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If you’re looking for a ski area where you can ski new runs every day over a two week holiday and still not run out of new options then Portes du Soleil is for you. Spanning the Swiss / French border the 12 village resorts first came together to create this unique ski area in the 1960’s under the leadership of Jean Vuarnet, a local Olympic ski champion. Since then, the area has become famous as one of the largest interconnected ski areas in the world with over 650 km of piste (and plenty of backcountry skiing too) all covered by one lift pass.

These resorts are set in a part of the Alps with sensational views and each of the 12 villages has its own style and personality from the ultra modern Avoriaz on the French side to the chocolate box Morgins in Switerland and our personal favourite, Les Gets.

The skiing is second to none throughout. Intensive piste management and care mean that the slopes are in great condition all season and for skiers moving from beginner to intermediate to expert the area offers an incredible range of runs for all levels. The area is also a favourite with Freestyle fans of all levels showing off their moves at one of the area’s nine snowparks.

www.portesdusoleil.com

As anybody who has not been skiing since childhood will tell you, breaking through the psychological barriers that have formed can be just as tough as mastering the physical moves required to ski.

It probably doesn’t help that most adult skiers start their ski career on a package holiday with a group lesson. The whole experience can be frustrating, terrifying and addictive in equal measure but if the bug has bitten, making the leap from snow ploughing beginner to graceful expert who can ski the whole mountain can be a long hard road.

Lots of intermediate skiers progress quite quickly from blue to red slopes and then find themselves reaching a plateau. Most people turn to lessons and while there are some very talented instructors working in all major ski resorts, the difference in knowledge and approach can make for some mixed messages which can lead to frustration, lack of confidence and not getting any better at skiing!

Like most early intermediate skiers I have had my good days and my bad days on the snow and it’s the glimpse of how great skiing can be on the good days that keeps you coming back for more. Much as I love it though, facing into another ski season of trial and error and good days and bad days and hit and miss instructors, I finally came to a decision. This would be the year I either cracked skiing or gave it up.

We had heard a lot about The Warren Smith Ski Academy from friends and colleagues over the past year and how Warren’s unique approach to teaching is helping people to smash through psychological barriers and ski like they’ve always dreamed of. With nothing to lose and years of great skiing to gain we booked a week long coaching camp in the beautiful Cervinia, Italy at the end of November.

Despite the high praise I’d heard and the excellent testimonial I read online, I will admit, I was still a little sceptical that I could look forward to the type of progress talked about in just one week. After all, it had taken me 5 years to get to the level I was at so it seemed unlikely that in 5 days I would make such a leap. But with my ultimatum in mind, I was certainly ready to give it a try.

A talented freerider and coach Warren’s technique focuses not just on traditional methods of coaching but adds two extra layers on top – ski biomechanics and ski physiology – which Warren says is the only way to ensure 100% results. This very well designed program has been developed to unlock all your classic ski problems and open the door to performance and efficient skiing.

The Academy work with skiers of all levels from intermediate to expert and instructor training (but not beginners) and you have a chance to choose your level when you make your booking. Even this process is simplified with videos demonstrating each level available to watch on the site. Beware though – don’t try to exaggerate your level because it won’t last long. After warm up on the first morning the entire group skis with their selected group and instructor and following this, the final decision is made on your level and which group you’re going to be spending the week with.

We meet our group for the week along with Becky our coach and work begins. Warren’s initial inspiration for the course came about when he was working in ski schools in Austria. Working with up to 160 clients per season, he realised that he was seeing the same 4 or 5 issues with lots of people which were holding them back from being the best skiers they could be. He describes these issues as “physiological” or biomechanical” problems that were “blocking” his clients from making progress so he set about building a ski course from the ground up that would address these problems alongside teaching using the very latest techniques.

We get an insight into the biomechanics part straight away when Becky starts helping us to focus on our stance. Just like driving, bad habits can form in your skiing, like having your feet too wide apart or leaning back in to what your brain is telling you is a safe position. Getting your stance right is a basic and with a bit of effort and concentration on getting into the right position, we see immediate improvements.

From the basic exercise of getting your stance right the rest of the week we work from the feet up on techniques and exercises to help us “feel” the right position to ski in. Everything is designed to build skill and confidence and enable you to ski the whole mountain from steeps to bumps and off piste.

One of the highlights of the week are the 2 video analysis nights held in the team hotel. If you’ve never seen yourself skiing on camera before this is an extremely instructive exercise and it really helps to have your coach point out exactly where the problems are coming from along with feedback from all the other instructors. The improvements the following morning are noticeable.

I finished the week feeling like I’d made progress and counting the days to my next adventure on the snow. My next opportunity to ski came over a month later and I took my preparations seriously watching through the videos prepared for us by The Warren Smith Academy, thinking about my stance and going over the key points that had worked for me over the week long course. Would this be a permanent change or just an extended good ski day that would see me fall back in to bad habits and low confidence?

After my first couple of runs I had my answer. It works and I’m now a better skier than I was 2 months ago. By following the techniques from the course I was finally able to consistently enjoy my skiing and even had friends who I haven’t skied with for over a year ask me how I’d improved so much!

I think my favourite tip from the course, aside from the techniques, is something our coach Becky said to us towards the end of the week. No matter what level you ski at, skiing is all about tiny corrections. If you feel your stance or any other elements are wrong, correct them. It might sound like pretty simple advice but it’s impossible to follow if you haven’t learnt the correct technique.

If you’re serious about taking your skiing to the next level The Warren Smith Academy site should be your first post of call. All of the instructors are talented skiers in their own right and the energy and enthusiasm they have for making your skiing better is very impressive.

Another point that must be made is the value for money with options available from around €500. Courses run most of the year (glacier skiing in summer) in Verbier, Cervinia and destinations as far flung as Japan for a specialised powder camp. The rates are incredible when you consider that Warren can charge as much as €600 per hour for a private lesson.

Check out the course available here. We’re already planning our next one!

Ventina, Cervinia, Italy

The Ventina ski run is an 8km long red run from Plateau Rosà starting at Plateau Rosa at 3,480m on the border with Zermatt in Switzerland and finishing at the bottom station of the Cervinia gondola at 2,100m. This is marked as a red run and because it’s in the beautiful Dolomite mountains the scenery is absolutley breath taking all the way down.

 

The Champagne Run, Vaujany, France

This is not for the faint-hearted and is best suited to experienced skiers. You cover a distance of at least 12km and drop 2,230 vertical metres. A cable-car takes you up to just below the 3,330m summit of Pic Blanc above Alpe d’Huez and you’ll finish up in the small hamlet of L’Enversin d’Oz, below the attractive resort of Vaujany.

 

Grande Motte, Tignes, France

Take the underground funicular up from Val Claret or, if the weather is fine, ride the alternative two chair lifts. You then take a cable car to the top of the glacier at 3,456m. This run covers a vertiscal drop of 1,400m and you will finish up at the train station at Val Claret. Strong skiers take the main downhill run from top. The Glacier run is less demanding and both meet up lower do Exhaustion here is exacerbated by high altitude so remember to breathe.

 

Le Tunnel, Alpe d’Huez, France

Alpe d’Huez is home to the 16km Sarenne, the longest black run in Europe. However, Le Tunnel is much more daunting. From the top you either descend a black mogul field on the back face or skirt the far edge of it until you reach a path. Both routes take you to the tunnel itself, a 60m horizontal passage through the rock with enough snow underfoot to let you slide.The full horror is revealed when you emerge into sunlight on the far side. The slope falls away to your left at a wicked angle. Sometimes the pisteurs cut a serpentine path across the face – allowing you to traverse away from the steepest pitch. If not, there’s no way out.

 

When winter comes to Andermatt, the Ursern valley turns into a fantastic ski arena with 20 lifts and 125 kilometres of well-prepared pistes.

On the top of the nearly 3000 meter high Gemsstock, a spectacular panoramic view of more than 600 summits makes your heart beat faster. The Gemsstock, scene of a series of exciting events, has long been a secret amongst snowboarders and off-piste skiers, with one of the very first alpine runs created especially for carvers, the Bernhard-Russi-Run.

The ski area offers a wide range of pistes for every standard. Natschen mountain is the best bet for beginners – fast learners and improvers can then head to Gemsstock. Free riders will find the best runs in the Gotthard area.

Skipass includes skiing in the neighbour-area of Oberalp/Sedrun, as well as free transportation with the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn to Sedrun and Disentis and to Realp and Niederwald (valley of Goms). And gets you 20% off the baths in Sedrun so you can ease your weary bones.

The town itself is warm and cosy, though not a great spot for nightlife. The Spycher bar in the village centre provides tasty pizza, salads and beer for the snowheads. Accomodation can be found through the resort’s website below.

Fly from Ireland to Zurich and get the train to Andermatt station where the mountains await you.

Essential Information

Vertical Drop 1444m
Top Elevation 2963 m
Total Pistes 140km
Trails 200
Terrain  0km Green   28km Blue   57km Red   40km Black
Lifts 20
Cable cars 3
Half Pipes 1
Terrain parks 2
Snow Making 45km
Total X-Country 28 km
Information www.andermatt.ch
Check it out  Piste Map

BEST FOR GUARANTEED SNOW

At 2,050m Cervinia links to the highest ski area in Europe, with lifts going up to the Swiss frontier at 3,899m. It shares its ski area with Zermatt and both resorts have guaranteed snow during a long season. The limited glacier area is open for summer skiing. Then the lifts open for the last two weekends of October and full-time from November through to May. The best thing about Cervinia is the length of the runs – 11km down the Ventina run to the resort – and even further, another 2km, to Valtournenche, its lower neighbour. Cervinia is wonderful territory for beginners who should be able to tackle the Ventina at the end of their first week on skis or board. However, experts will be frustrated by the absence of challenging pitch. Of course, they can head over to Zermatt. But both areas are so large it’s difficult to explore far afield on the Swiss side and be home before sunset. Miss the last lift you’ll need to spend the night in Zermatt – unless you want to take a four-and-a-half hour taxi ride.

 

BEST FOR BEGINNERS

Portes du Soleil has three main centers. Morzine for English-speaking family friendly slopes and nightlife. Higher, more snow-sure Avoriaz suits boarders and young party-lovers but its carfree status means it works well for family groups too; lovers of modernist ski architecture will be in heaven in this purpose built town. Les Gets is the most authentic French town and has dedicated unthreatening learner areas with free beginners slopes. All these towns are within an hours drive from Geneva.

BEST VALUE

Val Gardena is one of the most beautiful ski areas in the Dolomites. The Grödner Valley, or Val Gardena (German and Italian are both spoken here) covers the three villages of Selva, Santa Cristina and Ortisei. Selva is the place with the most hotels and offers the most direct access to the vast lift network that connects the Val Gardena with the neighbouring Alta Badia and Fassa valleys. Santa Cristina offers tranquillity and tradition. Ortisei is almost a small city and is characterised by a beautiful old town with a pedestrian zone. The most famous ski run is the Saslong. Experts will find challenging black runs  on Col Raiser, Mont Seura and Dantercepies. But almost every spot of the vast ski area can be reached on easy runs too. A wide range of accommodation means costs can be kept low and food options are unparallelelled with the best of Italian cooking and German beers are available at reasonable prices.

 

BEST NIGHTLIFE

The French-speaking ski town of Verbier in the western part of Switzerland gives Chamonix a run for its money in terms of lift-accessed steeps. What it lacks in terms of hardcore ski alpinism, it makes up for in style, world-class amenities, and convenience. The hotels, restaurants, and nightlife are sophisticated and polished—Richard Branson opened a chic chalet-hotel here called the Lodge. The lifts are fast and offer easy access to 254-miles of slopes and off-piste zones like Bec des Rosses, a hairy  50-degree face accessed from the Mont Fort tram. After slaying Verbier’s steeps, grab a sausage and sit outside on the deck slope-side at Cabane Mont Fort before ordering a Carlsberg at Pub Mont Fort in town. If you’re itching for a big night, head to the Farm Club, a disco where you’ll rub shoulders with ski bums and European aristocrats alike. For something low key, hit the Fer à Cheval, a bar popular with locals. Stay at the centrally located Hotel Farinet, which doubles after dark as a Bedouin-inspired nightclub.

BEST NORTH AMERICAN

The towering mountains of Whistler provide the best skiing in North America, with the biggest vertical drop. It’s funny what a difference 30 years and $600 million can make. Whistler’s charming village offers everything snowboarders and skiers crave: cafes, international stores and over 100 restaurants that cater to all tastes including Chinese, French, Greek, Italian, Mediterranean, Mexican, and Thai.

Food is key after partaking in the activities that really make Whistler legendary. Whistler quickly rose through the ranks to become one of the strongest contenders for the much disputed title of “World’s Greatest Ski Resort.” Over the past decade, Whistler was consistently voted “Best North American Ski Resort” by North Americans. The Japanese repeatedly rank it as their favorite international destination.

 

Choosing a ski resort for your holiday with friends or family can be a tough task. High-altitude with guaranteed snow? Or a majority of sunny bluebird days? You want awe-inspiring mountain peaks straight out of Lord of The Rings, and a cute chocolate-box village atmosphere? Perhaps you need something with challenging red and black slopes for the experts in your group – but what about the kids and beginners who are just learning? Of course you want good food, stunning scenery and an excellent choice of ski schools.  And some jumps or rails for the snowboarders and freeskiers among you. Impossible! 

Surely you’re not demanding enough to request highlights like the world’s highest revolving restaurant, or the world’s highest underground train? You are? Well, welcome to the one resort which ticks every one of the boxes above – Saas Fee, the pearl of the Alps. Oh, did we mention that Wham’s Last Christmas video was filmed here?

Travelpod.ie went to Saas Fee expecting picturesque scenery, great skiing and Swiss efficiency in transport both on and off the mountain. We got all of that and much more, and are already planning our return. Flying from Dublin or Cork to Geneva (with Aer Lingus), or Dublin to Zurich (with Aer Lingus or Swiss), the 2-hour flights to both destinations link up perfectly with the unbeatable Swiss Rail System. From both airports it’s a 3 hour train trip through stunning views of lakes and snow-covered Alpine mountains. Disembark the train at local village Visp and hop on the connecting bus which will have you in Saas Fee in under half an hour. Check timetables and reserve train tickets here.

By this time you’ll be longing to get into your accommodation and out onto the slopes. Saas Fee is a car-free town but a freephone by the bus station exit will reach your hotel, who speedily dispatch little electric cars to transport you and your luggage. The effect of the car-free village is a peaceful and safe one, the effect of which may only be felt after a day or two. The length of the village, from bus station to slopes and furthest lifts, can be walked in about 15 minutes and there are many electric buses to drop you right at the cable car.

Staying half-board in a hotel can be an excellent option and deals and offers are frequently available if you check the listings. Half-board is easy and affordable; the Swiss really know how to provide a mountain breakfast, and evening meals are healthy and plentiful. Here is where we should have a word about prices and the dreaded Swiss Franc/Euro exchange rate. Yes, some prices in Switzerland can seem high, but we found Saas Fee prices to be very fair. If you’re careful you can end up spending no more than a comparable stay in France or Austria. Supermarket prices are as cheap as anywhere in Europe so self-catering can also work out well, especially for families. For hotels and other accommodation in Saas Fee please see the listings here.

Heading to the slopes one of the first things you’ll notice are the two large nursery slope areas, one almost flat, one with more of a gradient and a few small bumps – both perfect for beginners. If you’ve conquered these, then head up on the Felskinn lift and then take the connecting underground funicular (world’s highest) to the 3500m high Allalin. From here you’ll find pleasant blues and straight-forward reds, nothing too steep as you’re riding on a snow-covered glacier. These pistes are perfectly maintained and groomed. Off-piste it is advised to be accompanied by a guide, as crevasses can be frequently found on the ungroomed terrain.

Allalin is home to some of the most beautiful alpine scenery we’ve experienced. You could spend quite a while here taking in the mesmerizing views of white snow above and blue-green glacier underneath. We suggest you do some of this gazing from the warmth of the Three Sixty the highest revolving restaurant in the world. It takes a full hour to spin 360 degrees ensuring you an uninterrupted view of literally the top of the world. Food is healthy and tasty here, we recommend the burgers and local non-alcoholic pick-me-up drink Rivella. You may need to book a table in high season, but it’s well worth the effort.

Underneath the restaurant a progression of cavernous passages and steps leads you right inside the glacier towards the world’s largest ice grotto. While it’s quite something to think of walking under 15 meters of glacial ice, the ice sculptures and children’s slide means you feel quite safe in the ice caves. The most dangerous element is perhaps the hike back up stairs which feels more challenging than normal at this altitude. Go slowly and save your speed for the breath-taking downhill descents waiting for you at the surface.

Runs below the mid-station at Morenia are a little more challenging than those higher up but do lead to lovely tree-lined runs back to the village. The terrain park provides plenty of kickers, rails and boxes. For kids big and little there’s the exhilarating railed Feeblitz toboggan run, the steepest in all the Alps.

Let’s not forget summer skiing. The glacier skiing area around Allalin is open through the summer, with 20kms of slopes to suit all levels. You’ll find some of the world’s best ski teams training here then, and a real buzz of activity in the town.

If you want to improve your ski or board ability there are a number of ski schools in Saas Fee. We recommend Eskimos an English language ski school who are professional and highly innovative in teaching techniques. You’ll find their office on the main street and will see their distinctive powder blue ski suits around the slopes. Their private and group lessons are absolutely worth taking, and can make a noticeable improvement to your style.

It’s clear that visiting Saas Fee is an exercise in superlatives, but our stay was enriched by other elements which can’t be measured: the friendliness of the locals, the effort taken to make all elements of the stay smooth, the clean sweet air. The town recently won Best Swiss Ski Resort 2012, voted on by over 40,000 visitors. Sipping a piping hot gluhwein by the river running through the pretty village centre, we couldn’t help but agree with their choice.

Essential Information

Vertical Drop 1800m
Top Elevation 3600 m
Total Pistes 100km
Terrain  9% Green   37% Blue   40% Red   14% Black
Lifts 22
Terrain parks 1

Information www.saas-fee.ch

Advances in ski & snowboard gear are rapidly improving the environment for even recreational visitors to the slopes. Here at travelpod.ie we‘ve made our picks from the latest gear to keep you safe and warm on the coldest of mountains.

Starting from the top down and first up is Smith Optics’ Voyage Helmet. Using a Hybrid In-Mold construction, the Voyage maintains a lightweight feel and a reduced volume so you can forget you’re even wearing it. The AirEvac 2 ventilates your head completely by pulling cool air under the brim and pushing warm air out through sixteen vents all over the helmet. If you get chilly, you can close the vents with a regulator switch found on top. Adjust this helmet precisely to fit your noggin using single-handed micro-adjustments on a dial system behind your head. A fleeced tricot lining provides plenty of warmth and cushioned comfort that feels like you were wearing a beanie. The removal Snapfit SL2 ear pads are also incredibly warm and comfortable, and headphone compatible.

 

Also from Smith comes the very stylish Virtue Goggles. We found these to be a comfortable fit, with excellent lateral visibility and a flattering profile on the face. These lenses come with a choice of lenses so check out the Smith Optics website for info on which lens suit which conditions. We used the Ignitor Mirror lens for a week of sunny skiing but think an alternate lens like the Blue Sensor would be a good option for low light skiing. Smith also do a photochromic lens which adjusts the amount of light hitting the eye according to conditions. Purists may say a photochromic lens can never perfectly fit all conditions but we have found for recreational skiing they work just fine.

Find out more at www.smithoptics.eu

For the snow fiend who wants it all (interchangeable goggle lenses for varied conditions,

without having to carry a backpack with a spare pair) we present to you the Uvex g.gl 300 Take Off polavision goggles. These have a unique magnetic snapping mechanism which allows one lens layer to be removed, revealing a lighter lens for overcast conditions beneath. The removable lens is made of a malleable non-rigid fabric so can easily be stored in a pocket. When the sun reappears just whip out the outer lens, and the magnets on each side of the goggles snap it back into place. We tried this out on a windy slope and it worked like a dream. The goggles have a slightly larger profile on the face so can be worn over regular glasses.

Find out more at www.uvex-sports.de/en/

For outer wear Helly Hansen provide a complete outfit in the Eclipse Jacket and matching Eclipse Pant. The Eclipse jacket has a feminine fit with waterproof and breathable construction. The Eclipse Pant is a form-fitting stretch trouser emphasizing style and good looks, but with solid construction like boot gaiters and reinforced hems.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Helly Hansen Floria Jacket, inspired by ski racers features breathable, waterproof 2-way stretch Helly Tech Professional fabric and is insulated with PrimaLoft. It’s a great quality jacket complete with integrated Recco system, articulated arms and seam sealed. You can rely on this Helly Hansen jacket to keep you warm and looking both stylish and athletic on the mountain.

Find out more at www.hellyhansen.com

 

A gorgeous women’s ski pants is this season’s new Eider St.Anton Pants. These 2-layer and 4-way-Stretch Defender ski pants are feminine, comfortable and soft, for those who likes skiing with a neat look. A higher back gives a feeling of warmth and protection, while preshaped knees offer increased range of movement.

Eider have really thought about what the female skier needs and you won’t want to take these pants off at the end of a days skiing or riding.

See more at www.eider.com

 

 

 

Underneath the jacket we suggest a mid-layer like the SmartLoft Divide, a wool insulated jacket from Smartwool. It features their new SmartLoft Wool insulation around the core with the rest of the jacket made of thinner merino wool. This jacket doesn’t take up a lot of space since the core is the only thing that’s insulated while the sleeves and back are merino wool, giving you a wider range of motion. This clever fabric is machine washable and stain and water resistant, with scoop hand pockets and a zipped chest pocket. Smartwool products are durable and long-lasting – with a jacket this stylish you’ll want it to be.

Buy at www.smartwool.com

 

Let’s talk skins, the vital close-to-the skin layer essential for activity in cold climes. Sportswear brand Odlo have developed an interesting new technology called Muscle Force. Muscle Force provides zoned muscle support which is designed to help conserve energy through the reduction of muscle vibrations in key areas of the body. By minimising this extra energy usage, skiers and snowboarders will apparently be able to stay energised and on the piste for longer. We really like the idea of zoned tailored fabric and Odlo, a highly trusted brand, should be commended for trying this idea out. The fabric looks hi-tech and feels great. It certainly kept us warm though we couldn’t work out if our mid-afternoon energy spurt was due to Muscle Force or that laced hot chocolate. Find out more at www.odlo.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile German brand Falke offer their Ergonomic Sport System Underwear and Socks range. These provide thermal insulation, optimum moisture wicking and fast re-drying through a combination of seamless technology and innovative plush technology. Double-sided material supplies uncompromising comfort: climate-optimised, close-fitting, warm and soft. We think these Falke skins and socks provide excellent quality for their price.

Find out more at www.falke.com

 

Another sock provider are Teko, whose Medium weight organic, chlorine-free merino wool sock wicks moisture effortlessly. The Ski Medium Sock is for those who like a little extra cushion and warmth. They also do a Light and Ultralight Pro range for those who like to go a little faster and don’t need as much warmth. This great range of socks are machine washable, can be tumbled dryed and source their non-toxic merino wool from environmentally sound Argentine farms.

Find out more at www.teko.co.uk

 

 

 

When the light lowers and you are forced to admit that this really is the last run, it’s usually time to investigate some après-ski or shopping. We suggest doing so in the Merrell Decora Sonata Boots. Waterproof full grain and pig suede upper protects while a faux fur collar provides comfort. Waterproof construction keeps your feet while dry low bulk insulation keeps you warm down to -20C. Meanwhile a breathable mesh lining wicks moisture away and an air cushion in the heel absorbs shock and adds stability. The boot sole is slip resistant and provides great traction. We love these boots and can’t wait for it to get colder so we have an excuse to wear them.

 

Find out more from www.merrell.com

 

Another great boot comes in the form of the Hi-Tec St Anton Boot. Thinsulate insulation keeps you warm when the temperature drops. The CMEVA midsole keeps your feet cushioned, and the MDT rubber outsole provides superior grip in all conditions – dry, wet or snowy. These have a wider calf fit than the Merrell boot, so are perfect for tucking jeans into. The generous fur lining makes your feet feel like they’re sitting by the fire, even as all around you snow flakes fall.

 

Buy from www.hi-tec.com

 

Last but not least we think we have discovered the final word in ski backpacks. We’ve searched long and hard for a backpack to take out on a days’ skiing, one that will carry spare gloves, goggles, water and energy bars. One that might carry some more serious gear like a shovel and transceiver if we ventured on a day going off piste or side-country. Any pack that fulfilled all the above demands was usually large, bulky and most unsuitable for chairlifts. In other words there were serious packs for gnarly off-pisters who skinned up and never used lifts. And there were smaller packs which weren’t very well designed for the ski enthusiast. Now Osprey have provided us with the Reverb Pack (in 10 and 18 liter versions) and our problems are over.

Sewn from 420 Dobby poly and nylon, the Osprey Reverb is beefy yet carries all of your mountain essentials without feeling bulky. The Reverb has probes and handle sleeves and a blade sleeve in the back panel compartment for secure carry and quick access. On the front, skis or snowboards are attached via a series of configurable straps. To keep you hydrated, an internal pouch with a hanger holds your bladder of choice, and an insulated sleeve for the hose keeps your beverage from freezing. The pack’s shoulder straps are EVA lined for comfort, while the strap and waist buckles are glove-friendly. After a day using the pack we were hooked. The slim profile means you can jump on and off lifts with comfort and without ever needing to remove the bag. The ergonomic design means you don’t notice the bag during a day skiing, yet it contains everything you might need on the mountain. The good-looking Osprey Reverb adds style and provides freedom – we won’t be skiing without it.

Find out more at www.ospreyeurope.com

“Sensationally certain of snow” is the claim from SkiWelt and as Austria’s largest interconnected ski area there are plenty of other things you can be certain of too. With 279 km of ski runs, over 90 cable cars and lifts, 1,000 snowmakers and 13 km of night skiing on flood lit pistes SkiWelt certainly has something for everyone.

We were based in Soll, a lively little Tyrolean village in the heart of SkiWelt that gained a reputation in the 1980’s as the party hot spot in the Alps. While there is still a strong après ski culture, Soll has calmed down a lot since then and is now a big choice for families and mixed groups. If it’s a party you’re after though, don’t worry. Bars like Salvenstadhl or the Red Horse at the end of the slopes are in full swing from about 4pm until the small hours and the service is excellent and friendly as it is throughout the town.

Skiing in SkiWelt offers some of the best views you’ll find anywhere in the Alps. The imposing Wilder Kaiser Mountain is stunning and man-made beauty is close at hand too. Glance to your left as you take off in the Hochsoll gondola (the main gondola up from Soll) and you’ll see a little pilgrim church perched on a rock which dates back to 1660.
Soll is only one of 9 villages that make up the SkiWelt region and it’s worth taking advantage of the ease with which you can get around to explore them all. Another unmissable is the Igloo Village at the top lift station in Hochbrixen. Stop here for a drink from a glass cut from ice, stay for dinner or even book your own Igloo for an overnight stay!

It’s really all about the slopes though and with all those runs ranging from easy to difficult and 3 snow parks to keep it interesting for boarders it’s not hard to see why people keep coming back to Ski Welt.

Vertical Drop 1337m
Top Elevation 1957m
Total Pistes 502
Terrain 124km Blue, 128km Red, 11km Black
Lifts 15 baby lifts, 24 drag lifts, 37 chair lifts, 14 gondola, 1 funicular railway
Cable Cars 14
Parks 3
Snowmaking 75%
Total X-Country 16km
Information www.skiwelt.at

As snow begins to blanket the Alps it’s time to wrap yourself up in some seriously stylish snow-sports wear for the coming season. Here is the mega round-up of all the new gear.

Arcteryx Moray Jacket

 

Here’s the perfect combo – a fully waterproof breathable Goretex jacket insulated with Coreloft. Designed for cold winter temps the jacket features a snow skirt, helmet compatible hood, mesh-lined powder guard vents, and a hidden Recco avalanche reflector. The design of the Arcteryx Moray sacrifices neither form nor function. This jacket exudes quality, is fun and flexible to wear and is an excellent choice from the top-end ski jackets on offer.

Buy here at www.arcteryx.com

 

Odlo Primaloft Intense Jacket

Another high-quality jacket from innovative brand Odlo, this is one of the warmest yet lightest we’ve tried. Soft material provides a very comfortable fit and shoulders are reinforced to handle backpacks and sharp ski edges.

Practical details include a removable powder skirt, a removable adjustable hood, and plenty of functional and waterproof pockets. A seriously good-looking jacket that’s subtle yet sporty, this gets our definite thumbs-up.

 

Buy here at www.odlo.com

 

Eider Snowbird II Jacket

At a medium price point the Snowbird II Jacket is a very respectable option. Filled with 80% duck down rather than synthetic alternatives the jacket feels cosily warm in freezing snow. It has a decent waterproof factor, though like most ski/board jackets, it isn’t designed for torrential rain.

Features we love in the Snowbird include wrist gaiters linking the jacket to gloves, a detachable hood, and soft fabric which doesn’t rustle as you move – allowing you to enjoy the pristine quiet of the mountains.

Buy here at www.eider.com

 

 

Dare2B Amorous Jacket

A reliable entry-level brand which is improving year on year, Dare2B’s newest offerings include the Amorous Jacket.

A quilted belted jacket with a faux fur hood, this one is clearly aimed at the fashion-conscious female audience.

As well as looking stylish around town it proves its chops on the mountainside with a decent waterproof finish, snow skirt and inner stretch cuffs, and removable hood and fur trim.

Buy here at www.dare2b.com

 

 

Trangoworld TRX Trousers

Ski and board trousers tend to follow the same formula, with innovations extending to altering leg width or adding extra vents and pockets. Now a truly different snow sports trouser has been released by Spanish company Trangoworld. The TRX range is designed for outdoor athletes from skiers to mountaineers, climbers and alpinists. What’s important here is the construction and design shape – seams in non-critical places where wear and tear is lower, tough reinforced fabric in areas of higher tear, strategically placed pockets for harness or backpack wear, and an avalanche detection system. Schoeller windstopper materials make the trousers highly breathable, quick drying and completely windproof, and Bielastic fabrics allow for easy stretch and movement. Verdict: a good-looking technical trouser utilising great new innovations.

Buy here at www.trangoworld.com

 

Dare2B Impulsive Trouser

At a more affordable level the Impulsive trouser has slim and cool good looks.

Fabric is of good quality, with reinforcements around the boot area, and flattering non-bulky insulation.

An adjustable waistband, snow gaiters and an articulated knee design make these trousers a contender for any recreational skier.

 

Available at www.dare2b.com

 

 

Icebreaker Layers

 

The base and mid-layer is where ski insulation really happens. Synthetic insulation means moisture wicks away quickly, whereas wool and especially merino wool fabrics are warmer and cleaner. If you haven’t worn merino wool before and have thoughts of scratchy wool against the skin, think again. Climbers on week-long hikes and Alpine climbs swear by merino wool as it can be worn for days and retain its no-smell factor. Icebreaker have long been known as purveyors of fine merino wool products. Layers like the Icebreaker Pace Zip and Cascade Full Zip with matching leggings are supremely soft and feel like silk on the skin. It’s hard to believe they’re made from the wool of hardy New Zealand sheep. But nature often works best, and these layers will keep you warm, dry and clean through ice, snow and sweat. Environmentally friendly, machine washable, long-lasting and durable, Icebreaker layers fully deserve their high reputation.

Buy here at www.icebreaker.com

 

Smartwool Layers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another company using merino wool by preference is Smartwool. You may know them for their colourful socks, and they do a wonderfully padded and insulated PHD Ski Sock, but the company also provides an excellently varied range of base and mid layers suitable for all snow sports. Their best-selling NTS Mid 250 Crew top and leggings now have an improved fit and chafe-free seams, are machine washable at 40 degrees, and available in a range of gorgeous colours. Smartwool espouse a system approach of using wool in the base and the mid layer, making for a less restrictive, less bulky combination which regulates temperature and controls odour. A new design approach with mid-layers can be found in the Smartwool PHD SmartLoft Divide Full Zip, a dual-fabric top which could incidentally be worn as an outer layer in warmer conditions. The SmartLoft insulation provides warmth through the core, while the MerinoMax arms and back offer more breathability and body temperature regulation. This top has the added advantage of a very cool look for après-ski.

Buy here at www.smartwool.com

 

Odlo Evolution Warm Pants and Crew Top

The Evolution range from Odlo comes in four different qualities (Cool, Light, Warm and X-Warm) to provide the right base and mid layers for all seasons. Evolution Warm is particularly suited for the coldest time of the year due to the Odlo zoning principle; it provides extra heat retention and body climate control where most needed. Features include a comfortable 3D knitted construction, and a zoned function where each zone has a different thickness to aid wicking and seamless construction. The most interesting feature is perhaps the ‘Effect’ fabric which contains real silver which neutralizes smells and body odour.

 

Odlo’s nifty looking Ninja Shirt also has silver ‘Effect’ fabric and provides excellent warmth insulation and quick moisture transportation to keep the wearer warm and dry. With a brushed inner and a relaxed fit, it is very soft and comfortable against the skin. Best of all the Ninja has an integrated hood and facemask which will keep you stream-lined and warm as you move stealthily around the slopes.

Buy here at www.odlo.com

 

Marmot Women’s Cirque 3-1 Glove

This glove has an insulated waterproof shell with a removable High Loft fleece liner giving you the option to wear either the liner glove or the shell by themselves, or on cold days both. Thermal R synthetic insulation ensures that the glove is low bulk and dexterous. As a perpetual sufferer from cold hands (even when the body is warm) we found this glove actually worked. The liner is much thicker than the average silk glove liner and did a much better job of keeping the digits warm. Thumbs up for the Cirque 3-1 glove.

Buy here at www.marmot.com

Christmas Ski

Escape to a perfect winter wonderland this Christmas with great holiday ski deals from Dawson Travel including 7 nights at the 3*+ Hotel Panorama St Johann in Tirol Austria from €719 per person sharing. Price includes includes return flights from Dublin, airport transfers, accommodation and rep service.

Find out more www.dawson-travel.com

New York

Blow away the Christmas cobwebs with this New Years shopping break in New York City from Tour America starting at €459 per person. Price includes return flights from Dublin and 2 nights at the 3* Wellington Hotel. Departs January 25th.

Find out more www.touramerica.ie

Alaska Glacier Cruise

Enjoy 7 nights of beautiful scenery and wildlife spotting opportunities with this glacier cruise setting sail from Vancouver with Trailfinders. Includes return flights from Dublin, Cork or Shannon with British Airways, 1 night at the 4* Metropolitan Hotel in Vancouver and 7 nights aboard on a full board basis from just €1,259 per person. Valid for specific departure on May 4th 2013.

Find out more www.trailfinders.ie

Bali

7 nights at the 5* Bali Hyatt Resort staying in a Garden View Room on a B&B basis from €869 + €431 tax per person sharing. Price includes flights from Dublin, Cork or Shannon with Malaysia Airlines. Subject to availability until December 11th.

Find out more www.classicresorts.com

Lapland Day Trip

A Falcon day trip to Lapland is the perfect family treat to start Christmas in a truly magical manner. Visit Santa’s Workshop, Mrs Claus’ Bakery, Elf School, Santa’s Post Office and The Ice Queen’s Bar & Gallery. Day trips departing 7th & 14th December starting at €560 for adults and €488 for children.

Find out more www.falconholidays.ie

Route 66

Follow the famous Route 66 with this Fly Drive package from TravelCheaper.ie. Fly into Chicago and travel through St. Louis, Springfield, Oklahoma, Amarillo, Albuquerque, Grand Canyon and Las Vegaswith accommodation at 3* hotels en route. Return flight from Los Angeles. Prices start of €1,175 per person.

Find out more www.travelcheaper.ie

If you’re a fan of skiing or boarding now is about the time your mind will be turning to booking the annual snow holiday. Popular ski forums like snowHeads are already abuzz with with early bookers comparing notes and now is the time to take advantage of early booking rates for both hotels and chalets.

Over the course of the season we’ll be telling you all about our favourite resorts within easy reach of Ireland starting this week with a gem of the Porte du Soleil region.

Les Gets

Clicking your skis on outside your hotel and hitting the slopes less than three hours after taking off from Dublin airport is just one of the things that makes a ski break in Les Gets our top tip for those looking for one more ski of the season. Direct flights from Ireland to Geneva and a one-hour transfer to Les Gets make for an easy connection. The resort is part of the Portes du Soleil which gives you access to one of the best ski areas in the Alps. Morzine and Avoriaz are just two of the more popular resorts that can be reached through a combination of blue/red slopes and chair lifts but for the more adventurous why not ski to Switzerland for lunch or attempt the steepest black slope in Europe, the feared Swiss Wall.

We were lucky enough to be brought on a tour of the area by Chrystelle Felisaz from the Les Gets tourism office and we skied on both Chavannes and Mont Chery mountain where we enjoyed an excellent lunch at La Grande Ourse, a restaurant well worth seeking out if you’re heading that way. This really is an area that provides a huge amount of value for your lift pass with excellent planning and constant development going into both runs and access. An ideal resort for family groups and mixed level groups, the ski area has plenty to suit everyone. Dedicated kids areas abound like the Indian-themed le Grand Cry complete with whooping sound effects issuing from the trees. We can vouch for the fact that it’s a lot of fun for adults too.

There is plenty of both self catering and hotel accommodation available within a five minute walk of the slopes a fact which makes things a lot easier for family groups. The town itself is still a working French town with a warm and friendly atmosphere. A wide array of restaurants provide everything from upmarket treatments of local specialties like tartiflette, to cheap and cheerful pizzas, and the local Irish pub brews its own beer. For those self-catering there are a number of supermarkets right in the centre of town, along with boulangeries baking delicious bread and croissants, and delicatessens selling roast chicken from the spit. Chocolate lovers beware, it is very hard to walk down the street without being brought to a halt by mouth watering displays in the local shop windows. Gift shops galore, a musical-themed museum, and an ice-skating rink right in the centre of town provide plenty of interest for when you’re not up on the slopes.

Essential Information

Vertical Drop 830m
Top Elevation 2350 m
Total Pistes 110km
Trails 66
Terrain  11 km Green  38 km Blue   45 km Red   13 km Black
Lifts 52
Cable cars 5
Terrain parks 1
Snow Making 20%
Total X-Country 12 km
Information www.lesgets.com

 

Plane panic after “bomb” alert.

An unnamed Southwest Airlines pilot was asked by an air traffic controller to wish his mother a happy birthday as he flew from Baltimore, Maryland, to New York’s MacArthur airport in Islip, Long Island, on Friday.

Taking to the plane’s intercom, the pilot told passengers that they had a “mom on board,” however, many thought he said a “bomb on board”.

Panicking passengers asked other members of the crew to clarify what the pilot had said, and were assured that there was no bomb. The pilot also went back on the intercom to explain his remarks but several passengers have now complained to the authorities about the announcement.

Italian Holiday

Oscar-winning director Francis Ford Coppola is going back to his roots for his latest venture. He has previously explored his Italian heritage through a range of commercial ventures outside of films including a respected wine business and a pasta and sauce company. Now his four South American (Coppola Resorts) hotels have an Italian cousin with the opening of Palazzo Margherita located in the small town of Bernalda in Southern Italy’s Basilicata region.

The resort occupies the actual 19th century palazzo that was the birthplace of his grandfather, Agostino Coppola. The building has been completely renovated by acclaimed French designer Jacques Grange. The result is an authentic yet luxurious Italian home base where guests can enjoy palatial comfort while an entire charming town sits at their doorstep.

Ski season – The best is yet to come?

Easter is still a month away, but even if it doesn’t snow again between now and Good Friday (April 6) holidaymakers in the Alps can be assured of perfect pistes. Some of the best skiing of the season could still be to come, and the higher resorts won’t close until at least the end of April.

Snow conditions across almost the whole of Europe remain superb and March bargains are readily available.

Tourists flock to Burma

Demand for holidays to Burma has risen sharply since the National League for Democracy (NLD), the political party of Aung San Suu Kyi, softened its stance last year against tourism to the country. Tour operators in the UK have described the level of interest as “phenomenal”.

Burma welcomed just over 300,000 overseas visitors last year. By comparison Thailand received 19 million foreign visitors.

Trip Advisor to remove new ratings system

Trip Advisor is set to scrap its controversial new “ratings” system, which allows reviewers to mark hotels, restaurants and attractions without leaving a written review. The system permits the website’s users, and Facebook members, to award businesses with a mark out of five, but does not require them to justify their decision and has generated complaints from “hundreds” of businesses listed on the site.

Shhh…

Virgin Atlantic has appointed a ‘whispering coach’ to ensure cabin crew do not disturb the highest-paying passengers on flights.

Crew will learn how to whisper to Upper Class passengers at a volume of between twenty and thirty decibels on a special, day-long training course.Sir Richard Branson’s airline says that the measure will have a “calming effect” on passengers in its new, most luxurious ever Upper Class suite.

The airline says its new whispering strategy has been “formulated with input from speech experts” and trialled on test-flights and with several focus groups.