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Every year Igluski takes a team of ski travel experts away for a week of skiing in Val d'Isére in mid-April, as a reward for their efforts during the long winter of busy sales. Val d'Isére has never failed to provide powder in April in the last 5 years I have done this. This year was busier and better for Igluski than ever before, so not only did I take the largest group away ever, I also secured seven rooms in the 5 Trident Club Med Village of Val d'Isere for seven nights from 11th April 2010 for the top sellers and managers . The other 25 of our group were spread between the superbly located 5* Chalet Cherrier and the very basic but lovable 2* Vieux Village, both run by well-known chalet package operators that provided flights, transfers and catered accommodation.
The only catch for those of us in Club Med was that we had to travel independently, as they ran out of UK flights. No sweat, we're travel experts, right?
Towards the end of our amazing week cocooned in the all-inclusive luxury bubble of Club Med, the word started to spread about some troublesome Volcano way off in Iceland blowing its top and spewing out ash and bad attitude. Did we care? Of course not! It was several thousand miles away and we were having the time of our lives, hunting powder stashes in the bright sunshine and enjoying long lunches with wine at either our hotel or at the brilliant Club Med Tignes, which has an excellent sun terrace for watching the beautiful people, or laughing at the kids ski school right in front. Those tiny kids with their big helmets and miniature skis are hilarious.
Our interest in this distant and insignificant Volcano was peaked when a rumour spread like wildfire through the resort that for some unfathomable reason the airspace around the UK was being closed. Surely this was being excessively Safety Sam and our Swiss airline would be back in the air within a few hours. That evening the seven of us independent travellers gathered around a TV to watch CNN deliver the news that not only was the UK airspace not opening but two thirds of western Europe's airports were also closing. Uh oh!
The next morning, the 25 of our crew that were on packages were getting loaded onto coaches, while we were frantically searching for ways back on our laptop (Club Med has Wi-Fi). Their tour operators had acted swiftly to secure coaches and ferry slots to make sure their guests were back on the day expected, even if they were a little weary after 22 hours on a Coach.
None of us stranded 'Volcano 7' had brought our full car licenses to hire a car, and even if we had, the prices being quoted for a seven-seater were somewhat shocking for a one way trip to London and we couldn't get a ferry space at any major port. Club Med had also gotten all the guests who had booked travel through them onto coaches to get home but we independent travellers were stuck. Club Med understood our predicament and promised to look after us until we found a way home and we were very grateful to have a roof over our heads as we could not find a train and bus seat anywhere online or by phone.
We gave up trying to get home Monday and had a lovely blue bird powder day after the Sunday snowshowers, with a nice Raclette meal back at the hotel. I know that all sounds great but we were feeling the stress of missing work. Eventually, after many hours on the laptops and phones, on Tuesday we secured some individual Eurostar seats. It was time to say a tearful goodbye to Val d'Isere for another year.
Myself and three others of the Volcano 7 finally got moving and we caught a taxi to Bourg St Maurice, a slow train to Chambery, a fast TGV train to Paris, spent a night in a 1 star Fawlty Towers-like special and a sunny lunching day in Montmartre near Gare du Nord, before finally catching the 20.53 Eurostar back to London. It had been a fun trip but this was a very, very expensive Volcano rescue.
The other three of the Volcano 7 couldn't get Eurostar tickets so they caught a transfer to Geneva, an overnight slow train via Basel to Amsterdam, spent a hazy night in the Flying Pig hostel, caught a train to Rotterdam and then an overnight ferry to Harwich and a train down London. Their trip was slightly cheaper but they lost an extra day (and several billion brain cells) by not getting back until Thursday night.
You never never know when the next Force Majeure, act of God or Casus Fortuitus is going to strike. In the last few years I've heard so much about how the travel insurance companies just don't have to pay for things, which seem to be getting more regular like Tsunamis, Earthquakes, and now Volcanoes.
Thank you Eyjafjallajökull for an eventful week but my feelings towards insurance companies has taken a nose dive from deplorable to an unprintable level.
Written by Adam Johnson
Organising a group ski holiday is a time consuming activity and can be a real pain in the backside. You would think that a group of ten grown adults would be easy to please but the reality is a very different story.
For the past couple years I have been given the task of organising the bi-annual ski trips. As I work in the industry, and have done multiple seasons, my friends felt that I had the experience to make this nice and easy, so I happily volunteered. The first job is always to find out who can travel and when. With dates limited to December and March for most the group that made it a little easier and I managed to pin down New Year for the first trip and a pre-Easter trip in mid-March. Brilliant, job one done. New Year is just about the busiest time of year to go skiing and when you have three accountants coming on holiday, getting them to spend money is akin to getting a Premier League manager to agree with referees!
With the budget finally sorted this was looking like plane sailing from here on in, all I had to do was find the right resort, right property and the right flights. Now this is where it gets a little difficult with most the party traveling form London and a handful in the Midlands this should be easy, but when you have people who will only travel from one airport and these don't match, it becomes a little harder. I had to find a way of getting two people out of Heathrow, two out of Stansted, two out of Gatwick with two more 'happy to do whatever' then two from Birmingham and a possible Dublin flight for good measure.
After much debate, banging of heads and thoughts from the group the answer presented itself. My hopes of an nice easy package from Gatwick for ten people had been dashed to at least the first trip. In the end after speaking to a few operators I had the perfect solution for the accommodation - the independent chalet operator. We found a great chalet company in Morzine, only an hour from Geneva, that offered chalets, with transfers, right in the middle of the resort; perfect. The next thing was to look at flights, by going through a travel agent, we were able to book scheduled flights from all the required airports and even managed to land within an hour of each other, perfect for the included transfer and for traveling to resort together.
The next challenge was to convince people that I had found the right resort and property. This was a little more difficult as I had advanced skiers wanting a large ski area, party animals hoping for St. Anton, beginners needing good instructors and easy slopes and a random Les Arc fan fighting his corner. The resorts in the mix were St. Anton, Meribel, Val d'Isere & Les Arc. After a little persuading and a few dummies being spat we agreed that Morzine would be perfect. 600km of piste in the Portes du Soleil, short transfers, chilled Apres but lively nightlife (perfect for New Years Eve) and the all important charming instructors for the beginners.
Several weeks in we had now agreed on dates and a resort. Next thing was where to stay, some people wanted 5* chalets with hot tubs, others wanted warm food and a bed near to the bars. This is where it gets really difficult to find a property, through some friends in resort and several phone calls we managed to agree on a chalet in the centre of town with a sauna.
Had we done this alone we would have had to call every company under the sun, booked all our own flights and transfers and had anything gone wrong we would have been stuck as this was not a package holiday. This is where using a travel agent to orgainse the holiday comes in handy, I was able to book the flights, chalet and transfers all through them. Not only did this offer protection, for example if the operator went under or the flights were cancelled, it also made life easier. Rather than maxing out credit cards and chasing people for money everything was sorted for us. All I had to do was to get everyone to call in and pay their deposits and balances separately.
So far so good, holiday one booked. With New Year being so popular it was very handy indeed to have managed to arrange everything by June. This gave the group time to book the week off, pay their balances and save for a week in the mountains.
Though it's hard work, being the group leader is worth the effort. This season I have a much easier job, we are almost ready to book one of three chalets in either La Tania or Meribel on a package holiday again and knowing that when multiple airports are needed a trip to an independent chalet company in a resort like Morzine is on the cards again for the main group holiday.
Written by Stephen Adam.
This year one of the most successful athletes in the world of winter sports has the chance to be nominated for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. She may not be an Olympian and she competes in a sport that may not be as fashionable on the high street and football, Formula 1 or rugby but Jenny Jones deserves a nomination. Though the official nominations are not until November there is already a growing Facebook campaign for possibly the country's most successful snowboarder to gain a nomination.
Jenny Jones has had an incredible season for winter 2010. She has won both gold medals for the women's slopestyle in Winter X-Games held in Aspen and the first ever European X-Games in Tignes. This added to last year's gold in Aspen takes her to an unprecedented three X-Games gold medals in the sports premier competition.
Jenny has not only been successful over the past two seasons in the Winter X-Games but has plenty more gold medals to add to her collection including triumphs over the past seasons at the Burton US Open in Apsen, Burton European Open in Laax, the Roxy Chicken Jam, the Nissan Nippon Open and of course The Brits also held in Laax. Jenny Jones has also had several top 6 results in the TTR World Snowboard Tour since 2006.
Not only is Jenny a world class snowboarder she is great person too. If you are ever out in Morzine there is every chance you will bump into her on the slopes or at the Cavern with her friends and the usual resort locals. If the BBC Sports Personality of the Year was awarded on personality alone Jenny arguably has more charisma, charm and is more personable than Wayne Rooney, Lewis Hamilton and Kevin Pietersen put together.
If we can get the British snow sports fans behind Jenny Jones then we may get a more charismatic winner and someone we can relate to more than previous years gone by. Jenny Jones loves snowboarding, is highly influential in British snowboarding scene and is one of the top athletes in the world at her profession. If ever a snow sports enthusiast deserves to be commended for their achievements then Jenny Jones truly does.
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