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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!
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.
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