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Which is the best of the Top Ten Biggest ski areas in the World?

clock 16th May 2011 | comment0 Comments

Iglu's Sales Manager, AJ, has skied pretty much everywhere worth mention, from Jackson Hole to Les Arcs, and has given us his expert opinion of the largest ski areas the world has to offer.

Here's the run down on the biggest resorts in the World.

Les Trois Vallées, 600km of linked piste — So much skiing you could never be bored even after several visits.

This area is 'The' British favourite. From East to West the three main resorts are Courchevel (1760m) in the St Bon Tarantaise Vallée, Méribel (1450m) in Les Allues Vallée, and Val Thorens (2300m) in St Martin de Belleville Vallée.

Courchevel 1850, note the resort is named 1850 to compete with Val d'Isére and is actually at 1760m, is glamorous and expensive. It's mainly 4/5 * hotels and some sensational chalets. If you try some of the lower resorts like 1550 or 1650 then you can get a reasonably priced holiday but the mountain restaurants are still going to rip an ever expanding hole in your wallet. Stay as far away as possible during the 1st week of January which is the Russian New Year. This place is good for couples on a special holiday.

Méribel is huge and has countless British run chalets. If you don't like the French or French food then this is the place for you. It might as well be Méribel-on-Thames. Very convenient for the ski access but quite low at 1450m and prone to slush late in the season. This place is best for a large group or family who want a chalet to themselves.

Val Thorens is the highest resort in Europe and competes with Tignes and Flaine for the not very coveted title of ugliest resort in the world. However, I love it. The aprésphere is amongst the best in France. It gets loads of Dutch and Scandis and these guys love to party. This place is great for keen skiers and partiers alike.

I like - The touring, the aprés ski in VT, and the restaurants in Courchevel.

I don't like - The Britishness and lack of ski in/ski out in Méribel, the complete absence of decent and reasonably priced mountain huts for lunch [look harder next time there are plenty - Ed]. The restaurants are mainly huge self serve, characterless places.

Top Tip - Pack your lunch and picnic.

Espace Killy, 300km of piste — Great nightlife in Val d'Isére and the most consistent snow in Europe above Tignes.

Named after the famed French skier Jean-Claude Killy who grew up there, this area has the best snow record in France. The two main resorts are Val d'Isére (1850m) with the Pissaillas Glacier and Tignes (2100m) with the Grand Motte Glacier.

Val d'Isére is a mix of chalets and hotels and is very British. The nightlife here rocks and the range of restaurants is excellent but expensive. This is a steep ski area with not a lot for beginners. This place is great for small groups out to party and ski hard.

Tignes is pretty ghastly to look at but you get the convenience of easy access to the slopes. Le Lac is where all the British chalets are and not much happens here. Further up at Val Claret you have all the pokey apartments the French like and the nightlife here is much better. This resort is the best in Europe for early and late season skiing.

I like - The steep slopes, the Folie Douce aprés ski, and the extensive the off piste.

I don't like - The ugliness of Tignes, the lack of good restaurants on the mountain, the long transfer as it's right at the end of the Vallée de la Tarantaise.

Top Tip - Do the out-of-bounds run from the top of the Grand Prix lift into the Vallée de la Manchet. It's the prettiest run in the region (and fairly safe).

Paradiski, 425km of piste — Convenient and extensive skiing in a modern setting and great access by train.

This area in the combination of La Plagne and Les Arcs. They were joined a few years back by the 200 capacity double decker Vanoise Express cable car. The two ski areas are large enough for a weeks skiing on their own and the last time I skied in Les Arcs I never even got over to La Plagne. Neither of these ski areas will ever be known for the beauty of their villages, they are purpose built and some of those building were built in the heyday of the concrete '70s. However, the benefit of purpose built is convenience. If you want ski in/ski out then this is probably where you'll be recommended. Much of the accommodation is also cheap which attracts the families and students. Both areas have modern lift systems and this means very few queues.

This area attracts a lot of French holiday makers because of the self catered apartments that abound. There are some luxury apartments, especially in the newest Village of 1950 in Les Arcs, but the majority are pretty pokey and the facilities are basic. Both resorts offer very high skiing and this means the season starts early and ends late.

I like - The tree runs down to Peisey Vallandry in Les Arcs are steep and beautiful.

I don't like - There are too many flat spots in La Plagne and I had to drag my boarder mates on the end of pole to save them walking many times.

Top tip - There is a back country run from the Aiguille Rouge above Les Arcs down to Vilaroger called the Valley of the Kings. I recommend a guide, my mate skied off a cliff and still moans about his back.

Portes du Soleil, 650km of piste — Great for all day touring to numerous resorts in two countries.

This is a collection of 13 linked resorts that straddle the French-Swiss border near Geneva. The main resorts for Brits are Morzine, Avoriaz and Les Gets. The touring here is first class and you can visit several charming little villages like Morgins in Switzerland, to sample world class Chocolate Chaud for morning tea. I have never seen so many top quality mountain huts and terrace bars in any other area. Every day can be a gastronomic journey covering hundreds of km and experiencing a huge variety of terrain and stunning views as far as Mont Blanc and Lake Geneva.

The only problem with this area is the height. When the snow is good in peak season it can't be beaten but by the third week of March the afternoons can be heavy skiing. I went in April last time and had a superb time with some fresh powder but the afternoons after 2.30pm were spent on sunny decks absorbing rays and drinking the legendary Mutzig beer.

I like - The short transfer from Geneva, the enormous range of terrain, and the 'Secret Valley'. Sorry, but I'm sworn not to tell you where it is.

I don't like - The aprés ski in Morzine is a little tame and links over to Avoriaz take 30 minutes in the morning

Top tip - The Lindarets tree runs include 'The Stash', there is nothing else like this in Europe and it rocks! Try the tartiflette crêpe in Les Marmottes in Lindarets. It is gastronomic perfection.

Skiwelt, 279km of linked piste — Fun and cheap.

This is the largest linked ski area in Austria. The area is low but has a great snow record and the most comprehensive snow cannon coverage in Europe. Soll is the number one destination Brits because of the wild aprés ski and the well priced hotels. This area has a lot of fantastic views of the Wilderkaiser mountains and you can do a bit of touring. I like going to Austria because of the fun Tyrolean atmosphere and proper villages, with this area delivering on both fronts. I guarantee you will have more fun in Austria than in France but the resorts just aren't as convenient. Soll only has one cable car out of town and it gets busy.

I like - The party with the ever friendly Austrians who speak perfect English.

I don't like - The lift queues.

Top tip - If you are staying in Soll then take the free local bus for 7 minutes down to Ellmau and catch the Gondola there that rarely has any queues.

Arlberg, 276km of piste — For the hard skiers and even harder partiers.

This area combines the resorts of St. Anton, St. Christoph, Lech, and Zurs. St. Anton's ski area is quite challenging and the home runs are so narrow they get bumped up in the afternoon. As much as I love this resort I can't recommend it to beginners. The St. Anton ski school would kill me for saying that. They claim to be the oldest in the world and the locals even claim that alpine skiing, as we know it, was invented in the area. In the old days the villages of Lech and Zurs were cut off in Winter and they had to climb the Valluga and ski down to St. Anton. It was too steep for telemarking so they locked their boots in at the heel and alpine skiing was born — or so the story goes.

St. Anton is a fantastic party town. The aprés ski at the Mooserwirt and Krazy Kangaruh bars is justifiably legendary. Lech is the posh and dignified part of the area. The piste grooming in Lech is second to none in Europe and will make even the most timid skier feel like a racer. This is the area for piste cruisers and beginners.

I like - The aprés ski in St. Anton and 'The Beach' on the Rendl side of the valley that overlooks the terrain park.

I don't like - The icy bumpy runs that take you home in the afternoons.

Top tip - Get a guide and do the Valluga run down to Zurs from St. Anton. A world renowned classic.

Zermatt & Cervinia, 313km of piste — Glamorous and stunning.

This area is very much a tale of tow countries. Zermatt on the Swiss side is gorgeous, glamorous, has coolly efficient lift systems, challenging skiing, and is astronomically expensive. The Italian Cervinia side is a jumble of cobbled streets, cheap cafés offering great food, ugly yet friendly hotels, cheerful locals, and typical Italian lift queues. If you are precious about the graphics on the tops of your skis then don't queue with Italians.

No matter where you are in either of these resorts your vision will be filled with the Matterhorn. It is the most iconic mountain in the world. All the best mountain restaurants in Zermatt face the Matterhorn and you will find it hard to tear your eyes away even when eating. The hotels in Zermatt are beautiful in a classic 19th century way and the town is car free so you will see loads of horse drawn carriages dropping off well heeled nouveau rich and Europe's aristocracy at the grand entrances. Be careful not to miss the last lift back to Cervinia in the afternoon as one of our staff did. It cost him 400 Swiss Francs for one nights stay in Zermatt. The way back to Cervinia takes you up to the highest lift in Europe at 3900m which can be very cold and windy and it takes ages to ski back down so they close the last lift at just after 4pm.

The Cervinia side is known for its cruisy red runs that are up to 22 km long. It's great for looking good and the mountain restaurants serve authentically made pasta at reasonable prices. I prefer to stay in Cervinia because it's cheaper but if I could afford the best hotels and the best mountain restaurants then I'd ski in Zermatt every single year.

I like - The stunning beauty of the Matterhorn just can't be beaten and where better to view it than in one of the best mountain restaurants in the world in Zermatt.

I don't like - The prices

Top tip - Save your pennies and splurge on a lunch at either Chez Vrony or Zum See (that's if you can get a table, I highly recommend booking).

Milky Way, 400km of piste — Cheap and cheerful.

There are five main villages in this impressive ski area that bridges the Italian and French border. Sauze d'Oulx is the most popular with the Brits. It is cheap and cheerful and has loads of bars among its ancient cobbled streets. It can get pretty rowdy here and is best enjoyed but young partiers. Sestriere is the highest of the resorts and hosted the Olympics in the '90s but it is a purpose built resort of very little character and no charm at all.

On the French side you have Montgenevre which is very pretty and is where the first French Ski School started. It also hosted the 1st ever International Ski Race in 1907. In those days skiing was just developing and they stopped using a technique called the 'Brianconnais Stop'. This means just falling over. This resort is one of my hidden gems. I highly recommend it for those who have tired of the ugly mega-resorts of France but still want a large high ski area with the good things about France like the food and wine. You can also walk into Italy (2km) at night for a spot of pasta and Chianti.

I like - The short transfer from Turin and the fun atmosphere.

I don't like - The remaining drag lifts and the poor links between the resorts. You really need to plan your day to make the most of this area.

Top tip - Stay in Montgenevre and do the night time skidoo trip to a mountain restaurant, it's a great night out.

Sella Ronda, 1220km of piste — Beautiful vistas and easy cruisy skiing.

The claim of 1220 km of piste is a little misleading. On the Super Dolomiti ski pass you can ski at a lot of resorts, but it's not practical to visit some of them from your base resort if you are on the Sella Ronda circuit, as they are not all linked. Selva is the most popular resort because it is well linked and offers the best access to the most skiing. Cortina is probable the most famous resort on the Super Dolomiti but it is not linked to any other resorts.

The views of the Dolomites have been described as more interesting and striking than those of the Alps. They tend to have sharp features and very steep rocky crags at the top. Skiing here is very laid back. The Italians are even considering banning off-piste skiing here. Apparently they don't like rescuing skiers in trouble if it's not near a good restaurant.

I love the views here but the skiing is not steep enough for very advanced skiers who like a challenge. Come for the beauty, the well-priced food, and the charming villages, but don't expect any excitement.

I like - The views take your breath away, maybe even challenging Zermatt. There is a pink light to the alpenglow on the mountains here.

I don't like - The Italian attitude to off-piste skiing.

Top tip - Most skiers do the excellent Sella Ronda route anti-clockwise for the better views. I much prefer clockwise as it takes in the few challenging steep black runs on the circuit.

Chamonix, 762km of piste — The most challenging skiing in Europe and a Mecca for experts.

The km of piste is deceptive and maybe a bit of marketing. Most people only ever ski the Brévent-Flégère area straight out of town, Le Tour at the end of the Valley and Grand Montets (the best area). This is around 300km of piste. This town is a proper town first and a ski resort second, however, it is one of the worlds extreme skiing Meccas. The town is under the imposing Mont Blanc and your lift pass covers the cable car up to the Aiguille du Midi. Even if you don't want to do the all day back country tour called the Vallée Blanche it's worth going up to see the view across the whole Alps. The Vallée Blanche has many routes and you only need to be a intermediate of four or more weeks skiing to do the easiest route, though you must take a guide.

The local area of Brévent-Flégère is good for one or two days skiing but most of the time I head to Grand Montets which is 20 mins by bus towards Argentiere. This ski area is big, high, and steep. One of the best of its kind anywhere. There is another little treasure at the end of the Valley just before the Mont Blanc tunnel that takes you to Italy. La Tour is usually frequented by beginners as the front area is really easy and cruisy, I use it on bad weather days. On the backside of the mountain there are countless tree runs that lead down to a cute little train station. At the end of the day catch the train back into Chamonix, it's free with your lift pass.

I like - The super challenging steepness you can find in Grand Montets, it's a thrill.

I don't like - No one really likes catching a bus in the morning, but it's worth it.

Top tip - Stay in the 4* Club Med in Chamonix. It is the only ski in-ski out property in Chamonix and Iglu has special deals that make it unbelievably good value.

So which is the best then?

It's not my personal favourite, which is Chamonix (but I'm a crazy for couloirs and crevasses), but I can't really fault Les Trois Vallées. Yes, there are too many Brits in Méribel. Yes, it's pretty ugly up in Val Thorens when the weather comes in. Yes, Courchevel is expensive and full of Russians in the first week of January. However, the variety that's on offer in all these resorts and the unbelievable range of well linked pistes just isn't comparable to anywhere else. The only problem is disappointment at the next ski area you go to. I don't know how many times I've heard the words, 'we skied in the Three Valleys last year and want something similar', sorry folks but there isn't anywhere similar.


Calling All Half Term Skiers

clock 4th May 2011 | comment0 Comments

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.

Val d'Isere

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

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!


AJ's Perfect Spring Skiing Trip

clock 1st April 2011 | comment0 Comments

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.

Bonne Ski.

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