There are lots of different types of ski holiday accommodation available. Of course, the idea is that you don't actually hang about in your holiday accommodation for very long, because you'll be spending all day, every day, out on the slopes having fun. But all the same, which type of accommodation you choose for your ski holiday will have an effect on how much you enjoy your trip. Give it some thought before you book.
5 top tips to remember
• Be aware that the size of your party will have a big effect on the type of accommodation you should choose. A romantic couple travelling on their own are best off in a hotel, for example. Small groups do well in self-catering apartments. Bigger groups will love chalets.
• If you've got non-skiers in the party, the type of accommodation you stay in is more important than normal. Chances are, they'll be spending more time in it than usual, and they'll get very grumpy if it's small and cramped. However, be aware space is sold at a real premium in the mountains, especially in the Alps. If you want bigger rooms, be prepared to pay for them.
• Remember, prices vary wildly between different weeks of the season. If you don't have to travel during New Year, February half term or Easter, avoid them like the plague. You'll save yourself a fortune on the price of your holiday.
• Prices also vary considerably between resorts. A three-star hotel in an A-lister such as Courchevel is considerably more expensive than it will be in a resort without an international reputation. Bear this in mind if your budget is tight and you're looking for somewhere fairly posh in which to stay.
• Standards of hotel keeping vary too. The Austrians tend to run the best hotels.
Hotels are as you find them anywhere in the world, although in the mountains many of them have saunas and pools, as well as boot rooms in which to store your ski equipment. At the highest level, they can be palaces, and are a great place to bring a loved one for a romantic getaway. Lower down the price scale, the quality becomes much more uneven. Some are pretty rudimentary, with comically dated interiors. Others are absolutely charming. It's all a bit hit and miss, frankly, but as a rule of thumb you'll find family-run hotels better than the chains at a budget level.
If you are looking for an all-inclusive ski holiday in the same manner you'd take a summer break, you may be disappointed. There are some hotels that offer the full meal and drink deal; however these are the exception rather than the rule on a ski holiday.
Essentially, chalet-hotels are jumbo-sized chalets run by British tour operators. Guests and staff are almost always British, and usually there's a happy-go-lucky and relaxed atmosphere in them. Many tour operators specialising in family skiing holidays use them, in which case they'll probably have their own nurseries and kids' clubs.
The drawback is that chalet-hotels are often quite dated and standards aren't quite as high as you'll find in normal hotels because the staff are seasonal workers, out to enjoy the mountains rather than professionals making a career in the hospitality industry. As a result, they work well for big groups and undemanding families, but couples and those who like their creature comforts should give them a miss.
Some chalets are run as all-inclusive, so check each one if you are looking for an all-in deal.
Self-catering apartments and chalets
A self-catering ski apartment offers one of the best low-budget options, especially if you're prepared to cook for yourself, rather than eat out in the resort's restaurants. The idea of cooking at the end of a big day on the slopes horrifies many skiers: but if everyone pitches in to help and there's a bottle of wine on the go to liven things up, it can be a blast.
There are other benefits: for a small group of, say, six people, it means getting your own place, rather than having to share with strangers in a chalet. Couples should consider them too because of the privacy. Finally, the kitchens are useful each morning when it comes to preparing sandwiches for your rucksack - a great way of saving money because you can avoid the over-priced mountain restaurants.
One word of warning: the cheapest apartments, especially in France and Italy, are tiny. Never mind swinging a cat - you'd give a mouse a bashing in one of them. So don't bring too much luggage!
Catered chalets for a chalet ski holiday are the staple accommodation of the British ski holiday scene. These are either free-standing mountain houses or apartments, which have at least one member of staff on hand to cook and clean for the guests. How many staff there are, and the quality of the accommodation, depends on the price you pay. So too does the quality of the cooking!
The best catered chalets are run like mini-five star hotels, and are much loved by the CEO and celebrity set. Professional chefs crank out beautiful food every night, and the champagne flows like water. To stay in them you have to book the whole property, and the most expensive, in a popular week, will set you back £50,000! This is where you can find a truly luxurious ski break and enjoy your winter sports break in style. And many of these luxurious ski holiday chalets operate on an all-inclusive basis, so you never have to worry about dipping into that wallet or handbag for a round of drinks.
At the other end of the market, chalets are often very basic. The food is plentiful, but basic too, and if you're unlucky your cook may be working in a kitchen for the very first time.
At whatever price level, however, all catered chalets are sociable places, because everyone eats together, and relaxes together in the same sitting room. This is why they work so well if they're booked in their entirety by groups of friends. If the social chemistry's right, the atmosphere generated will be one of the best parts of the holiday.
They work well for families travelling together, too, and many tour operators specialising in family holidays use chalets to house their guests. The sitting rooms are great places for little ones to play in if it gets cold outside. Some even have their own crèches.
Romantic couples should avoid chalets like the plague, especially during the school holidays.
Guesthouses, B&Bs and pensions
These are essentially small hotels which don't serve dinner (although breakfast is included). In America and Canada they're almost always a good idea (especially for romantic couples): they're usually run by very house-proud owners. In Austria they're usually a safe bet too, though elsewhere they can be very basic. For some people, basic is brilliant, but if you like your accommodation a little cosier, do a bit of searching round the internet to find one which has been enthusiastically reviewed.
Finally, across the mountains, you'll find a scattering of hostels. Tour operators never sell them as part of their packages, but they can be found easily enough online. If you're a single traveller in search of cheap accommodation, this is probably your best bet. Groups of four or more may well find that self-catering accommodation is cheaper - in the quieter weeks of the season at least.