This is a question that has people debating long and hard, it is all about the snow conditions on the one hand and accessibility on the other. The long haul advocates will tell you that yes, it take longer to get to the resort, much longer in some cases, but the snow and conditions are far better than anything you get in Europe.
Canada has always been a favourite spot with the British. Take the resorts of Banff, Louise, Sunshine and Mount Norquay. It is a great all round group of connected resorts for all levels of skier, it has a huge vertical drop for those who like a long run, and the snow is near perfect, described by locals as champagne powder! What about the States, some of the best facilities and snow can be found in places such as Aspen in Colorado, or Breckenridge where you might bump into a few celebs?
Well all very nice say the detractors, but they are all many hours away and to go for a week is really pretty much a non starter. Europe on the other hand has resorts scattered all over the Alps, Pyrenees, Dolomites, all within a few hours door to door from here. The snow conditions can be variable, but you are sure to get at least most runs open, even in a bad period; also it is possible to get a snow report and take a quick long weekend, very popular now you can take a snow train from St Pancras and be in the resort overnight or the same day.
It’s an argument that has two sides to the coin and if you can spare two or more weeks holiday in the winter, long haul might be for you, but why not take two separate weeks in Europe at different resorts? There is no winner is there.
Picture: Nick Wadge
Skiing has never been more popular, but the problem that we have in this country is that we do not get enough snow and unless you live in Scotland the mountain ranges are simply not there! This does bring a dilemma to our winter ski holiday makers as one week or so each year means that we can really never become totally competent and skilful, although most serious British skiers can cope with the blue runs and many the reds. For those lucky enough to have access to an indoor facility close by, this is a great way to practice your skills and even to improve on them, but most of the indoor facilities are very limited to a short run down.
So it is interesting that the London Mayor, Boris Johnson has announced plans to build a giant ski centre near the Olympic Park in Stratford. If the plans come to fruition then the centre will house around 20,000 square metres of piste, there will be several runs the longest of which will be 300 metres, also it will offer snowboard ramps, toboggan runs, an ice-skating rink, with a special snow play zone for the children.
The cost of this “snow dome” is thought to be around £200 million and will be on a similar scale to the successful one in Dubai. Naturally it will be open all year round and it is hope it will attract about three million visitors a year.
Picture: The Development of Birmingham
Nestled deep in a mountain valley and enclosed by steep escarpments is one of the finest skiing locations on the planet, at Zermatt in Switzerland. The location is dominated by the legendary Matterhorn, standing a staggering 14,692 ft at the head of the valley and surrounded by the famous ring of 13,000 ft plus mountains including; Dent Blanche, Weisshorn, Dom, Gabelhorn, Zinal-Rothorn, and Monte Rosa.
With its cobbled streets and horse drawn sleighs, a visit to Zermatt can feel like a step back in time. One thing that is instantly noticeable, other than the enormity of the mountain range, is the silence. Partly in an effort to prevent any disruption in the vast quantities of snow that surround the village and partly to help retain this unique archaic atmosphere, cars have been completely banned, and this really does contribute to the wonderful old-world feel in the location.
The massive Matterhorn itself is a perfect location with something for everyone. In addition to beginner, intermediary and expert ski slopes there are a vast number of stunning views that can be accessed by walkers or climbers. The location has an excellent balance of rustic charm and cutting-edge facilities. There is a fabulous array of lodgings and hotels available to visitors as well as an abundance of excellent restaurants, thriving bars and gift shops. Given the height of the giants that it sits amongst, there is no surprise in finding that this is also home to the highest cable car in the world.
Having a family does not have to bring an end to the joys of ski holidays. You just need a little careful planning, and the whole family can have fun in the snow. Look for resorts with a good range of slopes to suit all abilities. Ideally, a resort should have plenty of beginner slopes if you have children who have not skied before. Do not forget the needs of the adults in your party too – experienced skiers will want more challenging slopes, so a mix is perfect. Les Menuires in the Three Valleys and Morillon in the Grand Massif have just this – plenty to offer both the novice and the expert. If you want to venture further afield, try Smugglers’ Notch in Vermont, renowned for its family-friendliness, or Whistler in British Columbia.
A good ski school will cater for children of all ages and experience, with English-speaking instructors. Check out the types of ski-lifts available, and make sure that there are some which are easy for children to use.
Families with children too young to ski may want to find daytime childcare to allow both parents to ski. Companies such as Ski Famille, specialise in skiing holidays for families with young children, with childcare included in the cost. Check whether childcare is in the hotel, chalet, or at a crèche, and whether you need to book in advance. Also, consider how far away from the slopes your child will be cared for as you might want to arrange childcare close by, in case you want to check on your little ones during the day. Do not forget the après-ski facilities – whether they be for younger or older children, it is important to have things to do off the slopes too – ice rinks or indoor play areas are ideal.
The French Alps are one of the most popular places to take a ski holiday due to the sheer range of pistes and areas for all skier and snowboarder skill levels. Not only is there always guaranteed to be good snow coverage, but at certain times of the year the sun is pleasantly bright, ensuring that you can get the thrills without the chills.
The ‘Three Valleys’ is one of the most popular ski areas to visit in the French Alps, comprising Courchevel, Val Thorens and Meribel, as well as L’Espace Killy. These traditional ski destinations have a range of slopes for both amateurs and professionals, as well as trainers and schools for people that either want to learn to ski or snowboard from scratch, or those that want to improve their current skills.
Another popular area is the fairly new Paradiski Area – a purpose built ski destination with not only snow and slopes, but also shopping opportunities, lots of restaurants and various bars and cafes. Les Deux Alpes and Chamonix are two other popular ski destinations, which have fantastic views over the Alps to admire when you are flying down one of the notoriously steep runs.
There are lots of places to stay in the French Alps too, from villa cottages for large groups of people, or little log cabin guest houses. In addition, the nightlife is varied and the restaurants around the region serve a great mix of local and international cuisine.
The natural beauty of Austria in wintertime is well known, and this is why ski holidays in the country have become quite popular. Several different areas of the country are suitable for such a holiday.
For those skiers who are not at the professional level, Alpbach is a good place to start. This ski resort is located in the Austrian state of Tyrol, in the western part of the country. Snowboarders are also welcome here, and there is a half pipe for those who want to test the boundaries of their skill.
Another popular ski resort in Tyrol is the Arlberg Ski Area. This is a resort for more experienced skiers, with excellent slopes. The visually striking mountains help to make skiing here an unforgettable experience.
Filzmoos is a ski resort located in Salzburg, amid the Dachstein and Bischofsmütze mountains. This resort has the bonus of often being sparsely crowded, which means that visitors get more ski time. There are slopes here to suit skiers of all levels. There are also many activities at Filzmoos for the non-skier, which helps to make it an ideal destination for families.
Travellers looking for a skiing holiday in Austria that is not too far from the frills of the city should look into Igls, which is located just a stone’s throw away from Innsbruck. At this resort, the Patscherkofel Mountain can be skied. There is a small smattering of slopes at Igls, and they are most suitable for intermediate skiers.
If planning a skiing trip to the South Island of New Zealand, there are a variety of impressive ski fields and accompanying ski resorts where great last minute ski deals and package deals are offered.
There is a long ski season on South Island. In Canterbury, Mount Hutt generally opens in June, with the season continuing until the end of October. The scenery here is spectacular and last minute ski deals often include a variety of other pursuits and après-ski activities.
Queenstown and Lake Wanaka
Dramatic and eye-catching, the Alps that surround the Queenstown resort offer breathtaking views. Queenstown borders Lake Wakatipu, and it inspires respect and admiration as a winter ski destination with its sophisticated, lively resort. Located in an urban setting, Queenstown boasts popular and stylish bars and restaurants, fashionable boutiques and is easy to get around.
The township of Wanaka is quieter than Queenstown, but it has the largest skiable territory in all of New Zealand, Australia, New Guinea and the neighbouring islands of the Pacific Ocean. Last minute ski deals can be arranged to the well-known Treble Cone and Cardrona, offering amazingly good value for world-class facilities. Staying in Wanaka makes sense, as there is easy access daily to Cardrona and Treble Cone by bus and a shuttle service from the centre.
Snow Park NZ is well worth a visit. It is the country’s major terrain park and hailed as excellent for cross-country skiing and freestyle skiing.
Everyone who ski’s or snowboards has a favourite destination when it comes to this popular winter sport, and if you and your family have yet to decide where to spend your sporting holiday here are some things for you to consider.
The United States
Most people have heard of Colorado, and with 11 resorts to consider you may want to spend a couple of extra weeks swishing down the slopes. Probably the most popular venue is Aspen; you can stay right on the mountain and ski in and out from your fully furnished chalet.
Lake Tahoe is in California and boasts 12 ski resorts. Kirkwood Mountain Resort gets more snow than any of the others and is perfect if you are planning a family ski holiday. Heavenly Valley is close to the Stateline and is where you will want to head if you want to spend your evenings at the casino. This is the largest resort on the lake and caters for beginners, intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders.
Switzerland is home to the Matterhorn, which is one of the most well known mountains in the world, and if you are looking for somewhere unusual to spend the night the Igloo Village on Rotenboden is the place for you. The village can accommodate up to 40 people and is a destination that you will want to return to again and again.
The Austrian Alps offer all kinds of packages for skiers. Innsbruck is the capital city and is internationally renowned for its winter sports centre. The glacier lifts on the Stubai are open 365 days a year and offer excellent skiing for the more advanced skier.
Wherever you decide to spend your ski holiday be sure and do your research. You will want to get the best value for money, and most resorts will offer some sort of discount travel package.
Where to be sure of great ski deals and never short of snow? When the season has been variable, as is sometimes the case, start by looking for a resort where decent snow is a given.
For example, Tignes in France is popular particularly towards the end of the season: with an altitude of 2,100m in the resort itself, it is surrounded by peaks and glaciers on which skiing is available all year apart from during a few weeks at the height of summer.
Staying in France, Bonneval sur Arc resort Val Cennis retains a reputation for great skiing in the spring. There are 125km of slopes here, many with aspects that face north, providing extra protection from the sun and helping to retain the snow.
In Switzerland, Zermatt boasts the highest slopes in Europe and here it is possible to do some skiing on every day of the year. This is one location where those in pursuit of great ski deals can be absolutely sure of catching the snow at any time.
The Austrian resort Ischgl has a reputation for a very merry après-ski crowd, so it may not suit all tastes. Nonetheless, it is one of Austria’s major resorts with slopes of up to 2,870m and an impressively solid record of snowfall.
In Italy, Livigno, or ‘Little Tibet’ as it is affectionately known locally, has slopes reaching 2,900m and a dry, cold climate. It is favoured by large, heavy and powerful falls of snow, so a sure bet for those who wish to be certain of the snowfall.
These days you do not have to be wealthy to enjoy a skiing holiday, so if you’re a student looking for some college travel then a ski holiday could be the trip for you. However the key to finding cheap ski holidays is in knowing that skiing is a holiday choice that is ultimately seasonal in nature. The resorts, the hotels, other accommodation providers and the tour operators need to make maximise their annual income in a very short period of time – just four months.
This can be a real bonus, as prices for holidays will vary in order to exploit demand. For example, one week’s holiday in early December might cost upwards of £500. The same holiday, with identical accommodation, flights and facilities, taken in mid-February, is likely to cost over £1,200.
So December and January can be good months for cheap ski holidays, with the proviso that the Christmas/New Year period has become increasingly popular, as has Easter whether it falls in March or April. Booking a holiday in the low-season months and finding last minute hotel deals offer the cheapest option.
Shrewd and thorough research will lead to really great cheap ski deals: for around £400 it’s possible to find flights, transfers, accommodation for one week, excellent food and wine plus helpful staff and ski guides.
It’s important to remember that the bigger resorts are those where tour operators have more chalets and hotel rooms to fill. Look on the websites of the variety of companies offering ski holidays, or talk to agents who can provide a customised service.