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Ski Blog

2012: The Year Snow Just Kept Giving

clock 26th July 2012 | comment1 Comments

The 2011/2012 season has to have been one of the snowiest winters for years. It snowed, then snowed and then snowed some more. In fact, the winter was so long, that we were still seeing snow-filled photos of Val d'Isere in June.

But how good was it really? Some reports stated we were having the best snow in 20 years, including rumours that in February Meribel had more snow than Val d'Isere for the first time since the '60s.

So, rather then discussing hearsay and rumours, let's have a look through the snowfall records of the past four seasons to see how good a winter it actually was. To make it simple, I'm sticking to three of the big resorts, but tweet us @igluski if you would like to know more about your favourite resort.

Val d'Isere (Espace Killy), France

Val d'Isere — one of the most popular and snow-sure resorts in the world. From 2007-10 in December, the average snow depth ranged 61-141cm, giving an average of 103cm of snow. Considering this is the first month of the season, that's not too shabby. 2011 started in similar fashion, with a respectable 137cm snow — some 34cm above the previous 4 year average — and most of it fell in little over two weeks!

January offered an average of 133cm of snow over the four previous winters, with a low of 86cm and high of 144cm. In 2012, that previous high was smashed, with an monumental 180cm of snowfall. February's average snowfall from 2008-2011 was 130cm, with March offering a slightly higher 140cm of snow, whereas February and March 2012 boasted 172cm and 167cm respectively.

The biggest surprise was the end of season snow. AJ, our Head of Sales, always says the best time to hit Val is late March and April. There is usually a good snow-pack for off piste and the sun is out for the après party. The records back the claim up — the month of April from 2008-2011 offered an average of 104cm of snow, which is pretty good considering spring is coming into full force. However, April 2012 offered an unusually high level of snowfall at 144cm — with spring skiing in Val d'Isere definitely at its best for a long time.

St. Anton (Arlberg), Austria

St. Anton has boasted great snow for years due to the Arlberg's micro climate. St. Anton regularly sees snowfall of more than two metres in a month, and in the past four years has even seen the figure breaking the three metre mark on four occasions — three of them were last season. Though the resort often has less snow in the village than Val d'Isere, its slopes are more than comparable with the snowiest in Europe.

St. Anton, in the season just gone, had an average snow of 92cm which fell behind the previous December's 102cm. Though come January, record levels of snow arrived and just kept on arriving all the way through the season. January 2008-2011 had seen an average of 104cm of snow; this was blown to pieces with the phenomenal 310cm of snow that fell this year, with up to 458cm on some of the upper slopes! The previous three seasons had seen an average of 134cm in February and 156cm fall in March. 2012 obliterated recent records with 328cm in Feb and 256cm in March — for a resort based at 1,300m that's an incredible amount of snow.

So much snowfall arrived in St. Anton that some peak boasted around five metres of snow at the summit and much of the off piste was a no-go to novices — due to the depths and the snow pack that had formed. 2008/09 had seen fantastic snow, but last season really was one to remember in the Arlberg.

Cervinia (Ski Paradise), Italy

Cervinia, which is on the Italian side of the Matterhorn and linked with the Swiss resort of Zermatt, is another resort to have benefitted from a bumper season of snow. The Italian resort started will with 141cm of snowfall in December, which is pretty much on par with the resort's average snowfall of 146cm over the three previous winters.

Heading into the peak season months of January through until March, and Cervinia really held its own last season — boasting among the most snow in Italy and more that it's more renowned Swiss neighbour. In January the resort offered 204cm of snow on its slopes, compared the previous average of 154cm. February was still going strong with 187cm, compared to the 2009-2011 average of 161cm and March rounded off a great season with 155cm, whilst April boasted 170cm. Although, the concluding months of the season didn't quite reach the highs of 2008-09.


The snowfall was actually similar to the 2008/09 winter, but less windy, colder days and nights — and a handful of bumper weeks — really made the 2011/12 season stand out.

Some people were expecting a bad season due to the La Niña effect, and though Whistler — as it always does with this storm pattern around — benefitted from its third record breaking season in a row, Europe in general had a cracking season.

The best snow was found in France, Austria and sections of Switzerland, with parts of Italy and the USA being the main areas to struggle for good snow. Mt. Hood in Washington state is generally known as the snowiest resort in the world, but the off-piste Mecca of Engelberg regularly matched and even beat the North American resort, meaning for much of last season the snowiest resort on the planet was in little Switzerland.

For me, the season has merely proved that weather patterns come and go and the mountains are still getting amazing levels of snow. Roll on 12/13.

Alan Partridge's Favourite Pastime

clock 5th July 2012 | comment0 Comments

Who'd have known that Alan Partridge spends his Friday nights ripping up the slopes of Norwich!

How To Buy Skis

clock 29th June 2012 | comment0 Comments

You can tell when summer has arrived at Iglu, as AJ puts down his sales head — giving the sales team some much deserved respite — and picks up his blogging pen. This week's gem is a guide on how to buy skis.

Buying skis has become a lot more popular in recent seasons. This is partly because ski rental prices are soaring in the Alps and partly because British skiers are getting better and want to advance further.

Having your own skis means you don’t have to spend time learning how to ski a new shape every time you go. You can buy much better skis than you can get as a rental and the bindings on rentals are very heavy because they have sliders to fit many boot sizes and must be heavy duty enough to be bashed around by punters every week of the season. No one respects a rental and if you see someone cruising through thin snow with rocks they are more than likely to be on rentals.

Look how pleased Scotty, one of our ski experts, is with his recent purchase — the K2 Kung Fujas

Is it cost effective?

Renting your skis costs between £60 & £120 depending on your level and on the resort. A good set of skis with bindings will set you back £300 to £450, but this can be halved if you buy at the right time, at the end of a season. Then there is ski carriage of £35+ for every time you go skiing.

So, the answer is that, it costs about the same if you use your new skis five times. However, your ski experience will be enhanced, and if you are like me, then there is no price on the love affair you will have with your shiny new kit. It will also increase your real skier cred in the airport queue, in the cable car, and at the après ski bar. So to sum up, you will look better, ski better, and have more friends!

There are so many more skiers taking their own kit that some smaller charter flights have had to limit the number of skis taken onboard. So make sure you book your ski carriage at the time of booking your holiday!

The average UK skier buys a set of skis after going skiing six times and boarders slightly earlier at four times. By this stage you should have a good idea of what kind of skier you are. Beginners, however, should not buy skis! I wouldn't’t recommend buying skis until you are comfortable on black runs and capable of basic off-piste.

I could go on at length about the technical side of ski design. Techies talk about side cut, turning radius, flexibility, camber, rockers, binding risers, bla bla bla. These are important but can be broken down into three very simple categories of ski. There aren’t really any bad skis made anymore, so it’s just a case of finding your preference.

I am going to leave out specialist competition mogul skis, racing GS skis or big mountain, fat heli-skis. If you are in the market for these then you sure don’t need my advice. Actually, maybe you can take me in your helicopter next time — please.

Piste Cruisers and Mogul Masters.

Not everyone wants to blast the frosty lip off a monster cornice and drop through the big blue into bottomless pow on a 50° couloir. Let’s face it, most people don’t do anything remotely like that.

If you’re keen to make nice edge turns, on piste, at high speed then then get yourself a good carver. I’ve always loved the feeling of compression and then spring back energy from the ski, when you are at warp speed and swinging from edge to edge. A carver has a middle width of around or less than 80mm, a nose of 115mm to 120mm and a tail of around 100mm to 110mm. This gives a nice big side cut for classic edging and still offers enough of a shovel at the front to get through any occasional powder or crud.

Get a length that comes up to the bottom of your nose. These shorter and more responsive skis are also the best to get amongst the moguls with. For carvers, you should stick with the established big brands to get a well-made ski that will last 10 years or more. Try Head, Rossignol, Atomic and Nordica. My favourite carvers are made by the best of the US ski makers, K2 — The Stinger 119/72/103 is fast and smooth and The Charger (122/74/106) is just a bit more advanced and capable of really high speed turns and a quite bit of off-piste fun. With this type of ski you may want to get a riser under your bindings to give you a greater angulation for sharper turns.

K2 Stringer K2 Stringer. Photo: © K2 Skis

The All-Mountain, Off-piste Adventurer.

This sort of ski has become the most popular in this century. Modern ski manufacture has made skiing off-piste so much easier, that virtually everyone is getting involved. These skis are wider and longer than piste skis, so that they can float on powder and smooth out crud and rough terrain.

They still maintain some side cut, so that you can easily navigate the pistes but they tend to have a much longer turning radius. This means that when you roll over on your edges the turn takes longer to complete. If you want to make short turns it takes more skill to pivot rather than carve. For these skis you need to be fairly advanced to get the most out of them and you should get them at a length just taller than yourself.

There are so many skis in this range that I could fill several pages with reviews. Every manufacturer has at least three models in the all-mountain range. Before you buy a bigger ski, try out a variety of rentals. Most rental shops will offer a package where you can change skis for a little bit more money. If the chance arises then get yourself to a demo day — where plenty of ski makers will gladly give you a chance to ride their latest kit in the hope of making a sale.

I’ll readily admit to being a ski snob as I expect to outlay £500 to £600 for my skis, with good lightweight Marker bindings — go for the £200 in the sales as they'll cost you. But for that I will get the very best ski I can find, and it will last me at least 7/8 years. Mine are made by the best Swiss manufacturer, Stöckli, who are the last of the big manufacturers that hand-make their skis. They will last forever like a Rolls Royce. I can also highly recommend brands Völkl (those Germans make things to last), Scott, Armada, and K2. I love the K2 Kung Fujas (133/102/127) and they are the ones I’d buy right now. They are achingly cool and best in class.

Park Rats and Jibbers.

This is generally a younger crowd that, 10 years ago was only ever going to go boarding, but the new park skis mean you can do more in the park on skis than you ever could on a board.

Skis for the park can be pretty versatile, but your basic needs are twin tips for skiing and jumping, both forwards and switch (backwards). They need to be really flexible to give the most forgiving landing. As an example, I was filming one of our resident park loving sales team this season in the Val d’Isére Terrain park, when he pulled a back flip in the black section. He under-rotated and landed on the knuckle of the down-slope with his weight way over the front which would normally be terminal and painful (like my jumps). His soft park skis with central bindings were so forgiving that he somehow pulled off the landing. I was made to feel much better when he tried a barrel roll on the next jump and over-rotated and face planted. I got it on film and it still gives me a chuckle!

Freestyle skis tend to have wider, straight sided middle sections and spoon shaped shovels at both ends and have the bindings positioned more centrally. These skis will be flakey at high speed carving and too soft to take into the big mountain environment where precision can be the difference between going off a cliff by accident or making the vital stop. They are perfectly fine for normal piste skiing and powder work but they will not carve or float as well as skis designed for that purpose.

These skis are a bit more specialised and therefore you should look for brands that are at the cutting edge of technology. The best park ski out there at the moment is the Dynastar 6th Sense Distorter, with dimensions of 119/87/109. I also like the Scott Punisher Jib and the Armada T-Hall — named after freestyle Guru Tanner Hall. I see lots of jibbers on short skis for easier aerial work, but if you want a more versatile ski that can crank outside the park then get them at a length that comes up to your forehead.

Next time you go into a shop to look for a ski that suits you, think about the three main varieties. Are you the high speed piste blaster, the big air trickster and jibber, or the all-mountain off-pister? All skis can do all things and multi-task, but start with what you love and go from there. Your ski shop techie will love nothing more than to give you his advice. They are all ski-bums at heart and think about the snow all day long. Just don’t get railroaded into a sale.

It may take many visits to many ski stores, just like speed dating, to find your new love affair. And do NOT try to save money on the bindings! Get the very best they have available. They can save your life.

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