- Choosing the right resort:
If this is your first time planning a skiing holiday choosing the right resort can seem daunting. There are a number of things to consider; from how friendly the resort is for beginners to the range of lifts, quality of terrain and snowfall to name just a few.
Whilst there are fabulous resorts across Europe, America, Canada and even further afield it is important to consider the needs of your group when picking where to go.
My family has generally always skied over New Year; however, can sometimes go as late into the season as Easter. As a group we have always had a range of different needs from total beginners, children and non-skiers, therefore resorts offering other activities have also been necessary. Hopefully this post will give you a few top tips for planning your own ski trip!
When to go?
Early December: This is often a good time for those on a tighter budget as many resorts offer half price lift passes. Just keep an eye on the forecast as there may be poor snowfall in some lower resorts. Generally, the higher a resort the better the snow, regardless of ability you will have a better experience if there is more of the white stuff to actually ski on! My resort recommendation for early December is Val Thorens, France, Zermatt, Switzerland or Mont Tremblant, Quebec, Canada. A short pre-Christmas trip can be just the thing to de stress before the chaos of Christmas. Just be aware that aware that the higher you go the chillier it will be so… pack your thermals!
Late December & New Year: This can be a great time to go away with the family and
resorts put on some excellent additional offers and activities over the festive period; however, the slopes, lifts and resorts are often very busy with like minded skiers and boarders. New Year can also be an expensive time to go as it falls over work and school holidays. That being said this is usually a brilliant time for snowfall. My recommendation for skiing over New Year is Val D’Isere, France or Mont Tremblant Quebec, Canada.
January: After the crazy Christmas and New Year rush, mid to late January is a good time to get a new year deal, the slopes are generally quieter as schools go back so you can have your pick of the resorts and all they have to offer. If you aren’t tied by school holidays this is your time go! Recommended resorts are Tignes, France, Val D’Isere, France or if you fancy a little further afield check out Beaver Creek, Colorado, USA.
February: Whilst the draw of a half-term get away might be pretty strong to escape those long dark days at home, this is peak time. The slopes will be busy and prices will rise. If you can avoid school half term holidays do so. February half term is also prime school ski trip season!
March & April: Warmer weather = slushy slopes however there are plenty of days when nothing beats perfect sunny but chilly conditions at some of the higher resorts. March is usually a better time to go for cheaper deals as prices rise again for the Easter break. Top resorts for March & April, Zermat, Switzerland or Tignes, France. Obergurgl, Austria is often recommended however from personal experience the snow conditions haven’t been great, Icy in the morning and slushy by the afternoon.
Skill level for your group
Whenever I have skied there has always been a range of abilities within the group, so it is important to choose a resort which caters for all levels. There is nothing worse than being a new skier and finding that the resort you have chosen only has a limited number of beginner slopes or being a little more adventurous only to find that the slopes are too simple and lack challenge.
Best resorts for beginners and improvers:
Tignes, France: Loads of beginner and intermediate slopes with easy access to the Val D’Isere slopes – just make sure you buy the right lift pass! Top runs for beginners to gain their confidence Henri (blue) & Borsat (green).
Val D’Isere, France: –The Espace Killy is the highest extended ski terrain in the Alps and offers a really good range of slopes to suit all levels. Val D’Isere boasts 83 beginner runs, 46 intermediate runs and 25 advanced runs. Access to Tignes is possible with the appropriate lift passes. Personal favourites for easing into the day and gaining your confidence, Diebold (blue), Grand Pre (green), Col de la Madeleine (blue) & Verte (green).
Best resorts for intermediate & advanced:
Zermatt, Switzerland: Zermatt has 200km of well crafted piste and offers lift links to Cervina, Italy. Zermatt truly has something to suit everyone! Zermatt has extensive off piste skiing and two thirds of the runs are red, some have even been affectionately classified as ‘dark red’, hinting at the extended difficulty. Zermatt is undoubtedly a resort for more confident skiers looking for a challenge.
St Anton, Austria: St Anton is located in the Arlberg region of Austria. Renowned for the quality of the snowfall St Anton offers 340km of challenging slopes for intermediate and advanced skiers. Whilst there is some beginner provision St Anton lends itself to skiers looking for difficulty and those who are keen to hone their technique. There is also the world cup downhill slope or the seriously steep and testing north face of the Valluga…so if you’re looking to push yourself St Anton could be for you!
Val D’Isere: If the thought of taking on a piste fit for Olympians is your cup of tea then give La Face a go in Val D’Isere. Val D’Isere also offers a huge range of lift served off piste skiing which should appeal to the more adventurous skiers! In addition to the variety of more challenging runs Val D’Isere offers wide intermediate runs to help you build your confidence and a good array of challenging red runs if you want to extend your skillset! My personal choices for challenge are Plan & Piste M (red), Santons (red) and if you’ve got tired legs then Piste L (blue) can be a tricky one to navigate!
All round resorts:
Vail, Colorado, USA – A great range of wide-open slopes and from experience excellent snow conditions. The terrain is enormous with back bowls, the front side and Blue Sky basin any skier has choice and challenge. Additionally, the Vail resort offers a huge range of additional activities so if you have non-skiers or just fancy an afternoon break to rest your legs there will be something to take your fancy. A brilliant resort if you are looking to change things up and venture outside of Europe.
Avoriaz, France – Great for families with ski in and ski out providing easy uncomplicated access to the slopes! Avoriaz has large ski school provision but do book in advance. There is a good range of runs, lots of blues, greens and reds to suit all levels. Avoriaz is also a great resort for those groups with non-skiers as there are walking trails, snowshoeing and Nordic walking all offered within the resort so your Après ski or afternoon off is well and truly taken care of.
When considering the skill level of your group you may also want to consider what other activities the resorts offer such as walking trails, gyms, snowshoeing, spa days or shopping. So, when picking your resort, do your research!
Hotel or Chalet?
Deciding what kind of accommodation, you would prefer is also a consideration. I would recommend a catered chalet for travel as a group as the chalet vibe can be much cosier and nicer when you return after a day on the slopes. Being able to chill in your matching family PJ’s and chat around a fire offers something a little more personal than a hotel. VIP Ski offer a good range of ski chalets across a variety of resorts.
However, if you do opt for the hotel option make sure you do your research as some resorts such as Avoriaz have a limited number of hotels. Whichever type of accommodation you go for I would always suggest that you go for ski in ski out. The ability to go down to basement get your boots on and hit the snow is a big plus and will make your days more enjoyable if you don’t have a 10-15min walk in ski boots with skis to the slopes.
2. Pack appropriately
Inappropriate packing is definitely something I have fallen foul of on occasion particularly if you are planning to ski in December-February when the weather can be very cold. Here are a few crucial items I would definitely pack for any ski trip:
– Merino Wool thermals.
– A good quality pair of gloves. Make sure that the gloves fit you properly and if you are prone to chilly hands then I recommend a liner glove to help keep in the warmth.
– High quality ski socks. I can honestly say that there is nothing more miserable than having cold feet at the top of a mountain whilst wearing rented boots! Aim for thick, warm and padded socks where you can. I get cold easily so often put a liner sock on first and this helps retain some of the heat.
– Ski jacket & Salopettes. Again, go for quality and find something which is going to keep you warm and is comfortable to move in. Don’t forget that whilst a tight fit might look cute you need a full range of movement.
– Ski boots. If you are looking to ski regularly then invest in your own boots. Find some that are comfortable and fit your foot well. Boots which are comfortable will make a big different to your enjoyment and your skiing. This is also 1 less thing to rent when you arrive.
– Thin layers. You can wear these over your thermals and they can easily be removed if you find yourself getting too warm throughout the day.
– Sun cream. This one is often forgotten about, however if you are skiing in March or April then the sun reflecting off that beautiful white snow can leave you with some impressive google burn!
– Helmet & hat. Helmets are a must have nowadays and can be rented at all resorts, however make sure that they are fitted properly and are secure. You may also want a thin hat for underneath your helmet. A hat is also perfect for keeping your ears warm wandering around the resort when the lifts shut.
- Health & Fitness
Skiing is fantastic fun but it does take a level of fitness and leg strength to really get the most out of your trip. It is always worth investing a little time prior to your trip to get ski fit. Even if you just go for a 20 minute walk each day or you decide to build in some weights to your normal gym routine it will pay on the slopes and you’ll more able to ski for longer and tackle some of those steeper routes.
If you have any prior injuries make sure they are properly checked out before you go. Skiing can be hard work on the knees and ankles so if you have old injuries which could flare up make sure you have packed a few support bandages just in case. Even a small niggle is worth supporting to prevent any greater injury.
Wherever you can aim to book as many aspects of your trip as far in advance as possible. Booking in advance will save you time when you arrive at the resort. The last thing you want to think about it having to spend your first precious morning organising lift passes, getting children enrolled in ski school and sorting out ski hire.
Using a company such as VIP SKI can ensure that all your lift passes are ready for you when you are met at the airport. VIP SKI will also help you pre-arrange ski school and ski hire so that your arrival and first few days are as simple and as stress free as they can be.
The main gateway to the alps is Geneva airport. For those of you who have flown into Geneva airport during peak ski season you will know that it can be chaotic and slightly stressful! I would suggest that a private transfer from the airport is the way forward. This will allow you and your group to leave the airport quickly and will ensure a more pleasant journey up the mountain rather than waiting for one of the large group buses.
I would recommend www.suntransfers.com from previous experience the vehicles are clean and the drivers are knowledgeable, friendly and most importantly on time! VIP Ski also provide airport transfers and are again efficient, friendly and a good option for group travel.
If you choose to rent a car be sure that you check out the snow conditions and are prepared to drive in potentially tricky conditions if the weather turns on your way up the mountain. If renting a car is your preferred choice check with your hotel or accommodation what the parking options are. Many hotels won’t have a designated car park however there is normally plenty of parking within the resort.
Ski boots, which ever way you look at it they will never be the most comfortable footwear! Whether you are renting boots or looking to buy your own make sure you always try them on with your ski socks. Thick ski socks will have an impact on the correct size of boot you should go for. Also like most shoes different brands and types will fit your foot differently so don’t just assume that the first one you try in your normal shoe size will be the best fit for you.
If you are considering making your ski trip a more regular event then I would recommend investing in your own ski boots. You can get some great deals and offers out of season and often the variety of boots you can buy compared to those for rent is considerably better.
- Route planning
Which ever resort you choose full piste maps can be found and downloaded online. It is worth spending some time before your trip looking at your options and planning out some of your time; this way you don’t have to stand at the top of the lift and work out which run you want to do or where you want to go! Route planning can be really valuable particularly if there are options to ski across to other resorts or there are different aspects of the resort such as back bowls or different sides of the mountain. Similarly route planning can also help you familiarise yourself with the runs available and can make navigating some of the trickier intersections where you have multiple routes crossing much easier.
- Forecast & weather warnings
Everyone has access to a weather app and it is worth keeping an eye on the changing conditions of the resort you are travelling to. Most hotel’s and accommodations will display the day’s weather and inform you of any warnings such as avalanche risk.
Take heed of warnings and make sure you follow all the signage at the lifts particularly if certain runs are closed. From experience injuries tend to occur when you decide to do ‘just one more’, the light is going and visibility can quickly disappear particularly if it decides to snow. Always finish the day on a high with a glÜhwein in hand!
- Ski school/ private lessons
Whether you are new to skiing or looking to refresh some of your skills, lessons can be a good place to start. Here are a few things to consider before you book your lessons:
– Does the ski school have a good reputation? What are the reviews like?
– Do the instructors speak your language? From experience it is really frustrating trying to learn a new skill when you are not sure what is being asked of you.
– How big are the groups?
– What qualifications do the instructors hold?
Also bear in mind that if you choose to go during school holidays know that ski schools will get pretty busy so book as far in advance as you can.
If you are skiing with a group and a few of you are on the same level then a private lesson can work well. I took a private family lesson in Vail, Colorado. I think I learnt more about improving my skiing in this half day lesson than I had in a 4-day ski school in Austria. For me; making mistakes around my family was a lot less stressful and as the instructors were fluent in English, I knew exactly what I was being told to do to improve.
- Enjoy & relax
Lastly remember to enjoy your ski trip! Often you will only book for 1 week so make the most of it, take each day at your pace and have fun.