Group Ski Holidays
GROUP SKI HOLIDAYS
Whether you are a seasoned skier or complete beginner, a week in the mountains with a group of friends is quite possibly the best way to spend your ski holiday.
Both skiing and après are more fun when shared, and we at PlanetSKI have always preferred to enjoy the spectacular landscapes and characterful mountain bars and restaurants with our snow mates.
Having more people in your party can keep costs down too, because most travel companies offer group discounts. Organising a group ski trip has been likened to “herding cats”, but there are some simple tips and tricks to make planning a large group trip easy.
Read on for PlanetSKI’s advice for a holiday that is great value and great fun.
HOW DO EXPERTS PLAN LARGE GROUP HOLIDAYS?
* Start planning as early as possible
Create a group discussion on Facebook, Whatsapp or a round robin email.
Then you can easily share ideas with everyone at the same time.
The page about group ski holidays on SNO lets you log in via Facebook, save shortlists which you can share with friends (via Facebook, or via email if they don’t have Facebook.
This can make the process ten times easier.
Make sure everyone agrees on:
* Who the lead passenger is.
Give the organiser everyone’s full names (as they appear on the passport) and dates of birth.
Treat them to a bottle of wine or pay for their supper one night in resort, planning group trips can be hard work and they will deserve it!
* Whether the organiser is going to make the payments, or if everyone is going to pay separately.
If you decide the former, make sure everybody has the correct bank details of the organiser and enough funds to transfer the deposit/holiday money when needed. It’s best if they do this in advance.
Alternatively, most tour operators and travel agents let individuals call up to make payments directly, so you don’t have to wait for everyone to transfer money to the group leader, or have them owing you money.
* A realistic budget and requirements, so that you can go straight into searching for a holiday that everyone will consider, rather than having to keep going back to the drawing board.
Discuss priorities and manage expectations – what can be compromised if need be?
Before you set off, make sure everyone has swapped phone numbers so they can keep in touch during the journey and in resort.
When eating out, call up and book your table as far in advance as you can, especially on a peak week.
Make sure everyone has a valid passport, an EHIC card and winter sports insurance.
More information on health care abroad on this page as the UK exits from the EU and the situation remains unclear.
WHICH ARE THE BEST GROUP SKI RESORTS?
* Ask in detail what your group wants from their ski holiday:
What levels of ability are you taking?
If you’ve several beginners, pick a resort with lots of green and blue pistes.
It’s helpful if the nursery slopes are near where you’re staying too.
Consider a private instructor, where you can learn together and split the cost.
You can save money by choosing lesser known resorts in Italy, Bulgaria or Andorra where lessons are cheaper, plus the ski areas are forgiving and easy to navigate.
Save the famous resorts for future trips when you are confident enough to really explore and enjoy them.
If you’re all experts, the more exciting and challenging destinations are ‘A List’ mountains like Chamonix, Verbier and Zermatt which are famous for their huge ski areas and off piste.
But you can still pick a lesser known ski area, if the group prefers quieter slopes and cheaper guides (Italy is very good for this).
Most groups are a mix of different abilities and so the most popular group ski resorts are the big linked ski areas, with their large range of slopes and terrain, from nursery areas to snow parks and off piste, to keep everyone happy.
In France, the Three Valleys, Espace Killy and Paradiski are good examples, whereas Italy has the Milky Way and we love the Ski Welt in Austria.
Confident skiers and snowboarders can opt for a “full area” lift pass, while other members of the group can save money with a local pass.
What does everyone want from the resort itself?
Groups who love their après ski and night life will be best suited to the big-name ski resorts, which have the best selections of bars and clubs.
In France, the big party towns of Val d’Isere, Meribel, Val Thorens or Alpe d’Huez rule and Austria boasts the world après ski world capital St Anton plus upmarket Ischgl, which vies for posh top spot with Verbier in Switzerland.
Generally, the Italian resorts are a bit more laid back, so if your group prefer to spend time over food and wine (rather than drinking and dancing), resorts like Cortina and Selva are worth considering.
For a picturesque resort with history, have a look at the small ski villages in Austria, Switzerland and Italy.
Many are ancient mountain settlements with old churches and typical alpine buildings.
These can be perfect for groups including non-skiers, as they will be able to explore the sights and sounds of the village while others are on the piste.
How much do your friends want to spend?
When you’re with friends and family, you don’t necessarily need to be in an A-List resort because you’ll all be entertaining each other.
If some are worried about spending too much, a lesser known resort can be quite a bit cheaper.
And with good snow, suitable accommodation and a few good bars to frequent, it won’t matter that you’re not in one of the world’s “top ten ski resorts of all time”.
Italy and Andorra are generally cheaper than skiing France and Austria – when it comes to the cost of food, ski passes, lessons and accommodation – and they still have big ski areas that suit different levels.
Sometimes being in a group can be one of the best ways to explore somewhere new.
For the ultimate cheap group ski trip, check out Bulgaria, but only if you don’t mind smaller ski areas.
The more suitable ski resorts you can all come up with, the better.
Being confined to only one means you’ll have less choice when it comes to the other factors of the holiday (like accommodation), so try and agree on a list of countries, resorts and ski areas that everyone’s happy with, then you can see what accommodation is available throughout.
It might help to rank them as first, second and third choice – this way you have somewhere to start your search, and other options to look into if need be.
HOW WILL YOUR GROUP TRAVEL?
Some groups prefer everyone to travel together on the same inward and outward journeys, but not everyone lives near the same airport, and some people just prefer to drive, so you may have to split up – you need to know these preferences before starting your holiday search, or the options and quotes won’t be correct.
Picking an airport is simple if you all live nearby each other, but if not, can you find one that’s a similar distance from everyone?
Ideally, find a few that would work for everyone – one that’s best, and others that people won’t mind using if the price is good.
Sometimes it can be easier for everyone to split up and fly from their nearest airports.
* Minimise transfer costs by flying at similar times
If you are booking flights and transfers independently, try to arrange that everyone gets the same flight, or flies into the same airport at a similar time.
Then you can split the cost of the transfer or hire car to resort.
The least stressful way is to get a travel agent or tour operator to sort it all for you (this is what the most experienced group ski organisers do).
They can usually arrange packages flying from different regional airports if you all live in different parts of the UK. With a lot of people to organise, having a package with flights and transfers included can make holiday planning a lot easier!
A key thing to check is whether anyone in the group requires ski carriage on their flight.
This can run out quite quickly, so it is best to know in advance and add it on at the time of booking, as it might not be available to add on later.
Some package holidays come with deals like 2 for 1 ski carriage which can keep the costs down.
Once you’ve booked, make sure everyone checks their travel documents to ensure that their names and dates of birth are correct (i.e. match their passport) as corrections later on will incur costs.
Self-drive is the cheapest method of group travel, and with a group you can share the load if a number of you are happy to take turns at driving.
The drive time from Calais is usually 9-10 hours, depending on the resort you are heading to.
You can swap drivers every couple of hours, or drive in convoy, regrouping when you stop along the way.
There are some useful online guides on driving abroad – starting with these government guidelines.
The Eurotunnel charges per car rather than per traveller which keeps costs low.
It only takes 35 minutes to reach Calais.
A car/van cost around £70 one-way last time we checked (that’s £14 per passenger in a 5 seat car and even less if there are more seats), with a minibus costing £86.
Ferries are cheaper, but the channel crossing time is longer (1.5-2 hours) and you can add an hour’s extra driving when both sides are added up too, so discuss whether saving time or saving money is everyone’s priority.
Sometimes travelling by rail to a ski resort can take almost the same time as flying, when you consider check in, waiting for luggage etc.
For groups this can be a more sociable way to travel – book seats around tables and you can play games, eat together and enjoy each other’s company.
Other bonuses include no luggage-limit, a speedy check-in and more leg room.
With the Eurostar, group fares for 10 or more people are often reduced by 10%.
ARE CHALETS THE BEST GROUP ACCOMMODATION?
Catered or self-catered, near the slopes or further out?
There’s a lot to consider when trying to find a place that suits everyone, and it all has an impact on the price you pay.
Research what’s out there, or ask your travel agent for example costs of different kinds of accommodation, so you can let the group know what’s realistic.
If you’re having meals included in your lodging, double check whether anyone has dietary requirements.
Most chalets and hotels can cater for this, but they will need to know in advance so they can arrange the right menu.
When you’re looking for the right place to stay, find out what everyone’s expectations are:
Are there any deal breakers?
Must it have a hot tub, sauna, doorstep skiing or a kid’s club?
What are the (i) essentials, and what would people (ii) be willing to compromise on?
Don’t expect to find something that is perfect for everyone, aim for something that suits the majority.
This is the most popular accommodation type for skiing groups of all sizes and ages.
The traditional chalet holiday is nice and sociable, with everyone eating together throughout the week.
Breakfasts are provided in the morning, then you will have an afternoon tea when you return after skiing, with supper and wine later on.
Chalet hosts take care of the cooking and cleaning so you can all relax together.
There is only one chalet hosts day off, where you’ll help yourself to breakfast in the morning and can book a table in a local restaurant for the evening, or order in a takeaway.
Our best advice is to try and find a chalet that has the same number of beds as your group size, so that you can have the whole chalet to yourselves without having to pay for any under-occupancy (aka empty beds).
If you find a chalet with a couple too many rooms, see if anyone else wants to come along! Sole-occupancy bookings are best done plenty of time in advance, as individual rooms can be snapped up quite quickly.
If you like to meet new people on holiday, find a big chalet or chalet hotel where you will share with other groups and swap stories over supper.
Hotels are a good option if you’re planning a trip for a large group, where some people are undecided about whether they can come or not.
Those who are sure can book their room and flights to secure their holiday, then others can join up as and when they like.
In a big hotel, there is more likelihood of rooms being free later down the line than you would find in a small hotel or chalet.
You can also let individuals pick a room that suits them, rather than everyone having exactly the same arrangement – one person may prefer a standard room, while another one might want to pay more for a balcony.
Plus, everyone has their own space to retire to at the end of the day.
It’s often possible to request rooms close to each other, so you’re not at opposite ends of the complex, but it’s not particularly important if the place has good communal areas where you can congregate.
Choose a hotel with a large lounge, bar and dining area, where everyone can gather together throughout the week.
Another bonus of hotel holidays is that there’s usually more choice when it comes to mealtimes.
People can select the food they want, rather than having to find a meal that everyone will eat.
If there are non-skiers in your party, a hotel with extra facilities like a spa, swimming pool or café is a huge boon.
Somewhere in the centre of resort means there’s easy access to local attractions and activities during the day.
If your group is looking for a group ski holiday on the cheap, apartments can be a good choice.
The cheapest ski apartments are very small, basic rooms, which are fine if people are happy living in close quarters, with some sleeping on sofa beds.
If you’re skiing all day and just need somewhere to sleep, and you’re travelling with close friends, this might be all you need.
Just make sure you agree on who’s sleeping where before you arrive, so the settling in process goes smoothly.
You can pay more for larger apartments, where everyone has their own bedroom and a bit more space.
Or split up into separate apartments, and request that they are all nearby, but be aware that you may find none are big enough for you to all cook and eat together.
If you would prefer something with more space than an apartment, look for a self-catered chalet.
These come in all shapes and sizes, so you can find one to match your group.
They have individual bedrooms, a living area and sometimes hot tubs and saunas.
The only difference from a normal chalet holiday is that you do your own cooking rather than having a host.
Then there is the self-catering side of things.
Take turns cooking the evening meal, so that everyone gets a couple of nights off – in a large group, each couple might only have to cook one night in the whole week!
Book a table in a restaurant if you prefer to eat out (but do this well in advance, especially if you’re a large party).
Or order in a takeaway.
If everybody contributes to the cooking and cleaning, a self-catered group holiday with friends and family is great fun.
DISCOUNTS & CHEAP GROUP SKI DEALS
Often holiday companies will be able to offer you a group discount, whether you are booking direct with a tour operator or through a travel agent.
Here are some of the offers available to groups in the 2016/17 season:
Crystal – discounts available for groups of 10 or more
Inghams – (on certain dates) Up to 1 in 5 go free, 2¼ free places for a group of 10, 3¼ free places for a group of 15, etc.
Neilson – up to 20% off bookings for groups of 7+
SkiWorld – up to 20% off bookings for groups of 6+
Look out for packages with offers on lift passes and equipment hire, like buy one, get one free or half price.
You can often find group deals on ski passes with the ticket office.
If you’re buying the Three Valleys ski pass for the 2015/16 season, and purchase multiple ski passes together, 3 skiers and more can save €15 each.
Some of the bigger ski hire companies will also offer you group rates.
Ski Republic give groups a 5% discount when you reserve 5 packs, and 10% off if you reserve 8.
With this on top of discounts of up to 60% when you pre book online, you can make some great savings.