Feel that? It’s the seasons changing. The kids are settled back at school, the nights are drawing in and it’s time for you to start planning your escape to the slopes.
Savvy skiers and snowboarders can gain a lot from forward thinking and, with just two months left until destinations start to lift their shutters, operators are reporting an “unprecedented number of early bookings.”
“​​At the beginning of September we are already more than two-thirds full for the forthcoming season and more than 80 per cent sold on most high-season dates,” said Andy Sturt, owner of VIP Ski. “That’s pretty amazing by historical standards.”
A big driver of early booking is the availability of flights. But alarm bells are already ringing about increasing prices. “It’s difficult to choose just one reason to book your ski holiday early, but the price of flights could have the biggest impact,” warns Angus Kinloch from SkiLine. At the time of writing, a search for return easyJet flights from Gatwick to Geneva during February half term delivered prices up to £1,198 per person, excluding baggage.
Those flying from regional airports could be stung too. “Tour operators always adjust flight supplements, especially on peak dates. Traditionally this might be an additional £39 per person from Birmingham or £100 for Scottish airports,” said Kinloch – the former now sees a supplement of £449 for a February half-term flight. Skiers are also beginning to book rail tickets, following news that the ski train is back, albeit under another new guise.
Chalets continue to be a hot topic of conversation – and far fewer packages now offer the traditional elements Britons know and love (breakfast, dinner and afternoon tea, a chalet host, flights and transfers). Demand therefore continues to outstrip supply. “Chalets are more niche than ever – and their popularity, new regulations and additional costs have pushed up prices,” says Nick Morgan, director of specialists Le Ski. “We already have 60 per cent of our programme sold for this winter.”
Even those for whom money is no object can benefit from getting out the gates early. “With every luxury chalet property being totally unique, when it’s gone, it’s gone. Being first matters, and clients who embrace this sense of urgency will reap the rewards,” said Rupert Longsdon, from the Oxford Ski Company
And, if you really want to get ahead, Crystal Ski Holidays has already launched its packages for the 2024/25 season – the earliest many experts have seen.
Now, with a refreshed sense of urgency, is the time to plan your winter – here are the tricks to make sure you’re ahead of the crowd and the mistakes to avoid along the way.
1. Watch the weather
All eyes continue to be on changing weather patterns and what it means for the future of skiing. “Altitude is everything,” said Sturt from VIP Ski, who now only offers breaks in snow-sure resorts above 1,800m.
When it comes to ensuring pistes are open, “resorts have got much more creative,” explains snow reporter Patrick Thorne. “They pile it [snow] up when it’s cold, push it down the mountain when it’s too warm down low, even stockpile it under cover from the previous season. The resulting white ribbons on green and brown valley sides aren’t the most attractive, but we can keep skiing.” If low temperatures allow, advances in snowmaking offer insurance for both early- and late-season trips.
If in doubt over Europe, opt for a powder haven like Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido or the snow-sure resorts of Scandinavia and British Columbia in Canada, which benefit from different weather patterns.
2. Discover a new resort
Lightning-quick lifts are making less-frequented villages clever bases for some brilliant ski resorts. In the heart of the Maurienne Valley, it’s a 15-minute ride from Orelle to the Cime Caron (2,300m), a jumping-off point into the world’s biggest lift-linked ski area, Les 3 Vallées. This summer the new Matterhorn Alpine Crossing has opened a faster link between the Swiss resort of Zermatt with its more affordable Italian neighbour Cervinia – via a 1.6km (about a mile) mast-free stretch skimming above Theodul Glacier in a scant four minutes. For easy access and a quiet retreat from Verbier, consider a base in Le Châble: its lift station is the first train-gondola link in Switzerland, providing cable-car connection from dawn until midnight.
Or opt for an underrated corner completely devoid of crowds, advises Babsi Lapwood, from the Mountain Trade Network: “A top tip when booking a ski holiday is to be more flexible with destinations and look at alternative resorts, especially for families where prices are not affected by UK holidays.” Beyond the big names of the Alps it’s possible to uncover unique appeal, whether it be budget-friendly prices in Andorra, gourmet food in Norway or impressively reliable snow cover in Sweden.
Such is the demand for off-the-beaten-track skiing, Crystal Ski Holidays has launched another season of trips to Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Dinaric Alps, just south of the country’s capital city Sarajevo.
3. Don’t delay – especially if you want a chalet, US trip or to ski with the kids
If you’re certain that you want to ski in 2024, it has never been more important to lock your price as soon as possible, choosing a bonded operator that provides the security we’ve come to appreciate. It is especially important if you’re passionate about when and where you want to travel – and imperative if you want to stay in a chalet.
According to Seasonal Businesses in Travel there’s been a 56 per cent reduction in catered chalets across Europe since Brexit. “We are 27 per cent up and availability is getting tight,” said Dan Fox, from short-break specialists SkiWeekends and Flexiski. “If you have a group or want a whole chalet, don’t wait or you will be disappointed this winter.”
The same goes for trips to Canada and the USA, where prices on lift passes skyrocket as the season approaches and long-haul flights creep up in cost – autumn is often when operators offer enticing discounts for skiing across the pond.
And don’t forget to look at the school calendar in advance. “The main UK holiday dates clash with Paris next season, and this hasn’t happened for a few years,” explains Kinloch. “At Easter, when prices are typically lower than half term, demand is already up 43 per cent compared to 2023.”
The demand extends beyond just flights and accommodation too. Sarah Fox from Flexiski told The Telegraph: “We have just found out that the British ski school in Avoriaz has now sold out of mid-week lessons during February half term – already school holiday bookers needing lessons are too late.”
4. Reconsider self-catering – or all-inclusive
There’s no need to stress over crowded restaurants – or cooking – when you check into the new style of self-catering apartments – sleek and, compared to the old shoeboxes, positively supersized.
Rather than cooking, many families now tuck into a multi-course dinners from the likes of Huski, purveyors of freshly cooked food and ready to pop in the oven after a day on the slopes. For modern DIY luxury, Consensio’s apartments come with housekeeping, on-call concierge, mid-week towel change, lift pass and ski-hire delivery, and Perrier Jouet on ice. Peak Retreats continues to develop a range of high-end self-catered properties, which includes ski-in/ski-out chalets and luxury apartments with spa facilities, all packaged with budget-friendly self-drive or rail travel options.
But this doesn’t mean you have much time to spare. “There is an increasing shortage of beds available in the French Alps for holiday rental,” said Cathy Rankin, sales director, at Pierre & Vacances. “This is a result of many leaseback owners having reached the end of their mortgage and no longer renting their property for season-long tourism.” Post-pandemic delays on new developments are also squeezing supply.
If you don’t fancy cooking at all, it might be time to reconsider going all-inclusive. “For skiers watching their budget, the biggest trend in booking continues to be the rise of all-inclusive ski holidays,” said Richard Sincalir, from sno.co.uk. “The best offers are the hotels with full board, free bar and lift pass included.”
All-inclusive leader Club Med will open another round of new properties on the slopes this season, including in Japan, to cater for this changing taste. At the other end of the price spectrum is Action Outdoors, which runs packages including meals, accommodation, equipment, lessons and lift passes, for those on tighter budgets.
5. Travel by rail instead of air
Following a recent announcement from Eurostar, British skiers now have the opportunity to travel to resorts in France on a service which will run via Lille, with a simple change. Unlike previously, tickets are bookable independently or through package operators like TravelSki and Inghams. The latter, as part of a wider commitment to halve its carbon emissions by 2030, has also launched rail packages to resorts in Italy, Austria and Switzerland.
Rail passengers opting for an indirect route to the Alps can now also benefit from special discounts in resorts – Montagne Verte, a non-profit association founded and funded by the community of Morzine, rewards those with proof of purchase of a train ticket with discounts on lift passes, accommodation and eating out. Operators such as AliKats are also offering incentives, including accommodation discounts, for those travelling by train.