Top 10 tips for ski season 2014/15
From beginners and improvers to piste artists and powder hounds, Pól Ó Conghaile has all the tips, deals and inspiration you need for a winter getaway.
Pick your moment
School holidays are always the busiest ski periods, so expect crowded slopes and premium prices if you want to ski over Christmas, New Year or the 2015 mid-term (February 16-20).
Depart February 15, for example, and Ski NcNeill (skimcneill.com) has flights with seven nights in Andorra from €1,025pp. Travel the week before, and the price plummets to €596pp.
As a rule of thumb, the cheapest weeks to ski are mid-January, when festive hangovers kick in, and mid-March.
Crystal Ski (crystalski.ie) is making hi-tech waves this winter. Customers get a pre-departure video call from the resort team to discuss everything from childcare to catering, and they'll also send up-to-date snow conditions to mobile devices.
Version 2.0 of the Crystal Ski Explorer App is available too, displaying the latest information about resorts, snow and ski routes.
Skiers can even use it to locate friends and family on the mountain.
In a sign of recovering times, Topflight (topflight.ie) has launched its largest ever ski brochure, expecting market growth of up to 10% this year.
Austria, Andorra, France and Norway all feature, as you'd expect from Topflight, but the big news is the addition of up to 50 chalets in the French resorts of Val d'Isere, Meribel, La Rosiere, Les Arcs, La Tania and La Plagne.
The chalets are fully catered, with childcare, crèches and family services in every resort. In La Plagne, for example, Chalet Laponia starts from €849pp in early January, and Chalet Marine from €939pp over Christmas.
The Italian Job
"High altitude, low prices" is the mantra in Livigno. This classic Italian ski resort combines high slopes (topping out at 2,500m), duty-free shopping and a decent choice of beginner runs and kids' facilities among 115km of pistes, making it attractive to families too. Nightlife is lively, as are the Christmas markets (not to mention the pizza and pasta). Topflight and Crystal Ski have packages from around €590pp. For more information, see livigno.eu.
Magic in Meribel
The French Alpine resort of Meribel is ringing the changes this year, with a high-speed Loze Express replacing its old chairlift (whisking you to the Col de la Loze in just six minutes), an enlarged Ski Cool area and two new discovery trails through the Altiport forest. Meribel is also set to host the finals of the Alpine Skiing World Cup (March 18 to 22)... you can ski the blue Roc de Fer piste before the event. For more on Meribel, turn to pages 34 and 35.
Congratulations to the Ski Club of Ireland (skiclub.ie) in Kilternan, which celebrates its 50th birthday this year. Practice sessions cost from €30/€20pp including ski/board, boot and pole rental, and classes are available too… perfect for getting your ski legs back before a trip.
Christmas on the slopes
Austria is one of the best all-rounders on offer - with resorts such as St Wolfgang and Bad Gastein a relatively short transfer from Salzburg, where non-skiers can escape to shop or take in a Mozart concert. Topflight (topflight.ie) has Christmas (Dec 20-27) packages in Soll from €519pp, while Abbey Travel (abbeytravel.ie) has flights plus seven nights departing March 14 from €499pp.
Grab a group discount
One sure-fire way to save money on a ski holiday is by travelling as a group, with operators not only offering discounts, but add-ons like free lift passes for group members.
Cork's J Barter Travel (travelnet.ie) has a group ski offer to Bardonecchia in Italy, for example, including flights and 4-star accommodation from €502pp. The trip departs January 11, and there's two-for-one ski hire, too.
Watch the hidden extras
Skiing is a luxury holiday, with lift passes, equipment hire and ski lessons adding substantially to the cost of a package. Budget at least €300pp for add-ons and remember Austria, Andorra and Italy tend to be cheaper than Switzerland and France for families.
Crystal Ski (crystalski.ie) also has a new Ski Plus offer this year, bundling flights, transfers, accommodation and ski/board hire for off-peak holidays, with savings of up to €90. Book before November 30.
Topflight (topflight.ie) has tailormade US ski holidays starting from €749pps (it's reintroducing Canada to its brochures, too). Meanwhile, Trailfinders (trailfinders.ie) has seven nights skiing in Jasper, Canada, from €1,499pp, including flights, transfers, accommodation at the 4+ star Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge and a limited Marmot Basin ski pass. It departs January 14.
For more ski tips, deals and inspiration, see independent.ie/travel