There is an enduring conceit in the travel industry that niggles like sand in the trunks. It’s the blurring, in promo material, between flight hours and journey times. The huge growth in demand for ski weekends, particularly from Londoners, is especially victim to this scurrilous ruse. “Be on the slopes in three hours” they trumpet. No, you won’t. You’ll still be at Heathrow buying things you don’t need.
Let’s say you are off to St. Moritz, in Switzerland. Yes, it may take 80 Minutes to fly to Zurich but it can take an hour to get to your chosen London airport, two hours from check-in to boarding, an hour at Zurich for passport control, baggage and faffing about with car hire, then a three-hour drive to St Moritz. So it’s seven hours and that’s without delays. Earlier this season it took me 11 hours to get from Zermatt to London via planes, trains, automobiles and a horse.
The whole shebang makes weekend skiing slightly less appetising. But this season, Jeffersons, the private jet holiday company, has launched weekend ski packages that get you to some slopes in three hours. “That must cost a fortune”, I hear you cry. It’s not cheap but if you are a group of six the cost is about £2,000 each – and you get a lot for your money (besides, a private jet flight is one of life’s great travel experiences, especially now that Concorde is no longer an option.)
Here’s why. We went to Farnborough. The limo drives onto the tarmac where you meet the captain and crew, in our case Captain Murray, First Officer Graham and Tricia, the flight attendant.
Your bags are loaded, you climb the steps like a rock star. The door is closed and you taxi out. It is 50 minutes since leaving home. We flew in a Citation CJ1, which seats seven. It flies at 28,000 feet and once above the clouds it’s as smooth as the Krug and foie gras that Tricia liberally doles out.
We were skiing in St Christoph, a beautiful village between St Anton and Lech. A commercial flight would take you to Zurich, about three hours drive away, but we landed at Altenrhein, just 50 minutes drive. On landing, the steps are lowered and you walk 10 paces to a limo that whisks you to your hotel.
There is no passport control, customers or security checks at either end as this is cleared before your departure. We arrived in the Arlberg Hospiz, in St Christoph, at about 1pm. Four hours after leaving home.
This classic and comfortable open-fires-and-dark-wood-beamed Alpine hotel is on the site of an original hospice built in 1386 as a refuge for pilgrims passing the Alberg Pass.
The other ski itinerary offered by Jeffersons – although they fly clients pretty much wherever they wish – is to St Moritz, staying at the five-star Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains. Jets can fly direct to St Moritz. “We had a client who got from his house in Londonderry to his hotel room in St Moritz in two hours, 40 minutes”, says Mike Bevens, one of the founders of Jeffersons. The trip would take about 11 hours with transfers and on a scheduled flight.
The Arlberg Hospiz has a ski shop so you can quickly get your equipment and be on the lift –so that means you can be skiing at 1.30pm. Four and half hours after leaving home.
The Arlberg Hospiz has a wonderful sister restaurant called the Hospiz Alm at the bottom of the piste in St Christoph, with one of the finest cellars in the world. Jeffersons can arrange for you to be shown around by Mr Werner, the ebullient owner. It contains about 70,000 bottles worth £2.5 million, most of which are huge bespoke bottles holding 15 litres called Nabuccodonsors and made solely for the Hospiz Alm.
After a second day’s great skiing and a spa visit, supper on the last night was at the Alter Goldener Berg in Oberlech, above Lech. Also owned by the Werners, this is reached by cable car in the evening and is a cosy cabin with a spectacular meat fondue.
On the final day you can ski until the lift closes at 4pm, be in your jet by 5.30pm, land at 6pm (UK time) and be home in time for the Antiques Road show at 6.45 pm.
By Simon Davis, Evening Standard