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A Change of Scenery — Skiing in Luxury: Europe

clock 7th October 2011 | comment0 Comments

Having taken a look at alternative resorts in the last couple of weeks, with Austria and Italy, I thought I'd take a look at where to enjoy a luxury ski holiday next.

Luxury ski holidays can mean something different to all of us, for some it's sitting in one of Chardon Mountain Lodges chalets in Val d'Isere, enjoying fabulous food and Perrier Jouët on tap, for others it's about staying in one of Courchevel 1850's exclusive hotels, or enjoying the champagne ice-bars that accompany the après ski scene in Lech.

Luxury skiing is also about the resort you stay in, the mountain you ski and, of course, where to eat, drink and shop. As mentioned everyone want's something different on their ski holiday, so here are a few of our favourite European destinations to burn a hole in your wallet with.

Courchevel 1850

Courchevel 1850 has been synonymous with luxury skiing holidays for longer than I've been alive and will no doubt out live me too. The resort offers the world's largest linked ski area in the Three Valleys, some fantastically flattering pistes around the resort itself and is stunning.

Courchevel is known for its superb hotels, designer shopping and, of course, the James Bond altiport — okay, so it's not actually called that, but you may recognise it from the opening sequence of Tomorrow Never Dies. Courchevel boasts lavish, exclusive hotels, for those who can afford them and also a handful of chalet hotels, for those who can't, but enjoy watching the Prada clad skiers/shoppers and the fantastic atmosphere.

As mentioned, Courchevel is renowned for great hotels, and though they currently seem to be filled with the Russian nouveau riche, there is still an elegantly Anglo-French atmosphere and plenty of wealthy Brits in town. The Hotel Annapurna has to be the reference point for Courchevel's hotels, it has been well established for 36 years and under the same management for the past 20 years — testament to it's reputation. The Annapurna is also closest to the altiport, important for those looking for helicopter transfers or mere James Bond fans.

The Hotel Les Airelles has been a celebrity favourite for years and it's regulars include Eddie Jordan, Mike Rutherford and Chris Rea, as opposed to reality TV stars. The relaxed atmosphere and lavished surroundings, as well as a great location, also add to it's popularity. Now, Le Chabichou, may only be a four star establishment, but boasts the world renowned, michelin starred, Michel Rochedy as it's restaurants head chef. The restaurant received its first Michelin star in 1979 and its second in 1984 and there aren't too many hotels in the Alps that can boast the same level of cuisine!

Lech

Lech has been referred to as the Courchevel of Austria, and though it's an exclusive resort, filled with luxurious hotels, offers world class skiing and is steeped in history, it is a very different resort to Courchevel. Courchevel is where the rich happily flaunt their money, Lech is the opposite of this.

Over the Christmas and New Year holidays you won't be able to find a room for love nor money, as many of Europe's elite have the hotels wrapped-up, and have done so for decades. You'll find the owners of Mercedes and BMW, along with their families taking over the resort during the festive season, and though there is always an air of wealth, there types of skiers in Lech never feel the need to show it.

With the big, open, motorway pistes of Lech and the more technical skiing of St. Anton to enjoy, along with this gorgeous, relaxed resort you can see why it is a former favourite of the late Princess Diana.

The Gasthof Post opened in 1937, and like the Annapurna in Courchevel, is the reference point for Lech, the family run hotel has stuck to the same recipe for years and remains a favourite of Lech's regular skiers. Other notable hotels in Lech include the Almhof Schneider, based a the foot of the Schlegelkopf mountain and the luxury chalet-styled, boutique hotel, Hotel Aurelio.

St. Moritz

Though Klosters can often take the limelight when it comes to luxury skiing in Switzerland — and when the Royal family are in town there's no surprise to why — St. Moritz is one of the world's most elegant resorts, boasting one of the most iconic hotels in the Alps, Badrutt's Palace.

St. Moritz is the original winter sports resort, if not the first true ski resort. It came to popularity with the Brits at the turn on the 20th century as skiing began to grow as a holiday activity for the wealthy, and has remained a favourite resort for generations since.

Though not as flashy as Courchevel with it's designer shopping, fur jackets & Range Rovers, it is not as understated as Lech. This is a resort that, again offers an air of wealth and chic surroundings. The shopping would be enough the break to average bank account and the skiing is comparable to Val d'Isere — in size at the very least. There are motorway pistes and flattering runs, for the more pedestrian skier and challenging off-piste for the adrenaline junkies out there.

The historic Palace Hotel in St. Moritz opened in 1896 as the successor to the first winter sports hotel, the Krup Hause. The hotel has recently changed it's name to the Badrutt's Palace, but remains one of the most recognisable hotels in skiing. The founder of hotel built the first bobsled run for his guests and the current owners have maintained the reputation of one of the leading hotels in the world.

There are so many great resorts for a luxury skiing holiday, with Val d'Isere, Davos, Klosters and Ischgl to name a few, but Courchevel, Lech and St. Moritz have long been at the top of most people's wish lists and will remain there for years to come. The question is which resort is the right one for you? Whether you are there for the skiing, the lavish hotels or the shopping.



The Cheap Ski Deals Guide

clock 23rd May 2011 | comment0 Comments

Cheap ski deals are a bit of a misdemeanour as skiing is never cheap. By the time you have added your travel, accommodation, lift pass, ski hire/carriage, lessons (if needed) and food & drinks in resort, you are often lucky to get away with spending less than £1000. That's not to say that with good planning, realistic expectations and a bit of luck you can of course get a great deal, saving a small fortune.

People often flock toward the likes of Bulgaria and Andorra for a cheap ski break, but the realism is they are catching up with the rest of Europe year-on-year for price, yet the ski areas are not always as snow-sure or as challenging as the more renowned resorts. Andorra's lift pass prices are catching those of France, at £180, and the airfares to Bulgaria mean it often costs more than a cheeky week to a more renowned resort with a shorter flight.

Having taken into consideration the resort costs, including lift pass & ski hire, the holiday costs and the ski areas, I have put together an indication of where the best value cheap ski deals currently lie. There are a couple of self catered apartments, some value chalets and an all inclusive package, to give you a good indication of what to expect and where to look. Bargain hunting for cheap ski holidays starts as soon as the winter is over, so you now don't need to hold on in hope of getting a last minute deal.

To keep things fair and comparable I have looked at mid January, traditionally the cheapest time of the season where the resorts are fully open and for arguments sake have kept to London(ish) airports.

Cheap Self Catered Ski Holidays

Self catered holidays can be a false economy due to the cost of food in resort, though sneaking some dry foods and packet mixes into your suitcase can help with this — student-style skiing! But if you are there for the skiing and/or the nightlife, accommodation is often at the bottom of the list, therefore squeezing into a 20m2 apartment with three friends won't bother you in the slightest. 

Having kept to the dates mentioned before, you might be surprised to hear that the resorts of Avoriaz and Alpe d'Huez topped the list for accommodation costs and reasonable lift pass prices. Okay so €5 or so a pint may be the main downfall here, but there are some great value places to eat in both these ski areas. Pizza Roll in Alpe d'Huez is well used buy the underpaid resort staff and at €3 a pizza who can blame them. In Avoriaz ski down the Les Marmottes restaurant in the Lindarets valley for some great value mountain food — which will be much appreciated if a diet of pasta and sauce is on the menu in the evenings!

The Balcons du Soleil apartments in Avoriaz often offer great value, whether getting an early summer deal or a last minute cheap trip you can find prices here for sub £300 per person. The lift pass is around £196 (for 650km of piste!) and ski hire is around £90 for skis & boots and ski carriage is £51. The best price at the moment is from Luton airport on the 7th January for as little as £282 per person, based on four sharing a four person studio apartment — offering cosy but low cost accommodation.

  • Accommodation, flights & transfers: £282
  • Lift pass: £196
  • Ski carriage: £51
  • Ski hire: £90
  • Total (inc ski hire): £568

Alpe d'Huez offers 260km of great skiing, a glacier, Europe's longest black run — the 16km La Sarenne — the infamous Le Tunnel's moguls and the great value Les Horizons d'Huez apartments. The lift pass is little more expensive here at £204, but includes use of the both the heated outdoor pool (budgie smugglers required), the indoor pool & sports centre and the resort bus, the ski & boot hire is again £90, ski carriage is £51. The cheapest ski deal here is again on the 7th January on a flight from Luton airport at £236 per person, based on four people sharing — the cheapest deal, but slightly higher resort costs.

  • Accommodation, flights & transfers: £236
  • Lift pass: £204
  • Ski carriage: £51
  • Ski hire: £90
  • Total (inc ski hire): £530

Cheap Chalet Ski Deals

Chalet holidays can actually offer better value than staying in an apartment, due to the fact most of your catering is covered (the staff have one night off during your stay). You are usually given a hearty breakfast, afternoon tea and a three course evening meal with wine. If you have good chalet hosts you can usually have a large breakfast with cereals, a cooked option and some fruit, then make yourself a cheese, ham or jam sandwich for lunch (though do this quietly as you are not supposed to) and ski back for tea, coffee and cake at 4pm and still have time for an aprés ski beer.

Based on out-and-out price, the Chalet Anemones in Les Deux Alpes offers fantastic value. Again using a Luton flight the price for two people in a twin room is only £416 per person on either the 7th or 14th January. So the difference in cost to have two full meals and afternoon tea, with only one evening not catered, offers great value. Les Deux Alpes is a student favourite, offering good nightlife, glacier skiing and reasonable resort prices — the lift pass is only £184 and ski & hire is again around £90 and ski carriage is £51.

  • Accommodation, chalet board, flights & transfers: £416
  • Lift pass: £184
  • Ski carriage: £51
  • Ski hire: £90
  • Total (inc ski hire): £690

For a great overall deal, great value on the mountain and the chance to ski two countries in one holiday, then the Chalet Choucas in La Rosiere offers fantastic value. At the moment, though subject to change, the chalet is offering buy-one-get-one-free lift passes for the area, and at £155 for two people that is a bargain. The ski area sits toward the end of the Tarantaise Valley, opposite Les Arcs and bordering Italy. Skiing down to La Thuile you can enjoy fantastic mountain food at great, Italian prices, giving great savings throughout the week. This time based on a flight into Gatwick and with two people sharing a twin room the price stands at £541 per person — at only £77.50 for your lift pass with ski hire from as little as £72 (or ski carriage for £30) you are looking at £690 for a week with everything bar lunch and one evening meal paid for!

  • Accommodation, chalet board, flights & transfers: £541
  • Lift pass: £155 (Currently 2-4-1)
  • Ski carriage: £30
  • Ski hire: £72
  • Total (inc ski hire): £678.50

All-Inclusive Cheap Ski Deals

Again sticking with Les Deux Alpes, there are some ridiculously good value all inclusive deals with the Club Med Les Deux Alpes, though if you fancy a different resort the Club Med Arcs Extreme and Club Med Aime La Plagne are often comparable in price. Club Med offer something different to the typical British ski holiday, first of all they are French run, owned and styled hotels, though they have english speaking staff. If you are here for the skiing and not the resort nightlife the hotels have everything you need. The price include accommodation, transport, all inclusive meals and drinks (apart from champagne etc), lift pass, ski school and on charter flights ski carriage. You can ski back to the hotel for lunch, a beer or a snack, the bar is open until early until the early hours and there is entertainment for all ages. If you head out on the 15th or 22nd January you are only paying £843 per person, based on two sharing — this means if you have your own skis you don't have to spend another penny (apart from travel insurance) and if you don't ski hire starts at only £99 pp. If five days skiing is enough for you, you can get all this for only £763 on the 9th January for six nights!

  • All-inclisive accommodation, flights & transfers: £843
  • Lift pass: £0
  • Ski carriage: £0
  • Ski hire: £99
  • Total (inc ski hire): £942

In a quick and almost lazy round-up here are the overall price comparisons for the best value self catered, chalet and all inclusive for seven nights:

  • Les Horizons d'Huez including lift pass and ski carriage is £491 pp and with ski hire is £530 pp.
  • The Chalet Choucas including, chalet meals, lift pass and ski carriage is £648.50 pp and with ski hire is £690.50 pp.
  • The Club Med Les Deux Alpes including ski carriage and all-inclusive is £843 pp and with ski hire is £942 pp.

So depending on how much you expect to spend on meals both in your accommodation and on the mountain, whether you are heading out into resort to party, fancy a glass of wine over dinner, or want the freedom to enjoy a drink whenever you fancy, depends on what works out best for you. Self catered are cosy, but low cost, chalets are comfortable, yet good value and Club Med include everything you need for a great price. All-in-all it's your choice and before you add in ski lessons and lunches Club Med is only £200 more than a chalet (lessons can cost up to £150 these days), and before you add in meals, tea and wine chalets are only £150 more than self catered. Do the maths and choose the best ski deal for you — I know what I'd go for!

* The prices in this article were correct at time of publish, though are subject to change at anytime.



Scotty's Guide To Skiing Bumps

clock 19th May 2011 | comment0 Comments

Iglu ski expert and former Veriber ski instructor, Scotty, takes us through his guide to bumps, offering tips and advice in preparation for taking on the likes of Val d'Isere's Le Face, Avoriaz's Swiss Wall and Verbier's Chasseure.

Skiing bumps is, without doubt, challenging — some are attracted to that challenge, though many prefer to just find an alternative route. They are like Marmite, you love them or hate them.

For those that feel the love, would like to some understanding, or to be inspired here you go.

Firstly mind, then body.

Mind

  • When standing at the top you'll need to take a deep breath and stay calm.
  • Choose your route carefully, there will be an easy way down vs a route with bigger bumps, a steeper gradient, or generally more awkward — you choose.
  • The bumps may be soft or hard, look for clues — are they icy or powder?
  • Have they formed in a predictable grid or not?
  • Mental speed — you're going to have to make quick decisions, there's no time for faffing.
  • If you get spat out, stop... get your breath back... refocus and keep going, don't be a quitter!
  • Look ahead — your goal should be to look three bumps ahead, start off with one then two and work towards three — you've already decided what you're going to do on the bump that you're on!
  • Make sure you're heading to the next bump at the best angle.

Body and Posture

  • Arms forward and no leaning back. If you lean back you'll find that your body frame will be rigid and you need to be attacking moguls in a confident forward position.
  • Your upper body needs to be calm, let your legs do the work. Upper body calm, legs flexible is very important.
  • You need to be fit, this is a high impact and endurance activity! Running, sit ups and cross trainer are all good — smokers will struggle.
  • Let your legs do the work, if your upper body is moving around your head will also be bouncing about. It's very hard to see where you're going if your head doesn't stay level.
  • Use pole plants for timing.

Here's the Technical bit

Absorb vs extending

Practice traversing across the ski field. Low speed, keep your upper body still and let your legs move up then let them fall down as you go over each bump, keep your arms out and forward, in the goal keeper position. Try both directions so you get a feel for each leg being low & high on the slope.

Absorbing: Normally done at the start of the bump. Hit the bump like you're skidding to a stop, when you hit the bump you can let your knees buckle up to your chest and by absorbing you, you can maintain your speed — plus you'll have a smooth transition over the bump. Pushing your feet against the bump will enable you to slow down.

Extension: As you come up to a bump it's possible to extend your legs rather than absorb. This will project you up in the air. The amount you do this depends on the speed that you're going and the steepness of the bump. If you do this it's possible jump over a following, awkward bump.

Turning on a bump

So, you've hit the bump! As you ride over, your tips will be pointing out in the air, your foot and the tail end of your ski will still be resting on the bump. You'll reach a pivot point, pole plant, rotate your skis and scrape the other side of the bump like you're grating cheese. This will also help you control speed.

Control is key, if you feel like you're out of control then slow down! If you're out of your depth, find an exit and join the piste. Start off with hero moguls — small bumps where you can't fail to look good.

Technique: It's hard to teach via the written word, so instruction in resort is recommended. You need to be able to feel and see the same as what the instructor is seeing and feeling. Every mogul is different.

Avoid: South facing monsters — if the ski field goes through regular daytime melt and night time refreeze [freeze-thaw conditions - Ed] the moguls are likely going to be hard under the foot. It's often a one way ticket you'll just have to endure untill the end, unless you find an escape route(!), a compulsory foot massage will be needed at the end of the day.

If you're feeling confident and you're coming up to a long, oval shaped mogul it's possible to rotate your skis 90% and grind across the top of the mogul with just the middle of your ski. You'll find the tip and tail of your ski in the air at this point and you'll kill your speed so remember to rotate your skis back to facing down hill or you'll come a cropper.

Get creative, use the mountain... there's more than one way down.... choose the cool one.

Goals

Can you get from the top to bottom in one hit? Three Tortins [Scotty's favourite run in Verbier - Ed] a day, keep the doctor away. Can you beat your mate? Can you get down a single channel? Zig zagging across the mountain is cheating a bit. Can you fit in a few tricks on the way? There's always time for that!

Make sure you don't get yourself down, most people find bumps a challenge.

Two Important Points

Safety: If the terrain is too steep for you then don't do it! Start off on slopes that you feel most comfortable on and work your way up. Bank it for another day... something for you to look forward to.

Most ski schools will offer a ski bumps clinic, though you may have to shop around to find a keen instructor. Most instructors have a disliking for bumps too.

Enjoy yourself: It's supposed to be fun, if you don't like them then try carving, cruising around the rest of the resort or sitting in a restaurant having a long lunch . If you're skiing with a friend or partner don't make them do bump skiing, you may find that your relationship will come to an abrupt end! Just meet them at the bottom and let them choose a route down they're happy with on the Piste.



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