I’m going to tell you how to take a ski break for a day. You can literally check out the snow reports one day, be skiing or snowboarding the next, and be back in the office the following day. In other words, you can take one day off work and ski the Swiss Alps for a full day in the mountains. How’s that for a day out the office!
Why Switzerland? Well it has fabulous resorts within easy reach of Geneva Airport; you can use public transport to get to the slopes; and accommodation at short notice is widely available if you stay in the valleys rather than the mountains. And it is no more expensive than France for a quick break and much more convenient than Italy or Austria. Although Innsbruck in Austria is quite convenient for a number of resorts, there are fewer flights.
I’m not going to push Easyjet, but it is a good choice for getting to Geneva from the UK, with several flights a year from Gatwick and regional airports. BA is also a good choice if you have lots of Avios points. And if you want to take your skis with you, Swiss will carry them for free. Typically Easyjet flights start from about £26, but get pricey at weekends. At a day’s notice it can cost less than £100 pounds return for an evening flight out, and either an evening flight back the next day or an early morning flight the following day – both of which will get you back in the office the next day with a full day’s skiing.
Geneva Airport has a station in the airport itself with direct trains running to hub towns from where you can get to the slopes, either by a single train journey or a very reliable bus service.
You can stay in a resort, but with a late flight and an hour time difference it is a push if you leave the office to take an evening flight. I would recommend you stay in one of those “hub” towns, somewhere like Lausanne, Vevey, Montreux, Aigle, Martigny, Sion, Sierre or Visp. It all depends on how much travel time you are prepared to put in to and from respectively the airport and your preferred ski resort. Some towns on the main line service to Brig from Geneva Airport are particularly convenient for specific resorts, e.g. Aigle for Portes du Soleil (Champéry), Villars, Les Diablerets and Leysin; Martigny for Verbier and Les Marécottes; Sion for the central section of the 4 Valleys (Nendaz, Veysonnaz or Siviez) and Anzère; Sierre for Crans-Montana; and Visp for Saas-Fee or Zermatt. I could mention other resorts, but on the whole they require longer transfers or are much smaller.
Most towns have convenient and reasonably priced accommodation near the main railway station that can be booked at short notice, typically via Bookings.com.
You are spoilt for choice about which resort to go to. Saas-Fee and Zermatt are open for longer seasons than the rest, and mid-week skiing is usually only available at the others from the start of December. During peak season Leysin, Villars, Les Diablerets and the Portes du Soleil are the nearest significant resorts to Geneva.
Let’s look at a couple of examples.
Flying out of Gatwick on a Wednesday at 6.20pm, arriving at Geneva at 8.55pm, book into the Lausanne Youth Hostel or Hotel AlaGare both walking district from Lausanne station. Get up early and get a full day skiing in Verbier, leaving your stuff in a locker at the base station for Verbier. Return to Lausanne in the evening and take the 7.00am Easy jet flight getting you into Gatwick at 7.35am.
Another example: Take the same evening flight and book into a hotel in Aigle. Ski Leysin the next day, then take the 9.35pm flight back getting you into Gatwick at 10.05pm.
The costs depend on a number of factors. Costing out the first option, you might spend £100 on flights, plus transit costs to a UK airport. You can bring your skis on Easyjet for £39 or hire in resort for about the same if you book in advance. With Avios points I’ve done a return BA flight for £60. The return train fare on Swiss Railways from Geneva Airport to Lausanne is about £40 and the cost of a combined ski and travel pass (the Snow’n’rail scheme) for Verbier will be about £100. Lausanne is about 50 minutes from Geneva Airport and just over 2 hours from the gondola station serving Verbier. Accommodation near the station will cost you about £80 for a night. Food and drink are best bought from supermarkets and it is totally acceptable to drink alcohol on the trains.
On my trip to Saas-Fee last week I took advantage of an all-season ski pass I bought for under £200. I also have a half-fare card which halves the cost of rail transfer in Switzerland and I have Easyjet+ which gives some perks flying Easyjet. I am over 60 so travel in the UK is free or heavily discounted. And I have a pad in Switzerland about 1 hour 30 minutes from Geneva Airport and half an hour from the nearest ski resort.
I also have a pass for 25 other leading Swiss resorts that cost me around £200 for the whole season. The benefit of also having the Saas-Fee pass is it gives me good skiing early and late in the season.
March is probably my favourite month for skiing, the longer evenings and sunny skies heralding Spring. And, of course, you do tend to get Spring ski conditions – crusty off-piste, whilst the pistes are icy first thing and slushy at the end of the day. So a good tip is to look for resorts where most of the skiing is high.
No schools in Europe have half term during March this year, so there should be some good bargains for accommodation, particularly family-friendly resorts.
Some of the medium-sized resorts are perfect to visit since they have lower lift pass prices and should have the full extent of their ski area still open.
These, then, are my top tips for March skiing, all resorts with plenty of altitude:
The Ski Club of Great Britain, the UK’s largest snowsports membership organisation, released findings from their annual consumer research report earlier this month.
The report, which is now in its fourth year, offers insight into the habits, intentions and attitudes of people who participate in snowsports, both here in the UK and abroad. It also offers some understanding of the state of the market and the likelihood for growth or decline in its size. It is the only independent piece of consumer research in the snowsports market of its kind.
From a pool of over 1.3 million email addresses the 2016 survey generated 17,270 responses of whom 2,432 were non-skiers. The responses seemed to skew towards older skiers, with the highest percentage age profile consisted of 34% aged between 50-59 years.
So what were the findings?
Has Brexit had an impact on skiers?
Brexit seems to have had little effect on the desire of skiers to continue pursuing their holidays. The survey responses were collected both before and after the referendum. Even amongst the ensuing uncertainty and exchange rate changes 65% of skiers said their skiing habits would remain the same over the next 3 years.
A further 28% said their activity would increase and only 7% said their activity would be decreasing – and much of this decrease was due to factors outside their control and mainly lifestyle changes. It seems that people who ski will continue to ski.
For the 2,300 non-skiers it was asked how likely they were to ski in the next three years. Over 5% gave a positive response (scoring 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale) – a strong potential pool of new skiers.
However, when the result was split between people responding before and after the referendum there was a major significant difference. Before the referendum 7.2% had scored their potential to ski as 9 or 10. After, if had dropped to 4.5%.
Loyalty to ski
Repeat purchase intention in the ski market is extremely high. Of the people who skied last season an impressive 97% say they will ski again in the coming season.
Skiing also remains hugely popular with 92% of those who go on a snow sport holiday choosing to ski, from these 39% choose off-piste, an increase of 3.7.% from 2015. Snowboarding accounts for some 12% of activity (down slightly on last year’s results). Although not recorded last year, 4% this year stated that they did freestyle skiing on their holiday.
Advocacy is found the more times you try; those people who skied 1 week or less recorded a Net Promoter Score* rating of 59, those that skied 2 to 5 weeks’ scored 75 and those over 5 weeks tended to score 80 and over.
Loyalty to specific markets also remains strong – 74% of people who skied in France on their last holiday say they will go there for their next ski holiday with 61% stating Austria and 49% choosing USA & Canada.
Solo travellers on the up
Although 38% of respondents had skied with their own or other families on their last ski break, 31% with friends, it was notable that 7% stated that they travelled alone, a significant 2% increase from the 2015 research.
Growing the market
The report identifies new skiers as those who have skied 1 week or less and this year saw 33% were aged 40-49. From these they tended to have gone with their families.
When asked where they were likely to ski, they are more inclined to visit Andorra and some of the Scandinavian markets and significantly less likely to visit France in comparison to all other skiers.
Lapsed skiers (people who hadn’t skied in the last three years) were asked how likely they were to come back into the market. Some 50% of the people who hadn’t been skiing in the last 3 seasons responded positively and 20% of these responded with a 9 or 10. This is increase on last year of some 2% – a positive indicator of potential demand in the market.
Do we ever stop?
This year we asked people about whether they had taken a break from skiing of more than three years with 66% v 34% stating yes and no. The largest age group that featured in the yes category were the 40-49 year olds, perhaps children, work commitments or the classic cash rich/time poor issue features. The biggest age group who have not taken a break of three years from skiing is the 60+. This age group are more likely to have retired, and to have more time and money to continue their skiing each year.
The most common reason for a break has been taken was children. On top of this ‘other commitments’ and ‘costs’ as well as being at university also figure – but children remain the major issue.
However, what brought people back was their children, a love of skiing as well as increasing affluence and time. Skiing with friends and families is also often a great motivator too.
The customer journey
Although skiers enjoy skiing, the Net Promoter Score* rating across the customer journey highlights some concerns that continue in the market. The journey to get to a resort continues to be highlighted as not an enjoyable experience. Airline and airports are under-performing compared to the rest of the experience.
When do customers book?
When it comes to booking holidays 64% are booking 3 months or more before they travel and only 13% booking less than a month before their trip. When broken down into the under and over 30’s market, 36% of the latter book 6 months or more before they travel but interestingly there isn’t a significant difference for the under 30’s.
Spend per head on travel, accommodation, ski passes, equipment and ski school remains fairly consistent on last year with 25% of respondents spending between £750-£1,000 per person. A slightly increase of 2.3% shows for those now spending more than £1,500 per person. Not surprisingly, when broken down 31% of under 30’s will spend around £500-£750 compared to 22% over this age.
New skiers will also spend significantly less, with 28% spending less than £500 per head compared with 19% of all over skiers
Choosing a resort
Once again, guaranteed snow is the number factor when choosing a resort, the size of the ski area and quality of accommodation make the top three. Interestingly, how busy the slopes are has risen but price still squeezes into the five most important factors. For the under 30’s market, price moves up to number 3 but quality of accommodation drops to a ranking of 5. Quality of après ski ranks in 6 rather than 12th for the rest of the market.
Preparing for a ski holiday
This year respondents were asked how they prepared for their ski holiday with 80% taking part in general fitness activities before they depart and 37% participating in other sports. Cycling came out as the clear favourite (although slightly less for the under 30’s market) but other popular sports also included swimming, tennis, golf, and squash, climbing and going to the gym
One fifth also visit an artificial slope in preparation. Interestingly it is the under 30’s market, and those who are often less experienced, who will visit an indoor ski slope.
Taking things into your own hands
The independent market – though a challenge to quantify accurately – and classed in this report as those who book elements of their ski holiday themselves rather than as a package seems to be holding steady. Last year it was identified that 33% of the market book independently – this year that figure was 34%.
There is a tendency for the 40-49 year olds to favour booking independently compared to those who are 60 and older who prefer to book with ski companies.
One of the key interesting trends that anchors the independent market is flexibility. Independent travellers are far likely less to book a standard 7 day break with 48% of people doing so compared to 78% who booked with a ski company.
Buying in UK store remains favourite but online is catching on
The UK ski & snowboard equipment store retailers remain the favourite purchase channel for ski equipment although this figure has been slipping downward across the last 2 years with 53% choosing to buy from a store in 2015 and 48% in 2016. Online purchase has increased once again by 4%.
What was highlighted was the discontentment of respondents purchasing either snow sport equipment or clothing in a resort with a very low Net Promoter Score* rating of -15 and -18 respectively.
With the continuing strength of the Swiss Franc, a ski or snowboard holiday in Switzerland may not look affordable, but there are many ways you can make a Swiss winter sports holiday fit into most budgets. Here are some of my tips:
Take advantage of the best public transport in the world
Every single ski resort in Switzerland can be reached by public transport, and furthermore virtually anywhere you book to stay will have good public transport access. That opens up a host of opportunities to stay in inexpensive accommodation outside the ski resorts, but within easy access. One suggestion is to stay in Interlaken, and do day trips to the Jungfrau resorts of Murren, Grindelwald and Wengen. These places can get gelid, so rigging up your The-House jackets before embarking on that trip would really help. Interlaken is lively and full of good priced accommodation options. From Chur, the cantonal capital of Graubunden, you can easily reach Davos and Flims/Laax. You might also want to mix business with skiing, and it is possible to get a full day skiing on a day trip from any of the major commercial centres.
The Snow’n’Rail scheme provides 20% discount off the combined public transport and lift pass charges for virtually every significant resort in Switzerland. Agsin, this works well if you are staying away from the ski resorts themselves.
Stay in inexpensive accommodation
With a reputation for quality and service, even very basic lodgings can provide excellent lodgings. Perhaps the best tip is to stay in a Youth Hostel. Many resorts have outstanding hostels with easy access to the slopes – even St Moritz. Most of the hostels offer en-suite facilities if you don’t want to share a bathroom, and the dormitories vary from singles upto 20 beds or so. Most offer half-board and sell wine and beer. Consider the options from Jungle Vista Inn.
Eat and drink out judiciously
Eating out can get very expensive in Switzerland, and you can easily run up an eye-watering bar bill. However the supermarkets offer good value. Many places offer catering facilities, so you can eat in, and you can always have a few apres-ski tipples back in your accommodation. Many Swiss also take their lunches with them when they ski and take advantage of the picnic rooms available at most resorts, although I usually find Swiss soups offer a nourishing and inexpensive lunch. In Switzerland it is also acceptable to drink alcohol in public.
Take advantage of deals
The Swiss are generally reluctant to offer discounts. As one hotelier put it “You are taking advantage of the people willing to pay the full price”! However the strong franc has focussed minds and all sorts of special offers abound. Many resorts include free lift passes with hotel bookings ahead of Christmas, allow kids to ski for free on all or some days. In the next couple of months I will highlight special deals as they become public. The Swiss Tourist office has a number of deals posted Swiss Vacation deals.
Go to less well-known resorts
You get an amazing range of skiing and snowboarding at resorts like Verbier and Zermatt, but many of the lesser resorts offer equally challenging runs, plenty of off-piste terrain and – arguably – much better facilities for beginners and intermediates. Also, using public transport, it is possible to combine visiting a number of cheaper inexpensive resorts in one trip and actually have access to more slopes in total than if you stayed in one more highly priced resort.
Book online in advance
Many things are cheaper booked online than in person – some things, like the Swiss Transfer Ticket, are only available outside Switzerland. In addition you often have the opportunity to buy online in the currency of your choice, often at a lower price than the cost in Swiss Francs.