Travel Tips

Cheaper options for Ski Holidays in the French Alps

With all the debates on the economy I though it worthwhile sharing some options to cut the cost of a ski holiday by independently arranging accommodation and travel by driving to the French Alps, in particular the Haut Savoie region of the French Alps which covers ski resorts such as Chamonix and Argentiere, Portes de Soleil which includes Avoriaz, Chatel, Les Gets and Morzine, Les Carroz and the Grand Massif resorts of Flaine, Samoens and Morillon; the St Gervais – Les Contamines- Megeve region, and the Aravis ski region of La Clusaz, Le Grand Bornand etc.

If  you go at half term then the cost can be typically £550 per person self catering to £1200 or more for catered chalet accommodation (2009-2010 prices) with a tour company; and note that teenagers pay the full adult price.

The following provides an estimate of costs if going independent.

An examination of prices on websites shows that an apartment sleeping 6 in the Grand Massif can be rented for typically £700 to £900 a week during half-term 2010.
The Euro-tunnel crossing in Le Shuttle costs approximately £180 return, though it can be even cheaper for early bookings.

I use GPS with inbuilt maps of France to guide me to he destination, but i also found sites like Mappy very useful to plan routes.
The 550 mile route to Les Carroz d’Araches from Calais can be done in 8 hours according to the route planning. I find it takes 10-11 hours with breaks for refreshments. Toll charges on the French Motorways to the Grand Massif are about 66 Euros or about £55 assuming motorways are used for the maximum road mileage.

Its possible to take A roads and avoid spending all the time on the motorway.  For example I often take the N71 from Troyes to Dijon which reduces the tolls by about 12-15 Euros and its a very pretty drive alongside the source of the River Seine.

Add on petrol costs, which can be typically £50-60 depending on diesel or petrol and the car’s mpg figures.

Its necessary to have snow-chains and these can be purchased cheaply in France or from many UK websites such as Snowchains or snowchainwarehouse.

Many apartments have free car parking outside the chalets so there are no further charges. This is worth checking as at some resorts a further £50 will be charged for car park fees.

So, that just leaves food. Cooking facilities in modern apartments like MGM in Les Carroz d’Araches.

Cheap Flights to the French Alps

Skiers flying to the French Alpine winter sport resorts of the Grand Massif (which includes Flaine, Les Carroz, Morrillon, Samoens), Chamonix, Megeve, La Clusaz,  Grand Bornand and Portes de Soleil (includes Avoriaz, Chatel) mostly use  Geneva airport but Annecy and Chambéry are also within a short drive (70 minutes) and often have cheap flights.
Low-cost airlines such as Easyjet and BMI have brought the French Alps within reach of budget travelers  flying from the United Kingdom. There are a large number of airlines that fly to Geneva; I’ve listed the ones I know of, with links to their websites: Easyjet flights to GenevaBMI baby flights to Geneva which has at least 4 regional departure airports, Flybe flights to Geneva,  which has at least 8 regional departure airports, Jet2 flights to Geneva , British Airways flights to Geneva , KLM flights to GenevaAir France flights to Geneva, and Swiss Air flights to Geneva .

If flying to the alps note that some airlines charge for ski carriage, at the time of writing in 2009 Easyjet charge £33, while Ryanair charge £50. Note BA and Swiss air currently do NOT charge for ski carriage.
Getting from the airport to the Grand Massif can be by rental car, alpbus or private taxi. Geneva has the usual range of rental car companies of National, Hertz, Europcar, Avis, Budget, Alamo and Sixt. The aeroski bus runs in the winter to most of the major ski resorts and can be picked up at the airport, a round trip to Les Carroz was 59E in 2008. A link to the timetable is available at Aero ski bus timetable

Private taxis also run from Geneva airport, a number of our guests have used Ski-Lifts private taxi which come recommended.
In the winter a number of airlines start flying to Chambery ( Aéroport de Chambéry-Savoie is around 10 km to the north of Chambéry) increasing the availability of cheap tickets. The trip by road takes about 70 minutes on the A41 and A40 to Les Carroz.
British low-cost airlines have the most flights to Chambéry Airport with Flybe,  Jet2, and snowjet; who have been increasing their regional coverage for 2008-2009.
Other useful information on airline arrivals and departures and transport connections can be found on the Geneva airport site.

Ski and snowboard rental and clothing choices

If going on a ski holiday then you will need equipment. Equipment ranges from clothing to skis or snowboards, boots and poles. There is generally no need to splash out on expensive specialist clothing when starting out skiing and snowboarding unless you are serious about image first and skiing second.  A waterproof jacket and waterproof or track suit bottoms are a cheap way to start skiing. Layering undergarments with cotton layers near the skin and a fleece under a jacket should provide the necessary warmth.

Good quality waterproof Gore-tex gloves and quality socks are worth the investment as these prevent extremities from getting cold. A general purpose bobble-hat completes the collection.
On the other hand 300 GBP on specialised ski clothing is usually sufficient to purchase a jacket, trousers, gloves, socks, hat and some wicking undergarments.

Whether you buy or rent ski equipment will depend on whether you are trying out skiing as a beginner or you have a number of years experience. If you are a beginner or just trying out the sport, it does make financial sense to initially rent equipment before investing in an expensive purchase that has a limited lifespan owing to rapid progression up the ski-experience curve.

One early-on purchase that may be worthwhile is to buy ski boots while continuing to rent skis. A well fitted and heat-moulded pair of ski boots really does make skiing more enjoyable. It is difficult to get rental boots that that fit snug and that do not nip or press somewhere on the feet.  Probably because of the differing wear patterns caused by differing size and shaped feet the liners distort which consequently applies pressure to somewhere on the foot. A days skiing may start well but can finish with foot pain – not an enjoyable experience.  If this is the case another visit to the rental shop is required the next day. In the early days of my skiing I’ve been through 3 pairs of rental boots on a ski holiday because of poor fit.

Local ski shops in the French Alps are in abundance all renting out ski and snowboard equipment. Online websites skis offer pre-ordered ski packages if expertise level, weight and height are provided in advance. This can speed up the process instead of waiting in long queues and often discounts can be obtained compared with purchase on the day in the resort.  Another good point for rental is that many ski resort shops allow customers to store their equipment overnight for free, which is a nice benefit when you return from a tiring day on the ski slopes and are desiring some immediate apres-ski.

Unless stated otherwise a standard rental package will include skis, boots and poles. You will be given a choice of of beginner, intermediate, performance or even extreme/ultimate skis. Most shops also have equipment for the junior skiers in your party. Skiing helmets, which are much more common now than a few years back, may be available for an additional charge and worth it for the safety. Ski and snowboard accidents and collisions do occur so safety is something to consider.

Is renting skis and boots cheaper than purchasing one might ask ?. If you become committed to skiing as an annual event then you will inevitably want to buy your own skis and boots. It is reassuring and boosts confidence to have your own equipment that you know and trust. And if purchased at the right time, end of winter season, then great discounts on last seasons colours and styles are available. I’ve purchased a new pair of skis for 50 euros  and new boots for 75 GBP  by watching out for old stock clearance items or a few seasons old ski boots.

Plan ahead, purchase equipment at the right time or reserve your ski rental equipment in advance and obtain discounts  and you will be on your way to a cheaper and less stressful start to a great ski holiday.

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