Going downhill? The ski industry hopes for growth / Reuters


Last season saw the fourth successive decline in the numbers of Brits heading to the ski slopes. Overall, numbers are down by more than a quarter since the economic crash, according to annual surveys by the UK's biggest operator Crystal and the non-profit Ski Club of Great Britain.

However, both also agree that last year's fall in numbers – less than 1 per cent – could be the bottoming out of the market. So will this winter see a return to growth?

Thus far, the omens are good. None of the issues blamed for declines over recent seasons (Christmas and New Year's Day clashing with change-over day, Easter falling too late, the wrong kind of French school holidays) seem to be an issue. The pound is also riding higher against the euro than last winter, bringing in-resort costs down.In contrast to the warm autumn that set nerves on edge last year, there have been huge snowfalls in the Alps and western Canada is again off to a good start.

"Verbier has had a phenomenal start to the season with more than a metre of snow falling in just a few days. The conditions are excellent, the best I have seen in five years," says Warren Smith, a professional free skier and ski instructor.

This is translating into bookings. "With such excellent early-season conditions, daily late sales for departure dates over Christmas and January have doubled," says Hugh Walton, executive director at Inghams (01483 791111; inghams.co.uk).

Nicole Eves of Peak Retreats (0844 576170; peakretreats.com) agrees: "New Year sold out very quickly, Christmas is up on last year and February half-term is extremely strong. We are expecting far fewer late deals."

In the longer term, the future of winter sports holidays hangs in the balance. According to figures from Crystal (0871 231 2256; crystalski.co.uk), the number of children signing up for school ski trips (the life blood of the future ski market) dropped to 117,700 last winter, the lowest for 21 years. School ski trips are increasingly competing with trips to Asia and Africa which often involve fundraising to cover costs and help good causes.

More than 300 smaller ski areas have closed since 2000, not so much because of climate change, but more a lack of interest from customers who prefer larger resorts.

On the upside, more and more of us can get a first taste of winter sports at indoor centres. This winter, provided those Icelandic volcanoes keep calm, there's no surprise royal wedding, or another VAT increase, we should be OK. So long as it keeps snowing.