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Avoiding the Crowds at New Year

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Dear all, I'm hoping you can help me by suggesting some suitable resorts given the following...

My son will be taking his GCSEs next year and the least important of them will be GCSE PE. As one of his three sports, he has chosen skiing, assessment for which will contribute a whole 10% of his GCSE PE grade. It appears that the case for a week's intensive revision is overwhelming. As it happens, he has the first week of 2018 off, e.g. we can do 30th December to 6th January, so the stars have aligned for once.

So what are the must haves?
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.
The moon on a stick.

Other considerations?
Après? No, not bothered. This is about skiing, sleeping and eating and little else.
Price? Not particularly price sensitive but I do like a bargain.
Preferred country? Not really for this one which is why I need help narrowing it down.
DIY or Tour Operator? I'd be prepared to make my own way if it meant we could get the 'right' holiday.

Any pearls of wisdom gratefully received...
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Jet2 from Leeds-Bradford to Salzburg, then to Kaprun/Zell am See/Saalbach by train/transfer? Or Schladming/Dachstein? Glaciers available if the cover is poor, queues will be present but limited, and most of the ski schools are used to English visitors and have a lot of Dutch instructors as well as German & Austrian so language won't be a problem.
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Champoluc?

NY day busy but not really apart from that.

Www.ski2.co.uk do packages, but easy to DIY...
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@ousekjarr, Much information has meant much googling, many thanks.

Leogang came up as I was doing my initial search for uncrowded places and would give us access to Saalbach and is direct by train from Salzburg and from Munich Airport. Or is there no benefit and we would be as well to stay in Saalbach?

My son's quite keen on Austria as he can say, "Mit Pommes bitte" and thinks that's all he'll need. Sadly he might be right.


Last edited by You need to Login to know who's really who. on Thu 27-04-17 18:33; edited 1 time in total
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@Penry, The transfer from Salzburg to Zell am See/Saalbach/Leogang is easiest by Holiday Shuttle, which runs from the airport directly to your accommodation. If there are 3 or more of you in a group, it works out just as cheap to book a private minibus taxi from the same company. Journey time to any of these resorts is about 90 minutes (70-80 km). Easy to DIY, but look out for good Tour Company offers too.

Personally I would stay in Saalbach or Hinterglemm rather than Leogang for the Ski Circus, as the lifts in both places are in the centre of the village whereas Leogang's lifts are just outside of the village. Both are pedestrianised and very easy to find your way around in and there are few pinch-points on the lift systems. Once up in the ski terrain there is plenty of space for everyone, particularly if your instructor knows where to go to avoid the crowds. All the ski instructors speak English - there are something like 14 ski schools to choose from in the Ski Circus area.

There is a full moon on Jan 2nd - stop for a beer at the Berger Sportalm above Saalbach, then ski down in the moonlight at 17.30 after the piste bashers have smoothed out piste 52 and enjoy a spectacular run home.
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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...


I must admit I'd not heard of Champoluc. It looks like it ticks a lot of boxes, what's the snow reliability like?

And you think it will be reasonably empty on Sunday 31st and then again on the Saturday 6th?
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We will go for a week on the same dates. I've booked flights to Geneva and a hire car, but that's it. If I have the nerve I'm going to wait to see where the best snow is. In my mind I've got Tignes and Val Thorens as high and pretty snow sure.
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@Penry, village at 1,600-ish. Good snowmaking. We had some very fine on piste weekends early, mid-December this year (as is often the case).

The village won't be empty, but the slopes will be Ok.
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@quinton, many thanks for the advice, the moonlit run sounds spectacular, here's to a cloud free evening. The extent is enormous now, I hadn't realised that it had a connection to Fieberbrun. As a kid we went to Fieberbrun once, all I can really remember is an incredibly long T-bar with a turn in it and being too light to get it to retract properly - a seemingly unending struggle to avoid being dislodged.

My reservations with Saalbach are:

1) Height - is the number of runs going to be a limited due to lack of snow cover? No crystal ball obviously but how was it the past few New Years?
2) Drunken revelry as the Telegraph terms it. I like a beer or two, I've even been out drinking in Hull, but this trip isn't about that. I'm a bit twitchy that we'll find it hard to avoid pissheads and party animals while I'm being very dull.
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I've only ever been to Andorra, but they have excellent snow-making facilities (which means you're not as reliant on the real stuff falling when you're tied to dates), the après is tame (for those of us who prefer to ski without hangovers), plus the ski school is English speaking and highly recommended. We go to Vallnord (for the variety of blues and reds in Arinsal, Pal and Arcalis) but I'm told all Andorran resorts are equally great - and they're all in easy reach if you're driving!
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Amunah wrote:
I've only ever been to Andorra,, the après is tame ...



Given that I ended up drinking pints upside down while attached to skis on the ceiling in an Arinsal pub I would love to hear your definition of not tame.


Yeah...Arinsal is pretty good. The piste map looks terrible in comparison to the likes of Cham or Val T but we've never had a bad trip there. Done a couple of mid term weeks and it wasn't overly busy.
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I've not been to Saalbach, but looking at the weather thread, the photo from 26th Dec 2016 looked very sad:

http://snowheads.com/ski-forum/viewtopic.php?t=128241

Not sure how it was in Andorra at that time?

For a trip on 30th Dec, I'd be researching very snow sure locations.
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We went to Arinsal on Jan 2nd, and had decent snow cover on piste despite it not snowing since November (off piste was getting bare). Gondola/lifts in Arinsal closed for a day due to high winds but we were in Arcalis and blissfully unaware.

Of course, I think two days after we came home they'd had a huge dump of snow, but doesn't that always happen? snowHead
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@Penry, The last few New Year weeks have been poor in terms of natural snow, but the skiing has been saved by the extensive snow making - all the main pistes are served by over 1,000 snow canons and the lift company is good at managing the snow. See the main Saalbach threads for a few reports from other people. In my experience, if the weather and snow conditions are not 100%, then the 'weekenders' from Salzburg and Bayern stay away as they can always come another day. This leaves more room for those that do come.

Saalbach is a party place for those who want to party, but there is not really a 'drunken revelry/pisshead' issue, and definitely not at New Year, which is very much a family week in Austria. There are plenty of places for a quiet drink or meal. New Years Eve in Saalbach is however bonkers. There is a skiing display, torchlight descent and dancing pistenbullies in the early evening, followed by mega-fireworks. Then everyone goes home to eat and drink, before heading out to the bars and the Turm slope, where everyone gathers at midnight to see the new year in with champagne and rockets.
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@Themasterpiece, It was the same everywhere this year, including France and Italy. The Austrian season was salvaged by a lot of snow throughout January. It probably had the best of the conditions this season.
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@Penry, given that just about everywhere has struggled with early season snow for the last few years, a New Year trip is not the guaranteed snow-filled holiday it once was. Saalbach has some of the best snow-making around, and at ~1000m the village is higher than many Austrian resorts while retaining its real village feel. The mountains top out at ~2100m, and the valley runs east-west so there are north-facing slopes which hold the snow well - for that reason, and because it is a quieter village, we prefer Hinterglemm. Having said that, I recommended Zell/Kaprun because of the glacier - if this was my trip, I'd stay in Zell - you hope for good cover, and if you get it you can ski Zell and maybe take a day trip or two to Saalbach, but if not the glacier is a 15-minute bus ride away and will have much better conditions unless it is -30 and a whiteout as it was on one day when I was there ~10 years ago. But even that beats skiing on a 10-metre wide ribbon of slush through green fields, which is what you could get just about anywhere.

Similarly for the other places where you have a good ski resort with a glacier nearby, such as Schladming with Dachstein.

As for the drunken revelry, you can find it if you want it but it is not all-pervading, and as this is Germanic drunken revelry it tends to be very good natured. Saalbach and Hinterglemm have plenty of apres ski places, but the loud ones are easily avoided and they're also well insulated so from 20 feet away you'd be hard pressed to tell me what was playing inside.
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@Themasterpiece, and @Penry, I confirm that, even when the snow is late arriving, as it has in the last few seasons, Saalbach seems to cope, thanks to its heavy investment in snow-making infrastructure. This last season Mrs TT and I arrived on 10th December and stayed throughout the season. Our first day of skiing was on 11th December, and I was amazed, thrilled and relieved to find that we had at least 150km of skiing to go at. The links between Saalbach, Hinterglemm, Leogang and Fieberbrunn were all open, as were the main pistes down to the valley (enabling us to ski home every day). The condition of the snow was also excellent - generally smooth pistes with grippy snow on a firm base, and few people to mess it up. Despite the gloomy reports from across the Alps throughout December, I can honestly say that everyone we talked to had a smile on their face and the general feeling was one of satisfaction and relief that we had plenty of enjoyable skiing, despite dire reports from elsewhere.

Quote:

the valley runs east-west so there are north-facing slopes which hold the snow well

The valley is also relatively narrow and V-shaped with high mountains rising steeply on its southern side. Consequently (and this is a factor that is often overlooked), during the early part of the season, the sun (which is of course weak and low in the sky at this time) is behind the mountains throughout the day. This means that the lower south-facing slopes, including the nursery slopes, remain in the shade and therefore cold, and the snow on them is invariably as good as it is on the sunnier slopes higher up. The big, twin-peaked mountain that towers over Saalbach to the south side of the village is called the "Schattberg" for a reason (= "Shadow Mountain").

Quote:

drunken revelry

I'm always struck by the number of people who seemingly worry about being dragged into some typical Austrian apres-ski (i.e. singing and dancing with a motley crew of fellow-Europeans between 4.00- 7.30pm). Or even some later, much more low key conviviality, in the form of what we call apres-apres-ski. However I can confirm, as others have said, that you don't have to join in if you don't want to. Any late-night revelry tends to be confined mainly to subterreanean cellar bars, which are impressively sound-proofed. You can be standing on the doorstep, unaware that a live band is playing inside. The only piece of advice I would give is for light sleepers to think twice about booking a hotel room that overlooks the main village street (Dorfstrasse), as inevitably there are people who show little consideration on their way home late at night. There is plenty of accommodation that is less "exposed", and this applies to any resort.

Quote:

There is a full moon on Jan 2nd - stop for a beer at the Berger Sportalm above Saalbach, then ski down in the moonlight at 17.30 after the piste bashers have smoothed out piste 52 and enjoy a spectacular run home.

This is our normal routine at the end of most skiing days, but it pays to invest in some cheap head torches, in case it's cloudy, but I agree with quinton that a run down the "magic carpet" by the light of the moon and stars is spectacular. (By the way, " a beer" is not to be taken literally - the Bergeralm has a "buy one, get one free" policy from 3.30-4.30pm.)
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Tatman's Tours wrote:
@Themasterpiece, and @Penry,
I'm always struck by the number of people who seemingly worry about being dragged into some typical Austrian apres-ski (i.e. singing and dancing with a motley crew of fellow-Europeans between 4.00- 7.30pm). Or even some later, much more low key conviviality, in the form of what we call apres-apres-ski. However I can confirm, as others have said, that you don't have to join in if you don't want to. Any late-night revelry tends to be confined mainly to subterreanean cellar bars, which are impressively sound-proofed. You can be standing on the doorstep, unaware that a live band is playing inside. The only piece of advice I would give is for light sleepers to think twice about booking a hotel room that overlooks the main village street (Dorfstrasse), as inevitably there are people who show little consideration on their way home late at night. There is plenty of accommodation that is less "exposed", and this applies to any resort.

I suppose it's because I live in the UK where starting drinking at 3.30 inevitably leads to vomit, broken glass and much shouting, good natured and otherwise. Or maybe that's just me.
Many thanks for the detailed post, Saalbach definitely on the short list.

@ousekjarr, I get what you're saying about easy access to glaciers but on this occasion I'd rather go for something that didn't require different courses of action depending on conditions.

More to follow...
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@Amunah, Andorra used to be the cheap as chips holiday. At University we put money into a pot each week for a skiing trip to Andorra but I got chicken pox and couldn't go. and then it turned out no-one had gone as the treasurer had run off with all the money.

Anyway, to the present, driving isn't on as it's just me and a 15 year old. What's it like crowd-wise at New Year?

@Frosty the Snowman, Wise advice I'm sure but why?

Anywhere else? Or is everywhere that's easily accessible and snow sure overrun at New Year? What about higher Austrian resorts like Obertauen, somewhere in the Arlberg? Or the French Alps?
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@Penry, because you wanted quiet slopes and short lift queues. Christmas week is much, much quieter....akthough this year the dates are less black and white
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Drammeister wrote:
@Themasterpiece, It was the same everywhere this year, including France and Italy....


I guess you mean "everywhere in Europe". Which is why some of us went elsewhere, to encounter early season conditions which were perhaps the best for a decade, although the season before was pretty good too. Just saying.

Otherwise.. if it matters, go somewhere with a glacier. I'm just flying back from Sölden where early May conditions are epic - the best of the season according to some here. But they have a lot of glacier terrain, so I guess it'd work if there was no snow. Personally I'd not really like any of these places when the tourists are there though - I think they have "great apres ski" which to me means vomit and all of that. If money's no object then going up market would avoid that, but otherwise I think you'd be better off with places like France rather than Austria. Some French places (Les Arcs?) are "family oriented" so have "poor" off piste (not much vomit) and excellent food and the powder lasts longer there too..
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Another ignorant question...

Most hotels are coming up as already fully booked via Tour Operators and the map on booking.com is a sea of red across Austria indicating most places are fully booked, but some hotels when I looked at their websites directly haven't got their 2017/8 booking dates up. There doesn't seem to be much available (although the Saalbach website has more options than most.

Am I too early or too late? I.e. should I get what I can now or hold off until some point in the future?
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Too early - "fully booked" means no spaces available at the moment, as the hotels have yet to load up their availability data for the winter. Try the hotel directly by email and they should be able to help. Plus most Austrian places operate on a high level of repeat business, so you may find that 50% or more of their space is already pre-booked by people as they checked out in January.

Remember that direct bookings will be at their headline rate, via the local tourist office may be 10% less cash to them, booking.com will be 20-25% less cash to them, and tour operators might be 25-30% less cash. As a result, they'll take direct bookings in preference, then release the rest to the aggregators and tour ops unless a TO wants to book the whole place for the whole season at a rate which makes this attractive.
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@ousekjarr, Great.

When do they tend to release to TOs?
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TOs tend to want their contracts tied up before they publish any old-fashioned brochures, or before they start their winter marketing campaigns, so July/August would be the likely time, but it's been a long time since I looked at TO websites... I've heard of some of them advertising properties they don't have (or maybe don't have yet...) on the basis that they can always shuffle their customers to somewhere else later on, but I would guess that this is fairly rare.

As an example, Crystal's brochure order page says this:
Quote:
If you request a copy between April and July, there might be a slight delay on delivery because next season's Guide will not have been printed yet. Please bear with us and we'll pop your new copy in the post as soon as it's printed
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So, having spent the last 3 weeks ignoring my family, for which they seem unduly grateful, in order to scour snowheads threads on resorts mentioned upthread and a load that aren't, I've come to a decision. And that is, my son and I are going to Saalbach at New Year.

@under a new name, Champoluc looks great but I'm thinking it might be even greater end of Feb as our half term is the week after pancake day. Let me know if my thinking is rubbish.

Many thanks for all the contributions to this and all the other related threads; one of the reasons for plumping for Saalbach is that there is such a wealth of information on this site, largely contributed by the same people who have posted on this thread. This has made the enterprise a lot less daunting.

Plane tickets are bought, £105 each which seemed good value, now I need to find a central B&B which does a decent cooked breakfast. I'm guessing the rest can be sorted nearer the time.
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I got here too late to give you my initial suggestion of Orso Bianco at the mid station of Sauze d'Oulx but I recently did a lot of research into Saalbach ( before plumping for Arabba) and found a half board deal direct with Hotel Panorama Landhaus almost as cheap as most of the other bb options I received quotes for. Reviews are decent, some TO's use it and there is a shuttle to one of the main lifts. Jealous as I was keen to visit Saalbach for the first time but hope it might be some help.
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New year week next year will be pretty quiet compared with normal as most schools go back on the 2nd Jan which means christmas week is going to be the busy one.
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@Penry, half term doesn't seem (although it's not something I pay particular attention to ) to particularly affect Monterosa.

Do Austrian B&Bs do cooked breakfasts? Ever?
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Penry wrote:
...

I must admit I'd not heard of Champoluc. It looks like it ticks a lot of boxes, what's the snow reliability like?



I was booked to go there Jan 2016 but had to cancel at the last minute as there was just too little open. Shame, as I've heard good reports of the area.
We diverted to Cervinia, which is snow sure and would also tick a lot of your boxes.
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@Ray Zorro, I am surprised to hear there was so little open in Monterosa Jan, 2016 as I was very happily off piste on Dec 31, 2015...before I broke my hand...

Monterosa is generally pretty snow sure and I must confess I find Cervinia terminally dull (I know, it's a glacier, they're mostly flat if they're safe, etc.)
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Ah food, a whole new can of worms. not literally obviously.

under a new name wrote:
Do Austrian B&Bs do cooked breakfasts? Ever?
I have a slight intolerance to sugars/carbs so if I want a beer or two later in the day (and I do), I need to avoid them if a reasonable alternative is to hand. Last Feb. in Trysil there was a buffet breakfast and I discovered the joy of mixing scrambled egg and Norwegian smoked salmon. A plate of that in the morning and all I needed at lunch was a few chips.
Bacon and eggs washed down with a cup of Twining's English Breakfast in the morning and there's very little that can't be achieved. That we now copy our continental cousins in ignoring this fact is one of life's mysteries.

toyah807 wrote:
I got here too late to give you my initial suggestion of Orso Bianco at the mid station of Sauze d'Oulx but I recently did a lot of research into Saalbach ( before plumping for Arabba) and found a half board deal direct with Hotel Panorama Landhaus almost as cheap as most of the other bb options I received quotes for. Reviews are decent, some TO's use it and there is a shuttle to one of the main lifts. Jealous as I was keen to visit Saalbach for the first time but hope it might be some help.
Thanks for the tip anyway, there'll be other trips. I did notice that half board is generally excellent value compared to B&B but laddo will only eat mains that you can add chilli sauce, curry sauce or ketchup to. So part of the decision was based around the number of restaurant options in saalbach and thus B&B or if I must, SC.
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Sorry everyone for the thread diversion...

under a new name wrote:
@Ray Zorro, I am surprised to hear there was so little open in Monterosa Jan, 2016 as I was very happily off piste on Dec 31, 2015...before I broke my hand...


You were off piste in Monterosa?
I did all I could to keep abreast of the situation and left it to the very last minute before I changed my plans.

On 16/12/15 I was told by a snowHead actually out in Champoluc "We have done a huge amount of walking and very little skiing(one piste open here!) and a Lot of eating and drinking. Walking up the hill in a t shirt today it's so warm!"

On 28/11/15 I was told by another snowHead that had just come back from Champoluc "In champoluc itself last week there were 2 runs. They were trying very hard to get more open so that the links between the valleys could be used plus the funicular at Frachey which is just up the road was working at the end of the week"

There was no snow for some time after that.
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@Penry, Bacon and eggs (Speck mit Ei) at the Bergeralm in Saalbach is to die for! However you need to go up the mountain and do one short run to get there, so maybe a piece of toast or a banana first thing just to keep you going?
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@Ray Zorro, Embarassed I was actually talking about 2015, not 2016.

Memory, eh?
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under a new name wrote:
@Ray Zorro, Embarassed I was actually talking about 2015, not 2016.

Memory, eh?


I know!! I think I once had one once myself, but now I'm not so sure Confused

sorry @Penry - no more thread deviation. Embarassed Embarassed
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A lot less off topic than bacon @Ray Zorro,
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Tatman's Tours wrote:
@Penry, Bacon and eggs (Speck mit Ei) at the Bergeralm in Saalbach is to die for! However you need to go up the mountain and do one short run to get there, so maybe a piece of toast or a banana first thing just to keep you going?

I'm sure I'll be too lazy to take this option but how does it work with regard to first lifts and start of ski school? Can you get up there, eat and get back down again for 10? Or is it 9:30?
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@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.
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