On an upward slope

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After the long hot summer, thoughts are turning towards a winter that’s looking good for skiers says Jeremy Gates.

We might have just enjoyed this country’s longest heat-wave in seven years, but certain members of the travel industry are already turning their thoughts to cooler climes.

TUI Ski, the biggest operator in the ski tourism market, has said more than 900,000 Britons are set to head to the slopes for the coming winter season.

This marks a modest but very welcome recovery for an industry hard hit by the recession – in the 2007/8 winter season, just before the economic collapse, 1.2 million Brits took a ski holiday.

Ian Davis, product director of TUI Ski, which has market leaders Crystal and Ski Thomson among its largest brands, is feeling positive. “Around 200,000 ski holidays are already sold for next winter, with many customers keen to stretch their money as far as possible – with half-board accommodation, better quality hotels, and if possible, lift passes included in packages.

“The cost of transfers from airport to ski slope is another key issue; big operators can arrange this more cheaply.”

There is also the prospect of a fierce price war on deposits to help skiers: Cosmos, launching its first ever winter sports programme based on Monarch scheduled flights to Munich, Friedrichshafen, Innsbruck, Verona, Venice and Grenoble, is accepting deposits of just £59 on bookings by September 30.

Many operators also offer discounts for early bookings by the end of August or September: VIP SKI, specialising in chalets in Val d’Isere and St Anton offers break from £99 per person per night in early December. For seven days of quality skiing in Europe, holidaymakers are likely to pay around £650 this winter, including transfers, half-board accommodation, and tour rep in resort. Lift passes, in most cases, cost extra – but price rises have been held to a minimum in recent years.

Davis explains: “We are having to make ski packages recession-proof to offer better value. In addition, major resorts in France like Les Arcs 1950 have drastically upgraded facilities for self-catering holidays in recent years. In Austria, there’s great value to be found on family half-board packages in family-run hotels – while in Switzerland, the government move to cap exchange rates to 2011 levels has proved very effective.”

According to a report by Crystal Ski, France is the most popular country for British skiers, taking 34.8 per cent in 2012/13, while Austria’s market share rose to 28.2 per cent from 27.9 per cent.