Nicky Holford looks at new developments in skiing, as the industry looks to appeal to a range of budgets with more inclusive holidays.
More than a million Britons take a ski or snowboarding holiday each year and it remains an increasingly popular holiday choice. However, with ski season on the horizon and uncertainty in Europe, tour operators have had to be inventive. The fall in the pound has made the cost of a ski holiday more sensitive than ever, resulting in a move towards guaranteeing as much in the price as possible – from meals to lift tickets, lessons and equipment rental.
“The currency fluctuations have meant more consumers are wanting to lock-in the full cost of their holiday, says Paul Carter, CEO of Inghams. “Savvy skiers may be thinking ahead on a no-deal Brexit and potential parity. As a result pre-booked life pass sales are definitely up.”
Another area for cost-cutting is location. The popular top international resorts such as Zermatt in Switzerland, Lech in Austria and the Trois Vallées in France may have the largest ski areas, but they also have the costliest lift ticket prices and extras. Staying at some of the resorts that connect to these areas have given resorts such as St Martin de Belleville a new lease of life as more affordable options. Neilson, for example, has opened its first flagship hotel in the resort of Les Menuires.
Self-drive and self-catering holidays are also on the rise. Erna Low, which has been operating since 1932, has added a number of smaller, family-orientated resorts with shorter drive times from the UK. “Over the last few seasons we have been selling more self-drive holidays to the French Alps than anywhere else,” says Joanna Yellowlees-Bound, Erna Low CEO. Both Peak Retreats, which specialises in lesser-known resorts with access to great skiing, and Erna Low have added Arêches-Beaufort this year. “It’s a good value family resort with a shorter drive time from Calais,” says Yellowlees-Bound.
Further afield in Asia, skiing is booming. Ski Safari has added Skye Niseko, Japan’s newest five-star ski-in, ski-out hotel to its programme. Japan’s legendary powder puts it on the bucket list of die-hard skiers.
The countdown to the 2022 Winter Olympic Games being hosted in Beijing means that China is pulling out all the stops. New resorts are planned with government financing and the world’s largest indoor ski resort, Wintastar, is to be built in Shanghai. Club Med now has two resorts in China. Away from the heavy shadow of Brexit could it be a new destination for British ski specialists?
There’s no shortage of additions: from yoga and healthy holiday to dining in gondolas designed by Porsche, Himalayan salt saunas, new spas and five-star hotels, plus new and expanded ski areas. Over the next few pages we’ll take a look at them.
Schnapps, kaiserschmarrn (a dessert of shredded pancakes and lingonberry jam) and picturesque villages with onion-domed churches give Austria an old-world feel, but lifts, hotels and spas are being systematically updated, making it a perennial favourite for ski-goers. This season a new 10-person gondola opens in Hochgurgl, adding more variety to the Obergurgl-Hochgurgl ski area. The six-day lift pass also includes the 145km Sölden area, where some dramatic scenes from the James Bond film Spectre were shot. An increase in flights to Innsbruck make many of the Austrian Tirol ski resorts such as St Anton am Arlberg, Mayrhofen and Stubai even easier to reach.
Crystal Holidays introduces Serfaus, with its 198km ski area with connections to the ski areas of Fiss and Ladis, excellent for families and all standards of skiers. Kitzbühel has two new lifts, Mayrhofen has a new €18 million gondola and Ischgl is investing €25 million replacing the old Gampen chairlift and other ski infrastructure. Known for its legendary après ski (ski boots are banned after 8pm, with fines of up to €2,000) and celebrity concerts, Ischgl’s latest innovations are also on the slopes. A favourite is following one of the Smugglers Runs marked on the piste map with symbols to follow at strategic points. There’s gold (35km), silver (25km) and bronze (mostly blue slopes) that follow old smuggler routes between Paznaun and the Swiss border town of Samnaun.
The spectacular scenery and top-class resorts of the Canadian Rockies remain popular, despite the long journey and the exchange rate. As well as destination holidays in celebrated resorts such
as Whistler, Banff and Lake Louise, some tour operators are also offering two-centre options. Inghams, for example, offers Banff and Whistler, or Jasper and Banff. Ski Safari has diversified to combine different experiences such as whale watching with skiing in Whistler, or seeing the northern lights. Other two choice holidays include
Big Sky and Yellowstone National Park, Whistler and Hawaii. There’s a heli-skiing in the Arctic option, or a week’s cat skiing in Aspen.
A favourite with Wild West aficionados, the resort of Jackson Hole opens a brand new mountain sports school, Solitude Station, this winter. Located at the mid-station of the Sweetwater gondola, the school is for children aged seven and upwards, beginner adults and group lessons. There are also two cafeteria restaurants. If you have time and money to burn check out the Ikon Pass, which covers 36 destinations worldwide.
France, given its proximity to the UK and abundance of great food and wine, remains a favourite among Brits, and continues to develop its ski offering.
The small, intermediate resort of La Rosière is opening a new advanced ski area providing five new red pistes and an off-piste, freeride section in the bowl below Mont Valaisan. The new area is served by two fast chairlifts – the Moulin Express, which connects to the higher Mont Valaisan Express. The 6km of slopes that form the €15 million expansion include a long off-piste run to Le Vaz with the highest point at 2,800m. It is easily reached from the new Hyatt Centric in Les Eucherts.
Les Arcs celebrates its 50th anniversary with Club Med’s newest and largest venue, Les Arcs Panorama, while Peak Retreats adds 12 new properties for 2018/2019.
In Vaujany, which links to Alpe d’Huez, you can check out the new gondolas to Montfrais or have dinner in the new Enversin d’Oz gondola designed by Porsche. Meanwhile, Alpe d’Huez has opened a new five-star hotel, the Daria-I Nor.
Zermatt has a new cable car – the world’s highest – reaching 3,883m at the Klein Matterhorn. The Matterhorn glacier ride will whisk 2,000 skiers in 25 gondolas, four of which are encrusted with 280,000 Swarovski crystals. There’s even a glass floor which, three minutes into the journey, will clear to show dramatic views onto the glacier below.
Taste of Zermatt brings together 18 restaurants with 255 Gault Millau points and three Michelin stars together. The legendary Zermatt mountain restaurants can’t be beaten, although you may need a second mortgage to take full advantage.
The former sleepy town of Andermatt, with its formidable off-piste area, has virtually doubled in size thanks to a new ski area. It is linked via a two-stage gondola from the train station to the top of Nätschen, accessing the slopes of Oberalp and Sedrun. The new Nätschen-Sedrun has many intermediate pistes and a 90km ski area.
As one of the best-value destinations, where you can still get a coffee for €1 on the mountain, Ski-2 introduces two new hotels in Champoluc: the five star CampZero and four-star Hotel Charmant Petit Lac. There’s also a replaced main gondola. “Bookings are looking good for our 20th winter in Champoluc,” says Ski-2 co-owner Roger Walker. “Our prices include a full Monterosa lift pass and lunches at a choice of mountain restaurants, and we have our British ski school.”
Up the Aosta Valley, Courmayeur gets a new five-star hotel, Le Massif, opening in December, which will also have a slope-side restaurant.
The ultimate gourmet experience once again takes place in the South Tyrolean Dolomites at
Alta Badia, when 10 Michelin-star chefs participate in A Taste for Skiing, celebrating its 10th anniversary at the Altissimo in December. Sommelier on the slopes wine tasting takes place on dates between December 2018 and March 2019.