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Not Everyone likes the hustle and bustle of resorts like Val d'Isere, Meribel or St. Anton, some people prefer a more relaxed affair yet still want great skiing, so where to go?
With this is mind I had a word with a few of Igluski's resort experts to get the lowdown on how to avoid queues, packed out restaurants and crowded pistes. The team appear to have skied every major resort and many hidden gems, so after banging some heads together here are our Top Resorts To Avoid the Queues.
The French Resistance
France is by far the most popular destination for British skiers, with the big three ski areas — the Espace Killy, Three Valleys and Paradiski accounting for 41%* of British ski holidays. That at least gives us a starting point: for world class, vibrant resorts that cater for everyone then head to the Espace Killy, Three Valleys or Paradiski, but for a more relaxed, less hectic week on the slopes where jumps to mind?
Back in the '60s Megève was the height of chic winter holiday destinations, with a stunning village and a boutique feel. Today it still offers a fantastic ambience and great skiing and the crowds have moved on to the trendier Tarantaise resorts. So for chic, boutique elegance head to Megève.
Montgenèvre is a picturesque alpine village that sits on the French-Italian border. Accessing the Milky Way it offers a huge ski area, yet being among the southern French resorts it has become a forgotten gem. Think families, cheese and vin chaud on a calm sun terrace after a great day on the mountain.
Italy has long been home to some of the best value skiing in Europe, both the Milky Way and the Super Dolomiti ski domains offer huge ski areas, Cervinia is linked with the ever popular Zermatt and from La Thuile you can ski over to La Rosiere in France's Tarantaise Valley. But these resorts, are, well, very popular and therefore not what you are after.
There are some hidden gems in the Dolomites but if you head to the lesser known resorts of Gressoney & Champoluc you can enjoy the flattering skiing underneath Europe's second largest mountain, Monte Rosé. The resorts are in the beautiful Gressoney Valley and the former hot-spots now offer a more serene family experience than the espresso-fuelled fun of Passo Tonale.
The Jung Swiss
Switzerland is renowned for beautiful, charming, chocolate box resorts. It is known for great skiing, glaciers, cheese and chocolate. It is also offers some of the world's most exclusive and famous resorts, just think of St. Moritz, Davos, Klosters and Zermatt. But Switzerland also offers some stunning, quiet resorts with incredible skiing and minimal crowds.
The Jungfrau region must be one of the most stunning ski-able valleys in the world. From the resorts of Mürren & Grindelwald you can enjoy one of the most picturesque train rides to resort, taking in the Eiger, Mönch and the Jungfrau. Mürren is know for its steeps and the legendary 'Inferno' run, whereas Grindelwald offers great cruising and awe-inspiring views.
Austria is a place of split personality, on the one hand you have the famous raucous après ski — from St. Anton's Mooserwirt and Krazy Kanguruh, to the champagne bars of Ischgl & Lech, on the other hand you have the great family skiing on offer in Zell am See, Kaprun and Kitzbühel. Both these personalities offer great holidays, depending on your taste, though they are not far enough from the beaten track for some.
One of Austria's most enchanting resorts, Alpbach, is often forgotten, due to it's smaller ski area, but shouldn't be discounted. The beautiful, traditional village has 52km of piste with 1500m of vertical drop and there are plenty of resorts with less vertical, less pistes and are far less attractive that we visit each year (think Bulgarian resorts for a start). Alpbach offers a charming village, perfect for families on their first trip together or those who enjoy skiing in a more intimate resort.
Now Obergurgl may not be the most attractive of Austria's resorts, but the purpose built village sits at the bottom of a glacier and the combination of great intermediate skiing and a limited amount of accommodation means less lift queues than its surrounding resorts. Linked to Hochgurgl it offers a decent sized ski area and a calm family atmosphere.
Well technically it's British Columbia, but the Canadian province offers some of the finest powder and most famous resorts in the world. You could head to Whistler for the holiday of a lifetime, but being one of the top resorts in the world draws in the crowds.
Head a little further north into Interior B.C. and visit the powder haven of Big White. The name says it all really, the resort regularly receives somewhere around 9m of snow a season, so powder skiing is part of everyday life there. The resort boasts (quietly of course) one of Canada's largest ski areas, fluffy, dry, powder and saloon-style, wooden-clad, gold-rush charm.
Heading inland toward Banff National Park you stumble across the resort of Revelstoke. This is one of Canada's newer resorts, where huge investment has been put into the area in recent years. Revelstoke boasts the status of being the only resort that offers piste, cat and heli-skiing all under one umbrella. This may be an escape for the more advanced skiers and snowboarders among us, but it oozes mountain charm without the queues — especially when you're being taken from spot-to-spot on the back of a snowcat.
The American Mid-West is home to some of the United States' finest skiing, from the world class resorts of Aspen, Breckenridge and Vail to the deep, dry powder, and perfect pistes, parks & lifts. The celebrity filled resorts come at a price and are very popular, yet there are again some forgotten gems to discover.
Beaver Creek is the luxury resort on offer, much like Megève it offers a stunning setting, great hotels and a real feel of elegance. The resort could happily compete with its busier neighbours but chooses not to. This calmer mountain and luxury accommodation are the perfect escape for those looking for a great holiday away from the crowds and are happy to pay the price.
Heading a little further west into Utah is Park City, famous for the Sundance Film Festival and boasts three mountains — including the skier only Deer Valley. The resort has a real American-West feel to it, Park City also boasts its own distillery (which will banish those no alcohol rumours) and some superb skiing.
We all love something different about skiing, I swear by Meribel and Morzine, our Sales Manager is St. Anton through and through and of course there are the Val d'Isere, Whistler and Les Arcs fans among us. The great thing about skiing is there is a mountain, resort or even hotel/chalet to suit all of us. I love chalets, big mountains, fun atmosphere and après ski, others prefer charming villages, family run hotels and understated elegance. They key is to find your own spiritual home in the mountains.
* Stats taken from Igluski 2010/11 bookings
Igluski's Sales Manager and former Whistler ski instructor, AJ, has offered us his top tips to skiing. Seems a little odd to hear an Aussie giving ski tips, but what the heck, it's worth a go.
1. Be a sloucher.
The perfect stance for skiing is like slouching in a car. You must bend your spine and push your rear slightly forward and hunch your shoulders. Otherwise you will be skiing in the classic duck-ass stance. Try keeping your spine straight and sticking your butt out and bending down to touch the ground. Then try bending your spine and doing the same thing. See how much easier it is. You need that same flexibility when skiing.
2. You should always be able to see your hands.
Imagine you are driving an old style bus with a huge steering wheel. That’s where your hands should be at all times.
3. Tuck in your elbows.
You are not a bird and you do not need wings to ski. Make yourself compact rather than large and flappy. The less movement in your upper body, the better.
4. Punch through your pole plants.
When you do a pole plant you must push your fist through it so that your shoulder is not thrown back. Remember rule two, keep your hands forward and always moving so that you are always looking for the next turn.
5. Your knees are your headlights.
Instigate your turns with your knees and not your upper body. Imagine your knees are lighting your way and turn them before you make other movements.
6. Always put your downhill ski on first.
Before putting your skis on always line them up across the slope and start with your downhill ski.
7. Never look at your skis once you are moving.
This is one of the biggest mistakes that intermediate skiers make. Your skis are at the end of your legs. Trust me on this. If they fall off, it will be immediately apparent. Your eyes should be focused at least five metres ahead and if you are going fast then at least ten metres ahead.
8. Thin socks are warmer.
Don’t believe me right? Boot technology is extremely advanced. By putting on thick socks you are fighting against the manufacturer who has spent millions in research and development. Thick socks keep moisture around the foot making you cold on chair lifts, they reduce your fine touch, and worst of all, they create shin friction that will hurt like crazy. Thick socks tend to bunch on the shin which brings me to another very important thing.
You want as little as possible between your shin and the boot so never wear two pairs of socks or put anything else apart from your sock in the boot including long underwear. This is the cause of the most severe pain problems most new skiers experience. Spend the money and get a decent pair of ski socks. Your woolly winter socks for hiking are the worst thing you can wear.
9. Always stop on the high side of the piste.
This is especially important for snowboarders. By staying high you give yourself more options. You don’t want to be hiking or side stepping if you don’t have to, so stay high until you know your line.
10. Take the path less trod.
A common trap for new skiers is to follow everyone else’s tracks. This puts you in the slippery zone that has been flattened and scraped by hundreds of other skiers. It will make you go too fast and slam into bumps that are created by this ‘Pied-Piper’ like phenomenon. The powdery edges are slower and easier on your knees.
11. Don’t turn on ice.
If at all possible, wait until you are past the ice before you try to turn. Some of the worst accident happen when skiers see ice and try to panic stop. Even the very best skiers struggle to turn or stop on ice. Take the speed build up and wait for a slightly softer spot to turn.
12. Goggles during ski and sunnies après ski.
If you never ski faster than you can run then keep your sunnies on, but who really skis that slow? Goggles protect your eyes in so many ways and are vital should the weather turn nasty. Skiing in sunglasses in fog, snow and low light is suicidal. Keep your sunnies with you for when you hit the aprés ski sun decks. Make sure they are trés-fashionable and have 100% UV protection. Experienced skiers use goggles in all weather, including sunny days.
13. Always check your carry-on list before you leave the chalet.
I like to carry a back pack but most jackets can handle this small list of important extras: Water!!, chap stick, glasses and goggles and lens wipe, suncream 50+ (don’t worry, you’ll still tan), piste map, phone with Ski Patrol’s number already stored, and a tool like a Swiss Army knife or one of the many specialist ski/board tools out there.
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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