Saving money on the slopes

With the current global financial crisis, you may be wondering how you are going to afford a skiing holiday this winter. For many families, a winter holiday on the slopes is an annual highlight but this year, some have been forced to rethink their plans. However, before you panic too much, bear in mind that there are lots of ways to save money both before you travel and during your stay. If you take advantage of the following tips and advice, there is no reason for you to go without a winter holiday this year.

Choosing your ski resort

The advice here is fairly obvious: choose a less well-known resort or one which has a reputation for being inexpensive. In other words, do not give in to the temptation of booking the penthouse suite at The Lodge in Vail, Colorado. Doing so would set you back over $6,000 per night and whilst the accommodation is truly magnificent, you can probably do without a massage centre and swish piano bar for a couple of weeks.

Quiet, inexpensive resorts which nevertheless offer world-class skiing include Saalbach-Hinterglemm in Austria. This resort is a less obvious choice than Les Arcs in France for example. If you choose to stay in Saalbach-Hinterglemm, you will be able to ski on over 120 miles of well-maintained slopes. The cheapest time of year to visit the resort is at the beginning of the season, although there are usually some good deals to be found towards the end of the season as well. As a general rule, avoid booking a skiing holiday over Christmas and New Year as this is one of the most expensive periods of the ski season. Similarly, the school holidays at Easter and February half-term should be avoided. If you are able to leave booking until the last minute you may be able to pick up a bargain, particularly before Christmas or in January, after the schools go back.

You should also try researching the ski resorts of Eastern European countries, such as Slovenia and Bulgaria. These resorts often provide great value for money as well as fantastic skiing conditions. If you don’t fancy Eastern Europe then why not try Andorra? Although it is a country that you may not associate with a winter break it is a great, and, best of all, very cheap, destination for a skiing holiday. The resorts are much quieter than in other European resorts and you will find unavoidable extras, such as lift passes, surprisingly reasonable. At the time of writing, there was a lovely chalet suitable for up to five people on offer for under £350 per week, available in the beautiful village of Encamp, Andorra.

Of course, to really cut the costs of your winter break, you could choose to stay in the UK. Scotland is perfect for a cheap skiing holiday and the Nevis, Glenshee, and Cairngorm mountain ranges offer some fantastic, challenging slopes. The good thing about choosing Scotland as a skiing destination is that so long as you are prepared to drive and take pot luck with accommodation you can decide to go at the last minute. You can check the snow conditions in advance using this useful website.

Transport options

Air travel is probably your best option for reaching your ski resort cheaply and quickly. Always shop around on the internet before booking your flights and book as early as possible to get the best deals. Try the obvious budget choices such as Easyjet, who are currently offering a one-way flight from London Stansted to Geneva for just £22.99, departing on the 10th of January. The only problem with travelling with budget airlines is the extra fees involved in transporting skis and boots. When this is added in to your costs you may find it cheaper to travel with airlines such as British Airways, which do not charge for the transportation of skis and boots as long as they are appropriately packed – simply make sure that you use proper boot bags for example.

To save more money, book your airport parking in advance. This can be done over the internet and can save you up to fifty per cent. Try this user-friendly website first. Alternatively, if you live in or near London, consider taking the EasyBus. The EasyBus runs between Stansted Airport and central London, and Luton Airport and central London. The journey will cost you just £2.

Rail travel is generally expensive and it is often difficult to find good deals on the internet. However, for those who have been saving their Tesco Clubcard points, discounts are available on Eurostar.

Driving is also an expensive option, with fuel costs, toll fees, overnight stops, and meals on the road adding unwanted expenses to your journey. However, it may be a sensible choice if you travel with other adults in your skiing group, and split the costs. If you are a family group, though, you may just want to take a flight to your resort, especially if you have young children who will no doubt find the long drive extremely boring.

Accommodation

Don’t even think about staying in your ski resort’s five-star hotel. Instead, think about renting a private apartment or chalet. You can find some great offers on the internet and booking online can greatly reduce your overall accommodation costs because you will not need to pay a booking fee, commission, or fees to an agent. One such website is Holiday Rentals. At the time of writing, the website was offering a chalet suitable for up to nine people in the French resort of Neuve-Eglise for just £279 per week.

When researching apartments and chalets, look for ones situated just outside the centre of the ski resort. These properties are bound to be cheaper than those in the centre and depending on your tastes you may well benefit from a quieter atmosphere as well. Public transport in the majority of ski resorts is very good, so you should not encounter problems getting around the town.

If you would prefer not to stay in an apartment or a chalet, try bed and breakfast accommodation. These are usually cheaper and have a friendlier, more personal atmosphere than large hotels. Alternatively, there are youth hostels located in several European and North American ski resorts and the standard of accommodation on offer in many of these is very high. Youth hostels are no longer exclusively for youngsters who love partying every night. Most offer private rooms and welcome families and visitors of all ages. Some European youth hostels offer packages that include all your food and lift passes for all the family.

How to save money before you leave

Ski clothing

As we all know, skiing is not just about the action on the slopes. For many, it is a convenient excuse to show off the latest fashions whilst keeping warm at the same time. However, the problem is that ski clothing is often extremely expensive. This is a particular problem for families with young children, since clothes can fit your kids perfectly one season but can be too small the next. Don’t despair, though, as there are plenty of cheap options on the high street.

Most of us are aware that TK Maxx is a great place to snap up cheap designer jeans and cut-price tops suitable for a night out on the town, but you may not know that it also stocks a great range of ski clothing. There are some real bargains to be found, including great ski jackets from top brands such as Rip Curl, as well as accessories such as gloves and hats.

Another option is to look on eBay. On this website you can find very reasonable second-hand ski clothes, as well as brand new clothes for a lot less than you would pay in a high-street store. At the time of writing, an all-in-one female ski suit designed by Trespass, complete with special thermal insulation, was on offer for just £19.99. If you are internet savvy and don’t mind bidding, even better bargains can be found, with prices as low as £5.99 common across the site.

If you are lucky enough to live within driving distance of a factory outlet centre, you will be in with a good chance of snapping up a bargain or two. Factory outlet stores sell last season’s stock or goods that are technically imperfect but which usually have no visible signs of damage. For this reason, designer clothing can be purchased at half its usual price. Gunwharf Quays is a factory outlet centre located in Portsmouth and within easy driving distance of London. The centre includes stores such as Rip Curl, Mambo, Nike, O’Neill, Vans, Tog 24, Puma, Animal, Crew Clothing Co., Fat Face, Gul International, Mountain Warehouse, Reef, and Adidas.

Hiring ski equipment

If you already know what kind of equipment you and your family or group will need, you can save money by renting it online. There are several websites that offer good deals. For example, Intersport offers discounts of nearly 40% and Ski Republic offers two-for-one discounts on equipment such as skis and poles.

Additional extras

You may be tempted to risk going without travel insurance in an attempt to save money. However, this is not a wise idea. Unfortunately it is worryingly easy to break an arm or a leg whilst on the slopes and, if you are not insured, this can set you back thousands of pounds. Bear in mind that many policies do not cover additional dangerous winter sports, including off-piste skiing. If you are planning on indulging in extra activities, you may need specialist winter sports cover. Shop around on the internet prior to purchasing any insurance.

How to cut back on expenses in the resort

Purchasing the appropriate lift pass

If you are not careful, you can end up spending far too much money than is necessary on a lift pass. The cheapest way to purchase a pass is usually through a tour operator but booking online is also a good option. Furthermore, instead of throwing away your pass from last season, keep hold of it as many resorts offer a loyalty discount of up to five per cent.

Many skiers, whether visiting Europe or North America, choose to purchase a lift pass that allows them access to the slopes belonging to neighbouring resorts. These regional passes are relatively expensive and whilst it might seem that you are getting good value for money, the likelihood is that you will have just as much fun just using the slopes belonging to your resort.

In the unlikely event that you become bored with the marked runs on offer in your local area, try going off-piste (but always take care when doing this, employing the services of a guide and taking appropriate precautions against avalanches). If, after you arrive at your chosen resort, you find that you are desperate to visit other areas, you will probably be able to purchase single-day extension passes.

Ski schools

If you are a beginner, consider booking group lessons rather than private ones. These always work out cheaper and you will probably have a lot more fun as well. You can compare the prices of ski schools on the internet, so do some careful research before you book. If you are an intermediate skier but would like a lesson or two to improve your confidence, consider the services offered by a ski host instead. Most tour operators offer ski hosts who will show you around the mountains free of charge. This will boost your confidence and you will probably be able to pick up a few tips in the process.

If you are travelling in the middle of January next year, you are in luck. The Association of Snowsports Countries is providing guests with free ski lessons for one week at 50 resorts in countries including Andorra, Finland, Norway, and Switzerland.

Eating and drinking

It is amazing how much you can end up forking out for food and drink during your winter break. Restaurants on the slopes often charge extortionate amounts for a bowl of soup and small cup of coffee whilst the local delicatessen will sell you a gourmet ham sandwich for the price of your plane ticket. However, if you are staying in a hotel, there are several sneaky things you can do to cut down on such expenses.

Firstly, make sure you take full advantage of the breakfast buffet (most hotels in ski resorts offer buffet style breakfasts). Eat your fill of sausages, bacon rolls, and croissants and this may well provide you with enough energy to last you the day. Secondly, without making it too obvious, take a bread roll or two, along with some cheese or cold meat. This will provide you with a great, free lunch and will also allow you to avoid the lengthy queues that build at the restaurants on the slopes. In some countries it is almost expected that guests will do this although not all are so understanding!

If you are renting an apartment or chalet, buy all the food you will need during your stay before you reach the resort where prices are more expensive. This will be easy to do if you have hired a car. Simply stock up at a large supermarket in the valley before you drive up to the resort itself. However, if you have not chosen to hire a car, take advantage of the public transport system and catch a bus to the nearest large store.

Those staying in either Val d’Isère or Tignes will be able to take advantage of a clever online service called Snowman’s Larder. The website allows you to stock up your chalet’s fridge and cupboards prior to your arrival. The company purchases groceries at low prices and then delivers the goods to your front door. Snowman’s Larder is so confident that they can beat the prices offered by stores in the resorts that they will provide a refund if you find cheaper offers elsewhere.

If you choose to eat out in the evenings, do not just visit the local restaurant recommended by the staff at your hotel. Instead, ask a local to recommend a cheap place that serves good food. By doing this, you will often end up with a far better meal and atmosphere at a very reasonable price. Furthermore, there is a growing trend in American ski resorts of eating dinner at a restaurant’s bar, rather than at a table. The food served is often the same but the prices are much cheaper and the service far less formal.

Conclusion

By following this advice the average family can make considerable savings on their winter sports break, without compromising on enjoyment, comfort or safety. In fact, a week away in a cosy alpine chalet in the middle of glorious scenery, enjoying the skiing and relaxing with friends or family could well be just what we need to beat the financial blues and general doom and gloom of a country facing recession.