Don’t overlook late-season skiing in high-altitude resorts. Lee Hayhurst reports from Val d’Isère
Each year, at about the time the populace of the UK decides the best way to mark Easter is to consume its own body weight in chocolate eggs, the European ski season ends.
Or so you might think. But you’d be advised to consider whether you’re missing out on some valuable late bookings for the Alps.
This year, Easter Sunday fell on April 5, almost a month before the ski lifts in popular high altitude resorts such as Val d’Isère stopped ferrying passengers up the slopes, and next year it’s even earlier, on March 27.
The Ski Club of Great Britain estimates there are one million active skiers – a figure comparable to the number of UK cruise goers – but two million who are lapsed.
This lapsed market can ski and, it is assumed, would like to again, but due to a combination of time, money and family commitments they have reluctantly hung up their ski boots.
So could the prospect of some good-value late-season spring skiing tempt them back into becoming lucrative repeat snow bookers?
Val for value
Inghams parent Hotelplan took its top UK agents and Travel Weekly to Val d’Isère at the end of April to sample skiing after the Easter crowds had melted away.
Hotelplan’s agency sales manager, Simon McIntyre, says it is Val d’Isère’s expansive skiing that drives business for Inghams and its sister brands Ski Total and family specialist Esprit.
And the late-season skier does not have to compromise with the conditions.
“There seems to be a view that the season is finished in March,” says McIntyre.
“But in Val the snow is guaranteed and there’s fantastic skiing until the first week in May. The conditions can be nicer and more accommodating and the resort tends not to be so busy.”
And that has to be a key selling point to any potential customer looking for an enjoyable ski experience, be they regular skiers, lapsed or first-timers.
Learning to ski, or rekindling one’s skills, is far more enjoyable when the sun’s shining and there are no queues for the lifts.
Admittedly, at this time of year snow levels may disappoint those who like their ski resorts to resemble a showstopper in marshmallow week in The Great British Bake Off.
Exposed south-facing escarpments were almost bereft of the white stuff and lower ski runs had to be topped up each night by the resort’s many artificial snow cannons.
But up on the higher ski fields accessible from Val d’Isère in the Espace Killy ski area, there was still ample covering for skiers of all abilities to put in a good full day’s shift.
This was particularly the case on the glacier of Le Grande Motte above neighbouring Tignes, where intermediate skiers like me would feel confident even on the challenging black runs.
By 3pm, what were rather crusty, well-bashed pistes at the start of the day had turned slightly Slush Puppy, but for early risers by then it’s time to consider your après-ski options and give those weary legs a rest.
It’s worth bearing in mind that snow conditions aren’t the only reason skiers leave the slopes. I’ve skied in neighbouring Tignes at New Year and can attest that a 3pm finish isn’t unusual due to what can be bone-chilling temperatures at that time of year.
And in Val d’Isère a leisurely end to the day’s skiing is more than rewarded by the resort’s legendary après-ski options, foremost among which has to be the original La Folie Douce.
In peak season this mountain-top outdoor ‘night club’ is difficult to get near as it cranks up the tunes for its daily table-top dancing, champagne-spraying two-hour extravaganza.
Visit in the spring and you’ll find it far more accessible, although that’s not a word I’d use to describe the prices if you want to frequent its VIP area.
However, bathed in the warm spring sunshine, La Folie was a euphoric way to bring a satisfying day on the slopes to a conclusion before – very carefully – skiing back to the chalet for aperitifs, canapés and a four-course dinner expertly cooked by our Ski Total chalet reps.
Plenty of other après options are available, including the new Cocorico Après Ski bar situated close to the bottom of the main lifts and the centre of town.
Here a lively band, and some even livelier customers, got the evening’s festivities started early.
Offering good skiing and a vibrant party atmosphere is what Val d’Isère is known for, particularly among Brits, and in late spring there’s a special end-of-term atmosphere among the hardworking seasonal ski staff.
And the option of a chalet booked through Inghams sister brand Ski Total – ours, the platinum-rated La Rocheure, could comfortably accommodate 12 adults in six en-suite rooms – is also potentially a great way of building a new-to-ski business.
Down the years the new-to-ski sector has been fed by regular skiers persuading friends to join them on trips, and chalets can be the key to pulling in these lucrative group bookings.
How to sell
Recommend occasional skiers book a guide for a morning’s refresher course. As someone who learnt in the days of long, straight skis, I discovered that techniques have changed.
“Ski like an eagle, not like a chicken,” our guide implored – the modern fat-ended carving skis require a much more crouched stance, skis apart, arms extended, as opposed to my perfectly parallel ‘grandad’ style.
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