Lightening, so they say, doesn’t strike twice in the same place. But tell that to those skiers who threw back the shutters last Christmas Day in Austria and France to reveal – for the second consecutive year – a painful panorama of slush, mud, and meadows still painted autumnal green.
Surely, only the most persistent and punch drunk of us would clamber aboard a December charter flight and climb into our boots for a third round knockout at Yuletide?
That, of course, is what is robbing tour operators of sleep at the moment: one snow-poor Christmas is forgettable, two is a disaster…and three is a potential catastrophe. Lose out on both Christmas and New Year weeks and they largely say goodbye to overall profit for the season.
But, actually, in reality – provided you’ve done your homework, stay high, and don’t read newspapers – the risk of finding insufficient snow is virtually non-existent. At the moment, for Christmas and New Year holidays supply outstrips demand and when discounting gets seriously underway in the autumn there should be bargains galore.
Why isn’t Christmas selling?
Referendum uncertainty may be a contributory factor, but 2016 is the worst date in the Christmas cycle: December 25 falls on a Sunday. For the majority of operators changeover day is on Saturday, so you’ll be heading for Gatwick or wherever on Christmas Eve.
However, that’s the day when the rest of Europe celebrates, while Christmas Day is very low key…reserved for nursing hangovers. Any travel delay and you’ll miss out on the festive hotel dinner.
What’s more, throughout your week excitement will be climbing to fever pitch as New Year’s Eve approaches. But you won’t be going to the party, you’ll be beginning the journey home. That is, if you can get home. On arrival in the UK on December 31, there’ll be no public transport.
Some companies such as Crystal have no choice but to stick to their rigid Saturday schedules. But those which normally have Sunday travel are offering weekday departures with free extra nights, or a short break in early January in order to return to their Sunday departure.
YSE is offering eight nights from December 18 and then six nights from Monday January 2. Alpine Elements is offering a nine-day holiday for the price of seven from Sunday December 18 to Tuesday December 27.
But what about the lack of snow?
Inescapably, it’s true that we’ve had a dry-ish start to the past couple of winters. In December. There’s nothing a newspaper editor loves more than a headline such as ‘No Snow for Christmas Skiers’ accompanied by a picture of a green nursery slope (taken in October).
If the opposite occurs and there’s oodles of the white stuff, he or she has to settle for ‘Christmas Skiers face Worst Ever Avalanche Danger’. Either way, newspapers enjoy giving skiers a hard time, so ignore them.
But in December 2014 and again in December 2015 there was sufficient – if not ample – snow in the higher resorts.
If you’re planning to spend either Christmas or New Year in the Alps, our advice is also unchanged: reduce the risk to a minimum by aiming as high and you can.
I spent the last two Christmases in Val d’Isere–Tignes where it was business as usual, with all the main runs open. We had good skiing and plenty of it. The same applied to Alpe d’Huez, Les Deux Alpes, Val Thorens in France, along with Zermatt and Saas Fee in Switzerland, Solden, Obergurgl, Ischgl, Kaprun and Obertauern in Austria; Cervinia and Madesimo in Italy. Actually, the height of the resort itself is not so important – it’s the height of the top lifts in the ski area.
If you choose a lowland resort like Morzine or Megeve in France, Soll or Niederau in Austria, Gstaad or Villars in Switzerland, Bardonecchia in Italy, you must accept that there will be a risk of finding little or no snow on December 25. Tour operators that I’ve spoken to claim their guests still enjoyed their holidays with limited skiing and found plenty of alternatives.
But personally, while I hope I’d make the best of a bad job, I’d be bitterly disappointed.
Will I be skiing this Christmas? You bet.
Where? As usual, in snowsure Val d’Isere-Tignes.