Israelis hit the slopes as ski vacation season begins

More women, first-timers join skiing public; between 35,000 and 40,000 Israelis expected to take ski trips this winter.

Ski 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ski 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Though you wouldn’t know it from looking out the window, winter is here, and with it the start of Israeli ski vacation season. According to tourism industry estimates, between 35,000 and 40,000 Israelis will take part in ski vacations this winter, with statistics showing an increase in first-time skiers and women skiers compared to previous years.
A survey conducted by Israeli ski tour operator SkiDeal among 3,000 of its customers showed that women make up 20 percent of all skiers. This number is likely to grow in the future, however, since women make up 30% of first-time ski vacationers. Beginners account for 18% of all skiers, up from 14% last year.
According to the survey, the most popular vacation destinations among Israelis are France (30% of ski travelers), Austria (27.5%) and Italy (27.5%), followed by Bulgaria and the Czech Republic, which in the last few years have gained popularity as cheaper alternatives suitable to beginning skiers.
The survey found that in total, 64% of ski vacationers prefer skiing over snowboarding, but snowboarding is gaining in popularity among beginners, with 42% of them preferring to snowboard rather than ski.
SkiDeal CEO Ronen Katz said that since Israel enjoys warm weather, most Israelis don’t have the appropriate clothes for Europe’s mountainous regions, where the ski resorts are located.
According to their findings, 80% of Israelis rent clothes and equipment while on vacation abroad.
“The survey teaches us that ski vacations are becoming more and more popular every year, with the number of Israelis taking part in such vacations growing every winter,” said Katz. “This year’s winter tourism season is expected to be more successful than last year, primarily due to the world’s recovery from the global economic crisis in 2009. It appears that Israeli tourists are discovering that ski vacations are fun and can be experienced in a growing number of destinations and at a range of prices.”
According to Katz, the price of a week-long ski vacation can range from NIS 3,900 to NIS 10,000, depending on the location and the standard of the resort.
A brand new option offered for the first time this year by the Issta travel agency is a special ski vacation tailored to women. Sharon Cohen, who manages Issta’s ski vacations department, put together a package she calls “Ski in Skirts,” which opens the door for women who are interested in trying out skiing, but also offers them a lot more in complementary activities.
“As someone who has skied all her life and has been in the ski travel business for more than a decade, I am well aware that in Israel, skiing is still considered a predominantly masculine pastime,” said Cohen.
According to Cohen, women make up 30% of the skiing public in Israel, far less than in other countries.
“From hundreds of conversations I’ve had with women, both personally and by virtue of my job, I have discovered that even when women do go on ski vacations, they either go with their partners or in a group that is usually made up of a majority of men. We hardly ever see women going on a ski vacation alone or only with other women,” said Cohen.
Cohen said that she had answers for all the usual excuses she heard from women on why not to go on a ski vacation, and designed the new package to match their wishes.
Cohen counters the arguments of those women who say that skiing is too scary, dangerous or cold, by explaining that with proper instruction, standard safety precautions and good equipment and clothing, skiing is as safe and comfortable an activity as any other.
“Today there are ski outfits that are designed by the world’s top fashion designers, so women can be warm and look good at the same time. Besides, I always tell them that in the event of a storm, nobody goes out skiing, and there are always things to do around the village,” said Cohen.
Issta’s women-only “Ski in Skirts” package takes place in the town of Arinsal, in Andorra – a small country located in the Eastern Pyrenees, bordered by Spain and France. Customers are lodged in the aptly named Princesa Parc hotel, situated 50 meters from the gondola that takes them to the slopes and the village center.
An added benefit of vacationing in Andorra, according to Cohen, is that the whole country is a duty-free zone.
The capital, Andorra La Vella, situated an hour away from Arinsal, is considered to offer some of the best shopping in Europe.
The package includes flights and shuttles, seven nights at the hotel, a ski pass for six days, five group lessons, equipment rental for the duration, free entrance to the hotel spa, shuttle services to the capital and a variety of “ladies only” discounts in the hotel and the village, as well as complimentary gifts from Issta.
The price of the package ranges from 1,150 euros to 1,390 euros per person.
Another segment of the population that receives special treatment is the religious sector. Eddie’s Travel, a travel agency that specializes in packages for observant Jewish travelers, offers a line of luxury kosher vacations to Europe designed for recreational skiers and winter sports fans.
The tours offer luxury ski resorts in Italy and France, including five-star kosher cuisine.
“Our business is built upon the recognition that the entire world of travel options should be available to the kosher traveler,” said Eddie’s Travel CEO David Walles. “We firmly believe that one should never have to compromise on quality cuisine or that dream vacation because of our kosher observance.”
In Italy, Eddie’s Travel invites customers to stay at the mountain resort of Canazei, home to the My One Hotel, which features fresh mehadrin Italian cuisine under the supervision of Rabbi Rabinowitz of Lugano, as well as a synagogue in the hotel.
In France, guests stay at Hotel La Farandole in Les Deux Alpes, at the doorstep of the Ecrin National Park and boasts the largest glacier in Europe, guaranteeing snow and optimal ski conditions during the whole winter season.
Prices start at 1,390 euros per person in a double-occupancy room for Italy, and 1,490 euros for France. Prices include flight, airport taxes, transfers, seven-night hotel stays at half board, sandwiches for lunch, coffee and cake, full board for Shabbat and a five-day ski-pass.
Another option, both for people who keep kosher and for those who want to maintain their independence, is renting a place of their own.
Interhome, a Swiss-based company that recently began operating in Israel, offers a wide variety of units ranging from rooms to luxurious ski chalets in ski resorts all over Europe.
Eli Drechler, director-general of Interhome Israel, said the company owned 45,000 units in total, with tens of thousands of them situated in or near ski resorts.
“We have units that match any number of people and any budget. We offer anything from single one-star rooms to five-star villas that can house a dozen people,” said Drechler. “All the units are fully equipped to accommodate guests for as long as they wish to stay, and offer a high degree of independence for those who want it.”
Drechler said that prices fluctuated widely depending on the location, the standard of accommodation and the time of year. He said prices generally started from 300 euros per couple per week and could reach upward of 20,000 euros for large and luxurious accommodations.
The company’s website provides the range of available units and is easily searchable. Booking is completed upon payment with credit card.