Ski 2015/16: Chalets, savings and smart tips for the season ahead
Ski is back with a bang, with bookings on the rise since summer. Here are Pól Ó Conghaile's hot tips for the season.
Mi Chalet, Su Chalet
The growth in inclusive chalet ski holidays is one of the biggest developments in recent years, and that's going up another gear. Highlife has specialised in this kind of holiday for some time, with Topflight expanding its French offerings for 2015/16 (Chamonix is new to the line-up). It's the perfect excuse for a group or family treat.
DIY or Package?
By now we're used to assembling our own holidays, but skiing is one getaway where it makes sense to book with a tour operator. The likes of Topflight, Crystal, Highlife and directski.com know the slopes, provide transfers, have pre-booked accommodation (both on and off-peak), and reps on site. They'll also advise on snow, runs and après-ski. Remember to check that your travel insurance includes winter sports, too - ski is usually an add-on.
Ski smart, save money
Skiing is a luxury holiday, no two ways about it. No matter how cheap the package, you still have to splash out some €300 a week on ski hire, lift passes and lessons - and that's before you've spent a cent on ski wear and après-ski.
You can save money by booking off-peak (mid-January is a partcular sweet spot) and avoiding the February mid-term holidays. As a rule of thumb, Austria, Andorra and Italy are cheaper than Switzerland and France. You can also save by booking accommodation in cheaper resorts that link into broader ski areas like Espace Killy or Paradiski in France, or the Alps in Kitzbuhel.
Find your ski legs
The Ski Club of Ireland in Dublin (skiclub.ie) and Glen Resource Centre in Cork (skicork.ie) offer sessions from €30pp. Sandyford's Ski Centre (skicentre.ie) has simulators and treadmill-style slopes. If you're a first-timer, borrow ski wear from friend, or hit the sales at Lidl and Aldi - but remember, boots will devour your baggage allowance.
What's new for Ski 2015/16?
The Alps may stand still, but the resorts that dot them, and the Irish tour operators that serve them, do anything but. This year sees Topflight re-launch its sister directski.com website with fresh attitude, as well as adding the snow-sure resort of Obertauern, just over 1.5 hours from Salzburg, to its Austria line-up. Crystal and Topflight will share charters from Cork to Salzburg, too.
Crystal already has a nifty app (the Crystal Ski Explorer) that allows friends to keep track of each other on the slopes, and this year it adds a Family Guide to the Mountain, with info on childcare, ski schools and the best family-friendly resorts, among other tips. There's a Q&A from a real-life mum in there, too.
Meanwhile, in the resorts, Austria's SkiWelt has installed what it says is the world's fastest chairlift (at six metres per second), and the brilliantly-named Obergurgl-Hochgurgl gets a spanking new gondola (while Mayrhofen replaces its queue-prone Penkenbahn).
In France, Les Deux Alpes is debuting its €10 million Jandri blue run - opening up a long and hopefully less crowded descent on blues and greens. In the iconic Solaise area directly above Val d'Isère, a €16 million redevelopment is also underway - a new beginners' area is already in place near the summit.
Deal #1: Andorra
As well as ski stalwarts like Topflight, Crystal, Highlife and directski.com, several other operators offer a limited number of packages, including lowcostholidays.ie, Budget Travel and Abbey Travel. The latter has packages in Pas de la Casa from €499pp, departing January 17 - a week that promises to be one of the cheapest of 2016 for ski.
Deal #2: France
Catered chalet breaks are catching on as ski recovers, and Topflight's brochure (topflight.ie) has prices in La Plagne starting from €857pp including flights, transfers and meals. My tip? Get together with family or a group, and book the whole chalet to yourselves. NB: All prices subject to availability.
Deal #3: Italy
Austria, France and Andorra are hugely popular with Irish skiers, but Italy is also worth a look for its good value, duty-free shopping and decent food. Crystal Ski (crystalski.ie) has Christmas departures (Dec 19) to the Dolomites from €445pp, or from €389pp if you wait until the holidays end on January 9. Prices start to rise again in February.