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Avoiding the Crowds at New Year - in Saalbach

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Tatman's Tours wrote:
@Penry, Realistically you probably wouldn't bother if you had to ski down again for ski-school, although it would be feasible - first lift (Kohlmaisgipfelbahn) at 8.30am, arrive at Bergeralm 8.55am, consume breakfast by 9.30 and ski down to ski-school meeting-place for 9.45.


Many thanks, as you say, realistically I won't bother. But how refreshing to have lifts open at 8:30 after 2 holidays in Norway where lifts open at 9 and ski school starts at 9 which makes ski-in ski-out a bit pointless.

I've booked a centrally located B&B which had pictures of ham included in the breakfast buffet so if I could get them to rustle up an omelette...

So I've done flights and accommodation, what's left?

Transfer from/to Salzburg - Holiday shuttle is annoyingly scheduled for our flight.
Ski school - I'm thinking Furstauer and they do ski rental packages too.
Ski pass - any advantages to buying early/late?

I'm ready to go, bags packed and waiting by the door. Have I forgotten anything?
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
under a new name wrote:
Champoluc?

NY day busy but not really apart from that.

Www.ski2.co.uk do packages, but easy to DIY...


Went with your suggestion for February half term in the end. Many thanks for the tip.

This was after having mapped out every last detail of a family trip to San Cassiano to better suit the more timid half of the family. Was just debating whether to hire the polo or octavia from Innsbruck airport when my daughter announced she didn't want to go. Cue sigh of relief from her mum and it's a boys only trip, mkII.
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Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
The ski season is getting shorter, particularly at The front end.
The high altitude French resorts have been rammed at new year as people migrate higher in search of the white stuff.VT is very very busy.
Snow making has become critical to New Year. In recent years the Dolomites have offered the most extensive skiing despite sparse snowfall.
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Quote:

The ski season is getting shorter, particularly at The front end.

A controversial subject that keeps cropping up on this forum. Could it not be argued that the heavy investment in snow-making capability has actually extended the season? I remember that, when I used to organise annual skiing groups in the 80s and 90s, I used to regard early February as "safe" from the point of view of guaranteed snow cover. I wouldn't have contemplated skiing as early as Christmas. However, in the last 10 years, I have enjoyed some excellent pre-Christmas conditions, and the extensive snow-making has enabled resorts to open on time in early December, as well as to reassure those planning early-season trips that there will be adequate early skiing, at least on-piste.
Useful dumps of snow, even in relatively low resorts, are still half-expected during November, and last season was a good example, when heavy snow in mid-November enabled resorts in the NE Alps to open ahead of schedule (e.g. Saalbach was open during the last two weekends in November). There followed a snow drought for several weeks; however the temperatures were seasonably normal - i.e. sub-zero for much of the time, allowing the natural snow that had fallen in November to be topped up with plenty of the manufacturedl stuff. At least half (possibly at least 60%) of Saalbach's 280km of pistes were open when I arrived on 10th December - and of course it's by no means a high-altitude resort.
The collective wisdom that I've seen previously expressed in threads on this subject is that there is as yet insufficient evidence of a definite trend, and that data would have to be assessed over a much longer period for any definite conclusion to be reached on whether the season is getting shorter. I haven't kept records, but my perception over the past 10 years is that the pre-Christmas snow has been good to excellent in about half of those years, and passable in probably another one or two. The last three have been disappointing, notwihstanding my comments above (about last season), but I think that there has been only one Christmas Day in the last 10 years when I didn't think it worth putting on my ski gear.
As for the late season, I haven't noticed any significant deterioration of the skiing that has been on offer during the first two weeks of April. I called it a day on 15th April this year but recall that a cold snap arrived simultaneously. Friends were skiing at Kaprun in late April and commented that conditions were "like January".
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Tatman's Tours wrote:
Quote:

The ski season is getting shorter, particularly at The front end.

A controversial subject that keeps cropping up on this forum. Could it not be argued that the heavy investment in snow-making capability has actually extended the season? I remember that, when I used to organise annual skiing groups in the 80s and 90s, I used to regard early February as "safe" from the point of view of guaranteed snow cover. I wouldn't have contemplated skiing as early as Christmas. However, in the last 10 years, I have enjoyed some excellent pre-Christmas conditions, and the extensive snow-making has enabled resorts to open on time in early December, as well as to reassure those planning early-season trips that there will be adequate early skiing, at least on-piste.
Useful dumps of snow, even in relatively low resorts, are still half-expected during November, and last season was a good example, when heavy snow in mid-November enabled resorts in the NE Alps to open ahead of schedule (e.g. Saalbach was open during the last two weekends in November). There followed a snow drought for several weeks; however the temperatures were seasonably normal - i.e. sub-zero for much of the time, allowing the natural snow that had fallen in November to be topped up with plenty of the manufacturedl stuff. At least half (possibly at least 60%) of Saalbach's 280km of pistes were open when I arrived on 10th December - and of course it's by no means a high-altitude resort.
The collective wisdom that I've seen previously expressed in threads on this subject is that there is as yet insufficient evidence of a definite trend, and that data would have to be assessed over a much longer period for any definite conclusion to be reached on whether the season is getting shorter. I haven't kept records, but my perception over the past 10 years is that the pre-Christmas snow has been good to excellent in about half of those years, and passable in probably another one or two. The last three have been disappointing, notwihstanding my comments above (about last season), but I think that there has been only one Christmas Day in the last 10 years when I didn't think it worth putting on my ski gear.
As for the late season, I haven't noticed any significant deterioration of the skiing that has been on offer during the first two weeks of April. I called it a day on 15th April this year but recall that a cold snap arrived simultaneously. Friends were skiing at Kaprun in late April and commented that conditions were "like January".




I think, unquestionably, the natural season is getting shorter at the front end. In the 80s and nineties there were the odd seasons where Christmas was baron but they were seen as disasters rather than the norm.
The pre season word cup races such as Val d'sere and Val Gardena regularly took place against a backdrop of white mountains and valleys. A romantic Christmas in a snow covered village would now be seen as a surprising bonus by most punters.
The late snow still seems to fall and this, coupled with huge investment in snow making and grooming have made for great late season skiing on most resorts. I've heard it said by many in the mountains that the big snowfalls seem to be hitting later and later, 3which may explain why end of season seems to be good.
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I trot this out frequently, (wish I could find the original source) - back in ~1930s odd Kitzbuhel council decided they couldn't advertise Xmas week for winter sports as the snow wasn't reliable...

So it's not a recent concept...
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@cameronphillips2000, I`m sorry but I have to disagree with you, Xmas has always been questionable for reliable snow. As far back as the 70`s when I first went skiing, even New Years week was considered "iffy"! Smile
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I guess the only way we d know for sure is if we looked at historical snow fall records. I skied new year almost every year from the mid eighties and only remember one really bad year
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https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-01-10/how-much-snow-is-there-in-the-alps-this-year-for-skiing

The graph here shows the decline over the years. It also shows some years that were very poor in the 80s andnineties
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@cameronphillips2000, And I`m guessing there will have been lots of variations from area to area.
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I guess so but I think the general consensus is less snow across the Alps since the 1960s
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And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
cameronphillips2000 wrote:
...
The high altitude French resorts have been rammed at new year as people migrate higher in search of the white stuff.VT is very very busy.
...


Err, Really?




New years eve, 3V. (everywhere else was as "rammed"). But you were right about "Snow making has become critical to New Year. ", they did a tremendous job. After we left here on new years eve we skied Les Arcs (empty) and two days in La Rosiere/La Thuile, the latter did have quite good snow. (empty)

[/img]


Last edited by And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports. on Tue 13-06-17 14:12; edited 2 times in total
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So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-016-1806-y

This would suggest a bigger problem at the end of the season. I teresting
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
andyrew wrote:
cameronphillips2000 wrote:
...
The high altitude French resorts have been rammed at new year as people migrate higher in search of the white stuff.VT is very very busy.
...


Err, Really?




New years eve, 3V. (everywhere else was as "rammed"). But you were right about "Snow making has become critical to New Year. ", they did a tremendous job. After we left here on new years eve we skied Les Arcs (empty) and two days in La Rosiere/La Thuile, the latter did have quite good snow. (empty)

[/img]



the st Martin link is hardly the heart of VT. There were loads of comments on this forum along with pics showing how busy VT was. Granted, after New Year, in early January, there s some very quiet skiing to be had
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
http://snowheads.com/ski-forum/viewtopic.php?t=32289

I think this is a more accurate picture.
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
OK so we ended up in Saalbach for the week, and I thought it was worth noting down whether it met the brief as specified below,

Snow obviously, not snow sure necessarily but full lift and slope operation highly likely.
A good range of Reds and Blues, we're not venturing off piste.
Good Ski School with classes in English.
Somewhere that doesn't require a lot of organisational skill to get to, or to get to the slopes once there.
A lack of crowds on the piste and short lift queues given it's around the new Year.


I booked a small B&B at the bottom of the village, Pension Kohlbründl, not too far from the Schattberg lift, we were really well looked after and the boot room was superb. The village is small enough that as long as you're somewhere in the main bit of it, nothing's too far away.

Flights were cheap and worked seamlessly and the late BA flight to Gatwick gave us the Saturday as well. The only thing I would do differently next time is to factor in transfers as my flights were exactly wrong for the Holiday Shuttle. Initial research into the cost of a return taxi came up with quotes of over £300, although we ended up with an excellent service, Holiday Taxis, for £230ish via the SkyScanner website. Our driver back to the airport even took us to the Red Bull Hangar7 museum at his suggestion because we were early for the return flight. I booked the lift passes on-line and they dropped through the letterbox within a couple of days.

On arrival in Saalbach we dropped our luggage off and popped round the corner to Hansi's best price ski rental. He couldn't have been nicer or more welcoming but because we wanted ski school, he said he couldn't really compete on price with the Furst package and directed us up there. Experience at Furst for ski hire was a bit mixed, my son actually got measured for his boot which I've never experienced before and they were very helpful and sorted him out fine. For me, I asked for a nice piste carver and got handed an all mountain ski that didn't come up to my chin. When that was changed, I'm not entirely sure the bindings were correctly set. From talking to our instructor, the problem appears to be that if you want lessons, by inference you must be a crap skier and be prepared to accept what ever you're given. If you want a better class of rental ski, I'd recommend going somewhere else.

The actual ski school however, was great, possibly a bit over-stretched, unsurprising given the week. Mostly English, a few Dutch and one poor German who had to have her lessons in a foreign language. Nature decided what we learnt and when, with balmy spring conditions on days one and two followed by a couple of days of storm Eleanor. We were able to ski for all of it, although the connecting lifts were down, the gondolas and occasional chairlift were still able to get us up the mountain. The final two days were gorgeous and warm again although thick, cold cloud in the valley prevented us from skiing the full runs into Leogang but didn't prevent us from enjoying the Chicken Man in T-shirts on the balcony.

The first Sunday, New Year's Eve, was busy on the piste but we still never had to wait more than a few minutes for a lift. Then New Year's day was almost completely deserted, one of the quietest days skiing I've had. Then in the blizzards that followed, there didn't seem to be that many out and about either. The day that did surprise me was the Saturday change over day when there were coach loads of Germans disgorging before 9AM and the pistes were as busy as at any time of the stay. It was still easy to find emptyish slopes and lifts with no queues though, with longer waits and chopped up pistes just at the links to/from Leogang.

Eating on the mountain was great, with only the one hilariously bad experience. I won't name and shame because the food was great and they redeemed the service side later in the week. Only other problem was paralytic geriatric German twins walking off with my ski helmet after spending a day in the Berger Alm. Even so the attitude of the staff in trying to sort it out was fantastic.

Eating out was generally great, special mention for Hotel Peter and Rossis. Trattoria La Bodega was awful, avoid. Drunken revelry wasn't in much evidence when out and about and if a grumpy old git and the world's most self-conscious 15 year old wanted to avoid it, they very easily could. Total cost of everything including parking at Gatwick and beer and even chocolate at the duty free shop came to under £2.5k for the two of us.

So did Saalbach meet the brief? Yes, absolutely, in fact it's difficult to think how it could have done more so.

Would we go back? My son and I agreed that we'd both love to go back but not necessarily with each other.


Last edited by Poster: A snowHead on Mon 15-01-18 15:06; edited 1 time in total
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
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Thanks for the detailed review Penry.

Very interesting reading about your experience with the ski hire. I'm checking prices currently for our March trip and if booking skis (from Hansis via Alpinresorts site with discount code applied) and school seprarately, then total comes to roughly 28 Euros extra. Think I'd rather pay the extra, knowing I would get decent proper service and the right skis from Hansi.
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@jimmybog, That's what I'd do next time too.
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@Penry, thanks for the feedback, which is always a good sanity check on our own experiences. The weekenders and day trippers from Munich and most of Bavaria will always swell the ranks on the more accessible Austrian slopes, but thankfully at a time when most of the week-long visitors are either travelling, or finding their ski legs again. Either way, I've never seen it as truly busy except for a couple of pinch points which have mainly now been sorted out with new lifts (e.g. Schönleitenbahn, where I once had to wait for 20 minutes). Shame about the ski hire experience - it takes very little effort to get it right, and a lot more to correct mistakes, so it is doubly disappointing that they didn't listen to your request. On the plus side, I've never seen anyone measured for hire boots either, so that's a win.
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Cheers @ousekjarr, and thanks for the advice earlier. Yep, queues were very rare, the whole system seemed to be able to cope with huge numbers getting on the gondolas. The ski hire thing wasn't that big a deal, just something I noted and will be better prepared for when getting a rental/lessons package (as I had done for Feb half term too).

I realise I didn't write much about the skiing, mainly because we were dictated to by lessons or weather (or both). Suffice to say there was lots of it and I could go back for several years and still not have much of a clue where I was. Possibly there is a lack of very testing runs but it was fine for what we wanted.
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@Penry, you're welcome - and for testing runs, I guess you didn't try the Zwölfernordabfahrt (piste 14) or Schattbergnordabfahrt (piste 1), both of which are long, shaded, tend to be icy, and are of limited width in places wink 14 has been regraded as red for much of its length, but it is definitely on the hard side of red, and the remaining black section is challenging. The area isn't really known for difficult runs, but they are there in limited numbers if you want them. Personally, Seekar on the back of Zwölferkogel is my favourite run in the valley, but as it is served only by a long and steep T-bar it tends to be avoided by most - which is one the reasons I like it, as it is quieter and doesn't get chopped up, but retains some lovely cruising slopes at the top plus a challenging cambered drop to a long schuss into the Zehnerbahn
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@ousekjarr, sadly conditions dictated that we never got to the Zwölferkogel end of the valley. We skied the Schattberg a few times and apparently the day after it rained it was sheet ice and no fun. I thought the link to Fieberbrunn, F14 was quite testing for a red, certainly as testing as the black on the other side (F10?).
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