of powder right up to the time we left, along with fantastic piste conditions. The conditions were even good enough to do the 'out of bounds' tour from the top of the Grand Prix chair down into the Vallée du Manchet. That's a great run that can also be reached by doing a high traverse from the top of the Borsat chair. These are tours that I have not done in the past due to the snow but last week it was fine and Tignes just got hit by another 30cm this week.
So much for this lack of snow malarkey the UK media keep harping on about. There's plenty of skiing left in this season but make sure you go to a resort with lots of pistes above 2500m.
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!
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