After a promising early season, there has been a very warm November (one of the warmest on record) and virtually no snowfall in Switzerland for over a fortnight. There is also little prospect of snow in the next ten days. The warm weather has particularly hit lower slopes, with virtually no resort runs open anywhere. Of the leading Swiss resorts, Verbier looks one of the better destinations and Les Diablerets has fared reasonably well. Samnaun and Zermatt have the most lifts open. Feldberg, in the Black Forest, looks a long way from opening.
The situation doesn’t look much better anywhere else in Europe. Sunny, relatively warm days characterise Alpine resorts, with the best of the snow in the Pyrenees. North America is doing better, with distinctly chilly temperatures and good snow cover in most leading resorts.
There is expected to be new snow before Christmas. Whether it is enough for resorts to fully open in time for the holiday season, we will just have to wait and see.
A topic of conversation amongst most skiers and snowboarders at one time or another is which is the best ski resort in the world. Of course, there is no clear definition of what constitutes the best, but there is one man who has established which are the world’s most popular ski resorts.
Laurent Vanat publishes an epic “International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism” every year (see http://www.vanat.ch/). This comprehensively researched report is fascinating, not least for the ranking of ski resorts.
One of the more interesting conclusions he draws this year is that winter sports are in decline in the traditional markets. Switzerland has seen almost a 20% reduction in skier days since 2004, a figure perhaps not so surprising give the strength of the Swiss Franc. However even the USA, Canada and Italy have started to slump in the last few years. Austria and France have been the major beneficiaries of people choosing alternative destinations, but even these have seen a decline in the last couple of years and have grown barely 5% in the last ten years.
The situation is mitigated by the explosive growth of skiing in China and some other emerging markets. In a separate report Laurent reports that China now has over five hundred ski resorts from a base of only a dozen twenty years ago.
Laurent attributes the relative decline of interest in winter sports, at least in part, to the failure of teaching techniques to adapt. He may have a point. Traditionally most skiers tend to give up the sport by their 60s, but the replacement rate is dictated by a number of factors. If the first experience of winter sports is unsatisfactory, it is hard to get people to give up their valuable holiday time and money to do it again. When I came through Gatwick in the middle of the ski season earlier this year I was struck by the overwhelming number of flights to and from winter sun destinations compared to ski resorts, and the demographic of the passengers reflected that an aging population is not going to benefit the winter sports industry.
Laurent’s report goes on to state that there are now around 66 countries that can be said to provide at least basic opportunities for lift-assisted, outdoor downhill skiing, around 20 others that provide indoor skiing facilities and 15 that have some snow coverage for at least some of the year and which, technically, could be skiable. By his estimate there are around 2000 ski resorts worldwide, with 35% in the Alps, 12% elsewhere in Western Europe, 21% in America, 13% in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and 19% in East Asia. China’s rise as a skiing super-power is offset in Asia by Japan’s relative decline.
Laurent uses the number of days the slopes are visited as the basis for estimating skier numbers. Only 44 resorts receive more than one million skier visits in a typical winter season and top of the list as the world’s most popular ski resort is… La Plagne! The top ten reads like this:
Somewhat surprising to me is how different this list is compared with a list of the ten most extensive ski resorts given that skiers in poll after poll rate the extent of the ski terrain as the most important single factor – see here for most extensive.
Interestingly, only 20% of resorts account for 80% of skier visits with the Alps taking in 43% of all skier visits – more than double the number of skier visits in North America.
Ski culture is clearly most marked in countries with extensive ski facilities, but Germany and the UK have limited ski facilities but a large ski culture. The desinations of choice for the Germans are respectively Austria, Italy and Switzerland, whilst the Brits prefer France, then Austria and Italy. The Dutch contribute about 1 million ski visits each year, and choose Austria and France as their preferred destinations.
Surprisingly, more Swiss takes their ski holidays in Austria than Brits take in Italy. It puts some perspective on how far the strong Swiss franc is hurting the domestic tourist industry. However Switzerland, along with Austria and Norway, has over a quarter of the population active in winter sports. Although it doesn’t have any resorts in the top 20 most visited, I would have little difficulty placing at least half a dozen Swiss resorts in the best 20 in the world.
Of the approximately 400 million skier visits undertaken each season, around 20 million are from visits to the 43 indoor snow centres, half of which are in Western Europe.
I am a great fan of the winter sports resorts in Graubünden, and will be spending the Christmas period in the canton. It is probably the most complete ski and snowboard destination in the world, but it caters well for ever type of visitor – including the budget conscious.
This season Graubünden once again has a range of excellent deals. The season starts on 18th October 2014 on the Diavolezza in the Engadine, which celebrates 150 years of winter tourism. On 22nd November, Corvatsch and Corviglia in St Moritz open. Progressively other resorts open, with Arosa, Samnaun, Flims Laax Falera and Davos Klosters opening in November.
A great deal for getting there is the Rhaetian Railway (RhB) offer, “Railhit 2 for 1” in which two people travelling together from Monday to Thursday only pay for one if they are hotel guests or in self-catering accommodation. The offer lasts from 8th December 2014 to 10th April 2014. RailHit is not valid on a handful of special services, including the pass associated with using the Preda-Bergün sledging slope.
For 35 SFr per person per day for visits of at least two nights, a ski pass is included with accommodation at participating hotels in and around St Moritz.
Arosa once again features the “Ski School Included” for youngsters staying in the resort, whereby lessons are available at no charge.
Now linked to Arosa, Lenzerheide gives you a free lift pass if you book a stay at any time between 28th of November to the 20th December.
Up until 21st December 2014 you also get a complimentary ski pass for slopes in Davos Klosters for every overnight stay in a partner hotel in the area. From 20th December until 6th April the resorts are also offering a local insider to accompany you and show you the best of the mountains. Remember also that Ski Club of Great Britain members still can ski or snowboard for free with a Ski Club representative.