Many of us spend winter dreaming about a week sunning ourselves on Alpine ski slopes. Skiing, however, has never been a cheap hobby, and with the credit crunch taking its toll on all our budgets, it might seem best to abandon any hope of a winter break.
But you don’t necessarily have to ditch the dream: if you know how to track down a good deal, you could yet find yourself on the slopes.
There are plenty of ways you can reduce the cost of your skiing trip including budget options, last-minute deals and special offers. When, where and how you book also affect the final cost. When you go will have the biggest effect on the cost of your winter holiday. Tour operators, resorts and hotels pack in most of their annual revenue into a four/five–month period, usually running from December to April.
The start and end of the ski season are the cheapest times to go because snow conditions at that time of year are less predictable. But booking in the last week of the season doesn’t always mean the snow is going to be worse. This year, for example, heavy snowfall across Europe means that booking a late deal towards the end of March or beginning of April could give you significant savings without compromising on perfect powder.
It goes without saying that if you can avoid the peak times of Christmas, New Year, Easter and half term, you can cut a large chunk off your bill. For example, a week in a hotel in the French resort of Meribel with Mark Warner Holidays costs £715 the week before Easter, but rises to £1,107 during the Easter week. And if you go to the nearby Val d’Isère resort, it will cost you £2,279 over Easter, then £995 the week after.
If you don’t mind when you go, a last-minute deal could help cut the cost of your holiday significantly.
“Tour operators usually offer special deals just a few weeks beforehand,” explains Carrie Hainge, spokesperson of the Ski Club of Great Britain, a skiing information website.
Some holiday operators will offer you great skiing deals, often including flights and transfers, but only if you are prepared to leave a few days after making the booking.
Where to go
You can also save money if you don’t mind where you go. France remains the most popular country with Brits, due to its proximity. But while it may be cheaper to get to, the costs once you’re there mean it will be harder to keep your holiday bill as low as you might have hoped to.
A few years ago, the strength of the British pound meant UK holidaymakers could make their money go considerably further in Europe. However, its weakness today means that once you get to your destination the cost of food, lift passes and après-ski will soon eat into your budget.
But don’t rule out going to Europe altogether; you just need to be a bit more savvy about choosing your destination. Eastern European countries are leading the way in cheap and cheerful skiing holidays. In the Post Office’s Ski Resort Report 2008, the top three resorts for best value are Poiana Brasov in Romania, the High Tatras in Slovakia and Borovets in Bulgaria, costing £200, £236 and £241 respectively for ski passes, ski rental and basic commodities.
A lot of tour operators don’t offer holidays to Slovakia, though, and Eastern Europe can’t boast such good high terrain as Italy and Austria. Skiing in Italy means advanced skiers get their Alpine runs while, as Marion Telsig, spokesperson of holiday company TUI Ski, says, it can also be a good choice for families.
“By going to a lesser-known resort in Italy you can save a fair bit of money. It’s great for good food – children love pizza and lasagne – and it’s much cheaper than France,” she says. La Thuile in Italy, for example, was fourth in the Post Office survey, with an average cost of £272.
Telsig also suggests going to Spain. “Try the Pyrenees. People are critical about the amount of snow there, but this year there’s a huge amount.”
If you want to avoid the eurozone altogether you should consider the Scandinavian countries. Norway, for example, makes it into the Post Office’s overall top 10 at number eight, and despite using the euro, its neighbour Finland makes it to number five.
Although food and drink tend to be pricier (a beer at Yllas in Finland costs £4 compared with £1.26 at the High Tatras in Slovakia), ski costs are more competitive, with a six-day lift pass at Yllas costing just £99.30.
Going further afield to Canada and the US will always cost more in terms of travel, but the cost of living remains lower than in some of the European countries, and although the US dollar is battering the pound,
Canada’s weak dollar makes it a more attractive option.
Self-catering or all-in?
Once you know when and where you are going, the next thing to decide is whether to opt for an all–inclusive holiday or a self-catering one. All–inclusive does what it says on the tin: breakfast, dinner, afternoon tea and wine are included in the price. “You know what your costs are upfront and it means you’ve pretty much spent the bulk of your money beforehand,” says Haigne.
Paying beforehand in sterling will also slightly cushion the blow of the poor exchange rate if you’re holidaying in a eurozone country.
However, providing you are prepared to buy food down in the valley or in a nearby town rather than at the pricey resort shops, self-catering can be cheap. Obviously, it depends on where you go, but even if you’re holidaying in France, a bit of forward planning could offset some of the costs. If you’re driving or taking the train, for example, take some basic provisions with you.
However, catered chalets tend to dominate the UK snowsports market, with a 37% share in 2007/8, so arranging your own ski holiday requires a fair amount of research.
Also, the awkward flight times on offer from budget airlines such as Easyjet and Ryanair mean you could miss out on a day’s skiing, and transfer times to the resort can be considerably longer and more costly. So if you’re going to France, Haigne suggests using the Eurostar’s Ski Train service, which takes travellers straight to the French Alps from St Pancras and Ashford International.
A standard return starts at £179, but for £299 you can buy a semi-flexible ticket, which means if the snow is bad, you can exchange the ticket or get a 75% refund 14 days before you leave.
Of course, if you’re going elsewhere, the train won’t be an option. But provided you’re prepared to put in the time and effort, you can still arrange a cheap holiday independently.
Last year, for example, 36-year-old Kate Morgan, a club development manager for a charity in Exeter, went to Sauze d’Oulx in Italy with her dad. They went in the first week of April and flew with Ryanair for £136 for two returns from Stansted to Turin. They then paid £300 each for seven days half-board accommodation at the Orso Bianco hotel.
“The food was excellent, and on one sunny evening the owners organised a fantastic barbeque for all the guests,” says Kate. “They also helped to arrange transport from the airport to the resort and our ski and boot hire.” The personal touch of a smaller resort or family-run hotel can certainly make it worthwhile opting for the
As the pound is weak, try to pay for as much as possible in sterling rather than euros when you are booking all the bits and pieces independently. Ski shops such as intersportrent.com and ski-republic.com are offering discounts on ski and boot rental, for example. If possible, book your ski passes before you hit the slopes too.
Telsig explains: “The pound’s fall in value against the euro means that lift passes in European ski resorts are now cheaper if pre-booked from the UK in sterling rather than bought over-the-counter in the resort.”
For example, a week’s ski pass in the Paradiski area in France costs €243 (£230.38), whereas a pre-booked pass through Crystal Ski would cost £206 – a saving of £24.38. Some operators have cottoned onto this, however, and have restricted the number of passes available to book in advance.
So, if you find you have to buy the pass when you get there, decide if you really need a full seven-day one or if five days would suffice.
Looking online for cheap deals rather than booking your holidays by phone with tour operators or through ski agencies could also cut the cost of your trip. You’re more likely to find a last-minute special offer on the internet by scouring operators’ websites or discount websites such as ifyouski.com and igluski.com.
General screenscrapers and flight brokers like expedia.co.uk, travelsupermarket.com and skyscanner.net also have ski sections. If you’re a member of the Ski Club of Great Britain you also get a 10% discount with a number of tour operators.
However, if you don’t have access to the internet, the travel sections in newspapers usually have a page dedicated to some of the best offers.
And if you’re booking for a large group of people, don’t forget that you might also be able to haggle the price down. Finally, always make sure that you have travel insurance. Single-trip cover can cost as little as £20. However, before you choose your policy, take a look at what it includes. Some providers have ‘no-snow’ clauses, but check what the time period for the claim is.
Similarly, most policies will specify an amount of time the piste must be closed before you can make a claim. Theft of ski equipment is common, so check that leaving your skis outside while you nip into a café for a cup of hot chocolate doesn’t classify as leaving equipment ‘unattended’.
Top five cheap ski resorts:
Brits are flocking to the Eastern European country for its great value on and off the piste.
Excellent for cross-country devotees. Stunning unspoilt natural scenery.
One of the most affordable Eastern European options and less explored by other Brits than Bulgaria.
Advanced skiers won’t have to compromise on their runs, and the cost of food and aprés-ski is considerably cheaper than nearby Alpine neighbours.
Great for large, wider runs and the weak dollar means cost of living is more affordable than the US.