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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.
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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