Despite an overall decline in the ski market, the numbers attending snow festivals are on the up, along with the number of festivals on offer – in all shapes, sizes and destinations. These have come a long way over the past decade and now they're as big a feature in the ski calendar as many big sporting events. They generally follow a familiar structure of on-snow fun during the day, followed by partying all night. Unsurprisingly, a youthful crowd is the main market.
Laax in Switzerland hosts The Brits (20-27 March, the-brits.com) the longest-running event, now in its 21st year. Organiser Spencer Claridge says: "The Brits sees people shredding all day long and partying all week. You come back with legs of steel." But if you're expecting something basic, think again. The festivals are professionally managed affairs with corporate sponsors – and they're keen to sell full package holidays.
"The Brits are important for us because it underlines our positioning as Europe's leading freestyle resort," says Britta Maier, spokeswoman for the event. "In the UK market the Brits have done a great deal to increase Laax's reputation, with growing visitor numbers."
Festival-goers also benefit from the buying power of the organisers. With The Brits a package of accommodation, lift pass and entry to all festival events costs from £255. However a seven-day Laax lift pass alone costs 359 Swiss francs – around £230 – so visitors essentially get the rest for about £25.
Another big player is Snowbombing (4-9 April, snowbombing.com), which takes place in Austria's Mayrhofen. The 2011 event will mark its 12th year, featuring headliners The Prodigy. To appease the sponsors, the festival now prefers to be referred to as "Snowbombing Driven By Volvo". Good luck with that.
The event takes some running, as organiser Gareth Cooper explains: "It's not easy running a festival abroad for thousands of people and organising their holidays too," he says. "We have a crew of 150 with us and bring at least five trucks of sound, light and other production." He started his festival as a way to get his tour operation noticed, and expects the 5,000 places for 2011's event to sell out well in advance. "The first Snowbombing had 10 DJs to play three parties. We now have over 150 acts playing at 10 venues each night."
It worked well for Mr Cooper's business, and it works for Mayrhofen too, because it takes place in the low season.
The wider ski travel business benefits from festivals, too. Organisers of one of the newest – The Big Snow Festival in Arinsal, Andorra (13-20 March, thebigsnowfestival.com), which launched last year – reveal that 80 per cent of festival-goers had never been on a ski holiday before. "These festivals definitely add a positive young vibe to the skiing scene," confirms Vanessa Fisher of the Ski Club of Great Britain.
The more laidback Little World Festival in Alpine resort Méribel (12-19 March, littleworldfestival.com) is led by "local" band The Feeling, who had a residency at the resort of La Tania before making it big. Resorts are laying on music-themed events for all-comers, in an attempt to emulate Ischgl in Austria, which brings tens of thousands of fans at the start and end of its long season with big-name shows. There are also niche weeks, such as the Altitude Comedy Festival, launched by Marcus Brigstocke and partners, and currently deciding its venue for 2011, with a move from France to Austria confirmed.
So there's no shortage of choice, but there are some differences in tone between each festival. The Brits, for example, represents the culmination of the freestyle ski and board season, so boasts some serious professional rivalry along with all the partying. This year Olympian Ben Kilner and X-Games snowboarding gold medallist Jenny Jones will be in competition.
According to The Big Snow Festival organiser Ian Kaye, that festival also aims for a simple approach: "The whole ethos behind the event is about having fun," he says, "This is not for people who like to take themselves seriously or who want to come to improve their street cred. This is for people who want to drink, dance and party."
What most of the British-run festivals do have in common is that they all take place within the final month of the season. "Snow resort festivals are staged at the end of the season," Kaye says, "There's gorgeous sunshine but still good snow and fine weather to enjoy music on the mountainside or in the village. It's perfect."