“It’s snowing like billy-o,” reported one happy Telegraph reader on holiday this week in La Plagne. And, having got off to a great start with big falls in December – interspersed, it has to be said, with plenty of blue days – more heavy snow and cold temperatures have set this winter up as a classic in the Alps. As our snow specialist Patrick Thorne says: “These are some of the best January conditions in years.”
If that sounds tempting, and you haven’t yet booked, it’s time to get organised. All operators are reporting strong demand – chalet specialist Le Ski says it is already more than 80 per cent booked for the whole winter. There are only a couple more weeks before the February peak kicks in, and then an early Easter means that there are fewer quiet weeks than usual in March. Here are the key things to consider.
It’s a pretty rosy picture across much of the skiing world, thanks to snowfalls and cold temperatures in the last week. The French Alps – especially Chamonix, Flaine and the Tarentaise valley resorts (including La Plagne, Les Arc and Les Trois Vallées) – are under a heavy blanket.
In Austria, St Anton and the Arlberg region have the best conditions; St Moritz in Switzerland has a base more than 150cm (4ft 11in) deep after recent snow; and there are good conditions right across Scandinavia. Italy had a thinner time of it in December, but things have now improved all round – check individual resorts before booking or our latest snow report. In the Rockies, after a dry start, conditions are looking better with the arrival of huge storms – check specific resorts if you’re chasing the powder.
For those travelling without school-age children, there are two key sweet spots – departures up to the weekend of Feb 3 and 4, which have the added advantage that you know the snow will be good, and then the two weeks between March 9 and 23.
Half term, and to some extent Easter, complicate the rest of the calendar, putting pressure on flights and accommodation, and vastly increasing the numbers on the slopes.
In the UK, many schools break up for half term on Friday Feb 9. You can see the effect on the easyJet website – a return fare to Geneva from February 10 to 17, with hold luggage, is now peaking at £1,200 – completely infeasible for most of us. Some education authorities have set Feb 16 instead, and finding flights and packages is easier for that weekend (Crystal Ski still has some availability that week). That easyJet fare also drops to £300. But for both weeks, pressure on accommodation is intense, because of the annual French holiday system, which rotates the dates in different regions.
This year Paris schools break up from Feb 10 to 26, though there will still be plenty of French kids on the slopes until March 10, because other regions then follow Paris. In Austria, the big week starts on Feb 3 (for Vienna and Vorarlberg), but all schools will have gone back by the end of February.
Easter skiing is less popular with the French, Austrians and Italians, so the impact on the resorts is lower, but it makes a big difference to the cost of flights and packages from the UK. Most state schools break up on March 28 and airfares over the Easter weekend are already looking prohibitive. Private schools, which break up on March 22, will have the advantage.
The general overview is one thing, availability with different operators is more variable – it all depends on what flights and other travel options they offer, and on the demand in individual resorts.
Among the chalet specialists, Purple Ski has some availability for Jan 28 and Feb 4 in Méribel and Val d’Isere. The specialist agent Ski Solutions, which deals with a broad selection of operators, picks out March 9 and 16 as the best weeks for availability overall.
So, your best bet is either to act spontaneously and grab a deal now, or wait till March and hope for a cold, snowy February.
10 late discounts for spontaneous skiers
At the top end of the chalet market, Purple Ski is discounting Chalet La Varappe in Méribel for departures on Jan 28 from €25,810 (£22,129) to €23,229 (£19,914). It sleeps 10 and the price is for the whole chalet including meals and drinks. Flights and transfers are extra.
Inghams is offering a £440 per person discount for holidays to The Moss hotel in Obergurgl, Austria, for departures on Jan 27. The reduced price is now £1,083, including half board and flights from Birmingham (other airports also available).
Morzine self-catering chalet specialist Elevation Alps has the following discounts: Chalet L’Anton sleeping 13, reduced from €8,100 (£6,944) to €7,100 (£6,087) for Jan 27 arrivals, and Chalet Reve, sleeping six, down from €4,000 (£3,430) to €3,200 (£2,744) for Feb 17 arrivals. Flights and transfers not included.
Peak Retreats is offering a 10 per cent discount on apartments in the self-catering Alhena residence in Flaine for departures on March 9 and 16. Before the discount, a one-bedroom apartment (sleeping up to four) costs £2,035 for the March 16 week and £2,332 for the March 9 week. Includes Eurotunnel crossing for one car.
Ski World is discounting stays at the shared Chalet Arnaud in Les Arcs (sleeps six). It now costs £1,069, down from £1,439, for chalet board for departures on Feb 3, including Heathrow-Grenoble flights.
Stays at Club Med’s residence in Pragelato Sestriere in Italy are on offer for departures on Jan 28. The price for a Superior Room with a balcony, all-inclusive, including flights from London, is down from £4,119 to £3,769 – this is the total for two people.
Ski Line is discounting Chalet Chez Bugi, a catered chalet sleeping 12 in St Martin de Belleville (for access to Les Trois Vallées). It now costs £1,517, down from £2,333, for a week from Feb 4, based on full occupancy and excluding travel.
Prices are per person based on two sharing a room for seven nights unless stated otherwise. They are subject to availability and can change at short notice.