I'm often asked about how I go about booking our own skiing trip to the Alps so I thought I would write it and include some tips. Having made a few mistakes along the way, that can be quite costly, I thought others might appreciate my ups and downs!
Decide where your priorities lie when it comes to a skiing vacation (in no particular order)
And last but not least, how are you getting there? Are there flights to the nearest airport from your locality or trains, coaches etc?
Going through a check list of the most important things to you, will narrow down the options, it does for us! Our priority has always been "can we get there from Manchester Airport" and "is the transfer short?"
We always go for high altitude resorts in Austria with a choice of 2 airports, Innsbruck or Salzburg but that is just personal preference. I And if you are driving or using trains from the south of England, the world is your oyster.
Next, check out the Ski Maps to see exactly what the layout of the runs looks like and how they interlink. You might notice smaller satellite villages that link into the same lift system via the mountains that don't get as much publicity as their bigger counterparts, so might get missed? These are often much cheaper to stay in but you have advantage of accessing the same system of lifts and runs.
As part of your research, always check out the Tourist Board websites of the various resorts, there you will find far more detailed information than you will ever get in a holiday brochure.
Looking at piste maps and village maps will give you a much better idea of how everything links up and how they relate to where you want your accommodation to be. Having chosen a resort, this part of the research might make you change your choice.
If you find that the village is within walking distance (in ski boots) to the lifts up, no problem, but if you have to use a ski bus (as is often the case) bear in mind that if your stop is at the end of the bus route, you could find space on the bus is an issue, until the crowds die down!
If there is a choice of accommodation either near the lifts or in the village, be realistic about how convenient either is for you. We always prefer to be nearer to the lifts in this scenario as we only visit the shops perhaps twice in a week, whereas accessing the lifts up the mountain is a daily activity, sometimes twice when you forget things and walking in ski boots is very unforgiving for dodgy knees like mine!
If you are a beginner and need the nursery slopes, make sure these aren't isolated somewhere awkward, nothing worse than a long walk home when you're tired or others can't join you for a lunch break. It's also useful to have these runs up on the mountain rather than down in the village as they often are. If snow isn't plentiful or the temperature rises, low-lying nursery slopes are the first areas to deteriorate and the one thing that a beginner really doesn't need is ice or slush to practice on!
Experienced skiers/boarders can cope with less than perfect conditions, learners can't and it can be the difference between giving up or moving on to the next level.
As you start to narrow down your choices, look at online reviews of the resorts, the accommodation, the historical snow records, whether or not the lift system is prone to long queues either first thing in the morning or throughout the day at bottlenecks around the resort. Early morning queues are the norm if there is only one way up from the village, but you don't want to waste valuable skiing time standing in long queues at every lift thereon.
See if anyone complains about ski-run-maintenance, some resorts are better than others at grooming and preparing the pistes from the previous days onslaught or moving snow from one part to another to cover up rocks, stones, tree roots etc. If you're taking your own skis/board, you don't want them ruining and if you are an inexperienced skier, you need well-prepared runs! With today's equipment and technology for piste preparation and snow production, that is no excuse for a resort not to have the best runs possible, unless there literally isn't any snow and it's too warm to turn the snow cannons on!
Party animal or not? If clubs that stay open till the early hours are an important part of your holiday, make sure your resort isn't focused more on families and those wanting a quiet, peaceful evening and an early night! Some resorts specifically market to their older clientele, families or younger people wanting to party. No point in going to a party town then complaining about the noise or going to a sleepy little village with a couple of bars and complaining there was nowhere to rave. Of course those resorts known for late-night opening hours will have accommodation in quieter locations, so don't dismiss them altogether.
Now...having done all your research, decided on the country, the actual resort, checked out the lay of the land on the mountain, the village v lift scenario and how you are getting there, booked your accommodation and transport...all that's left is the preparation before you go!
Your Ski Gear:
You can find lots of lists online of the basic requirements needed clothes wise and there is age old debate of "do I buy my own boots" and if so, do I buy them back home or in the resort?
I would have to say, that of all the things that can make or break a ski holiday, it is having well-fitting ski boots. Not just from a comfort point of view, as you will be spending many hours in them, it is imperative to your skiing ability and future success.
It's ironic that as beginners, at the hire shops you are often given the worst boots and the lowest grade skis, when in actual fact, these are the very things that need to be perfect. Experienced skiers can compensate for less than perfectly edged/serviced skis with their skills and technique and they can also cope with movement of their feet in their boots - beginners can't. But you won't realise that until weeks later!
I service my own skis, and during the learning process I discovered just how important well service skis are, just how vital it is to have the right edge on your skis for your level or expertise and the right wax for the conditions.
The Ski/Snowboard Jacket :
Three types mainly. 1) insulated with its own padding (need less layers underneath) 2) A thin waterproof outer layer much like a traditional rain coat, that needs quite a few layers under to make it warm. 3) Shell - Whole host of technically advanced outer layers that feel like neoprene, slightly stretchy and figure-hugging. Never used this as I like the sloppy look. Don't know how warm they are but I see a lot about so assume they are doing what they say on the label. You might also want to consider ones that that have built-in avalanche rescue system technology, like RECCO. Ideal if you ski/board off piste.
Make sure it has lots of pockets that are easy to get to. This where you will store stuff that you will need to get access to like piste maps, lip salve, sunglasses, reading glasses to look at the map!!!
Make sure these have 'sealed seams' to keep snow and rain out. This means that after the seams have been stitched, they are sealed on the reverse side with a rubber tape that heated into place. You can usually feel/see this if you try and bend the seam, it will be stiffer than the surrounding fabric. Sometimes they seal the only the most relevant seams, like the top of the shoulders and the bib. Not ideal of the snow is blowing from all angles. The same applies to your Salopettes.
Waterproof, I know this sounds obvious if it's being sold as ski jacket, but you'd be surprised how many aren't because what they really are is a glorified winter fashion coat.
Windproof - not sure how a jacket that is waterproof could let the wind in though, so not sure what this means!
There are claims made about 'breathability'. The idea being that the jacket lets out (wicks) moisture (condensation) away from your body to keep you dry inside. Here are the claims: "liquid is drawn along a fibrous path - known as capillary action. The build up of heat and moisture inside the garment creates a temperature and humidity gradient against the outside, which is the driver of the wicking process. The highly humid air inside the jacket naturally wants to move towards equilibrium – which means the cooler, drier outside. When the sweat comes into contact with the fabric of the base layer, it is drawn along the fibres and out through tiny gaps in the weave (without being absorbed) to the outside of the garment, where it can evaporate away without chilling your body".
Our experience of wearing ski jackets for 15 years and opening some up for repair (another one of my talents) is that no such thing exists. If moisture can get out through the weave of the fabric when not under pressure, rain water and snow - often under pressure would get in! What this usually means is that the inner-layers of the jacket that wicks the moisture away from the body, so the fabric next to your skin feels dry, but it hasn't actually left the jacket, it's just moved! When repairing said jackets (and shortening Salopettes) I've tried forcing moisture out through the fabric and it's impossible. All the waterproof fabric I have worked with, are coated with a rubber-type coating and nothing is going to get through it. Which is of course is why it's waterproof.
But how many of you out there are going to cut open your expensive jackets to confirm this? So unless the laws of physics have changed, take it from me, your jacket will have body moisture inside it somewhere if your cuffs are tight, your arm vents are closed and you're wearing a neck snood. Poof of this is often that your fleece or base layers feel damp when you take your jacket off at lunch time and the cold air hits you. I'd like to see a video of this "wicking" process of the jacket's outer layer under laboratory conditions, with moisture on one side and heavy rain and snow on the other - not found any yet, just diagrams showing me how it works!
Salopettes : (sealed seams etc as per jacket) more pockets.
Braces: To keep your Salopettes up if they don't have any!
Fleeces: Ideal for layering up under your jacket for those extra cold days. Always put one in your backpack just in case. You can always take it off but it can quite a few degrees colder up on a chair lift when you wish you have put it on! These are also advertised with "wicking" properties. Also useful for about town and .Après Ski.
Base Layers: These are equivalent to a vest and long-johns. Vital for cold weather. If they are good enough, you can often get away with just wearing the tops under your jackets and no fleece. If the weather is warm enough and you have thick insulating Salopettes, you can often go without the long-johns too. Another debate arises about synthetics verses wool. I'll leave that to you to research. But we prefer Merino wool and you don't need to buy the very expensive branded ones!
Another garment that often lays claim to "wicking" properties - lot of wicking going on from one layer to another!!
Neck Cull/Neck Tunes/Neck warmers/Snoods: All manner of things designed to close that gap between the collar of you jacket and the clothes underneath. If there is a gap anywhere, the cold will find it, especially in a snow storm!
Face Mask: Some neck warmers and snoods can double up as a face mask or you can buy purpose made ones. Never used these until one year we experienced some really cold winds and you could feel the skin on your face freezing!
Ski Gloves: Not ordinary gloves, they have special grippy material on the palms and fingers so you can grip drag lifts and ski poles. These also need to be waterproof. would be nice if these really do "wick" moisture away, because trying to get these off then on again when they are damp from perspiration isn't easy. I've had to put a small stitch to attach the inner layer to out layer at the fingertips before now, so the lining doesn't pull inside out when I take your hands out!
Some people like to layer up their gloves for extra warmth by wearing thin, silk inner liners. Tried these, made my gloves too tight and didn't add any warmth.
Hat: You'll need one to keep your head warm when you remove your helmet and for about town/Après Ski
Ski Socks: (special ones that are seamless, so they are smooth inside your boots). Wear these when you are fitted for your boots. Thicker ones feel nice, but can hinder the close contact you need with the boots.
Snow Boots: With anti-slip soles for walking about in the resort.
Casual shoes: For day/night use.
Boot-room shoes which are easy to slip-on/off. These are left in the boot room when you put your boots on and for putting back on later. Most people tend to use those flip flop types that don't have a throng between the toes, swimming pool shoes!
Casual outfits: No one really dresses up for evening meals! If you're staying in a nice hotel, some less grungy tops could be useful, but this is activity holiday!
First aid kit: Saves you having to buy in the resort, things like plasters, pain killers, something for aching, sore limbs!
Ice Packs: Optional - we give these to hotel to put in their fridge for a bad knees or leave them out on the balcony if we have one! Not our knees that is!
Swimming wear: Optional, if there is a pool in your hotel or in the resort.
A useful tip for the eventuality of luggage not arriving when you do!
Unlike most holidays, where luggage arriving late is more of an inconvenience than a disaster (you can always buy T shirts, shorts etc in a summer location at reasonable prices) losing your ski gear, even for a couple of says is a nightmare. The cost of replacing anything in a resort, is extortionate.
I suggest you buy a roll-up vacuum bag small enough to fit your hand luggage, the sort you can get for storing stuff, put in it a pair of salopettes, thermal vest and pants, snood, gloves, ski socks. You'd be surprised just how flat your stuff with squash to! You carry your goggles in your hand luggage and you will have traveled in your jacket. This way, worst case scenario, you you have the bare essentials and you won't need to lose precious "expensive" skiing days!
Ski Goggles: Needed for dull stormy days when the light is bad. Some people take ones that have interchangeable lenses for different lighting conditions as it can be very sunny, but very cold and they help keep your face warm.
Ski Sunglasses: Essential if you don't want go snow blind! Nothing less than category 3, if very bright you might need 4, which can't be used for normal sunglasses when driving. Interchangeable with Goggles when it's sunny.
Ski Helmet: Another grey area. In some resorts they are mandatory for adults and children but childrenare always expected to wear one. We have noticed that the majority of adults now wear helmets, much as we got used to seat belts, you get used to a helmet and the manufacturers have a gone a long way to make them as attractive and "cool" as possible. They are in my opinion an essential piece of kit, not so much because you might fall crack open the most important part of your anatomy, but there are others that might crash into you. Unlike indoor snow domes, there are no regulations to say that someone without any prior experience of skiing or snowboarding can't get on a lift and attempt to slide down the mountain, hitting everything in their wake! Some resorts do monitor their runs, usually in the USA but we have never seen it in Europe.
There is nothing worse than hearing someone racing up behind you, not knowing if they are going to stop, go round you, or crash into you!
Ski/Board Bag: You'll only need one of these if you are transporting your own Skis/Board. Airlines charge extra for these, so pack as much as you can in one bag, get the biggest you can handle and pack with everything that won't fit in your hold luggage (within your weight allowance of course). Check your airline's regulations and remember that putting your boots in a separate bag, counts as yet another bag, so fit them in your hand luggage or your ski bag. If you don't have skis and want to cut costs but they are too heavy for hand luggage, stick them your normal luggage and take some clothes out!
Backpack/Daypack: As mentioned earlier there is stuff that you will need whilst you are out on the mountains, such as water, lip salve, fleece, hat, snacks etc, so you'll need something to carry this lot in. Needs to be a slim at possible because it's going to be on your back on the chair lifts. No dangling loose straps or anything that could get caught in a drag lift. Some lift operators insist that the bag is worn on the front whilst on the chair lifts and there have been fatalities as result of bags getting caught in lifts or parts of the lifts. So be aware of this, follow the advice you are given and take care.
Water Bottle Hydration System: It's quite time-consuming stopping to take a bottle out of your back pack, so systems have been created whereby the bottle stays in your backpack with a tube attached and mouthpiece on the end. This is fixed somewhere near your shoulder/head and all you need to do it grab the end and suck! That's until the water freezes in the tube! Some backpacks are purpose made for these water bladders and hold nothing else. I find a normal rucksack works just as well and carries more, as long as you can thread the tube out somewhere.
Sun Block/Lip Salve: Yes you really do get sunburnt on a ski holiday. The air is thinner, cleaner and you are nearer to the sun! Factor 30 minimum, but facture 50 is better. And slap on everywhere that is exposed to sunlight. That goes for Lip Salve too, you'll find your lips get very dry. Take a good moisturiser too. I always find that wearing warm clothing all day makes my skin dry out, so legs and arms seem to suffer, especially where the ski boots have been wrapped around my legs!
There is no finite amount of stuff you can take with, it's more about how much it all weighs. I dare say that if weight wasn't a problem, I could add a whole lot more to this list but these are the essentials.
My priorities after the stuff needed to keep me safe, dry and warm is hair straighteners and makeup; for my other half, it's his hip flask!
I will add more to this post, and if you have any comments or questions, please let me know.
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