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Okay so it might only be mid-March but the big tour operators are already preparing for next winter. For those who know exactly what they want there's never been a better time to book early.
Last winter my friends and I realised that after three trips in a row to Morzine it was time for a change of scenery. We knew that we wanted to go to Meribel and that we would go early March 2011, so we booked our holiday by the end of May 2010. On arriving to the chalet three weeks ago we discovered the late bookers had paid the same price as us, but we had our lift passes (including a 3 Valley upgrade) and ski carriage included in the deal.
If you are happy to follow the deals and take the lowest prices around, then last minute bookings have their place, but by booking an early deal we proved to get much better value than the guests who left it until the last minute. With this is mind I've started having a look into my New Year and March 2012 holidays and I've already to discovered that the offers are as good, if not better than last winter.
I must admit we usually go for the chalet holidays, but having had a couple of fantastic summer Club Med holidays, the French all-inclusive hotel chain are looking very appealing for next winter. For those unfamiliar with Club Med they offer all-inclusive ski holidays, mostly in Europe, where the price includes your transport, lift passes (3* local, 4* and above full area), group ski lessons and all the great food you can eat. Plus the bar is free as long as you stay away from the Champagne and luxury brandies and single malts.
Now, we bagged a cracking deal this winter with our lift passes and ski carriage included, but after a week of lunches on the mountain, chalet staff night off and a few après ski drinks, we ended up spending the same as we would in a 4* Club Med. Whereas the initial outlay of around £1000+ may seem a lot, if you are on a catered holiday to the big French resorts you can easily eclipse that by time you come home.
Our French friends are also offering us up to £180 per person discount based on the early booking prices, plus the brochure prices are as low as they will go for the whole season. Throw in the fact that resorts such as Val d'Isere and Tignes have enjoyed a bit of a facelift over recent years and the addition of a new property in a stunning, yet unobvious resort, Club Med Valmorel and the choice is incredible — there's even a Club Med in China these days.
Having taken a cheeky look at Val d'Isere for my 30th during Easter — the prices are still great value. £1149 per person for a 4* Club Med in one of the world's top resorts during a peak week (now tell me that's not great value). With ski carriage, lift pass, all your food and drink included and the option of lunching in Club Med in Tignes, it's the perfect holiday for a romantic week on the slopes.
For the same week a family of four (2 adults, 2 children) can book to go to the 3* Club Med Les Deux Alpes, with everything minus ski hire, staying in interconnecting rooms for only £3080. They could even head to the 4* resort of Club Med Tignes Val Claret for only £4548, again in interconnecting rooms. For all-inclusive, glacier resorts during the Easter holidays that is fantastic value.
With the prices due to go up in July and again in October, these great properties are worth a look. Whether you are looking for a family, group or romantic holiday there is a Club Med for everyone, from the luxurious Club Med Peisey-Vallandry and Club Med Meribel Le Chalet, to the great value of Club Med Arcs Extreme and Club Med Aime La Plagne.
Not Everyone likes the hustle and bustle of resorts like Val d'Isere, Meribel or St. Anton, some people prefer a more relaxed affair yet still want great skiing, so where to go?
With this is mind I had a word with a few of Igluski's resort experts to get the lowdown on how to avoid queues, packed out restaurants and crowded pistes. The team appear to have skied every major resort and many hidden gems, so after banging some heads together here are our Top Resorts To Avoid the Queues.
The French Resistance
France is by far the most popular destination for British skiers, with the big three ski areas — the Espace Killy, Three Valleys and Paradiski accounting for 41%* of British ski holidays. That at least gives us a starting point: for world class, vibrant resorts that cater for everyone then head to the Espace Killy, Three Valleys or Paradiski, but for a more relaxed, less hectic week on the slopes where jumps to mind?
Back in the '60s Megève was the height of chic winter holiday destinations, with a stunning village and a boutique feel. Today it still offers a fantastic ambience and great skiing and the crowds have moved on to the trendier Tarantaise resorts. So for chic, boutique elegance head to Megève.
Montgenèvre is a picturesque alpine village that sits on the French-Italian border. Accessing the Milky Way it offers a huge ski area, yet being among the southern French resorts it has become a forgotten gem. Think families, cheese and vin chaud on a calm sun terrace after a great day on the mountain.
Italy has long been home to some of the best value skiing in Europe, both the Milky Way and the Super Dolomiti ski domains offer huge ski areas, Cervinia is linked with the ever popular Zermatt and from La Thuile you can ski over to La Rosiere in France's Tarantaise Valley. But these resorts, are, well, very popular and therefore not what you are after.
There are some hidden gems in the Dolomites but if you head to the lesser known resorts of Gressoney & Champoluc you can enjoy the flattering skiing underneath Europe's second largest mountain, Monte Rosé. The resorts are in the beautiful Gressoney Valley and the former hot-spots now offer a more serene family experience than the espresso-fuelled fun of Passo Tonale.
The Jung Swiss
Switzerland is renowned for beautiful, charming, chocolate box resorts. It is known for great skiing, glaciers, cheese and chocolate. It is also offers some of the world's most exclusive and famous resorts, just think of St. Moritz, Davos, Klosters and Zermatt. But Switzerland also offers some stunning, quiet resorts with incredible skiing and minimal crowds.
The Jungfrau region must be one of the most stunning ski-able valleys in the world. From the resorts of Mürren & Grindelwald you can enjoy one of the most picturesque train rides to resort, taking in the Eiger, Mönch and the Jungfrau. Mürren is know for its steeps and the legendary 'Inferno' run, whereas Grindelwald offers great cruising and awe-inspiring views.
Austria is a place of split personality, on the one hand you have the famous raucous après ski — from St. Anton's Mooserwirt and Krazy Kanguruh, to the champagne bars of Ischgl & Lech, on the other hand you have the great family skiing on offer in Zell am See, Kaprun and Kitzbühel. Both these personalities offer great holidays, depending on your taste, though they are not far enough from the beaten track for some.
One of Austria's most enchanting resorts, Alpbach, is often forgotten, due to it's smaller ski area, but shouldn't be discounted. The beautiful, traditional village has 52km of piste with 1500m of vertical drop and there are plenty of resorts with less vertical, less pistes and are far less attractive that we visit each year (think Bulgarian resorts for a start). Alpbach offers a charming village, perfect for families on their first trip together or those who enjoy skiing in a more intimate resort.
Now Obergurgl may not be the most attractive of Austria's resorts, but the purpose built village sits at the bottom of a glacier and the combination of great intermediate skiing and a limited amount of accommodation means less lift queues than its surrounding resorts. Linked to Hochgurgl it offers a decent sized ski area and a calm family atmosphere.
Well technically it's British Columbia, but the Canadian province offers some of the finest powder and most famous resorts in the world. You could head to Whistler for the holiday of a lifetime, but being one of the top resorts in the world draws in the crowds.
Head a little further north into Interior B.C. and visit the powder haven of Big White. The name says it all really, the resort regularly receives somewhere around 9m of snow a season, so powder skiing is part of everyday life there. The resort boasts (quietly of course) one of Canada's largest ski areas, fluffy, dry, powder and saloon-style, wooden-clad, gold-rush charm.
Heading inland toward Banff National Park you stumble across the resort of Revelstoke. This is one of Canada's newer resorts, where huge investment has been put into the area in recent years. Revelstoke boasts the status of being the only resort that offers piste, cat and heli-skiing all under one umbrella. This may be an escape for the more advanced skiers and snowboarders among us, but it oozes mountain charm without the queues — especially when you're being taken from spot-to-spot on the back of a snowcat.
The American Mid-West is home to some of the United States' finest skiing, from the world class resorts of Aspen, Breckenridge and Vail to the deep, dry powder, and perfect pistes, parks & lifts. The celebrity filled resorts come at a price and are very popular, yet there are again some forgotten gems to discover.
Beaver Creek is the luxury resort on offer, much like Megève it offers a stunning setting, great hotels and a real feel of elegance. The resort could happily compete with its busier neighbours but chooses not to. This calmer mountain and luxury accommodation are the perfect escape for those looking for a great holiday away from the crowds and are happy to pay the price.
Heading a little further west into Utah is Park City, famous for the Sundance Film Festival and boasts three mountains — including the skier only Deer Valley. The resort has a real American-West feel to it, Park City also boasts its own distillery (which will banish those no alcohol rumours) and some superb skiing.
We all love something different about skiing, I swear by Meribel and Morzine, our Sales Manager is St. Anton through and through and of course there are the Val d'Isere, Whistler and Les Arcs fans among us. The great thing about skiing is there is a mountain, resort or even hotel/chalet to suit all of us. I love chalets, big mountains, fun atmosphere and après ski, others prefer charming villages, family run hotels and understated elegance. They key is to find your own spiritual home in the mountains.
* Stats taken from Igluski 2010/11 bookings
Back in the summer I wrote a piece about the festivals that were expected to hit the Alps this winter and with the season in full flow and most of the line-ups have been announced here is a update of what to look forward too.
Little World Festival
This Little World Festival debuted in Meribel last season and after a successful first attempt, festival organisers and performers The Feeling are back for more. The former Meribel après ski band have lined up some big acts and some great venues for the week. From 13th - 18th March Meribel will be the highlight of the Three Valleys.
Last years slope side gig next to the Ronnie.
As expected The Feeling are due to perform as is Sophie Ellis Bextor, who attended last year and also performed with them at the ski show. Freemason, Carl Barat and Ed Harcourt have all been confirmed among the headliners, with Squeeze, Fictionplane and Ben Howard among the other confirmed acts. With a free gig taking place outside the resorts biggest après bar, the Rond Point, on a huge stage and 40 other gigs in resort that week it will be awesome.
Snowbombing & The Altitude Festival
Snowbombing is renowned as the snowsports hedonists' festival and this year it becomes home to the Altitude Festival, a comedy festival that previously called Meribel home. Both festivals will bring some pretty big names into Mayrhofen and the biggest party of the winter season takes place from the 4th - 9th April.
This year Snowbombing has surpassed itself with the names on the line-up, so far The Prodigy, Fatboy Slim, Pendulum and 2manydjs are confirmed. The list goes on and on and on, other big names include Professor Green, Example, Chase and Status, DJ Yoda, Fake Blood, John Digweed, Ms Dynamite and the Cuban Brothers. The Altitude Festival, in its new home, boasts the likes of Marcus Brigstocke, Andrew Maxwell, Rufus Hound, Tony Woods, Craig Campbell, Mark Walker and Terry Alderton. So if a week of soft snow, hard partying and laughs are what you need then get yourself to Mayrhofen on 4th April for a week.
Andrew Maxwell at last year's Altitude Festival
The Big Snow Festival
The Big snow Festival is another newcomer, debuting in the Andorran resort of Arinsal in March 2010. This year they have upped their game in an attempt to complete with the infamous Snowbombing, boasting better snow (well you'd hope so in mid March) and an impressive line up.
With crowd pleasers Kissy Sell Out, Judge Jules, Westwood and Example + dj wire headlining, this year's festival should go off with a bang. Throw in a decent sized ski area, (hopefully) great mid March weather and pretty much duty free prices in resort and you are on to a winner.
The Brits is the British Snowsports Championships, but as you would expect it is just as much a party-filled, music-fuelled festival as it is the country's top snowsports event. Held in the resort of Flims Laax in Switzerland from the 20th - 27th March this is a week of top end riders, music and fun. From the Red Bull downhill to a Pendulum DJ set the Brits always go off with a bang.
This year the likes of Aime Fuller and Jamie Nicholls will be on the slopes showing us why they are two of the most up and coming riders in Europe in the day time followed by some awesome entertainment in the evenings. As mentioned Pendulum will be throwing down a DJ set and the week also includes The Correspondents, an '80s Chalet Party and a not-so-secret movie premier (though the films are still a secret). Add in world class skiing, the glacier and end of march sunshine and it looks like a belting week is going to happen.
Taking a look around the Alps there are a few more events worth attending if you are in town. The European Winter X Games will be taking place in Tignes from the 16th - 18th March, where the world's biggest skiers and snowboarders will be in town — hopefully with Jenny Jones retaining her gold. And you can be sure there will be some serious parties going down throughout the resort celebrating the many competition winners medals. The last week of the season in Ischgl is always worth a mention. The resort is renowned for its opening and closing parties with the likes of Kylie and Katy Perry among recent headliners, well their end of season party doesn't disappoint with The Killers confirmed on the slope side stage on April 30th.
There is so much to going on this year I'm struggling to decide where to go, though I have my favourite, do you?
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