There have been a few reports in the UK press over the summer months about a supposed decrease in the number of ski holidays available. It's true that some large tour operators, such as Crystal, have cut back on the number of catered chalets they are offering for 2009-10. Last winter's weak pound against the euro meant that many ski holiday companies, whose revenue is in sterling and expenses in euros, were caught with too many beds to sell and rising costs. Naturally they have adopted a more cautious approach for this winter.
However this has given smaller operators a chance - with more chalets on the rental market, the opportunity to negotiate better rates has not passed them by. The economic crisis has of course caused ripples in the independent sector, but for the good smaller companies, who can be nimble and react quickly to a changing climate, it has also provided opportunites.
There may be fewer holidays on offer - but cast your net wider and you will almost certainly find what you're looking for.
Whilst the big guys are cutting back, it's a good time to try independent travel and discover the benefits that the growing number of savvy independent skiers and boarders have known all along.
So what are the benefits?
Flexibility: this is the big one. The indie ski holiday can give you all kinds of flexibility - so you don't have to travel on a Saturday, you don't have to stay for a week and you don't have to fly from Gatwick when Liverpool airport is just down your road.
If flexibility appeals to you, you can also extend the idea to resort. With some operators you can choose catered, self-catered, and part-catered options. You can have complete privacy in your chalet if you like, or you can have a full-on gourmet service every night of the week. If you want a 4 course chalet dinner with wine one night and to head out for pizza and a beer the next, this can be arranged. Powder White offer part-catered options in the Three Valleys, Val d'Isere, Verbier and St Anton for example. CGH offer self-catered apartments in France, but can recommend and book local chef services.
If you're really flexible in your holiday needs why not put in a search on the Solutions Room and see what comes back?
Personal and personalised service: With the independent chalet operator you could well be enquiring, booking and then staying with the same person, or someone who knows that person and the accommodation very well. Your relationship with them will start when you send your first email, several weeks or months beforehand. You'll have plenty of time to tell them about the gluten allergy and you'll be able to ring up the day before to find out what the snow conditions are like.
Choice: The independent ski operator can range from a husband and wife team, who have lovingly restored a 17th century alpine farmhouse and turned it into a dream holiday home, to package companies who can include flights, transfers, deals on ski hire etc. And there is a massive range of accommodation out there - from budget to luxury, from studios to big chalet style hotels. If you want hot tubs, Sky TV, wifi, ski-in ski-out - it's all out there and the choice is impressive. Alpine Elements for example, offer catered chalets to suit all kinds of budgets. Mountain Heaven have self catered apartments and catered chalets in popular resorts, but also offer holiday accommodation in less well know gems such as Grimentz and Les Sept Laux.
Specialist knowledge: Many independent companies specialise in one resort and make sure that their knowledge is passed on to their customers. Companies such as Jolly Good Alpine Adventures and Chilly Powder in Morzine, Bigfoot Travel and Fresh Traxxx in Chamonix, Ski Magic and Ski Cuisine in the Three Valleys, Ski Verbier and Peak Ski in Verbier, for example, have all been operating in the same resorts for several years, with the same characters at the helm. Their knowledge, acquired over the years of being there, and the network of contacts they have built up, means that they can iron out problems, advise on the best route to take for your one week skiers and hook you up with the best guides to explore the steeps and deeps. This kind of local knowledge can make all the difference to your holiday, perhaps showing you something which you would never have found on the beaten track.
So whether you choose to fly, drive, take the train, go budget or luxury, cater or self-cater - there is still the choice out there. It is true that your options may get more restricted the later you leave it to book but nonetheless the ski holiday is alive and well.