Get the lowdown on what's hot this season

New hotels, resort improvements, fab new gear – what does the 2011/12 ski season have in store? Ski expert Mark Frary gives his insider tips on the best resorts and latest developments this season.

What’s new in ski hotels and chalets

Ski season 2011/12 - chaletSwanky new hotels and chalets abound this season
Hemera / Thinkstock
One of the liveliest places in the Alps for après-ski, St Anton’s Mooserwirt, is branching out this winter. The bar is famous for skiers on their final run of the day stopping off for a beer or three and then wobbling their way down to the village. Now they can simply head next door, in the bar’s swanky new hotel, Das Mooser.

Avoriaz, the purpose-built resort up at the top of the Portes du Soleil network, gets a much needed boost this winter with the opening of huge new developments from Pierres et Vacances, which will see 369 new apartments open in the resort, ranging from 3-star to the 5-star Amara residence.

Club Med is spending £75m on a new resort in Valmorel this winter, comprising family-friendly ‘4-trident’ apartments, several ‘5-trident’ suites with private concierges and - a new offering for the company - individual chalet-apartments with their own maids and butlers. The resort will also have a huge ice rink and spa.

This winter also sees the opening of two über-luxurious chalets in swanky Courchevel 1850. The eight-room, multimillion-euro Art Chalet has its own private nightclub, casino, cinema and indoor pool, while Chalet Baltoro, in the K2 development, measures a whopping 570 sq m (6,135 sq ft), is tricked out with iPads and PS3s and, with its modern boutique design, is as far from the traditional Alpine pine and chintz model as you can get.

At the other end of Courchevel, in 1650, Le Ski is offering one of the very few chalet-apartments available for just two people – ideal for a romantic ski break. Chalet Les Marmottes has a whirlpool bath and access to a shared infinity pool in the building’s spa area.

Freeride world-champion Manu Gaidet has opened the luxury Chalet Lyskamm sleeping up to 14 in his home town of La Rosière.

What’s new from ski tour operators

Ski season 2011/12 - Sochi ski resortThe upcoming Winter Olympics resort of Sochi in Russia
iStockphoto / Thinkstock
For something a little different from the typical Alpine experience, tour operator Crystal has added the upcoming Winter Olympics resort of Sochi in Russia to its programme for the first time this winter.

The company has also recently introduced the all-inclusive concept at a range of hotels including flights, transfers, accommodation, lift passes, gear hire and – for the first time – drinks and packed lunch vouchers. These are aimed at budget-conscious skiers worried about the weak pound.

Family operator Esprit has launched a new service in most of its resorts called Mini Cocoa Club. Aimed at two to five year olds, it runs from 7.30pm to 8.30pm and is geared up to helping toddlers get ready for bed. Sister company Ski Total has moved its offering slightly more upmarket with the addition of a new range of Platinum 5 Diamond chalets with free Wi-Fi, luxury toiletries and après-ski massages.

What’s new in ski resorts

In Méribel, chef Aurélie Le Nué has launched a new service offering to make meals in your chalet or apartment. She will do the shopping, cook and wash up from €35 per person plus €50 service fee. Méribel has also added a new nursery slope by the Altiport and updated its Magnestick system for kids learning to ski so that they can’t open the chairlift bar before it is safe.

In Chamonix, there will be a new air bag by the Stade draglift in Le Brévent to let you practice your jumps and other tricks in the knowledge of a soft landing.

Ski season 2011/12 - resortNew lifts and gondolas
Creative Commons / frozenchipmunk
Over in Austria, Saalbach-Hinterglemm is improving its links with a new eight-seat gondola at Bernkogel.

Momentum Ski’s hugely popular City Ski Championships have moved to Crans Montana in Switzerland this winter and have become even bigger and better with the addition of music from the likes of the Feeling and comedy from Marcus Brigstocke. The newly dubbed Momentum Ski Festival takes place from 16 to 18 March.

Many resorts are embracing social media this season. Vail resort in the USA has enhanced its EpicMix programme, which encourages skiers to upload their photos and videos, to allow people to share where they have skied on interactive maps for bragging rights with their mates.

Canada’s Whistler, meanwhile, is running its so-called Sabbatical Project, a social media competition to win a one-month, all-expenses-paid trip to the resort in March 2012.

What’s new from ski airlines

Swiss upstart airline Helvetic Airways has launched a new service from Bristol to Zurich, running three times a week. Fares start at £145 return but, in a boon for winter sports lovers, skis travel free of charge.

EasyJet, one of the most widely used airlines for the ski crowd, has announced it will launch an allocated seating trial this spring. Great news if you’re desperate to get onto the slopes and want to be in one of those prized front-row seats.

What’s new in ski gear

Ski season 2011/12 - gearSnowboards
Creative Commons / dpstylesâ„¢
As for new gear, the Salomon BBR, shaped like a water ski and promising to carve on the piste and float in powder, looks to be a hot seller this winter. Another popular shape this winter will be the banana-shaped rocker skis that are gaining a following. Rossignol’s Temptation 8, designed especially for women, is one of the top picks.

Customised fit is one of the big trends again this year, from Head’s adjustable fit Adapt Edge boots to Scott’s Notice OTG goggles.

The continuing appeal of Star Wars, more than 30 years after it first graced cinema screens, continues with the launch of Burton’s Stormtrooper and Yoda boards. We predict these will be a huge hit this winter.

Now all we have to do is pray for snow.

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