Stand by to slope off for a skiing bargain
Once the clocks go back next weekend, the crisp days of winter will be just a shiver away. It's also the time when smart skiers start checking their diaries and scouring the internet for early-booking incentives and the best deals on the pistes.
The good news is that the start of the new season falls around key weekend departure dates this year. Most resorts will open on either December 8 or 15, creating two good-value weeks before Christmas.
This period is usually the cheapest of the season and rarely sells out, so if you want to escape the festive frenzy for some mountain heaven, it's a great time to grab a bargain.
Prices spike again over Christmas and New Year but fall back once the penny-pinching days of January set in, providing another window for deal-seekers.
Some resorts are pricier than others -- find out how they compare on the 'Where to Ski and Snowboard 2013 Guide' (wtss.co.uk), which features a Resort Price Index (RPI) highlighting less expensive resorts.
In 2013, families seeking a mid-term escape to the snow will be travelling around February 8-20, the week when most Irish schools close for the holidays.
Although these dates clash with British half-term this year, most French schools will close from February 23 to March 2, meaning slopes will be less crowded.
Easter falls on March 31 next year, the earliest for five years. That's good news for families, too, as the likelihood of good snow conditions at this time of year is stronger.
Keep an eye out for 'ski bundle' packages such as the ones offered by Topflight, which include flights, hotel, transfers, lift pass and skis. Prices start at €499 for a week, but the offer ends on November 30.
Highlife has some early departures in December to the French resorts of Val d'Isere and Meribel. A week in a serviced chalet, including breakfasts, home-cooked meals on six evenings plus wine, and resort shuttles, starts at €660 per adult, excluding flights or ski packs.
Crystal Ski has some good early-booking incentives including free lift passes, tuition and equipment hire, but most are limited to weeks outside the school holidays.
Remember, if you're child-free, make sure to travel during that time.