French skiing destinations within driving distance

Sarah Loughlin picks her top three resorts to drive to from Jersey

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Time to hit the piste!

Get Me Outta Here! The Ski Edition.

Sarah Loughlin hunts down the best travel deals for ski holidays this winter.

After a very green start to the winter the snow is here! Just as you were beginning to think that the age old vacation problem of ‘sun or snow’ was going to be answered for you by the unseasonable lack of the latter ingredient…. its only gone and dumped it down! Oh well, back to the drawing board.

Like many other people, starting at an early age meant skiing has always been a big part of my life. It’s not just the sport itself but the atmosphere and the people it attracts that keep you going back year after year. There’s nothing like sitting down at dinner to stuff your face full of cheese and chatting to everyone about their day up the hill. But saying that, every year around this time, normally on a chilly walk to work, I start to crave a beach day in the sunshine – just me and a good book!

If you still can’t decide whether to don your bikini or your snowboard, maybe these cheeky ski deals will help you out!

A Weekend:

Three nights in Avoriaz, France – Thursday 26th March-Sunday 29th March £267.26

This trip perfect is for you indecisive folk; can’t decide between sun and snow? Do Both! Thursday afternoon flights from Gatwick mean you only need one and a half days holiday to enjoy two full days of skiing! Plenty of holiday left for that dose of mid-winter sun!

Fly from London Gatwick to Geneva with Swissair for £64 per person:

Avoriaz is only about an hour and a half from Geneva. This means you can be up the mountain by 10ish to get an early night and awake refreshed for the first lift on Friday morning, or be there in time to catch a few drinks at aprés… which ever takes your fancy. There are quite a few transfer options around of varying reliability, you can in theory get a return transfer for about €50 but if you are only there for a few days best to pick a company with a good reputation. I traveled with Ski- Lifts, who offer a return shared minibus transfer for £71.76 per person. They were efficient, friendly, and after a short wait for the other passengers on my bus we hopped on board and were up the mountain in no time. I would love to tell you about the amazing scenic views on the way up the valley – but I fell promptly asleep before we left the car park!

AirBnB offers an Apartment in the center of town that sleeps up to six for £263; which works out as £131.50 per person based on two people sharing. One of the great things about Avoriaz is that they have no cars in resort, so pretty much everywhere is ski in ski out. All the roads around town are pisted into slopes and are dotted with skiers, pedestrians and the occasional piste-basher; the only thing you have to watch out for are the horse drawn sleds!

You can pre-order your lift pass online before you go to make the most of your time on the mountain. All you have to do is order a re-loadable Portes du Soleil card and then charge it with a two day lift pass which costs €93 for the area pass (+€3 for the card).

Eating: With only a few days up the hill its going to be hard to fit in all the essential mountain grub! So here are my faves; if you like omelet try La Grenouille du Marais, where they come served in huge frying pans straight to your table! If you don’t want to stop for too long grab a quick burger from Changabang, super tasty, but sometimes there is a bit of a queue. Or if you fancy somewhere a bit quirky be sure to check out Chez BaBeth a cosy chalet style restaurant choc-full of fur throws and alpine themed decor, they even have a bit of aprés on the terrace in the afternoon!

Skiing:  Avoriaz is a huge ski area, spreading out into the Portes du Soleil. There is something for everyone, long gentle blues, parks and half pipes, and a lot of off piste. Including the famous ‘Swiss Wall’ if you fancy a challenge!

Aprés: When you are all skied out head to Globe Trotters for a few chilled out beers on the terrace, and if you fancy some music afterwards it’s a short stumble to Shooters who have a live band from 5-7pm.

A March week:

Seven nights in Kitzbühel, Austria – Saturday 21st March – Saturday £379pp

When looking for a week’s ski holiday I always aim to get a flight, transfer and accommodation package for roughly £350. Depending on the time of year you want to go you can normally find a nice place to stay in a good resort for that price. You can get them much cheaper but bear in mind, you get what you pay for. That self catering deal for £199 might look appealing, but you will be four to a room in bunk-beds on a corridor full of students vomiting in their own shoes.

This deal with Crystal Ski to Chalet Karlberger, in Kitzbühel is great value; the package includes flights from Manchester, transfers and accommodation with chalet board which includes breakfast, afternoon tea and three course dinner with wine. Gatwick flights available for £429 per person.

On the chalet staff night off head to Sigi’s for one of their famous burger’s and beer or two. This family run sports bar is part of the Hotel Jagerwirt, which has beautifully decorated alpine inspired lobby. The staff are all super friendly and are sure to show you a good time. If you like spicy food try the ‘Fire Burger’, but be warned it has more than a little kick to it!

A February week:

Seven nights in Val Thorens, France – Saturday 7th February – Saturday 14th February £561pp

Having said that £350 is a reasonable price to pay for your package, I would definitely fork out the extra money for this deal! Val Thorens is the place to be at the minute with 50-60cm of snow predicted towards the end of this week! Travel with Skiworld from London Gatwick to the Chalet Verseau, located at the top of the resort with easy access to the slopes and town. The package includes flights, transfers accommodation and chalet board (breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner including wine).

Eating: The great thing about a chalet holiday is that the food is all included in the price of the package along with the wine, but you do get one evening to go out and try some of the local restaurants – best of both worlds! If you don’t want to venture too far from the Chalet go for a fondue at the l’Auberge, then when you are totally cheese out head over to the Red Fox for an digestif or two!

Skiing: What can I say about the Trois Vallees that hasn’t already been said – probably my favorite place to ski! Like most big French ski areas, there is something for everyone – park, piste, off piste; even a fab little cross country route on the lake at Les Menuires, ideal for beginners.

Aprés: There is almost far too much choice in Val Thorens its hard to know where to start! If you are a mid-afternoon aprés on the mountain fan there is a choice of 360 or the famous Folie Douce both with live music and great atmosphere. If you want to ski until the very last second possible then the center of town is where you want to head; the Frog has great bands and as much dancing on the table as you can shake a stick at, while Danish bar Cafe Snesko also its own theme song and sets fire to things at regular intervals through out the evening.

For more ideas about great holiday deals check out my previous post ‘How to Fly for £17 Return’.

All prices and availability were accurate on Monday 26th of January; please check websites for up to date pricing.

Happy Holiday-ing!

I’m dreaming of a…..Green Christmas?

With thousands of holiday makers due to arrive this weekend, the Alps are still struggling for snow. Sarah Loughlin looks at alternative activities to enjoy on your Christmas alpine break!

Whether you think that the lack of snow this year is down to global warming, disgruntled Snow God’s, or just plain bad luck, the fact is there are a fair amount of resorts not opening their lifts this weekend due to snow conditions. If you have already booked a ski holiday for this Christmas and your resort is looking more golf course, than ski piste, read on!

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Attempts by some resorts to make snow with the cannons.

‘No snow?! At Christmas??!’ I hear you cry, ‘This madness’…. And madness it will be, thousands of people are due to descend into resorts this week, and as I look out on the very green and leafy mountains of the Tirol in Austria I can’t help wondering how this will play out. One solution used by many ski resorts are snow cannons which create artificial snow. However due to unseasonably warm temperatures and humidity they are not able to use them to create snow for this coming weekend. To create artificial snow it needs to be around -2/-3C. Christmas Day this year in parts of the Tirol region are due to be between 8-10C.

This is not what we have come to expect on the 19th of December, most years there is some sort of covering on the mountain, enough for resorts to open, even if it’s only the higher ski runs. With the scientists reporting that the weather is getting warmer, the glaciers are shrinking and the altitude at which rain turns to snow getting ever higher, it begs the question of whether low lying resorts such as those in the Tirol will still be skiable in the future. However traveling around the Tirol and speaking to various locals over the last few days I am told this is not the first time this has happened. One hotelier tells me he can remember a season about 20 years ago where they didn’t get the first snow until mid January. He doesn’t think that this situation is new, but it just happens a bit more often than it used to. He is not worried though, ‘the snow will come’, he tells me, ‘it always does’.

I imagine there will be a lot of disappointed people at the airport this weekend, but don’t be one of them!! After all, It’s Christmas!!! Although not ideal if you had envisaged spending a week swanning around the slopes, there is plenty to do in resort if there is limited skiing. These are my top activities to make the most of your non-ski holiday this week!

1. Try something different…. Most resorts offer activities that don’t need snow, such as paraponting (running/ skiing off a hill while attached to a nice French/ Austrian man and floating down through the valley with a parachute). If you think this could be the new sport for you, do some research and try to book something before you get there, I imagine they will get very busy! Companies like Evolution 2 in France offer a wide range of non-skiing activities.

2. Relax….. There are normally great spa’s and sauna’s in ski resorts. Make the most of the time you don’t normally have when running between ski school, après and dinner to relax in the spa, take a steam,  or get a massage. Depending on your budget and the resort you are in there is normally a few to choose from. Again, research before you go and get booked in, especially if you want treatments. This could also double as a cheeky last minute Christmas present for someone you are traveling with!!

3. Explore…. I think like a lot of keen skiers I have only ever visited the mountains in the winter. Until this autumn, when I spent some time in the French Alps. I completely fell in love with it, it is so beautiful and peaceful walking in the mountains; there are so many animals and amazing views. You can even burn off some of that Christmas dinner while getting out in the fresh air! Make the most of a chance to go for a nice long hike and see the mountains before they get buried again for another winter.

4. Get sporty…… If hiking and paraponting aren’t your thing, visit the local sports centre. Depending on the resort there are all sorts of activities from climbing and  swimming, to ice skating and table tennis.

5. Go shopping…. Whether you are into tacky souvenirs, hand carved wooden statues or cool snowboard apparel you will find it up in the mountains. Again, something you don’t normally have time for on an action packed ski holiday, so make the most of the time to look around the shops and pick up a few cool Christmas presents for yourself (and/ or friends and loved ones!).

6. Pig out….. It wouldn’t be Christmas without eating yourself silly. The mountains are a great place to do it, with more cheese and carbs than you can shake a stick at! So treat everyday like Christmas and take long boozey lunches while praying to the Snow God’s for a midweek dump!

7. Après…. Just because there is no snow doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in the strange post-skiing afternoon tradition of watching live music, drinking beer and dancing on tables; other wise known as après ski. Plus you can hit it extra hard because you don’t have to be up early for ski school in the morning!!

8. Excursions…. Depending on the resort you are going to it is relatively easy to take the train to visit a nearby town or city. Check out my article on Salzburg for some inspiration!

Happy holidays!

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Driving through the Tirol region in Austria this afternoon.

Another Side of the Slope

Sarah Loughlin spends a week in French ski resort La Plagne, learning about charity DSUK and their disabled activity holidays. 

Having been a competent skier from a young age trusting someone else to guide me down the busy slopes of La Plagne took a fair amount of convincing. After being strapped in to the ‘sit-ski’, which could be described as a wheelchair on skis, we set off towards the chairlift. I had been skiing with instructor Careen and a young sit-skier Bryony for 2 days, helping Careen lift Bryony on and off the chairlift, so it was an odd sensation to be lifted on my self. Matt, a fellow DSUK helper, was using me as a crash test dummy on his first ever attempt to ‘bucket’ the sit-ski down the beginners run outside our hotel.

Sit-ski’s are used for skiers with all sorts of disability and can either be ‘bucketed’ where the skier is guided using a handle on the back of the ski, ‘teathered’ which gives the skier more independence with the instructor using two lengths of rope attached to the ski to support them, or the sit-ski can be used completely independently if the skier is able.

DSUK, France, Skiing, snow, disability, disability snow sport, la PlagneAs we set off from the top of the slope Matt sounded nervous. Careen assured me that, even if Matt drops the ski, as long as I keep my arms tucked in I’ll be absolutely fine. So as Matt guided us down the slope calling out the turns as we wove left and right through the other skiers, I concentrated on my two jobs: turning my head at the right time and keeping my arms safe inside the ski. As Matt and I carved through the snow, working as a team to move the ski, I began to relax and enjoy the ride, it was a lot lower to the slope than being a stand up skier, and because you don’t move your body as much I began to get a little chilly, but it was a lot more enjoyable than I had imagined and I can understand how sit-skiers become totally addicted and come back year after year.

One sit-ski addict, who has been skiing with DSUK for almost 20 years, is Sarah. Being more experienced than either Bryony or I in a sit-ski, Sarah had moved on to being ‘teathered’ by Careen and could ski blue slopes using ‘fixed out riggers’, which are a small ski either side of the sit-ski allowing it to carve from side to side with out falling over. I watched amazed as Sarah cruised down the mountain, and controlled the ski with only small movements of her head and slight leaning of her upper body. It was certainly a lot more graceful than my descent down the slope after her on my skis, trying to keep up.

As a group of 25 or so people including, skiers, helpers, instructors and carers or family members it took a lot of organising for everyone to do things together. Despite that we all ate together and socialised in the evenings, it was a great opportunity to chat more to the skiers and their families, catch up on everyone’s skiing progress and hear the stories from the day.

DSUK are a British charity that have been around in one form or another for about 30 years. Amongst other things they arrange group holidays for disabled skiers with any type of disability; from amputees to people with epilepsy. They say that there is almost no-one they can’t get out on the slopes enjoying the mountain air, and after seeing them in action I believe it. To check out more about what they do and events or programmes near you have a look at their website: www.disabilitysnowsport.org.uk/

Thank God It’s Tuesday

Sarah Loughlin ventures to Austria to discover the delights of après in Obergurgl

Its 4am, my transfer coach leaves in 45 minutes. I stand in the kitchen of my sister’s hotel, scoffing cold left over noodles. Desperately trying to sober up  before I prepare to sneak back into the hotel room and pretend I have been there for hours. ‘You stink,’ mumbles my dad half asleep. I continue to enter the room about as subtly as one can after several jagerbombs, ‘And you haven’t packed. We leave in half an hour.’

This came about after months of crackly drunken calls from my sister on the way home from another amazing night out in Obergurgl, she was there working in a hotel for the winter season. ‘I just had four pints and then went night skiing and danced on tables, they were on fire!’ She screams down the phone at me. This was something I had to see.

Having always skied in France as a child, I was largely unfamiliar with Austrian resorts, let alone the crazy après parties they are famous for. Now with litre of beer in one hand and a shot of tequila in the other we are merrily swaying around in our ski boots waiting for the ski show to start. Every Tuesday evening in Obergurgl there is a ski show and fireworks followed by night skiing. I had been to this sort of thing before, but nothing could prepare me for the amazing event I was about to witness; what appeared to be a small child raced down the mountain on their skis over what looked like snowy steps and then jumped through a ring of fire. ‘We have to try that!’ I merrily exclaimed.

The next day, with the mounObergurgl, Austria, skiing, snow, ski, apres, beer, jager, Europetain air slowly clearing my hungover fuzzy brain, we meet up with Johan, our ski instructor. ‘So you want to try the steps, huh?’ As he says this I am massively regretting saying yes to that final stein of beer.

‘The trick is to relax your legs,’ Johan explains as he takes on the steps with ease, gracefully stopping at the bottom. It’s another beautifully clear day at the top of the mountain, and the sun glistens off the snow. I can hear the wiring of the gondola as it unloads excited mountain goers. Deep breath, and down I go. I point my skis at the steps, inside my head Frankie goes to Hollywood is singing encouragingly ‘Relax, don’t do it, when you want to go to it…’ Suddenly my legs have a life of their own, I have made it half way down, my skis are gliding rhythmically over the snowy mounds. I open my mouth to celebrate my successful descent a minute too early, and slide the remainder of the way on my back, collecting snow down the back of my jacket. As I lay there on the cold refreshing powder, I can’t help thinking that I should have stuck to the après.

To see more of the trip check out my Obergurgl video: