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Hints and tips on how to make your choice.

Perhaps the biggest change the ski industry has undergone in the past decade or so has been the rise of the independent skier. However with the economic downturn they are on the wane.

The cost of going it alone has risen in the past few years since the economic downturn in 2008 and the tour operators have fought back offering substantial savings and discounts.

The budget airlines and no longer quite that budget, more like no-frills, and the other airlines have reduced their prices to compete.

At its height in 2007/08 the indepedent market was estimated at almost 400,000 people who made their own arrangements and avoided using a tour operator. That was about 1/3rd of the total British snowsports market.

Now it has fallen back sharply. According to the latest Crystal Ski Industry for the 2010/11 season it has gone down to just over 280,000. See the full industry report here.

Things have changed with the tour operators responding and, with the cost/hassle of independent travel increasing, the package holiday is fighting back.

See this news story from a PlanetSKI reader as a group of friends looked at the two options back in 2010. The exact prices are old but the principles remain the same.

Back in November 2008 we said this on PlanetSKi as we launched out first guide on whether to opt for a tour operator or go solo;

"One of our predictions here at PlanetSKI is that over the next few years the package holiday will make a bit of a comeback. No real evidence, just a gut feeling from talking to skiers, boarders and the movers and shakers in the ski industry".  We reckon we have been proved correct.

However there are still some distinict advantages and by no means rule out arranging your own trip.  

So which should you choose? 

Take a look at the guides below and we hope it’ll help you make your mind up.

Go it alone

In theory it’s quite simple. You book a flight or ferry crossing on the internet, hire a car or take public transport from the airport and then check into your hotel or apartment that you have arranged over the resort’s web site.

Doing it yourself gives you the freedom to make your own choices and can save you a few bob too.

So, if you haven’t done it before where do you start?

To begin with it can all seem a bit daunting as you have to co-ordinate everything yourself. Here at PlanetSKI we recommend beginners definately go with a tour operator but once you have been a couple of times and got used to hiring skis, sorting out lifts passes etc, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do it yourself.

TRANSPORT

FLYING

geneva_400Getting a flight is the first thing so it’s a question of surfing the net for the best deal and remember if you can avoid Saturday to Saturday and high season you’ll get a better price. Also don’t just think of the main airports of Geneva, Zurich and Turin as some of the smaller ones are just as convenient and can be much cheaper.

Grenoble or Lyon serves Espace Killy and the Trois Vallées well, while a transfer from Basel to your ski resort will probably only take you 30 minutes longer than from Zurich.  If you’re hiring a car it’s often much cheaper at the smaller airports too.

For Andorra most people fly into the French town of Toulouse, but it’s as simple to fly into Barcelona and come up from the Spanish side, especially if you are skiing in Pal, Arinsal or Arcalis.

Also don’t forget that the national carriers such as British Airways and Swiss are sometimes cheaper than the so-called budget airlines, especially when you have to pay extra for your suitcases and skis or boards.

The extras with the no-frills carriers can soon add up.

DRIVING

tunnel_400If you are driving you really just have to decide between the Channel Tunnel or a ferry. Going below the water is usually more expensive but here at PlanetSKI we are big fans of the tunnel as it is quicker and a lot less hassle than the ferry.

We find that when driving we just want to get on with it.

Tolls and petrol usually come to around £300 with a crossing round about the £125 mark. So with 4 in the car it comes out at just over £100 each and you can take pretty much all the gear you want to.

See this news feature on driving to the Alps for a first hand experience.

TRAIN

train_400With the rise of the eco-skier, train travel is becoming increasingly popular as it is seen as a greener way to get to the slopes. 

It’s also a lot more relaxing, can give you more time on the slopes and you are not constrained by luggage restrictions.

It is though usually more expsensive.

One of our reporters, Adrian Lamb, took the train last year to Courchevel and found the journey to Bourg superb.

For our PlanetSKI news story from July 2011 when tickets went on sale then see here, where you can also book a ticket via our special link.

Below are a few examples of the rail journeys to ski resorts.

The route to Chamonix.

London - Paris Gare du Nord, transfer by Metro or taxi to Paris Gare Austerlitz to pick up the overnight train to St Gervais les Bains, then take a local train to Chamonix Mont Blanc.

Journey times are from 14 hours 10 minutes and fares start at £124 return per person with accommodation in a 6-berth couchette on the overnight section of the journey.

The route to Bourg St Maurice, which serves resorts including Les Arcs, Tignes, Val d'Isere and others.

London to Paris Gare du Nord, transfer by Metro or taxi to Paris Gare Austerlitz to pick up the overnight train to Bourg St Maurice.

Journey times are from 11 hours 49 minutes and fares start at £124 return per person with accommodation in a 6-berth couchette on the overnight section of the journey.

Let the train take the strainLet the train take the strainThe route to Switzerland.

You can take a day train from Paris to Zurich, Lausanne or Basel. You can then pick up connecting trains to Chur, Landquart or Visp from where you can reach many of the popular Swiss resorts.

The route to Zermatt.

London to Paris Gare du Nord, transfer by Metro or taxi to Paris Gare de Lyon to Lausanne then take a local train to Visp and on to Zermatt.

Journey times are from 9 hours 42 minutes and fares start at £187 return per person in standard class.

The route to St Moritz.

London to Paris Gare du Nord, transfer by Metro or taxi to Paris Gare de l'Est to Zurich then take a local train to Chur and on to St Moritz.

Journey times are from 13 hours 33 minutes and fares start at £203 return per person in standard class.


ACCOMMODATION

flaine_400This is an area that will need some fairly detailed research and if it’s not quite what you wanted then sometimes there is no-one to complain to.

The first port of call is probably your resort’s web site, it will list all the hotels and apartments for rent. Some are obviously better than others but by and large the web sites are good and you can view the property and make the booking on line.

Remember many other nationalities and the locals book directly so the resorts and hotel owners are quite used to it. The package chalet or club hotel holiday are peculiarly British, apart from Club Med of course!

If you are after a discount (do ask in low season) it’s often a good idea to contact the owner direct and you may get 10% off.

IN RESORT

The first thing you’ll need to do is sort out your equipment hire and lift pass. Both of these can be done online before you go which makes it easier when you’re in the resort. Try Ski-republic or Ski Set.

resort_400See our how to save money guide for tips on getting a discount.

If you need lessons, again you can book with most ski schools on line before you go, or simply make a visit to their office in the resort. It is simple to do and again you can probably negotiate a discount if you want.

Your tour operator will almost certainly get a discount for introducing clients to a ski school so you can get that benefit. Some are tied into one particular school, so if you do it yourself you can choose the school you want plus pocket the discount yourself.

Many tour operators are tied into the national ski school (ESF etc) but you may prefer to go with one of the British ones that have sprung up in many resorts over recent years.

If you want to do some of the many other things that are now on offer simply go into the tourist office and they will be able to arrange it for you or point you in the right direction.

Then there’s the advantage of not having any high pressure sales pitches from the resort rep to have a fondue night, toboggan run or a torchlit descent though these have eased off in recnet years.


Go it alone

In theory it’s quite simple. You book a flight or ferry crossing on the internet, hire a car or take public transport from the airport and then check into your hotel or apartment that you have arranged over the resort’s web site.

Doing it yourself gives you the freedom to make your own choices and can save you a few bob too.

So, if you haven’t done it before where do you start?

To begin with it can all seem a bit daunting as you have to co-ordinate everything yourself. Here at PlanetSKI we recommend beginners definately go with a tour operator but once you have been a couple of times and got used to hiring skis, sorting out lifts passes etc, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t do it yourself.

TRANSPORT

FLYING

geneva_400Getting a flight is the first thing so it’s a question of surfing the net for the best deal and remember if you can avoid Saturday to Saturday and high season you’ll get a better price. Also don’t just think of the main airports of Geneva, Zurich and Turin as some of the smaller ones are just as convenient and can be much cheaper.

Grenoble or Lyon serves Espace Killy and the Trois Vallées well, while a transfer from Basel to your ski resort will probably only take you 30 minutes longer than from Zurich.  If you’re hiring a car it’s often much cheaper at the smaller airports too.

For Andorra most people fly into the French town of Toulouse, but it’s as simple to fly into Barcelona and come up from the Spanish side, especially if you are skiing in Pal, Arinsal or Arcalis.

Also don’t forget that the national carriers such as British Airways and Swiss are sometimes cheaper than the so-called budget airlines, especially when you have to pay extra for your suitcases and skis or boards.

The extras with the no-frills carriers can soon add up.

DRIVING

tunnel_400If you are driving you really just have to decide between the Channel Tunnel or a ferry. Going below the water is usually more expensive but here at PlanetSKI we are big fans of the tunnel as it is quicker and a lot less hassle than the ferry.

We find that when driving we just want to get on with it.

Tolls and petrol usually come to around £300 with a crossing round about the £125 mark. So with 4 in the car it comes out at just over £100 each and you can take pretty much all the gear you want to.

See this news feature on driving to the Alps for a first hand experience.

TRAIN

train_400With the rise of the eco-skier, train travel is becoming increasingly popular as it is seen as a greener way to get to the slopes. 

It’s also a lot more relaxing, can give you more time on the slopes and you are not constrained by luggage restrictions.

It is though usually more expsensive.

One of our reporters, Adrian Lamb, took the train last year to Courchevel and found the journey to Bourg superb.

For our PlanetSKI news story from July 2011 when tickets went on sale then see here, where you can also book a ticket via our special link.

Below are a few examples of the rail journeys to ski resorts.

The route to Chamonix.

London - Paris Gare du Nord, transfer by Metro or taxi to Paris Gare Austerlitz to pick up the overnight train to St Gervais les Bains, then take a local train to Chamonix Mont Blanc.

Journey times are from 14 hours 10 minutes and fares start at £124 return per person with accommodation in a 6-berth couchette on the overnight section of the journey.

The route to Bourg St Maurice, which serves resorts including Les Arcs, Tignes, Val d'Isere and others.

London to Paris Gare du Nord, transfer by Metro or taxi to Paris Gare Austerlitz to pick up the overnight train to Bourg St Maurice.

Journey times are from 11 hours 49 minutes and fares start at £124 return per person with accommodation in a 6-berth couchette on the overnight section of the journey.

Let the train take the strainLet the train take the strainThe route to Switzerland.

You can take a day train from Paris to Zurich, Lausanne or Basel. You can then pick up connecting trains to Chur, Landquart or Visp from where you can reach many of the popular Swiss resorts.

The route to Zermatt.

London to Paris Gare du Nord, transfer by Metro or taxi to Paris Gare de Lyon to Lausanne then take a local train to Visp and on to Zermatt.

Journey times are from 9 hours 42 minutes and fares start at £187 return per person in standard class.

The route to St Moritz.

London to Paris Gare du Nord, transfer by Metro or taxi to Paris Gare de l'Est to Zurich then take a local train to Chur and on to St Moritz.

Journey times are from 13 hours 33 minutes and fares start at £203 return per person in standard class.


ACCOMMODATION

flaine_400This is an area that will need some fairly detailed research and if it’s not quite what you wanted then sometimes there is no-one to complain to.

The first port of call is probably your resort’s web site, it will list all the hotels and apartments for rent. Some are obviously better than others but by and large the web sites are good and you can view the property and make the booking on line.

Remember many other nationalities and the locals book directly so the resorts and hotel owners are quite used to it. The package chalet or club hotel holiday are peculiarly British, apart from Club Med of course!

If you are after a discount (do ask in low season) it’s often a good idea to contact the owner direct and you may get 10% off.

IN RESORT

The first thing you’ll need to do is sort out your equipment hire and lift pass. Both of these can be done online before you go which makes it easier when you’re in the resort. Try Ski-republic or Ski Set.

resort_400See our how to save money guide for tips on getting a discount.

If you need lessons, again you can book with most ski schools on line before you go, or simply make a visit to their office in the resort. It is simple to do and again you can probably negotiate a discount if you want.

Your tour operator will almost certainly get a discount for introducing clients to a ski school so you can get that benefit. Some are tied into one particular school, so if you do it yourself you can choose the school you want plus pocket the discount yourself.

Many tour operators are tied into the national ski school (ESF etc) but you may prefer to go with one of the British ones that have sprung up in many resorts over recent years.

If you want to do some of the many other things that are now on offer simply go into the tourist office and they will be able to arrange it for you or point you in the right direction.

Then there’s the advantage of not having any high pressure sales pitches from the resort rep to have a fondue night, toboggan run or a torchlit descent though these have eased off in recnet years.


Let someone else do the work

Remember that the package holiday is actually an independent holiday. It’s just organised by an agent and since the economic downturn and the season of 2008/09 they have fought back well and now offer some considerable savings.

For next winter, 2011/12, everyone is offering deals; from early-bird offers to discounts on ski hire, lifts passes and ski lessons.

The tour operators began when they decided to go to the airlines, the hotels and the ski resorts independently and negotiate discounts on the strength of the numbers of visitors they carried. They have re-doubled their efforts recently and the prices prove it.

They get the prices cheaper and pass on that saving to you the customer. Often they can work out cheaper than doing it on your own and with some of the deals around at the moment that has never been more true.

tignes_snowing_400There are so many variables in the cost of a holiday that even though we have tried here at PlanetSKI to come up with a definite answer as to which is cheaper and better value for money it is simply not possible.

So, what are the advantages of going with a tour operator?

Well, first of all it’s easier as someone else does all the work of picking flights, choosing hotels and sorting out a transfer for you. This should not be under-estimated in our increasingly busy and stressful lives.

Secondly, they are fun. You will be holidaying and travelling with a group of like-minded people and you can make many new friends. There seem to be more people smiling and laughng on a holiday charter flight than a scheduled airlineSmile

If you want a chalet holiday, and hundreds of thousands of us do, then this is pretty much the only way to do it.

As mentioned in the introduction, here at PlanetSKI we think that the tour operator package holiday is undoubtedly on a bit of a comeback.

They have responded to the onward march of the independent skier by examining their product and making changes. 

Their prices have become more competitive and they are offering many incentives from free lift passes and ski lesson to free children’s places and sometimes even granny comes free.

The wine has improved in many chalets and the hard sell of the après ski activities is a thing of the past. If you haven’t been on a package holiday for a while you should perhaps give it a go as you may be pleasantly surprised.

If you can book at the last minute and are not quite so fussy about where you go then they offer some great deals and discounts that we feature in our special section here on PlanetSKi so do check it out during the winter months.



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