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Back on track: a guide to this winter's ski season

After some disappointing seasons, resorts have made preparations, travel restrictions are easing and skiers, as ever, are eager for action.

By Nick Dalton
Published 9 Jan 2022, 15:00 GMT
The popularity of catered and self-catered accommodation is up. And if you’re concerned about being able ...

The popularity of catered and self-catered accommodation is up. And if you’re concerned about being able to keep your distance on ski lifts, in general, resorts have trimmed capacity on chairs or in gondola cabins.

Photograph by Getty Images

“Skiers are people who tend to be more gung-ho, as they’re happy to throw themselves off mountains,” says Rupert Longsdon, founder of the upmarket Oxford Ski Company. The company’s bookings are up on recent seasons. This initially involved a swing towards chalets — including a new offering with live-in staff who become part of your bubble during your stay — but, lately, hotel bookings have also come back strongly.

Longsdon concedes he deals with travellers less likely to have been affected financially by the pandemic. “People have been looking to go a little bit longer, or even go twice.” He feels the travel demographic likely to be most affected is the new-to-ski crowd, perhaps nervy about the trip anyway, further dissuaded by the crisis.

Chalet rules

British operator Ski France has seen a positive response to its new Catered Contactless Chalets. “They have claimed almost 60% of new bookings, whereas chalets were previously only a quarter of our winter sales,” says co-owner Joanna Laforge. “It certainly seems that guests appreciate their own space and not having to interact with strangers.”

The chalets come stocked with food to prepare provided recipes, and there are also some delicatessen dishes and plenty of wine and beer, with staff popping in mid-week to clean and re-stock.

Pierre & Vacances, the French apartment giant, reports increased booking in resorts traditionally known for chalet holidays, such as Val d’Isère, due to fewer chalets overall on the market this year. It’s finding that British families are seeking more control over their holiday, with self-catering giving them the comfort of a family bubble.

Small is beautiful

Chalet specialist VIP Ski says interest in small chalets (four, six and eight people) is up by 20% on the previous season, and that more guests are looking to drive to the Alps, avoiding airports and transfer buses. “There’s a definite school of thought that limiting indoor interaction by driving out to stay in your own chalet, eating lunch on terraces — a joy in itself — and navigating the pistes by chairlift is the best way to return to the skiing that we all love,” says sales director Gareth Crump.

Up, up and away

Joe Ponte, CEO of major operator Inghams, says, “Our ski bookings — not even including Lapland, which is our most popular destination for the coming season — are around 15% up. We have seen a high number of re-bookers and new bookings.

“We’re acutely aware that our customers really value having the confidence to book safe in the knowledge that if we have to cancel, they can get a refund or simply move their holiday to later date. Combined with our reduced programmes, this does mean peak dates and popular hotels and chalets have limited availability, so people should avoid hanging about and book.

“With vaccine passports and the fact that quarantining will no longer be required, we’re more optimistic than ever about this winter. That said, we’re preparing for any safety measures, existing or new, that may be in place. Things are constantly evolving and so are we — and we encourage people to take out Covid-19 travel insurance.”

Self-catering vs half-board

Crystal, Britain’s largest ski company, says that, with so many skiers having been denied their trip for two seasons, bookings are well ahead of what would be expected. Despite this, there are great-value holidays and good availability. The company says it worked hard to not increase prices and will continue to do so into the season. Half-board hotels are still the bestseller, but it has seen the largest increase in self-catering, with people abandoning chalets for big apartments.

NEED TO KNOW: The popularity of catered and self-catered accommodation is up (steering clear of restaurants gives the opportunity to socially distance). And if you’re concerned about being able to keep your distance on ski lifts, in general, resorts have trimmed capacity on chairs or in gondola cabins.

Published in Winter Sports, sold with the December 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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