THE eternal question "Where shall we go this
year?" does not seem to be heard so often as people might imagine. Britons, whatever their political persuasions, are conservative when it comes to choosing a winter sports resort and having once been to "Kleine Skidegg" are likely to go there again and again.
Or so one would imagine when talking to other travellers on the Continental Express. "We always go to Poudreuse St. Eglise" says the lady in the ski clothes, with fervour. "The Auchmpties have been there for years and the children so love Praise, their ski instructress," On your other side is a man with a cigar. "Probably the atmosphere." he says. "Been to Santa Albina for the last ten years—ever since Luigi came as barman. really."
That is the frustrating part of it all. No one betrays a particle of real brochure evidence for their preference. It is really all a lot of emotional attachment which could apply to any centre at all! So people going for the first time are advised to go with friends whose judgement they can trust or at least to go in a party with a recognised agency.
The trouble is that brochures cannot possibly take any of these personal preferences into account — how can they? So the same old solcil, pulverschnee, ambiance, gemutlichkeit, fondu, spumanti. Johannisberger Leowenbrau, schischulabend, casino, carnival, whisky. in fact the wine, snow and song formula is trotted out every year.
Luckily the problem is not so knotty as all that. Winter sports men and women can be divided rather illogically into beginners, families, piste bashers. and solitude seekers. Beginners can go anywhere. It is only after they have been once or twice that they start getting selective.
Families should go where there is plenty of sun in the village and on the nursery slopes and where the needs of the young are known to he catered for. Piste hashers should seek ski mileage and they can usually get it too in the overpopulated centres. Those seeking solitude are getting more and more difficult to satisfy these days. 'they are well advised to take up ski touring.
So far as atmosphere is concerned, everyone hopes to find a fairyland escape from the work-a-day world and with few exceptions they will find it in the fifty years of winter sporting experience many of the centres have had.
THE SECRET OF REAL fun ski-ing in the complex is to go by car — an easy matter these days with all that unused ferry space and with autobahn almost the whole way from Ostend or the Hook to Basle, Munich or Salzburg. A group of nine people in a mini-bus can enjoy a holiday as cheaply as by the traditional package tour provided they use the less expensive accommodation in the fringe centres.
These abound within easy reach of the lift systems and if this sounds unusually adventurous, how does the continental skier coming from say Frankfurt or Vienna manage? In just the same
way as you would. Drive up on a Friday night and stay in a favourite pub down-valley, then drive on to the nearest access lift in the morning.
tractive winter sports image to
s\;:sse es the most consistently at
\ SWITZERLAND still pres
4 the British public. One cannot 111 stay for a fortnight for much less than £50 all-in during the off season, but their hotels have
a sound record and the undoubted efficiency all round has a high holiday appeal. It is a sign of the times, however, to find only two porters on Bern Central Station! But this in no way affects the accuracy of their train timings.
Families and beginners alike seeking holidays in Switzerland have always been welcomed at the nearer centres such as St. Cergues, Villars, and Champery and the Oberland centres of Lenk, Kandersteg, Adelboden, Wengen and Murren. The Grisons centres of Arosa, Klosters, Davos, Celerina, Films and Lenzerheide have always been traditional family places, so have Engelberg and Andermatt in Central Switzerland.
Development for the mileage skier has been brought about by many years of painstaking effort. Initiated by the Edwardian boom for funiculars, the ski-ing facilities have yearly been expanded so that certain areas have international reputations. The north facing Jungfrau region possesses five developed cols with interchangeable abonnements with up to five thousand feet difference in height. Fringe centres are Lauterhrunnen and Interlaken.
The Gstaad valley system of thirty-odd lifts along the MOB railway is very popular in January with fringe villages at Rossiniere and Zweisimmen. The Valais alps are famous for their glaciers with unique lift systems at Verbiers, Zermatt and Saas Fee. Crans-Montana has a French influence and is very popular in January.
The Parsenn "circolare" in the Rhaetian alps which started it all in 1936 with its famous cable railway has fringe centres at Wolfgang, Klosters Dorf and other villages down the valley. The Engadine has always maintained its superiority in height as in practically everything else, with four systems over the ten-thousand foot level and fringe centres at Samaden, Silvaplana and Zuoz.
Medium skiers can enjoy themselves in a host of other centres such as Leysin, Melchsee Frutt, Leukerbad, Oberiberg, Malbun, and Unterwasser.
SPRINGTIME IS THE TIME to go to Norway, but avoid Easter week when the entire country takes to the hills. Norway is very good value for the beginner and family skier. Ships of the Bergen and Fred L. ...„41 Olsen Lines leave twice or three times a week from Newcastle for Bergen and Oslo. Two nights are spent on the journey and sometimes two in each direction, but this is all part of the holiday spent abroad. The West coast centres always have metres of snow, but it tends to leave earlier than in inland areas. There are new lift developments at places like Voss and Hallingdal and the atmosphere generally centres round a hotel.
Places like Sjusjoen, HOrnsje, 13olkesjd, Fefor, Gausdal, Solfonn,'Sinnes, Oppheim, Mjolfjell, Vatnahalsen, and Finse come into this category; places which cater for the entire social and sporting holiday under one roof. The bigger centres of Geilo, Lillehammer, Oppdal, Voss and Oslo itself have much larger programmes.
For people of slender means the Norwegian YHA has very preferential terms at under 25s. a day with no age limit in places like Dombaas, Gol, Kongsberg. Sirdal, Ustaosct as well as in the major centres. A fortnight's holiday with eleven nights in the centre can cost as little as £35 in hostel accommodation and from £40 in hotels.
ITALIAN CENTRES are geared for the weekender, so midweek there gives enormous scope, especially in places with extensive mechanical uplift. Although somewhat of an adventure, there are sonic excellent family resorts in the Dolomite region and the runs for the better skier are almost without parallel, for they remain relatively untracked.
The new Mont Blanc tunnel should throw into more prominence some of the little known centres in the Aosta region starting with Courmayeur with its cable airway over to Chamonix. Places such as Pila, Cogne, and La Thuile are now within three hours drive of Geneva airport.
Further south there is the frontier paradise round the col du Mont Genevre with Briancon as fringe centre on the French side and the Italian resorts of Claviere, Sauze d'Oulx, and Sestriere well suited to British tastes. Salim has only recently been developed with easy and difficult ski-ing and with packed night life.
Cervinia with its twin 12,000 foot cableways is a spring skier's delight and is now interconnectahle with Zermatt through a most improbable "douane" on the Theodul pass. There must he 100 centres between Aosta and the Adige, some only 30 miles from Milan, well worth a visit from the itinerant skier. The main line south from Innsbruck enables the traveller to visit the Dolomite centres in under three hours.
Here lie Cortina d'Ampezzo, Corvara and the Val Gardena centres of Selva, Santa Christina and Ortisei all superb soft snow centres for beginner and expert alike. Agents prices 'for a fortnight's holiday by rail vary from £45 in the west to £55 in the east.
AUSTRIA REMAINS a magnet in most people's minds for all skiers good, bad or indifferent. It still holds that m a g c a I atmosphere of enthusiasm, so young people flock there. But families with small children should choose their resort with care.
Places like Igls, Seefeld, St. Anton, Serfaus, Ehrwald, Lermoos, Mayrhofen and Kitzbuhel are very suited to them. The not-sogood skier can obtain all his needs in small centres which abound in all the sleepy little valleys . . . places like Alphach, Biberwier, Galtuer, Ischgl, Neiderau, Hochfuegen and Seelbach. For him and the better skier there are a number of developments in typical Austrian cow alp country. The most westerly is the Montafon, an area frequented by students of all nations. Others are places like Schruns, Tschagguns, Partenen and Gargellen, all leading on to the Silvretta touring region.
Innsbruck is now a winter sports resort in its own right with five centres within half an hour's ride and its own international airport. The piste basher has a choice of three Olympic runs on the south side and the formidable Hafelekar to the north.
The Kitzbuhel region is becoming overpopulated but none the less enjoyable out of season. Fringe centres are Aurach, Kirchberg, Jochberg and St. Johann. There are two developed regions which cannot he overlooked by the keen skier. The first is the Gastein valley with three wonderful ski-ing areas, one five miles long with over 4,000 feet descent.
Then there is the Krippenstein lift system in the Salzkammergut served from the lakeside resorts of Obertraun and Hallstadt. Holidays for a fortnight in Australia can be obtained for as little as £35, travel and accommodation all included.
There still remains the vexing question of the person seeking solitude. One way is to go to a dead-end valley; places like Lenk or Kiental, Vent or Obergurgl. Or places which cars cannot reach. Murren, Zermatt even out of season, Bettmeralp, Reideralp or Hochsolden.
But this year there is bound to be a short low season between the end of March and the Easter week. This is the time for them to go, when centres have run right down, when lifts operate only on demand and the pistes have disappeared under a blanket of new snow.
"F IT IS NO SURPRISE to find the French alps in the forefront "of the modern mechanical up
lift race. The French Govern
. ar ment Tourist Office have a booklet Winter Sports in France which speaks for itself. They, like the USA, appoint their national figures as "directeurs de la station" and the resulting developments truly reflect the latest in modern
requirements in a winter sports centre. • It is only recently that British visitors have been actively encouraged to go to France which has its own traditional family centres like Morzine, Megeve, La Clusaz, Alpe d'Huez, St. Gervais, Chamrousse and many other developing small places. The cost is likely to be from £55 to £60 all-in for a fortnight since French resorts have the "cordon bleu" approach to food.
Unfortunately or fortunately, as you will, this makes the resorts rather expensive but the service, whether it be for release mechanisms to rapid transportation is "par excellence".
There are literally hundreds of small centres springing up worthy of exploration by the medium skier. Usually grouped in a valley they should provide untold fun for the not too pisty minded. Places like La Giettaz and Flumet St. Nicholas or Lansbourg-Lansvillard are just as close to England as the more famous resorts.
For the better skier places like the Mont Blanc complex with over 50 lifts makes the highest mountain in Europe resemble a spiders web. with smaller fringe centres like Combloux, Argentieres and Montroc easily accessible to the main lifts. Further south Courchevel has been developed by Emil Allais with intercommunication to Meribel boasting 38 lifts on ideal east and north facing slopes, while the late Henri Oreiller's home station of Val d'Isere stretches its steel wires into the remote glacial regions over 11,000 feet.
Connoisseurs can enjoy the rather hush-hush centre of Avoriaz being developed by Jean Vuarnez which gives Morzine-Les Gets region the 8,000-foot touch with something like 30 lifts to choose from. Or they may prefer the superb training centre of Les Deux Alpes in the Dauphine.
No mention has been made in this article of the ski-ing facilities of Scotland. These will he covered in a subsequent issue of the paper.