Using the web to plan your ski trip
With ski and snowboard season now well under way, Pocket-lint's Snow Week is here to bring you all the latest gadetry, apps, tips and tricks for the slopes. But, it's no use having all your ski gadgets in place if you haven't even booked your trip and that's why we've put together a comprehensive guide on how you can plan your snow-based adventure on the Internet. If you're thinking about hitting the slopes this year then read on...
Naturally, the first thing that you need to do when planning a snow holiday is pick a destination. If you're a ski newbie (skibie?) then you need to choose a resort that caters well for beginners, while if you're a seasoned skier or boarder then you'll want to make sure that you find somewhere with plenty of the more challenging runs. It's also important to look at which resorts are near airports, what the weather will be like and what else the town has. If you're a twenty-something hipster, then you probably don't want to be stuck in a resort that's full of family-based cafes and no late-night bars.
You can check out reviews from people who've been there and seen it on general travel advice websites such as Trip Advisor. However, if you want some more details then you're better off heading to a ski-specific site that includes details of all major resorts, such as GoSki or Ski Club Great Britain. If you want some more informal info from the people in the know, then get yourself onto a popular ski forum like Snowheads.
Once you've decided where you want to go, there are plenty of different options for booking your travel. There are lots of specialist websites, that will do the bulk of the work for you. Sites like Direct Ski and Igluski offer flexible packages that can include your flight and accommodation as well as your ski pass and equipment hire. This is a good option for beginners, and if you book through a site like Crystal Ski, then you'll get a rep in your resort to help you sort out any extra equipment or lessons that you might need. However, if you know exactly what you want, then it can be cheaper for you to shop around and book your travel separately.
Obviously it depends where you live and where you're planning to go, but chances are, a flight will be on the cards. It can be cheaper to book directly with the airline, rather than getting your flight as part of a package and you can also shop around using sites like Expedia or Travel Supermarket. However, if you've got your own skis or board then it's important to look into any fees that might apply to your gear as some airlines charge extra fees.
According to flight comparison site Cheapflights.co.uk, Austrian Airlines, Germanwings and Swiss all fly ski equipment for free, while fees on the low-cost carriers vary between £18 and £30. Unsurprisingly, budget airline Ryanair is the most expensive, charging a whopping £40 if booked online, or £50 if you leave it until you get to the airport. British Airways, Air Canada and Air France all include the cost of carrying ski equipment as part of the normal ticket price. Fees are always subject to change so be sure to check before you book and always read the smallprint.
If you do book your flight independently, you'll probably need to book a transfer from the airport to your chosen resort. There are loads of websites with overly literal names, like Ski Transfer Finder, that can help you out. It's worth checking with your hotel or chalet owner to see if they offer a transfer service.
If you're in the UK and you're planning a trip to the Alps then you might like to consider taking the train instead. Taking the Eurostar could well save you some dosh and should also appeal to those with tree-hugging sensibilities as all the train journeys are carbon neutral.
If you're travelling to the Alps then the good news is that Eurostar allows an extra item of luggage per person, such as a pair of skis or a snowboard.
If you'd rather make the crossing above water, rather than below the ground, then there are lots of cheap ferry deals to choose from. You can either book directly with the big brands like Seafrance or P&O or do a little digging if you want to keep the cost down even further, using comparison sites like Ferry Online.
The advantage of taking your car along with you on your trip is that you don't need to worry about baggage allowances as you're only limited by what you can squeeze into the boot. If you are planning on taking your car overseas then it's vital that you check what the legal driving requirements are for any countries that you're planning to drive through. Knowing that the French drive on the "other" side of the road isn't really enough. Did you know that it's compulsory to carry a reflective jacket in all vehicles in France? No? You can find out everything you need to know at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office website.
As we've already mentioned, you can book all of your accommodation as part of a package or if you prefer you can search the web and find somewhere for yourself. A chalet is a good option if you're going as part of a big group as it can work out much cheaper than a hotel, especially if you get a catered chalet where the staff will sort out your meals for you as part of the price.
There a lots of portals that deal primarily with this sort of accommodation, such as Chalets Direct and Chalet Finder. Lots of these sites, such as SkiLine, also deal with hotel bookings so you should be able to find somewhere to stay that suits your taste and budget.
The weather is always a big factor when you're planning a holiday, but it's absolutely vital if you're going skiing or boarding. Although you don't really want to be caught up in a raging blizzard, equally you don't want to turn up fully suited and booted in your ski gear only to find that there's not a snowflake in sight.
If you're simply looking for some basic information then something like BBC Weather and its dedicated winter sport page should see you through, as it offers summaries for every major ski resort. If you're more experienced and you want detailed data on snow conditions then you'll want to head somewhere a bit more specialist, like Snow-forecast.
Obviously if you've been on the slopes before then you'll probably be all kitted out already, but if not then it's best to buy everything you need before you go because resort prices for essentials such as gloves and goggles can be extortionate. You can pick up most things, such as skiwear, socks and sunblock at outdoorsy retailers such as Blacks or sites like Simply Piste. If you're alarmed by the rising costs of your trip then don't forget that you pick up cheap skiwear at budget sites like Matalan and TK Maxx. Also, eBay is worth a look as there are plenty of nearly-new bargains to be had there, offered by people who've gone skiing, fallen over one too many times and vowed never to return.
If you're feeling extra confident then you might even want to invest in your own skis or board. You can buy them easily enough online at places like Sail and Ski or Ellis Brigham. We wouldn't advise buying your own equipment if this is your first time, though. If you're a ski virgin (skirgin?) then you're far better off hiring your kit.
Unless you're a pro and you've been going to the slopes for years, then you probably won't have your own skis or snowboard. You can usually arrange hire as part of your holiday package or if you want to go it alone then you can search for yourself at sites like Snow Rental or Snow Brainer.
You'll usually get directed to a ski shop that sells equipment as well as hiring it out. If you know which resort you'll be in, then you can Google the local ski hire shops and contact them directly. It's best to try and arrange your hire stuff before you go, otherwise you'll probably get stung for a much higher price at the resort.
If you've never been skiing before then you'll need to book some lessons, unless you want to end up floundering around like a blindfolded bambi ending up in a heap even before you've reached the ski lift. You can opt for one-to-one lessons or join in on a group. The group option tends to be the cheaper way to do things and you'll even end up with a ready-made group of equally inept chums to meet up with once the sun goes down.
Lessons will usually be available as part of a package, but there are also lots of companies that you can book with independently, one of the biggest being the British Ski School. It's also worth searching for schools at the individual resort that you're going to and dealing with them direct where possible. If you're a bit nervous about what to expect, then you can swot up before you go by watching some videos on basic skills, like the ones on eHow.
If you're going skiing or snowboarding then you need insurance. It's as simple as that. Don't be tempted to try and get anywhere without any because if anything happens to you on the slopes then you're likely to end up seriously out of pocket and wishing that you spent the 30 quid or so on a cheap insurance deal. You can find the cheapest deals at comparison sites like Insureandgo.com or Comparethemarket.com, but be sure to read the smallprint and make sure that the cover that you're paying for definitely includes winter sports.
It's a good idea to take a copy of your insurance documents out on the slopes with you because if you have an accident, then emergency crews may not even agree to take you down to the medical centre, dislocated shoulder or not, unless you can prove that you have insurance. If you haven't got insurance they'll probably want to see a credit card before giving you any help (unless your condition is clearly life-threatening). If you're travelling in Europe then make sure you get yourself a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) as it will cover at least some of any medical costs that you end up facing.
If you're taking your iPod with you or dragging your laptop along for some chalet-based tuneage, then you need to make sure you're fully geared up. You can put together your own playlist on Spotify (we strongly suggest including the theme from Ski Sunday) or if you'd like to see what the cool kids are listening to then have a browse on Share My Playlists where you can tap into thousands of lists of tracks that have been selected by music lovers from around the world.
If you're seriously into this kind of thing, then you can even look up the songs that appear on the soundtracks of your favourite ski videos on the aptly titled Ski Movie Music. There are also plenty of winter sports podcasts around, such as Snowfix.tv, so you might want to have a looksee on iTunes in preparation for your trip.
Let's get the "on the piste" pun out of the way first. There, done. Now onto the the very important subject of where to enjoy a few apres ski jars with your pals. Forums are a good place to start if you want to know where the party's at, so take a look at Snowheads and also more general sites like Trip Advisor. This is where Google comes in handy - you'll be able to find bar and nightclub listings on the tourist website for your resort and it's also a good idea to ask the locals for some recommendations once you get there, especially if you want to avoid the braying hordes of drunken gap year drones.
A word of warning, though - don't take to the slopes when you're under the influence as not only are you likely to do yourself a permanent but also, more to the point, your insurance won't be valid.
When you get back
As well as aching joints, an outline of your goggles sunburnt onto your face and a considerable credit card bill from all your internet-based ski purchases, chances are you'll also have a ton of photos and videos to deal with on your return.
Of course you can upload them to all the usual places like Flickr, Facebook and YouTube, but there are also lots of ski and snowboard-specific sites to share your pics and videos. You can upload your videos to community-based sites like SkiVideos, while forums like Snowheads are crying our for your pictures to help with its snow report.
Have you got any tips for planning a ski trip online? If so, let us know in the comments box below.