Bulgarian ski resorts open for the 2012-13 ski season

December 15, 2012

The top 3 ski resorts in Bulgaria all held their official season opening today. Bansko, Borovets and Pamporovo all held opening ceremonies to welcome the new winter season. In Bansko the opening was attended by the Austrian Olympic gold medalist, Hermann Maier and also by Marc Girardelli the 5 times World Cup alpine champion. Bulgaria top skier Petar Popangelov was also in attendance.

Both Borovets and Pamporovo offered free lift passes for the opening day of the season. This led to pretty crowded slopes in both resorts as locals took advantage of the chance to get some free skiing and snowboarding. After the slopes closed Borovets held an opening party with a snow show, freestyle ski exhibition and live music and entertainment.

Borovets Ski Resort - Season Opening 15th Dec 2012

In Pamporovo free buses were also laid on from the nearby towns to bring local skiers to the resort. This season is an exciting one for Pamporovo as they host a leg of the womens FIS European Cup for the first time.

Pamporovo Ski Resort - Season Opening 15th Dec 2012

Vitosha ski resort on the edge of Sofia is planning to open tomorrow the 16th Dec. The resort was closed last season due to a spat regarding environmental concerns but these issues seem to have been dealt with.

If you are interested in a cheap ski holiday then Bulgaria is one of the top destination to consider. It recently came tops in the budget ski holiday section of the Post Office annual ski report so it is worth checking out our range of Bulgarian chalets and ski apartments in Bansko, Borovets and Pamporovo .

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An amazing week in St Anton and some extraordinary snowfall levels

December 14, 2012

Mark Douglas writes about his ski trip to St Anton am Arlberg in January 2012 and how climate change is effecting the ski industry. Please note this article was written during the 2011-12 season.

Snow, snow, snow everywhere! The main slopes of the resort in front of me are hiding under a white blanket of snow, so is the case with the far side of the valley directly behind me. When looking upward, I feel white flakes fondling with my eyelashes; and looking down I find lots of snow forming great bastions at the side of the roads being cleared with a snow plough. In short, snow is everywhere, submerging every slope and surface but to my surprise the great accumulations are lying somewhat invisibly beneath me. The depth is 5.81 metres according to the bright sign installed at the lift station. Even the ski chalet that we are renting has 2 metre snow walls on the driveway.

Where am I standing now? I am here amongst a lively group of skiers and snowboarders on holidays in St Anton, one of the most famous Austrian resorts that is at the top in terms of snow-depth this season. The heavy snowfall that arrived in the first week of January made news all over Europe, partially because visitors were stranded, but mainly due to fact that what looked like a disappointing season in December turned out to be an epic snow season just a few short weeks later. Having rented a beautiful St Anton chalet with full catering laid on we had the perfect setup for an amaxing weeks skiing.

The Alps received its first downpour of snow on 4th December 2011, at a time when stories about another barren ski season had been disappointing skiers all over Europe. By the end of the 2010-11 winter season, some reports predicted the lowest ever snowfall for the month of April, with a spring heat-wave also taking its toll on Chamonix, where the temperature was recorded to be 26C, the highest in the last sixty years. Of course no one can accurately predict snow. But seasoned ski holiday operators agree that British tourists are quick to forget just as they are quick to remember what conditions have been like their last time in the Alps. Normally, if a skiing resort receives a pretty good amount of snowfall in one season, skiers are expected to throng the same area in the upcoming skiing season.

Other weather indicators can be considered slightly more reliable in terms of predicting snow. La Niña and El Niño are two significant meteorological phenomena that can be observed between Papua New Guinea and Peru, right in the centre of the Pacific Ocean. La Niña takes place when the ocean is warmer than normal, while El Niño happens when it’s cooler. These weather systems can predict unusual snow to hit the western part of the North America, but they alos have an impact on European ski resort but this is less well understood.

Just before the advent of the 2010-11 snow season, La Niña was announced as the Pacific was unusually warm. As per predictions the United States received great snow especially after Christmas. However, the Alps received almost nothing. Then in the 2011-12 season once again a La Niña was announced but the snowfall effects are yet to be assessed. Before last week we had been expecting the reversal of 2010-11, when the US received epic snow, while the Alps very little; however, the situation in this season so far has been completely different. To elaborate how perfect the conditions are this time, most ski resorts in the Alps are setting all time records for snow fall. The Paradiski area, connected by La Plagne and Les Arcs, is boasting to have received more snowfall than previously seen in the last 50 years. Likewise, Chamonix is posting photographs showing chalets completely enveloped in snow and struggling to keep road access open.

As for St Anton, which is located in the Vorarlberg region of the Tyrol, winter storms get in here from both the eastern and western regions, and snow also falls in great volumes. A brief review of the British Ski Club records shows that snow has been exceptional this season. According to the records, maximum snow levels were recorded in April 2003-04 when it was 4.5 metres; in another two seasons, 1998-99 and 1999-2000, it was more than 4 metres; however regularly the snowfall it did not hit even 2 metres.

This season, a 2.5 metre snow-fall has been recorded in the first week of January alone. It literally disconnected St Anton from other areas, with roads blocked, the train service suspended and ski holiday plans disrupted.

Last week, snow conditions were perfect in St Anton, with light snowfalls and cold weather keeping the pistes in top quality. The entire area was skiable, with all resorts filled with crowds of skiers, consisting mainly of German vacationers who were celebrating the Fasching holidays.

As far as the lower parts of the main ski resorts are concerned, there was extraordinary trouble in the pastures between the Galzig lift hub and the main town. Some chalets were completely submerged in snow with the exception of their roof tips bulging out to trip up fast skiers on their descending tracks. Going up the hill, the 14th century and satellite village of St Christoph, seemed as if it were carved out of the snow. A bit of an unusual situation caused a long queue in front of the St Anton chairlift as a local fireman cleared snow off the tops of the second floor windows of the Karl Schranz Hotel.

This sight reminded me of the enormous scale and the huge force of Alpine snowstorms. While going through the St Anton snow depths recorded in recent years, I noticed that in late February 1999 the snow surpassed the scale we have been seeing this winter. At that time the upper slopes had 6.5 metres deep of snow, which was certainly a case of too much of a good thing. A large number of slopes were shut down and ski patrols had to deploy explosives to clear potential avalanche areas. Apart from this inconvenience, Galtur, which is in the neighbouring valley, experienced a tragedy when the snow weight increased beyond the level supported by the towns snow defences and a sudden shear in one of the snow layers caused some 170,000 tons of snow to come racing downhill at the speed of 300km/h. The whole village was swept over and 30 people were killed.

As concerns regarding climate change are increasing, glaciers dwindling and winter sports enthusiasts lacking their traditional volumes, one could easily think that the halcyon days of regular heavy snow are nearly over. Clearly, two elements that cause snow showers include cold air and moisture. Although temperatures are rising globally, the winter temperatures in the Alps are still persistently low and capable of retaining the desired white blankets of snow on the mountains throughout the season. However, when it comes to moisture, it seems it is increasingly available because the atmosphere is absorbing more water as a result of the increase in temperatures. Despite hot debate on this issue, it is likely that the Alps will have snow sufficient for skiing, although at relatively higher altitudes, for many years to come and certainly well beyond 2050.

But what’s about snowstorms like that which hit St Anton during the early months of this year? Are we going to expect another round of snow just like the previous year? The simple answer is, Yes. Extreme weather conditions, including drought and simultaneous flooding in Australia in 2010 and the ‘Snowmageddon’ hitting the eastern coasts of the United States, are enough to predict that our climate will remain erratic into the future, largely thanks to the increasing amount of moisture in our atmosphere. And when there is moisture then more snowfall is also pretty sure. So get your ski gear ready and tackle the winter snow head on. It seems that global warming will not mean the end of ski holidays. It is in fact more likely that it will result it erratic and fierce snow storms that can provide tonnes of perfect snowfall.

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More snow fall leads to increasing avalanche risk

December 11, 2012

There seems to be no end to the early season snow across the European ski resorts. In the last few days the snow has moved east with heavy falls in the Austrian ski resorts and the eastern Alps. Further east again in the Balkans, both Bulgaria and Slovenia have seen fresh snowfall to top up the existing base.

Yastrebets Pistes in Borovets, Bulgaria

The heavy snowfall has resulted in several avalanches in Alpine ski resorts. Tragically one person has died in the Italian ski resort of Sauze d'Oulx and several skiers have been inured in Chamonix and in the Swiss resort of Wengen. Two British skiers were involved in an avalanche in Verbier but were unharmed. There were also avalanche incidents in Engelberg and St Moritz over the weekend.

Ski authorities across Europe are warning skiers and snowboarders to be extra careful at the moment as the avalanche risk is set at 4 out of 5 risk levels. Skiers are encouraged to stay on the marked pistes if possible as this is the safest place to be skiing. If you must venture off piste into the unmarked areas it is essential that you carry an avalanche beacon, shovel and probes. And most importantly you should know how to use the avalanche rescue equipment.

With lots of resort already open across Europe and North America there is more than enough on piste skiing to be enjoyed. We recommend given the current high risk levels that you stick to practising your carving on the corduroy pistes and leave the adrenalin free riding until later in the season.

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Heavy snowfall across the Alps

December 05, 2012

A huge snowstorm has crossed the Alps in the last 48 hours depositing up to half of meter of fresh powder in many of the alpine ski resorts. With high winds there is a serious avalanche risk and 2 people were extemely lucky to be recovered having been buried in an avalanche in Tignes. Many of the European ski resorts are struggling to cope with unusually heavy snow this early in the season. Both Val d’Isere and Verbier announced that they would not open today due to severe avalanche risk and several other alpine resorts were forced to close certain sectors of their resorts.

While the early snow is a bonus for many resorts they are struggling to keep the ski lifts open due to the continuous heavy snowfall. Road conditions are also very challenging and several motorways in the Geneva area were closed temporarily while snow ploughs worked to clear the deep snow and drifts. Conditions were made worse by the strong winds and drifting snow.

In the Chamonix valley over 30cm of snow fell overnight but the resort is coping well and has announced that Les Houches and the Grands Montets ski area will open this weekend.

It has certainly been an exciting few days snow wise in the Alps so check back later in the week to see how the start of the ski season is progressing. All the signs are for one of the best starts to a ski season for several years.

Verbier Today

Val d’Isere beginner slopes

Tignes is overcast today but with lots of snow

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Bulgaria and Slovenia come tops for cheap ski holidays

December 04, 2012

The 2012-13 ski holiday report from the Post Office has just been released and offers some interesting reading for anyone planning a ski holiday in 2013. This is the sixth year of the Post Office Ski Resort Report and the good news for skiers and snowboarders is that prices appear to be lower than last year. The report covers 27 ski resorts in Europe and North America and compares overall costs for ski holidays in each of the resorts. The report calculates the cost of ski hire, ski school, ski passes and food and drinks in each resort.

In the best value category, skiing in Bulgaria and Slovenia come tops for the second year in a row while Andorra and Finland are also good options for a cheap ski holiday. If you have to ski in the “Big 4” European destinations then Livigno, Sestiere and Cervinia in Italy are good options, Ellmau and Mayrhofen are some of the cheaper ski resorts in Austria options and Morzine offers the vest value in France.

At the top end of the ski market it is interesting that Courchevel in France which is often considered as a very expensive resort has lower prices than St. Anton in Austria and both Wengen and Zermatt in Switzerland. In North America the Canadian resort of Whistler was found to be 6 percent more expensive than either Vail or Tahoe in the USA.

Best Value Ski Resorts

Best Family Ski Resorts

World Class Resorts

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French ski holidays – try out Samoens, it has a lot to offer

December 01, 2012

Can Samoens be considered the perfect ski holiday resort? My attachment to the famous French ski resorts like the Trois Vallees and Val d'Isere has started dwindling. Expensive ski accommodation, ever increasing lunch prices on the pistes, the eccentric behavior of the natives, and the ski runs thronged by British skiers, are all a little annoying. Until now I have been envious of those skiers who enjoy a favourite resort because I could never find one that suited me perfectly.

That was until I rented a ski chalet in Samoens. Officially a French national historic monument the village is also part of an enormous and quite impressive ski area. Connected to the high altitude and snow sure Flaine ski resort, this authentic alpine village is just an hour’s drive from Geneva and is one of the main ski resorts in the Grand Massif ski area. The Grand Massif contains five resorts in total, including Samoens, Morillon, Flaine, Les Carroz and Sixt, and offers over 260 km of pistes. The area has over three quarters of its slopes facing north so snow conditions are good here all through the season. Another good thing is that it is the French, not the Brits, that make the up most of the skiers in Samoens so the experience feels much more like a genuine French ski holiday.

The main street of Samoens is a pedestrianized zone, and boasts a magnificent square with a quite famous lime tree in the center. It is a great place for those in self catering ski accommodation as it has a bunch of shops offering local cheese, savory patisseries and delicious mountain cuisine. Every Wednesday a big market is set up to sell amazing local produce. As well as the deli and food shops, there are several cute designer boutiques offering everything from alpine knick knacks, old style skiing photographs, bear skin rugs, deer antlers and antique skis to modern ski wear and the latest trends in ski equipment. There is more than enough to persuade you to rent a luxury chalet in Samoens.

We booked a self-catering chalet online. It was furnished with a sauna, hot tub, and even a cinema room. In total is cost 3250 euros to rent the chalet but given that there was room for 15 people the price was much lower than what we would have to pay in some of the other famous French ski resorts.

Samoens is a well organized ski resort, although its one-way traffic system can be troublesome during peak hours. The first ski buses start at 8.15am if you want to hit the slopes early although we were never that keen and tended to get moving around 9.30am each morning. Watch out for the queues at the Grand Massif Express lift. This lift can get busy at peak times, although we never had to wait more than 15minutes and we were there during the busy school holidays period. There is road access to the Samoens 1600 area which means you can avoid the Grand Massif express if you have a car available. When returning in the evening you can’t actually ski into Samoens village which is a little annoying but you can easily get the telecabin back down from Samoens 1600 or if you prefer ski down to Morillon village and get the ski bus back to Samoens. In fact the bus passed within 50m of our chalet which was very convenient.

The longest ski piste is the 14 kilometer Les Cascades, running from 2480 m at Grandes Platières down to Sixt and passing through the picturesque Lac de Gers. It will certainly get the legs burning for most skiers. Both beginners and intermediate skiers will enjoy the variety of the Grand Massif ski area, and of course it has more than enough for expert skiers, including in particular the Gers bowl with its 800m vertical drop off piste free riding area.

On the mountain we found that even with a large group there were good value restaurants and cafes to be found. There are plenty of lunch places where you can get a simple lunch for less than 12 and a coffee for around 3.50. It was refreshing to not get ripped off when eating on the pistes.

All in all we thoroughly enjoyed the ski holiday and for me this could be the start of a long love affair with the charming ski resort that is Samoens. If you are thinking of visiting I can certainly recommend renting a ski chalet or apartment. There is a good choice of both catered chalets and self catering accommodation in Samoens so I’m sure you will find the perfect option for your ski holiday.

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Ski Resort Opening Dates For 2012/13

November 28, 2012

With several ski resorts now open in Europe and resorts in the US and Canada seeing plenty of the white stuff, we thought it was a good idea to give you a run down on the opening dates for some of the main ski resorts. The snow has arrived across a lot of Europe so conditions are improving all the time and there is plenty of high altitude skiing already open.

In France, both Tignes and Val Thorens are already open and the following dates have been announced for other ski resorts in France;

  • Tignes - open
  • Val Thorens – open
  • Montgenevre - open
  • 1st Dec - Val d'Isere, Les Deux Alpes
  • 6th Dec - Alpe d'Huez
  • 8th Dec - Courchevel, Meribel, Les Menuires
  • 15th Dec - Les Arcs, La Plagne, St. Martin de Belleville, La Rosiere, Avoriaz, Morzine, Les Gets, Flaine

Across the Alps in Austria, the Hintertux glacier near Mayrhofen is already open for skiing as is the glacier in Oburgurgl. Other opening dates include;

  • Obergurgl –open
  • Solden – open
  • Hintertux – open
  • Kaprun - open
  • Ischgl - open
  • Zell am See - open
  • 29th Nov - Lech, Zurs
  • 30th Nov - St. Anton, Saalbach, Hinterglemm
  • 15th Dec - Mayrhofen

Switzerland had a big dump of snow in November which has topped up its glaciers and several Swiss ski resorts are already open for the 2012-13 season.

  • Zermatt – open
  • Saas Fee – open
  • St. Moritz - open
  • Davos – open
  • Klosters - open
  • Crans Montana – open
  • 1st Dec - Verbier, Laax

In Italy Cortina and Cervinia have several runs already open.

In Canada Lake Louise and Whistler are open with over a meter of fresh snow in the last week.

In Colorado both Aspen and Breckenridge have some runs already operating and are expecting to open more this week. Other opening dates for US ski resort include;

  • Aspen – open
  • Breckenridge – open
  • Snowmass - open
  • Steamboat - open
  • Vail – open
  • Tahoe, Heavenly – open
  • 8th Dec - Aspen Highlands
  • 13th Dec - Powderhorn
  • 15th Dec - Buttmilk

So for those early bird skiers and snow boarders there is certainly plenty of ski resorts to choose for your early season ski holiday. With more snow forecast across the Alps this week things are starting very nicely for this years’ ski season. Get you bindings checked and skis waxed because soon it will be time to hit the slopes again.

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The season opens in Val Thorens

November 26, 2012

Last Saturday saw the opening of the 2012-13 season for Val Thorens ski resort. The season start has been far more promising than last year when the resort had to postpone the official opening due to lack of snow. Although temperatures have warmed up this week there has been plenty of low temperatures during November which has allowed the snow cannons to run and top up the snow from earlier in the month.

For the season opening there are 25km of runs in operation and vertical drop of just over 700m. The local lifts company estimated that there were over 2500 skiers in the resort over the weekend with a lot of the local ski clubs getting out for the first runs of the season.

The Ski Force Winter Tour hit the resort this weekend offering several popular ski brands for testing and also showing off the current season trends in ski wear. That combined with an on-piste DJ and live music made for a lively atmosphere.

All in all a great weekend on the pistes and enough to get us pretty excited about the upcoming ski season.

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Skiing in Switzerland doesn’t have to break the bank

November 23, 2012

If you skied in Switzerland a few years ago you will probably have enjoyed an excellent skiing experience at a pretty reasonable price. This was because the value of sterling (GBP) was extremely high in comparison with the Swiss Franc (CHF). With the exchange rate of 2.44 CHF against 1, skiing in Switzerland was really very affordable. You could have enjoyed quality ski hire, lunch on the piste with excellent cuisine, private ski lessons, world class ski accommodation, liquid après celebrations, and a lot more without breaking the bank.

Since then however, the financial turmoil has been wreaking havoc with exchange rates. As a result, the Swiss Franc has turned out to be one of the world’s safest currencies for troubled investors and the value of the franc versus sterling as risen considerably.

On one hand, the Swiss Franc reached frightening heights. Sterling on the other hand, took a leap downward from a superb 2.44 exchange rate in the last three months of 2007 to just 1.52 by the end of 2008 and to a record low of 1.23 in the summer of 2011. At that time, spending ski holidays in Switzerland was considered to be the least attractive ski destination and a no-no for all but the super wealthy. Not only were UK based sterling holders uneasy about Swiss ski holidays, European visitors were also frightened as a result of the Euros' equally terrible currency performance. Late in 2011 the Swiss Central Bank finally took the matter into their own hands and intervened to prevent further rises in the value of the Swiss Franc. Gradually both sterling and the euro have increased in value against the Swiss Franc and this has proved to be really good news for ski tourists, who now find ski holidays and chalets in Switzerland much better value.

The Swiss are a still a bit nervous about the state of the Swiss ski holiday market, given the fact that a number of skiers have already discovered other holiday spots with better value for their money. In the last winter season (2011-12) a decline of 3.7 per cent was recorded in the number of visitors skiing in Switzerland, which reflects 591,000 fewer overnight stays. Overnight stays in Valais dropped by 14 per cent (41,000 fewer overnight stays) in April of 2012, when compared with the previous year.

To undo the decline several Swiss ski resorts are putting in determined efforts, extra funds and advertising to bring ski-lovers once again to the Swiss slopes. Many resorts that have been upgrading their infrastructure in spite of the declining number of visitors. Crans Montana, Zermatt and Verbier, for instance, have invested huge sums to turn their lift systems into one of the best in the world. Ski chalet and apartment owners are also aware of the need to provide value for money and have reduced prices to reflect the sterling and euro prices in other alpine resorts. If you look carefully you can find some handsome discounts on Swiss ski holidays. Across Switzerland the ski industry has realized that it has to compete with the other top ski resorts in Europe so look out for accommodation discounts, lift pass deals and budget ski packages.

With better exchange rates and plenty of bargains it is time to once again consider ski holidays in Switzerland. After all, the Swiss ski resorts have always offered some of the best skiing in the world, combined with some of the most luxurious ski accommodation and chalets.

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More resorts start to open for 2012/13 ski season

November 20, 2012

With the European ski season just a few weeks away, several more resorts have opened in the Alps. Across the water in America and Canada there are now quite a few resorts open with plenty of skiing available. The fresh snowfall and cold temperatures across the Alps this week means that conditions are improving and the snow cannons are on to prepare the pistes as well as possible.

In the southern Alps Montgenevre opened last weekend as well as Les 7 Laux. These resorts join Tignes in being the first resorts to open in France this year. Next weekend Val Thorens will open its season and is hosting the Ski Force Winter Tour on the opening weekend.

In Austria Ischgl is also planned to open next weekend and has planned a number of concerts as part of the season opening with the Scorpions included in the lineup. Solden and Obergurgl are also open with almost a meter of snow cover on the top levels.

Cervinia in Italy has 150cm of snow on the upper runs and has 9 lifts running. Meantime across in Switzerland the ski resorts of Zermatt, Saas Fee and Glacier 3000 are open with Verbier and Laax also opening for weekends.

Over in America, Mammoth and Heavenly are partially open, as is the Colorado ski resort of Breckenridge. In Canada you can enjoy skiing and boarding in Lake Louise which opened last weekend.

With more resorts opening over the next few weeks we will keep you posted on how the season opening progresses. In the meantime here are some photos from ski resorts this week.

Solden in Austria

Val Thorens, France

Iscghl, Austria

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