How To Have A Cheap Ski/Snowboard Trip
By Fran McElhone
Published February 2009
Desperate to get to the snow but daunted by the hefty cost? SnowSphere presents tips on how to get your snow trip for cheap...
Where to go
As an avid fan of culture-snow combos - the most obvious suggestion is of course – Eastern Europe! And you’ve got Bulgaria , Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia and even Bosnia, Serbia and Romania, all begging for your business and all promising not to disappoint.
On the other hand, if you must follow suit and head to the better known resorts of France and Switzerland where they are as expensive as they are trendy, due to many mountains being linked and ski passes covering massive areas, opt to stay in the smaller villages usually just a short, meandering bus ride away from the better named towns - and feel the extra weight in your pockets!
That said, it may be the time to finally sweep those never-ending excuses aside and book that trip of a lifetime to North America now that the Euro has little to offer for the foreseeable future. Ahh! I can smell the Tim Horton’s doughnuts already!
To package or not to package - that really is the question! I’m not convinced that piecing your trip together will always emerge to be the cheapest option - not with lastminute.com boasting deals for as little as £199 for flights, transfers and seven nights bed and breakfast.
But package deals often limit your destination scope especially with one Greenhouse Effect being the erratic and less predictable snow conditions around our globe’s highest peaks. So piecing your trip together is certainly worth investigating as there is potential to work even more last minute than lastminute.com and go where the snow is lush and the sky piercing blue.
Booking last minute is one way to bag the deal of the annum but what you have to be, is flexible. For example, Ryanair has been known to sell off some of their Saturday flights for a fiver – the catch being the last minute clause (and probably a flight that leaves at 5am and deposits you in an airport miles away from your destination city).
And don’t ignore the days between Saturday and Sunday either – freeing yourself up on these less popular days may save your bank balance even further.
Check out a range of airports within your vicinity as well for a cheaper deal - but check on the departure and arrival times so you’re not tempted to get a nearby BnB to soften the blow of an early takeoff. And compare your potential savings to the extra mileage needed to get you there – you don’t want one to cancel out the other, right?
Booking flights way in advance is of course the alternative to operating last minute in order to bag a super deal – just don’t leave it too late to Google for your supper! The flight search engine Skyscanner can really help out here. It has a very nifty graph display that allows you to see which days are cheapest to fly.
Much like flight and accommodation prices, last minute car rental deals are few and far between. If you are planning a fly-drive ski holiday, car rental can be a cost effective way of getting to the resort and around if you are in a group. Geneva airport car hire is very popular and serviced by all the leading suppliers and well served by the budget airlines. There are lots of car hire comparison sites or online specialists to choose from such as Rhinocarhire.com who can help get you a great deal.
Last minute flights work if you’re lucky enough to have a friend already in a resort and eager to lend you their sofa bed to crash on – in return for a few slap up meals eh? If you’re sorted with a place to stay then sign up to the cheapo flight companies’ newsletters so you’re ready to pounce!
Still working last minute - if you’re a Billy-no-mates-in-a-ski-resort, but you’ve been part of a snowboard camp or stayed at a privately owned chalet before - these guys may be worth contacting and seeing if they have any room and can do a deal for returning customers. Or even if it isn’t so last minute, they may still have space and be willing to be bargained with!
If there’s a whole load of you on the other hand, then sharing a chalet normally works out cheaper - so try and persuade those friends of yours that have never slid on snow before to get in on it.
Finding accommodation for a whole crew is harder last minute so if you all want to sleep under one roof, book early – or if this isn’t a major concern, then splitting up into pairs/trios and finding separate accommodation will make it easier to find cheap last minute deals.
Hostels were once the obvious choice for cheap lodgings but with more and more having a re-vamp they aren’t always the cheapest any longer. Smaller, more basic guest houses often offer twin rooms for only slightly more than a bed in a hostel where you have to put up with bad breath bearing, snoring bunk buddies - and maybe some selfish chick leaving the damn light on. These little gems are worth spending a little extra time searching for.
What you may find is a double room in a bunkhouse that caters for large groups – this means that you will have to share the bathroom and common areas and be part of their group at meal times - but at an easy cost.
Gear - Borrow, Buy or Rent?
First of all, have a rummage and see what you may already have in the closet as a good quality hiking jacket may be decent enough to double up as ski jacket. Do check though - it’s got to be wind proof, water proof (snow can be really wet!) and keep you toasty in the sub-zero alpine chill.
Cupboards empty? Now see what you can get for free off your mates – or at least for the price of a bottle of wine (possibly something stronger). Ask around any snow inclined buddies you may have on your facebook ‘friends’ list - if they were friendly enough to accept your request, lets presume they’re friendly enough to lend a hand brandishing a couple of snugly gloves. You’ll probably find most of your keener snow friends will have a spare set of outer wear they won’t mind you borrowing.
There’s no harm in asking, if you don’t ask you don’t get blah blah - and you could well save yourself a few bob here.
Avoid trendy brands. You’ll need a few changes of thermal undies and socks - so first peep round the heavy glass doors of the many high-street retailers that haven’t gone under yet, including BHS, Littlewoods and other such uber-un-trendy chains. If you can stomach it, try Aldi or Lidls, their stuff is crazy cheap and will do a turn. So to hell to fashion! You’ll find their thermals do the job at a far easier cost than other sexier brands.
More obviously, keep your eye out for the out of season sales, i.e. don’t wait to buy your outer wear as the season is upon you. Spring is when all the outdoor stores sell off any remaining kit from the melting season.
Also in early autumn you’ll find retailers scrabbling through a load of last season’s stock hidden in a darkened corner, in forgotten boxes covered in dust – which they’re desperate to clear and make a few quid off.
Although in our current, dire economic climate - sales are everywhere at any time, so hunt around and with any luck you’ll bag yourself a nice jacket and pants for little over cost price.
Other than that, don’t shy away from buying second hand gear off ebay.
You may be able to sort out your rental gear at the time of purchasing your package as your tour operator may be able to offer you further discounts with businesses they are associated with – as an incentive to book with them in the first place as they scream “Look what else we can provide!”.
When you get there - don’t be afraid to ask your resort rep what he/she may be able to get you – either professionally or personally, i.e. he/she may have struck up a referral programme with local rental businesses whereby they send punters their way for a little something in return. Or he/she may be friendly with businesses in the village so may be able to get you a ‘buddy deal’!
Don’t be afraid to ask, there are always deals to be had!
1. Work out what constitutes good value to you and what constitutes a good deal. Keep this in mind throughout your search to gauge whether you’re getting a good deal. For example, a return flight to Geneva might be good value for £100 but a good deal is a return flight for £50. So always pay cheaper what you’re willing to pay and you’ll always be happy! Simple eh?
2. Check the guidebooks for what each resort has to offer, so you know what you’re getting for your money.
3. If you’re getting a deal, try not to have soaring expectations so you’re not disappointed!
4. Bear in mind that package deals generally offer customers better overall protection – hotels and airlines don’t want to disappoint the tour operators so you’re likely to get good service - therefore good value for money and a good deal!
5. Before your evening meal – have your après chilling session in your room – or on your balcony if you’re lucky! You'll save so much!
6. If you’re eating on the hill at lunchtime, think about getting some light bites to scoff in your room rather than eating out every night. Likewise, pack a lunch for the hill rather than filling yourself with expensive salty fried stuff everyday (Come on! I know you always have the fries!).
7. If you’re off to Canada, treat yourself to a lie in and go up the hill at noon for half the price lift tickets. Or if you’re in France - hang around at the bottom of the lifts and pester those already down-loading at noon, for theirs!
8. Don’t forget to check out the baggage policy of your airline so you’re not stung by an extra charge for ski equipment concealed in the dreaded small print.
9. Check out whether you can buy your lift pass online in advance to bag yourself a discount – this is far less pikey than loitering around the bottom of the lifts!
10. Get friendly with some locals and go riding with them – a hell of a lot cheaper than paying for a guide!
11. Transfers are another blessing of the package deal and can leave heaps of grief out when faced with lugging a load of heavy snow gear around. A lot of mountain-feeder airports are about an hour’s transfer to the resorts, so unless there’s enough of you to share a taxi, it’s probably best to get yourself on a shuttle bus (plus not all taxis will have room for 4+ people’s gear). Book online before you go – and shop around as there is usually a choice. Try www.Ski-transfers.com.
12. Last but definitely not least – don’t scrimp on your insurance, it’ll be worth it if you do have an accident – and let’s face it, us sliders are asking for trouble, especially if you’re adventurous and plan to venture off piste. Make sure your insurance will air lift you off the mountain to safety if need be.