Skiing: There's till time to join the cold rush

This year's heavy snowfalls have seen Europe's ski season stretch well into April. And while West is best, resorts in the East are bending over backwards to accommodate British needs. Hamish McRae reports

It has been a great season for British skiers for that most obvious of reasons: both North America and the Alps have had great snow. The industry has also been helped by new destinations, such as Finland, Slovenia and Serbia. And it is not over - in the Rockies and the Alps, the snow base is ensuring one of the later seasons in recent history. A combination of superb conditions and tour operators working harder than ever to sell new resorts has offset a certain caution in people's spending habits.

Crystal's annual research report on the British ski market doesn't come out until summer; meanwhile, the evidence suggests that there has been a small increase in the numbers of skiers in the traditional countries - France, Italy, Switzerland and Austria - but the main growth is elsewhere.

The US has been boosted by additional direct flights to Denver, with something like a doubling of the number of British skiers in the Rockies. The snow has been brilliant, extending the season - we are off to Breckenridge this weekend - and issues such as tougher immigration requirements have done nothing to stem demand. Canada has seen a fall in UK visitors this year, despite a sharp recovery by Whistler. So the ease of getting to a resort does matter.

Other things that have helped the US have been a reasonable exchange rate, a big effort by the UK operators there and deals such as a free lift-pass offer at Copper Mountain. Tip for independent travellers: buy a ski-pass early and online, and you can often get a big reduction in the cost.

One of the most interesting things will be to see how much the transatlantic habit will grow. Once people have experienced the dry powder of the Rockies, some will lose interest in Europe. They will also want to test the more exotic North American ski-areas such as Montana's Big Sky. Should the dollar weaken against the euro, expect the transatlantic boom to gain even more legs.

In the Alpine resorts there has been a lot of work to increase the British market, particularly in France. The general impression, however, is that some tour operators are finding things pretty flat. But Nina MacMaster of Neilson reckons that although the figures appear a bit down, "Overall there may have actually been a slight increase year-on-year - possibly with many people taking second or even third ski trips but not full weekend-to-weekend breaks."

The real boom for ski operators has been in the "new" market. Neilson notes the success of Bansko in Bulgaria, where many Brits are buying apartments in anticipation of the country's entry into the EU. You have to realise that for a lot of people, skiing is not just about fun: it is also about investment... or maybe the investment is part of the fun. First Choice has had success with Bulgaria and also Serbia, where Kopaonik was featured on the BBC early in January and then sold out for the rest of the season.

Aside from value, there are three powerful reasons why Eastern European resorts will boom, maybe at the expense of the established Alpine ones. One is that Eastern Europe gets people into skiing in a low-risk way; a family will have a good holiday at a very reasonable price. Another is that these countries will work hard with the tour operators to adapt their product to British needs. Small, hitherto unknown places can get into a huge market in a way they could not hope to do without the ski-specialists. And finally British people want to go somewhere new, particularly if somebody else has done the legwork of organising it.

Another intriguing new area is Finland. Crystal has introduced three resorts in the Arctic Circle: Ruka, Pyha and Iso-Syote, offering activities from learning to drive a reindeer sledge, husky safaris and wilderness tours. The really hardy can have a day on an ice-breaker and swim among the ice floes, making the black-run rowdies look sissy. First Choice is planning more Lapland holidays, too.

But there are shadows hanging over the industry. One is the environment. The great snow this season may have pushed global warming to the back of people's minds, but no one wants to go on a holiday and feel they are damaging the planet. So I would expect much more of an effort, including projects such as carbon-offset payments.

The other shadow is danger. The Alps have had a dreadful season, with more than 50 people losing their lives in France alone. Now, it is true that most of these deaths have been among people skiing off-piste, and that part of the delight of skiing is its edge. To clamber down to the start of the Vallée Blanche at Chamonix is thrilling enough for most of us and a sight more frightening than any of the actual skiing on the run down. But the body count in the Alps this year is far worse than in a normal season; presumably, a combination of heavy snowfalls on an unusually unstable base, plus more thrill-seekers. It is glaringly obvious that the industry needs to cater for all levels of experience and skill within acceptable levels of safety.

Next year? At the top of my wish-list, aside from more attention to the environment and safety, would be for the industry to sell itself as the healthy option. The great thing about a skiing holiday is that, properly designed, it can cater for a wide variety of talent. This is supposed to be about fun. It also offers a cultural experience: how many people would go to Serbia on a regular trip? But the key thought is that this is one holiday at the end of which you are healthier than when you began - at least let's hope so.

Sport
premier leagueLive: All the latest news and scores from today's matches
News
politics
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker