THIS is a complex season for skiers. It may be so for others too but being a skier this year calls for a cool head, shrewd judgment and a zipped pocket.
With the very thought of Christmas looming up that ski trip may seem to recede further and further from your immediate horizon. But never fear, if you are keen enough you will be off with the first winter sports special and let those who remain behind fend for themselves.
Or, as an enthusiastic Irishman once put it, "Well now, it's better to be ski-ing and thinking about the good people at home, than to be listening to Fr. Rafferty and thinking about ski-ing."
He must have been a dedicated man, but as a student of the alpine Christmas scene I can vouch for the "deep and crisp and even", as well as the "silent night", the millions of stars, the crunch and sparkle underfoot, the muffled figures, the church's warm rococco interior, the youthful choir, and the clump of ski hoot on the solid unvarnished pine.
Far more authentic than any Christmas card and vividly memorable. If you have never experienced the atmosphere in an Alpine village at Christmas time it is worth the pilgrimage.
But one must admit that this is high season and prices may be upwards of 15 per cent higher than in the low season. This is traditionally the time when the thrifty go. And this year it will probably have to be us.
The low season varies. The Continental holiday goes on to the Epiphany which is a Friday so many beds are not likely to be vacated until the following Sunday, Jan. 8, though many of the travel agents offer terms from about a week earlier.
If your centre is popular people will start filling the vacancies around the last week in January, say from the 23rd. But in the less well known centres the low season, can go on into the first weeks of February.
With Easter being earlyish this year, there is unlikely to be a "little" low season just before Easter, but it is worth asking about. On the other hand many centres will be facing a close-down from as soon as April 2, almost a fortnight earlier than usual.
If you can bear to wait through the dark months to the really sunny ones then the rewards may be threefold. Longer days and spring snow, an extended low season, and, who knows, we may be "unfrozen" by then.
Inquire about the late season, it is the time when many discriminating local skiers go touring, and the lifts have few queues except at week-ends. Besides, ski-ing ladies are like butterflies, they come out in their gay colours
with the sun; which of course gives men that olympian tan. Meet the continental special at about 3.15 p.m. at Victoria any April Sunday and you will be stunned by the healthy bronzed people coming off the train.
Now with the economies in mind, how do we go about it? First of all take your kit with you, do not hire abroad.
Either hire here (your local sports shop or travel agent will tell you where) or go to a London store such as Moss Bros or Lillywhites. You can hire all the essentials except the accessories. That is skis, hoots, sticks. stretch pants and anorak.
Most people have their own sweaters and thick socks (wear an inner sock as well, it keeps out the wrinkles). Take a woolly hat (over the ears is best), dark glasses (vital), goggles (if not a beginner), sun lotion, warm woolly inner gloves and ski gloves or mitts, and long johns for warmth in winter queues.
Forget about travelling rig this time and go in your ski kit. That mini-dress may not be "with it" where you are going, but apres-ski slacks and kinky boots certainly will be. The anorak will do as a travelling jacket, and if it rains 'ant pis, it shouldn't.
On the journey save centimes by taking your own food. Air travel has advantages, the food is included in your ticket.
Skis and sticks may present problems. They will have to be registered, and so may arrive late, but one day's hire abroad will not ruin you, so it is worth the risk. But otherwise carry all vital ski paraphernalia with you.
It will not pay this year to do it on your own without
careful thought. The travel agent's package tour will have built in "sterling savers".
In any case £65 (LSO allowance plus £15 cash) is no small
sum should it all be spent in one holiday, But with thrift it might give you a summer one as well, who knows?
One exception to all this is the car holiday with chalet hire. With an extra £15 allowance for the car and four passengers the total foreign cash available reaches £75 after all cross channel fares have been paid. And this is before touch
ing the individual 150 allowance. Well worth considering
provided ample stocks of food are carried. This arrangement would suit families with fractious children.
People with a good weatherproof caravan should not necessarily be daunted by the possibility of skiing from it. In Scotland there are caravan sites with modern conveniences at Glenmore, right under Cairngorm, Boat of Garten and Kingussie.
As a regular caravan skier I can vouch for the effectiveness of the Calor gas stove in cara vans even with seventeen degrees of frost. If Continent bound by caravan (the distance from Calais to Geneva is about the same as London to Inver ness) one can find caravan sites all down the western side of the French Alps, where a fort
night's caravanning could cost as little as three pounds a week, and that is for the caravan — not you!
The most spectacular of these is near Chamrousse where the next Olympics are to be held, The site is 5,000 feet up on a platform dug out of the mountainside amongst fir trees with views over 100 miles into Auvergne. Regular caravanners go to Kitzbuhel St. Anton, St. Johann (Tyrol), Adelboden, Andermatt, St. Moritz, and Montana too.
Winter sports brochures reflect the attractiveness of the sport in no mean manner. Nowadays they almost resemble glossy magazines and must cost a small fortune to produce.
None of the operators seem in the least bit put off by the £50 allowance and continue to offer lots of possibilities under £40 for twelve to fifteen days, but most of them have a supplement covering insurance, equipment hire, lifts, ski instruction, meals on the journey etc. or a combination of them costing from £8-113.
So the thrifty holiday with everything included will not come to much below the £50 and most operators can offer from £30 to £32 spending money on this sort of holiday budget.
A new break-through is Sleeper Coach Ski-ing which Inghams have introduced using motor coaches with seats that convert American style into double bunks. Flying from Manston to Ostend then by coach overnight one is in the Wildschoenau (Tyrol) at the same time as the train. This gives 13 days full board for under £30, plus comprehensive "ski pack" around the £12 mark. It is a lovely valley too and famous for its powder snow.
Ski Plan will operate an even faster Ski Arrow Air-Coach Service of 14 nights at the resort for under £40 all in to Westerndorf, Alpbach, Niederau and Reith served by the Lympne-Strasbourg air link in Avro 748 prop jets.
What is normally an overnight journey is achieved in under two daylight hours, plus motor coach along the southern German autobahns to the destination, a pleasant day's journey. This one really appeals to me as it cuts out the night travel and provides a door-to-door service.
There are quite a number of charter air flight offers under £50. World Sport and Travel offer BUA 1-11 Ski Flights to A u r a c h, Fieberbrunn and Axamer-Lisum for £42s. 14s., that is for thirteen full days in the resort.
Although most of the cheaper arrangements have been made at the smaller centres, it would be wrong to ignore the tremendous service and value to be obtained from the traditional areas of Switzerland, France and Italy.
The winter sportsman will be enjoying a tourist organisation par excellence with a progranune of communal activities such as skating galas, ice hockey matches, horse racing on ice, international ski jumping competitions and the like, quite apart from the complex of lifts, and table d'hote in the hotels.
For £5 to £10 extra, bringing the overall holiday figure to around £60 to £65, these are the arrangements where comfort and style count as much as gamuilichkeil and ambience.
Of arrangements in this bracket there is no limit. For absolute certainty of a marvellous ski-ing holiday you cannot go wrong in place like Zermatt, Saas Fee, Verbier, Crans-Montana in the Valais; Arosa, Davos, St. Moritz, Celerina, Lenzerheide, and Pontresina in the Orison.
The Oberland is the mecca of ski racers during the January "hole". All the
Olympic and world ski-ing personahties gravitate from Adelboden to Grindelwald or to Wengen during the first two weeks in January. And if you have never watched a man skier going at 70 m.p.h., or a woman skier for that matter at 60 m.p.h., it is worth seeing.
All the world goes to Gstaad, we know, but the valley is twelve miles long With thirty odd lifts from the road, and railway beneath. Any centre from Zweisimmen at one end via Sa.anenmoser, Schoenreid, Chateaux d'Ouex to Rossiniere at the other is excellent value.
Italy has a cachet all its own with tremendous advances being made in the Piedmont region near the French border, Sauze d'Oulx and Sestriere feature prominently in agency arrangements.
Wayfarers offer Solda (6,400 feet) in the under £50 class where there are twelve lifts, one rising over 2,000 feet. Courmayeur (4,050 feet) the other side of Mont Blanc with its incredible lift system (one group has over 6,900 feet rise) features in the under £65 category, and so does Cervinia (6,700 feet) and its 4,900 feet cable railway.
Many skiers will be visiting Norway this year. The prices are comparable with anything on the market and start around the £50 mark for fourteen days with "snow pack".
Voss has extended its lift system and has more than 2,000 feet vertical height avail-' able. Geilo is still the most popular resort, has the most sun and Nordic evening amusement de luxe.
I have a feeling that we shall all ski this year maybe with not quite the elan we had hoped— but we shall all get there no doubt one way or another.