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Half term has only just passed, Easter is yet to arrive and there is still around eight weeks of the season left to play with, yet next winter's school holidays are already a hot topic in the office. And with the amazing snow we've had this season, I can see why.
Christmas, New Year and February half term remain the three most popular weeks of the season to ski. Kids and teachers are off from school, New Year's week typically involves less holiday time off work, typically only using three days of holiday, and the snow is usually pretty good. The result — the best chalets and hotels in the most popular resorts are gone before the summer begins.
This season there was a small amount of nervousness as the early snow started to dry up, then from mid-December onwards the snow arrived in dump-after-dump, week-after-week. Christmas and New Year in the Alps was a romantic winter wonderland, with roof tops, trees and even street lights covered in a layer of snow. The slopes were deep in thick white snow, with so much falling, corduroy was impossible and powder skiing was plentiful.
Roll on a few weeks and to February. As snow continued to fall throughout January, with light snowfall in early Feb, skiers were happy to see the sunshine come out for half term. Over the last few years the slopes haven't been at their best in the school holidays, but with most resorts boasting upwards of two metres of snow on the upper slopes and with Siberian levels of cold arriving, the pistes were in perfect condition. Half term involved wrapping up warm, slapping on the sun block and cruising along perfect corduroy runs, followed by leisurely lunches on sun terraces (though preferably one's with heaters).
So, having enjoyed the peak weeks this season due to amazing conditions, from power turns to piste cruising, the skiing bug appears to be well and truly spreading again. It's like a healthy (apart from the cheese and wine), but expensive, pandemic.
Mid season usually marks the early releases of the following winter's prices, and this year is no different. The pre-brochure deals are already arriving on the site and, from someone who likes to book early, the deals on offer now are almost guaranteed to be the best price you will get a peak season holiday for. Once the brochures arrive after Easter the prices will rise, and though the summer offers are good, if you know exactly where you want to go and when to go, now really is the time to book for school holidays.
Every year, and this year has been no different, the peak and popular week enquiries start to gather pace once half term has passed. Every year the same story of people holding out for 'a better deal', either end up paying more, losing out on the property they want or having to compromise. Now, I'm not saying last minute deals aren't great, or that you won't find a fantastic holiday come September. But if you want the best chalets, or hotels, in the most popular resorts, get in early.
Also, in a financially aware climate, booking early has other benefits. You only have to pay a deposit — typically between £130pp and 25% of the total price — and then you have until 12 weeks before departure to pay the rest. So, if like me you work in a job for love as opposed to money, booking for New Year before the winter is out, means you have another 5/6 months to save up the rest of the holiday. For half term you have another 9 months to save. When booking a peak season, peak price holiday, the early savings and additional time to pay the bill offers you that extra piece of mind — which has to be a bonus!
With this in mind and properties opening up for next years bookings, here are a few snippets of what we have on offer for 2012/13 already.
Family Chalets: Family specialist chalets, offering in-house child care, dedicated kid's ski school and family-friendly meal times, sell out for peak dates so, so quickly. The large chalet hotels, such as the Ducs de Savoie and the Des Deux Domains, sell the best rooms before you know it, but the main problem is, the child care places are filled long before the summer holidays arrive. The smaller 8-10 person chalets also go quickly, as family groups looking for chalets that fit their needs and offer childcare don't waste their time booking. Just try and find a small chalet for Feb half term in, say, Meribel, with child care by mid-summer.
Luxury Chalets: Here's the serious stuff. Our selection of luxury chalets vary from 5* affordable luxury to a chalet that Roman Abrimovic once tried to buy and über luxury properties, with Michelin starred-style cuisine and champagne on tap. These chalets vary in price, but the one thing you can guarantee, the most luxurious, best located and most unique chalets go early.
Club Med: Club Med have become one of our most popular products over the past couple of years because of their fantastic value. Whether going away on a romantic skiing trip for two, with a group of friends or taking the extended family, they have properties to suit all. Also, when the price includes all of your meals, not just breakfast, cake and dinner, your weekly bar bill, your lift pass and ski school, you have to be on to a winner. To whet your appetite Club Med's 2013 ski deals already include a selection of their most popular hotels, offering fantastic pre-brochure prices (due to increase mid-March) as well as up to £180pp discount, including peak dates!
Oh, and one last thing, after a couple of years of juggling departure dates around the December holiday season, Christmas and New Year dates are back to normal. Which means weekend departures and getting home from a New Year ski holiday before the kids go back to school.
As we hit half term we are now half way through the season. With hot deals hitting the shelves left, right and centre and with said deals selling like hot cakes, I had a word with AJ, Iglu's Head of Sales, for his tips on making the most of the deals.
With snow aplenty and great deals to be had, if you are ready to move quickly and have a little bit of flexibility, there are some amazing holidays to be had.
So, with the phones being busy, let's keep this short and sweet:
#1 — Join the rest of the savvy crowd and call Igluski.
#2 — Check the website at 9am or earlier. Once the deals hit the site they will go go go. By afternoon the best deals are already gone.
#3 — Sign-up to the Iglu email newsflashes (see sidebar) and read them as soon as they arrive, as these are usually the best deals around and the most popular.
#4 — Keep an eye on our ski deals page, for up-to-date last minute deals and offers.
#5 — Don’t expect to get a regional flight. Manchester or Gatwick will be your main gateways to the slopes.
#6 — Follow the snow. Read about snow predictions and be prepared to compromise on accommodation standard to get the right resort.
#7 — If you want a particular resort then don’t wait too long. The premier resorts like Val d’Isére, Verbier, and Courchevel will sell out completely up to three weeks prior to departure.
#8 — Have an even number of friends. Odd numbers and late deals don’t mix!
#9 — There is no such thing as a late deal on a short break.
And the most important one of all:
#10 — Do not go away to ask friends, because your deal was just sold to someone more switched on and ready to go.
So, with our fantastic ski deals, the great snow reports data on our site and regular weather & resort updates in our ski news, you should be armed with everything you need.
Following on from last week's piece, A Change of Scenery — Austria, I've taken a look at the Italian resorts that offer something a little different to the usual top resorts us Brits tend to head to.
Italian skiing is renowned for its great value and relaxed pace, which almost feels ironic for an espresso-fuelled country, renowned for its sports cars and helmet-less, moped riding nutcases.
Selva is a truly beautiful resort that boasts amazing scenery — the Dolomites change colour throughout the day depending on the light. The ski area is ideal for beginners and intermediates, offering the perfect terrain to build confidence. Elisa Boccara, one of our longstanding sales consultants described the Selva as "the most beautiful ski resort I have ever been to."
For the more experienced skiers there is the whopping 1220 km of the Sella Ronda to explore and though the slopes are not the most challenging, the vast array of terrain and ability to ski in so many different resorts, including Arabba, Corvara and Canazei makes it worth the trip.
The resort itself offers a mix of Italian and Austrian food and culture, making for a quite an original experience and probably more akin to Switzerland, apart from the vast difference in prices! The après ski is more gentle than last week's Austrian resorts, but there is enough to have a good time. Whether on the mountain or in resort you'll find your euros going a lot further, as the typical prices of food and drink are much more reasonable than France or Austria.
Madonna di Campiglio
As one of the country's top resorts, Madonna di Campiglio's popularity with the local market and relatively small number of beds ensures its exclusive — to the British market at least — reputation.
Whereas Courchevel and Klosters are becoming synonymous with nouveau riche Russians, Madonna is better known for hosting Ferrari's pre-season party, thanks to the generous sponsors, which adds a little F1 style glamour. If you head into the resort in mid-January you can expect to see the likes of Fernando Alonso, Felipe Massa, Stefano Domenicali, Giancarlo Fisichella, Jules Bianchi and even Michael Schumacher in town.
The resort is full of Milanese happy to parade the latest fashion every evening in the charming town square. Nearby boutiques, lively Italian bars and attractive cafes all add to the resort's character. Along with all of this there is also 150km of skiing in what is an intermediate skier's dream. It really is like a smaller Courchevel, minus the pretence.
One of Iglu's most renowned ski specialists highly recommends Champoluc, and Thomas Moulton doesn't hand out recommendations willy nilly, "A good skiing buddy of mine raves about the resort — vast empty pistes next to the Monte Rosa with flattering skiing, great Italian food and good accommodation. A West Country group of ours who book every year also expressed similar sentiments. It's well priced too."
Champoluc isn't as renowned as many of Europe's resorts, but for those tired of skiing in Val d'Isere, St. Anton and even Verbier, it offers superb touring skiing, whether hiking the Monta Rosa with a local guide or splashing out on some heliskiing in the nearby area. The resort itself offers great, confidence-building skiing, so for mixed ability groups looking for something a little different, with money to spend, and wanting to stay within a short flight from the UK, Champoluc is a great option.
As with many Italian resorts, Champoluc is quiet during the week, but picks up during the weekend when the Milanese and Turin crowds flock to the their weekend apartments and Italian run hotels. The Relais des Glaciers offer superb accommodation and remains family-run, adding to the charm.
Skiing and snowboarding shouldn't be about skiing the same runs and staying in the same hotels and chalets year-on-year, I am guilty of repeatedly visiting Meribel and Morzine, don't get me wrong, but we should all try and ski somewhere new once in a while. There are so many fantastic, though largely undiscovered resorts out there to experience, and on holiday it makes a nice change to be surrounded by locals, as opposed to bumping into your neighbours, someone off the PTA or the lads from the rugby club.
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