Nicky Holford looks at all the latest developments in skiing and winter sports, as the sector looks to defy the Brexit storm clouds
With snow on the horizon more than a million skiers and snowboarders are searching for holidays options. The dark cloud of Brexit, together with the drop in the value of the pound and increased staffing costs caused by changes in EU employment laws, have given ski specialists a tough job to keep prices competitive. But innovation is the nature of the British ski holiday and this winter is no different. There are new hotels and chalets, new runs and lifts, ski passes with a supplement for après ski drinks and new destinations. Low cost and scheduled airlines offer all the top ski destinations from many UK airports connecting with buses to a choice of resorts. Switzerland even has a driverless shuttle.
Although the number of skiers has remained stagnant for the last two years ski companies have a high percentage of repeat business. This year sees an increase in self-catering holidays, particularly for families, many whom favour self-drive, while mainstream operators are adding more destinations outside Europe. Inghams, for example, have added the resorts of Hakuba and Nozawa Onsen, in Japan. Check ski package deals and what is inclusive. Many operators are offering child reductions, two for one lift passes and reduced ski hire. Mark Warner, for example, is offering half-price lift passes and a free €50 bar tab for adults in some chalets.
When choosing your resort consider a number of options. For families, a better option may not be a top international resort but somewhere smaller with convenient facilities. Beginners should look at somewhere where ski school and lifts are within easy walking distance. Non-skiers need to pick resorts with a wide choice of non-ski activities and spa facilities.
Many British skiers and snowboarders will head to France this winter because it provides the greatest variety of resorts and accommodation options. Experts might choose the snow sure resort of Val Thorens, families might opt for Meribel which this season has two new red runs, additional snow making facilities and a ski tunnel under the Roc de Fer piste. Meribel and Courchevel are joint hosts of the 2023 FIS World Ski Championships. €42 million is to be invested in the Trois Vallées resorts so expect a number of improvements.
Val d’Isère will have a new five-star hotel, Mademoiselle. Part of the Airelles Collection it will have rooms, suites and private apartments with butler and a Guerlain Spa.
In the Chamonix valley the Armancette Hotel, Chalets & Spa and Saint Nicolas de Véroce is a new boutique, chalet-style five-star hotel. A new gondola will replace the old Flégère cable car.
There might be less snow, but the Pyrenees resorts represent good value.
The new €10 million Skyvall gondola in the Louron Valley in the French Pyrenees will link the valley of Loudenvielle to the ski in/ski out resort of Peyragudes and will improve ski access for those staying in Loudenvielle and Peyresourde. The departure station is located north of Loudenvielle, near the superb Balnéa spa. For details, visit peyragudes.com
Revolutionising ski passes, Les Arcs is offering two passes that include extra activities such as spas and toboggan runs and a VIP priority option for lift queues. The two passes are the Premium pass, which will cost €69 a day or €359 for six days and the Essential Pass €61 and €310. For details, see lesarcsnet.com
Onion-domed churches and attractive villages have made Austria British skiers and snowboarders’ second favourite destination (or first, for Crystal). From St Anton am Arlberg to Alpbachtal Wildschönau, Austria has everything.
This winter sees some major changes. St Anton am Arlberg says goodbye to its classic, 40-year-old Schindlergrat triple chairlift. For the 2019/20 season it will be replaced by a state of the art ten-seater gondola. St Anton am Arlberg will be linked with St Christoph, Stuben, Lech, Zürs, Warth and Schröcken to form Austria’s largest linked ski area. The ‘Run of Fame’ from St Anton to Warth in Vorarlberg is 65km and possible for strong intermediates.
In Kaprun in SalzburgerLand a new tri-cable will access the glacier from the centre of town. This will radically change the skiing around Zell am See-Kaprun. The new gondola will go direct from the centre of Kaprun to the mountain station of the Kitzsteinhorn via the Maiskogel. The new Ski Alpin Card now includes skiing in Zell am See, Kitzsteinhorn Kaprun as well as in the Skicircus Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn.
Nothing beats Swiss efficiency or the charm of resorts such as Zermatt or Wengen with their snow-laden chalets and traffic-free streets. Unfortunately the Swiss franc exchange rate can be a deterrent, but look for all-inclusive prices that include lift passes as eating on and off the mountain can be expensive. Lovers of Switzerland who return every year there will note some engineering improvements this season.
One of the most impressive is the new 470 million Swiss francs, V-shaped cable car, which will start at Grindelwald and go to the Jungfraujoch railway station scheduled to open in December. It’s a replacement of the old Grindelwald–Männlichen gondolas built in 1978, which was the world’s longest gondola journeys, and will reduce travel time from 30 to 19 minutes. The new ten-person gondolas are part of a massive project that next year will see another new cable car, the Eiger Express, reach the Eiger Glacier station, which connects to the Jungfraujoch station the highest in Europe at 3,454 metres. Completion is planned for December 2020. See v-bahn.jungfrau.ch
Most Italian resorts are geared up for families and food. In resorts in the Aosta Valley such as Pila, Gressoney and Champoluc and Cervinia you will find your euros stretch much further.
Most Italians do not start skiing early and lunch is taken seriously. So, expect early morning slopes to yourself and good value on mountain dining. Ski-2 have been specialising in Champoluc holidays for more than 20 years and are experts in the Aosta region (ski2champoluc.com). Courmayeur, a favourite with the Milanese can be a little more expensive, but it now has the state-of-the-art revolving cable car known as the Skyway Monte Bianco, which whisks you up to Punta Helbronner at 3,462 metres with 360-degree views. It’s an extraordinary engineering feat worth experiencing whether you are a skier or not – you can even take your dog. Have lunch with Mont Blanc in full view in the floor-to-ceiling windows. From here skiers can ski the Vallée Blanche, one of the world’s most famous runs.
Best of the Balkans
Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia may not have the razzmatazz of some of the better known European resorts but the mountains are spectacular and their starting prices mean you can try skiing without a huge investment. Week-long holidays can start from £299 and include flights and hotel. In Bulgaria new hotels for this season include the four-star MPM Hotel Sport Bansko, a ski-in ski-out at one of the most popular resorts in Bansko. See balkanholidays.co.uk
For beginners these countries are an excellent way to experience skiing without breaking the bank. But there is no shortage of challenging intermediate and advanced pistes. There is also a diverse history as the region is a melting pot of Slavic, Ottoman, Persian and Greek influences. The capital of Bulgaria, Sofia, is at the foot of Vitosha mountain which dates to the fifth century. Or from the resort of Poiana Brasov in Romania try
a day trip to Translyvania to visit Dracula’s Bran Castle.