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Half term is just around the corner which only means one thing, busy mountains. The chalets, hotels, apartments, restaurants, slopes and lift queues will be busy in most resorts and packed in the most popular. This in no way means you can't have a fantastic holiday, though it does mean patience and careful planning are on the agenda.
There are only a limited few weeks of the season when familys, teachers and school can take get their yearly snow fix, and who can blame them. We all love the mountains, the snow, the skiing & snowboarding and most of us love the food (read meat & cheese) and wine. Rather than complain about the larger numbers of people in resort we should relish the opportunity of a fun filled holiday full of like minded people.
Top Tips for the Slopes
If you need ski school make sure you use local schools, when it is busy you'll find in France the ESF will be able to jump to the front of the queue, as will St. Anton's ski schools and many others. If you can't beat them join them. Ask your friends, reps or Google to who the main ski school in resort are. The better the rep the smaller the classes and the better their relationship with the liftie (hence the queue jumping).
Plan your route. If you're are heading out with one of the Tour Operators we work with then find out when their ski guiding days are. They will take you with skiers and snowboarders of similar levels to the best and quietest slopes. These guys are spending their mountain time with you so will often take you to the best spots, especially if bribed with lunch, that's only a couple of Euros each for a great day on the mountain involving a reasonable restaurant.
Take your skis and boards off in the lift queues. In Europe the lift queues can be mad, if you are using your own kit and don't want a few extra scratches, pop out of your bindings for as long as possible to save your kit, plus you can often get through the crowds quicker. Frenchies on hired skis won't worry about trampling all over your shiny new top sheet and pristine edges.
Top Tips in Resort
Again if you have a rep in resort use them, find out where the best restaurants are and book on the first day, I'd even book on the transfer coach if you dare! If you are travelling without young children go for a late table, around 9pm, the restaurant will be calmer (less kids) and they won't be desperate to get you out of the door to re-use your table, they are more likely to to look after you in the hope of selling you deserts, more wine and an after dinner drink or two — take full advantage of the hospitality, I do!
Après ski will more than likely be as busy as ever. After a day on the slopes with your own children, or other people's (school teachers and ski instructors) there is a good chance a post ski beer or vin chaud with some live music will go down well. Find out where the best bars and sun terraces are and get there first. The evenings will be quieter, but by 11pm the resort staff will be filling the bars and clubs after a hard day's work, so you'll just have to wait a little longer for the post dinner crowds and atmosphere to kick in.
Hire Shops and Lift Passes
Again let your rep sort out your lift pass, you should be paying the resort's standard rate, unless you pre-booked and enjoyed a decent exchange rate, and they will do the hard work for you, often delivering them to your accommodation. Same price less work, sounds good to me. As for ski hire, whether pre-booked or arranged in resort, get to the shop early — they will be busy and there is more kit to choose from the earlier you get there. So if you've been eyeing up some twin tips, or want comfortable feet be patient and join the queue.
Throughout the season there is always loads going on in resort, from après ski bands to dog sledding, but during school holidays the entertainment often steps up a notch. Most resorts will offer torch light descents for the children to watch, other resorts have ice-rink where an entertaining ice-hockey match could be on, and an afternoon ice skating could be fun, some even have heated outdoor pools or ice racing tracks. Without sounding like a bore ask early and book as soon as you can.
The outdoor Alpe d'Huez is included in your lift pass and is always popular with parents, especially those who prefer to watch with the warmth of a hot chocolate or vin chaud. Morzine, Megeve and Chamonix all have competitive ice hockey teams with the Morzine Penguins usually playing mid-week offering a fun evening after dinner.
Whether you are there for your first holiday or are a seasoned pro at this, half term can be fun for everyone, embrace the atmosphere, go with the flow and take it all in.
Now we've all heard of the Green Cross Code and most of us grew up walking to school with lolly pop ladies keeping us safe from speeding cars, but did you know there is a code of conduct for the mountains?
There have been more and more cases of piste-rage hitting the press over the last few seasons, including a story on PlanetSki where an adult had to be restrained for hitting a 15 year old girl! With this in mind I thought I would share the F.I.S. Code of Conduct with you, so you can go on holiday with the peace of mind that you are skiing responsibly.
F.I.S. Code of Conduct
The code of conduct is really common sense and has been devised so we can all enjoy the mountain and ensure that accidents, which do happen, are dealt with safely and swiftly. Hopefully the only concerns will be skiing safely and respecting others, which includes not skiing over their equipment in lift queues. The mountains are there to be enjoyed.
This week has been a mixed bag for British skiers and snowboarders. Resorts are enjoying incredible December conditions and holiday prices over the Christmas period are being slashed, which is the good news. The bad news for our professional athletes is UK Sport has cut all funding for skiing and snowboarding. This means the likes of Chemmy Alcott and Jamie Nicholls will have to find another way of funding the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The last few weeks have been a real disappointment for Chemmy, she started the season well with her new sponsors Atomic on board and some decent results. Hoping to build on a positive 2009/10 season Chemmy looked in good shape. Then it all went wrong... she broke her leg training with the Canadian ski team in Lake Louise and her funding took a hit.
Jamie Nicholls has made a superb start to the winter. So far he has enjoyed top ten finishes in two TTR events, the Burton NZ Open and the Freeze Festival. His sponsors, Nike, look to be pushing him after a good showing at the D-Pad sessions. If Sochi 2014 are to add slopestyle to the program surely Jamie Nicholls has the potential to win medals.
Last night a few of our top winter sports athletes were interviewed by Chappers on 5 Live including Chemmy, Amy Williams, Jenny Jones and Dan Wakeham. Graham Bell was also on the show to add his two pennies worth, and to remind us he apparently skied back in 85. The show, for those who missed it, was very interesting and hearing how the sports rely on the funding from UK Sport was an eye opener.
As you would expect from Ski Sunday presenter and former British number one skier, Graham Bell definitely wanted to voice his opinion. As he put it the way the funding cuts have been made and how the money has been pushed into other sports (namely curling, skeleton and London 2012) UK Sports have decided to take the easy option. To be a successful World Cup, TTR and Olympic skier or snowboarder takes a huge amount of talent and an incredible level of dedication. What Graham argues is that UK Sport has decided to support sports that would be easier to win medals in, opposed to prestigious sports where the talent is there, it just needs support and nurturing.
No one can disagree that after her Olympic Gold Amy Williams deserves support and she has definitely raised the profile of Skeleton. As Amy pointed out last night, there is no commercial sponsorship in her specialty and neither her or the team benefit from financial backing from commercial backing the way other athletes do - though she did thank BMW for kindly giving her a car. Where I support helping our proven winners develop the rise in funding of £1.3 million seems steep, especially when skiing and snowboarding only previously received £620,000 between them. How can we ignore the talent we have on the slopes then up Women's Bob sleigh from £500,000 to £2.4m?
Okay so I have to admit I am a little biased, but as Chemmy put it skiing is 'an exciting sport, it's a blue ribbon event' and according to NBC Shaun White was the most watched individual in the 2010 Winter Olympics. Ski Sunday has been around for 32 years because skiing and snowboarding are entertaining, the boarder-cross and skier-cross in last years games were a hug hit, yet Zoe Gillings (who finished 8th) now has to rely on her one finance and sponsors to compete. Britain has always loved an underdog but how can we expect athletes who have the talent (Zoe, Jamie and Chemmy) to win the medals we crave without support and how can we expect other younger skiers and snowboarders to come through the ranks.
Thanks to the success of riders like Jenny Jones and Tyler Chorlton there is money from sponsors to help these kids make a living, but in the end sponsors are paying them to do a job for them, and will only support select riders that suit there image. Chemmy, our number one skier has to train with Canada's ski team and is barley surviving after her crash, when Snowsports GB went under last year it cost her £20,000.
Yes support the winners we have but also support our elite athletes and those with the potential to rival the Lindsay Vonns and Shaun Whites of this world and don't expect someone else to do it. There is more chance of Jenny Jones winning a medal than the England football team at the moment!
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