Planning a Skiing Holiday
If you are looking for some advice on planning a skiing holiday, then take a look at my top tips to making the best decisions. Maybe you’ve never been skiing before, or it’s down to you to make the booking this time. What do you need to consider to help you find the perfect resort? Read on.
Unless you are a regular skier and know exactly what you are looking for in a skiing holiday, then making decisions about booking one are not entirely straightforward.
Although I have been skiing on and off for more than 30 years, I have to admit I have usually left the planning and booking to other people. Now I am thinking about taking my own family in the near future, so it has made me consider what is actually important.
This post covers the questions you should ask yourself when starting to plan a skiing holiday and also what factors push up the cost of it.
If money is not really a problem, these things are still worth considering so you get the best holiday you can, but may not have quite the same weight for you. I am focusing on skiing rather than snow boarding as that is what I know, but the decisions will be similar.
The First Question – can you Ski?
Can you or members of your party already ski? Resorts around Europe offer different sizes of skiing area, type of ski runs and facilities. If you are all beginners or have a mix of abilities it may sway your decision making when you go through these options.
Which Country to Choose for Skiing
Skiing across Europe and the rest of the world can vary a lot, so it is worth taking time to consider what it is you want from your holiday.
Purpose built resorts in the Alps in France, Austria and Switzerland are the pick of the crop. Some ski areas are interlinked offering a vast number of routes. The largest is the 3 Valles, with a staggering 600km of runs. You would really have to be going some to ski all that in a week.
Italy also offers some superb interlinked ski areas and some cross border options. Hot on the heels of the Alps in terms of ski areas are Whistler in Canada and Park City in Utah (USA). If you want somewhere completely different then how about Japan, where multi-resort holidays are becoming popular.
If covering miles and miles are not a top priority, then there is a also lovely skiing to be found in Spain, both in the Pyrenees and Sierra Nevada. Andorra and Bulgaria (Bansko) are also good and often cheaper options for beginners. Also look at the areas just away from the Alps such as Southern Germany and the Auvergne (Massif Central) region of France. Also don’t forget Scandinavia, especially if you like the idea of a multi sport holiday.
English is widely spoken across the Alps but if you have a preference for practising a language for you or the children this might sway your decision as well.
The Ski Resort and Area
This is clearly linked to the first question but also is about your personal preference. If your group contains intermediate or advance skiers or borders, then you need to consider the size of the overall ski area and types of runs on offer to make sure they are catered for.
Equally if you are all beginners, just skied a few times or have young children then there is no point paying premium prices for a top resort ski pass that you will not make use. The chances are you won’t make it past the blue slopes onto the intermediate red and certainly not to the hard blacks. Juggling the requirements of a mixed ability group can be a challenge. Also do consider the option of lessons whatever level you are at.
On our recent trip to Les Arcs our group downloaded a local skiing app for the first time. As advanced skiers we were surprised to see that we were totting up 50 -80km of distance a day (including the ski lifts).
Resort facilities also vary a lot. Larger resorts will have more options for après ski or non skiing days. Think swimming pool, bowling, ice rinks, cinemas, night clubs and live music. Smaller resorts are often more limited in the extras on offer. Will you want to ski every day for 5 or 6 hours then be happy crash out in your accommodation? Or can you imagine a few hours skiing and then looking for other things to do or different sports to try? Equally have you got non-skiers going with you? All questions worth considering.
Fly or Drive?
This really comes down to budget as well as family preferences. I know plenty of families who are happy to drive to the Alps and this is how they have always travelled. Apart from the school ski trips (25 hours on a bus!) I have driven once with friends where we took it in turns to drive. It’s about 10 hours from Calais to the nearest resorts so OK if you can share the driving, even better if you live close to the ports.
Ski packages generally include flights in the cost of the holiday, but driving and building your own holiday can certainly work out cheaper. Airport transfer times may be worth looking at especially if you also have to travel in the UK some distance to the airport. A two hour transfer from the airport is about average in the Alps, but this is also worth checking. Overall door to door there is actually not a lot in it for most people in terms of time.
If flying transfer times from Barcelona to Andorra are closer to 3 hours, Sophia to Bansko less than 2 hours. Vancouver to Whistler is just over 2 hours, as is Denver to Vail in the USA. Of course you have a lot more travelling before that!
Weekend and short breaks are popular for skiing and then it really is worth checking flight and transfer times. It’s quite possible with an early start to be on the slopes by the afternoon if all goes to plan.
Budget and personal preference play a key role here and I have experience of all of these. In my 20’s we went for self-catering chalets with friends, even going so far as to pack pasta and sauces to keep the cost down of the holiday. It can be fun as long as everyone takes turns to cook or you are happy to go out for meals as well.
Hotels are a good option if you are travelling as a family or a group but would rather have your own space. You may also have added extras like a swimming pool or sauna. There are lots of companies to choose from but I’ve heard that Inghams are great for hotel holidays.
Catered chalets vary in size and are my personal favourite. They are great if you have a group that will fill a whole chalet or if you like the idea of being sociable with other people. We meet a few family groups who were sharing a chalet with friends and a number of children between them (Esprit specialise in this). Chalets are also a good option for multi generational groups.
This year we stayed with Ski Total in a 6 person chalet that we had exclusively for ourselves. They also offer larger chalets, where if you are a small group or even solo traveller you would find yourself sharing. In a catered chalet you have a chalet host who looks after your chalet. They also prepare meals for you, bake a cake while you are out and return in the evening to cook and serve dinner. Wine was included with our meals with Ski Total. Wonderful! You eat dinner together every night and share the lounge area.
Location within the resort
This may be something you have less control over but can make quite a difference to your holiday. Leaving the accommodation to reach the slopes each day is an essential part of the holiday. Walking in ski boots and carrying your skis is pretty cumbersome especially with children whose gear you may also need to carry. So how far is it to the first ski lift? Can you walk or is there a bus to catch? Anything more than about 500 metres or 10 minutes walk is actually quite a long way to stomp, so make sure you get an accurate answer to this question. Better still is the ski in – ski out option, but you may pay a premium for this.
The height of the resort can also affect how quickly you reach the main slopes. The lower down you are may mean that the first part of your day is spent climbing up on the lifts to reach the good slopes. It’s worth having a look at google maps and a ski lift map to get an idea of where your accommodation is compared to the main ski area and lifts.
Planning ahead or Last minute
If you are taking children skiing and have to go in the popular February half term it’s likely to be expensive – good old supply and demand. Places get booked up so if that is when you have to go then you will need to book well in advance. Although Christmas and New Year are fun times to go, snow quality is not always guaranteed over in the Alps. Easter school holidays may be a good option they fall early and you pick higher resorts.
Take a look at my short video covering a week in Les Arcs and the Ski Paraski area. We had a great week at Les Arcs 2000 staying in a chalet with Ski Total.
If you are lucky enough to be able to go at the last minute this can be a great option for some cracking deals with the tour operators. Keep an eye on the snow reports and grab a great discounted deal if your choice of resort is not too important. Watch out for when the French schools have half term in February, as slopes will be busier then.
THE COST OF SKIING
Skiing is not a cheap holiday. Once you have factored in lift passes, ski hire and lessons you are looking at around £1000 per person.
However it certainly is possible to ski on a budget if you do your homework. The travel, country and type of holiday you want all make a difference, it’s a whole new blog post!
Other things to consider are: the cost of the ski lift pass as these vary a lot across different resorts and depend on the amount of area they cover and country you are in and ski lessons – worth it at all levels but you will certainly progress a lot faster if you have some good instruction. Group lessons are the cheapest option.
Food and drink on the slopes and in top resorts is not cheap, certainly not in the Alps. A coffee in Les Arc was typically 3 – 4 Euros and a pint of larger 6 – 7 Euros. Compare this to Bansko (Bulgaria) where it’s £2.50 for a coffee and £3.50 for a beer. Stock up on a good breakfast and you may not need too much else until afternoon tea. We always take some small chocolate or muesli bars to help power though the morning and a bottle of water is a good idea! One thing I always hear about Bulgaria is how much cheaper it is.
Another key expense for new skiers is the gear. It’s certainly worth looking in the sales or even borrowing an outfit if you are not sure if you are definitely planning to go again. I’ve been looking at some great end of season deals on Dare2B ski jackets (available on Hawkshead and Go Outdoors websites). Ebay is a great place for children’s ski outfits as the chances are they will only wear them once before they grow out of them. Decent ski gloves, base layers and socks are also very important. Skis, boots and helmets can all be easily hired. I found a very good kit list on the Post Office website before I went last time.
Start Planning A Fantastic Holiday
Well I seem to have written a lot more that I thought I would. Have you got any top tips for planning a skiing holiday or anything you would definitely recommend or avoid?
I hope this has been helpful – so what are you waiting for – get planning for next year or grab a bargain for this year!
If you are looking for some more reading then I have added a few posts from fellow bloggers for you:
Some of the Best Ski resorts in Europe compiled by A Barvaian Sojourne
Global Mouse Travels review their ski trip with Esprit in Courchevel
The Pigeon Pair and Me review a family ski resort in Italy called Passo Tonale
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