The Definitive Guide to Making your Money go Further
It’s accepted wisdom that skiing is a pricey sport requiring a large bank balance, essentially a pastime for the rich, here at PlanetSKI we beg to differ.
There are many ways to keep costs down without ruining your holiday.
With just a few small changes you can save hundreds of pounds.
We have a firm belief that skiing does not have to be expensive and that’s even more relevant in times of economic uncertainty.
All you really have to do is hunt around for bargains and change your attitude a bit.
Do you really need to go to a 4* Hotel in one of the well-known resorts?
You may well have just as good a time in a family run 2* hotel in a resort that most British people have never heard of.
It could cost £100’s less and will be an altogether different experience.
Did you know that simply booking your ski or snowboard hire online will save you at least 25%?
Some organisations offer a 50% discount.
Here at PlanetSKI we also keep a constantly updated deals and discounts section, which features a comprehensive list of the latest and greatest offers around.
Tour Operators are already knocking £100’s off some of their holidays so check it out if you want to bag a bargain.
This winter skiing looks set to be slightly more expensive with less favourable exchange rates, costlier flights and high prices in peak season but with a bit of initiative we guarantee you can make it much cheaper.
For more on winning with currency, a feature article from PlanetSKI reporter, Kevin Geary, on changing your hard earned cash then see here.
Published in the winter of 2010/11, but it’s still relevant today.
WHEN TO GO
This is the most important decision you will make.
Peak weeks on school holidays (Christmas, New Year, February Half Term and Easter) cost a lot more than non-school holiday weeks.
If you’re not restricted by school term times, check the national school holidays, as well as the holiday weeks of the country you’re going to.
For a week in Val d’Isere in the 2016/17 season, the Chalet Solaise currently costs £1033 over the New Year, but one week later it’s down to £808 – which is a sizeable £225 cheaper.
If you are travelling independently, a return flight from Gatwick to Geneva over the half term week with EasyJet will cost you a staggering £672.
The weekend before, at the same time of day, it is just £91.
If you can go in low season then do so, while if you are confined to school holidays then perhaps go before Xmas or after Easter.
April has some of the best conditions of theswiss_plane_400 winter with often as much snow falling as in February, just make sure you aim high with a snow sure resort like Val Thorens (the highest resort in Europe) or Zermatt (the highest ski area in Europe).
As a bonus the pistes will be less crowded, the days longer and you’ll come back with a better sun tan too.
Booking early vs booking late
For booking early, Club Med have the biggest discounts in their preview sale, with 15% off (and a travel agent will usually quietly take a bit extra off for you).
Their holidays are all-inclusive; so there are no food and drink costs in resort, and lift passes and lessons are included too.
However they’re unique in working this way around – most tour operators give their biggest discounts at the last minute when there are beds still empty.
This is not advisable if you are in a big group or you want to go to a specific resort but if you are flexible you will be amazed what you can get.
The tactic of waiting for late deals only works if you don’t want a specific resort or type of accommodation.
It’s like the last turkey in the shop – what’s available the week before travel will be stuff no one else wanted to buy.
But if you are flexible you will be amazed what you can get.
Last season in January one tour operator was selling a week in Chamonix the day before departure for £100.
Time is of the essence when it comes to late deals, so avoid trawling through dozens of tour operators for a last minute deal.
Use one of the mega travel agents who have everything in their system so you can filter holidays to spot the 2/3 things that fit exactly your requirements.
The most advanced search filtering in the ski industry right now is on last minute ski deals on SNO where you can stipulate every possible want and whim (from Wi-Fi to hot tubs, ski in/ski out or in-house childcare).
WHERE TO GO
Us skiers and boarders are a very conservative bunch when we choose a resort and we tend to go to the same big names.
The Three Valley resorts of Méribel and Courchevel, Val Thorens, Tignes, La Plagne, Verbier, St Anton, Val d’Isere, Whistler in Canada.
You know the ones we mean.
Well, perhaps you should look further afield?
There are hundreds of resorts across Austria and Italy, which on the whole tend to be cheaper than skiing in France and Switzerland.
Austria has a lot of tiny ski areas within easy driving distance of the famous ski areas, such as Axamer Lizum that is close to Innsbruck.
If you’re happy to drive or use the bus, this can prove to be quite a lot cheaper than staying in the actual resort.
Italy is particularly good value for money. In resorts like Sestriere, we have seen restaurant food, mountain guides and ski lessons costing half of what you would pay in France / Switzerland.
The cost of a main meal in a French mountain restaurant is usually around €15-25. In Italy, it’s about €6-10.
6 days of group lessons in Scola Sci Vialattea in Sestriere were €191 in 2015/16 season. For ESF in Val d’Isere, the same lessons cost €282.
Even though it’s cheaper, the standards of cuisine are usually superb (as you would expect in Italy!) and ski schools get very good feedback.
You can still enjoy big ski areas too.
The international Vialattea (or Milky Way) ski area is larger than Espace Killy by about 100km, and the ski pass cheaper.
In the 2015/16 ski season, the Vialattea ski pass was €180 (adult 6 day), while to ski Val d’Isere and Tignes cost €270.
Cervinia is an excellent way to experience the iconic Swiss resort of Zermatt at a fraction of the cost.
The two resorts share a ski area, but the ski pass tends to be cheaper from the Italian side, and lessons up to half the price.
If you must go to one of the mega resorts, then try staying in one of the satellites:
Nendaz or Le Chable for Verbier, Tignes les Brévières for Espace Killy, Bourg for Les Arcs, Stuben for St Anton, Vaujany for Alp d’Huez and Samoëns for Flaine to name but a few.
Or self-cater and buy groceries before you reach the resort (or before you cross the border – especially if you’re skiing in Switzerland where groceries often costs more).
There are some cracking little resorts in the Pyrenees.
Andorra is not the bargain it once was but the fact that it’s VAT free keeps costs low in resort, and the constantly-improving 210km Grandvalira ski area has a good amount to keep you entertained over a week.
If you’re looking for a lot of après ski, Pas de La Casa is famous for having almost endless happy hours, drinks deals etc.
You can often buy beer for the price of a soft drink in French resorts.
The resorts in Eastern Europe are pretty good too.
Bulgaria doesn’t have enormous ski areas like France, but the pistes of Bansko and Borovets can be more than enough for beginners and families.
Bansko was actually named Europe’s least expensive ski resort by TripAdvisor in 2015.
If you want some detailed advice then just send an email to AskPlanetSKI and we’ll see what we can do.
WHERE TO STAY
Ask yourself if you really need to stay in the most fashionable place in town, after all most of the time you’ll be out skiing or just sleeping in a bed.
Many resorts have a wealth of cheap and good family run 2* hotels which will provide the essentials of bed and board.
If you want 4*, Andorra and Bulgaria are great for ‘cheap luxury’ where you will find hotels with spas and swimming pools for the cost of a 2 or 3* hotel elsewhere.
Bed and Breakfast can seem the cheapest at first, but when you look at the cost of buying lunch and dinner in resort, it can all add up to a pricier holiday.
Half board packages are generally better value for money, and full board / all-inclusive even more so – especially in expensive resorts like St Moritz in Switzerland. indy_skier_400
Some of the hotels slightly off the main track are better value and often have better service as they have to work harder.
Local buses are usually included with your lift pass, so you won’t have to spend more money to reach the slopes.
Look for ski hire deals that include a locker, so you don’t have to haul your equipment about.
Alternatively try a self-catering apartment where you will save money on accommodation and food.
If you are driving then fill up the car at the hyper-market down in the valley.
Some people prefer to shop at home before setting off, then just buy milk and bread in resort.
It means you’re buying familiar brands in a familiar currency, which can keep budgeting simple.
Cook a couple of meals at home and freeze them, by the time you reach resort they’ll be ready to reheat and enjoy for a hassle free supper.
It’s also easier to make a picnic lunch and that will save you a small fortune if you are usually buying lunch every day for a family up in a mountain restaurant.
As long as the weather is good, a picnic can be enormous fun and a fraction of the cost.
However if there are only 2 of you, self-catering can be the same price as getting something catered when you factor in under occupancy costs – as apartments are usually sold to sleep 4 or more people.
One of our tips at PlanetSKI is the French operator UCPA.
It is basic but the mountain you will ski or snowboard on is the same as the one people staying in expensive places will be on.
We rather liked it when we went to the UCPA in Flaine in France.
Catered chalets provide accommodation, as well as breakfast, afternoon tea and supper (usually with wine) 6 days a week.
This can be good value for money as you only have to eat out (or get a takeaway) in resort on the ‘chalet hosts day off’.
Other than that, and a light lunch each day, the food is all included with your accommodation.
Some chalets even provide packed lunches, or will let you use the kitchen to make your own – saving you from the high prices of mountain restaurants.
Chalets can come in all shapes and sizes, from big ‘Chalet Hotels’ sleeping 60+ to small chalets sleeping 6.
They also range from simple to very luxurious.
For less money you can opt for a more basic interior and menu, rather than plush decor and fancy food.
A lot of chalets come as part of a package with flights and transfers.
Often the operator can get these for quite a bit less than you’d spend if booking everything separately.
Something to watch out for
Some businesses make their holidays super cheap by ‘off shoring’ themselves so they aren’t required by law to be ATOL protected.
Always make sure your package is ATOL protected, as without this financial protection your holiday and money can be at risk.
ATOL provides protection if something goes wrong with/on your holiday, with practical help for the duration of your holiday and journey home, a refund for holidays you don’t receive and a user friendly claims process.
Look for the ATOL logo on your holiday company’s website, and check the name and number here.
If you can’t find this, check if another type of financial protection is available to UK residents.
HOW TO TRAVEL
If you have never driven to the Alps it can seem a bit daunting, but with the increasing cost of air travel (not to mention all the hassle), it is really quite simple.
Especially if there are a few drivers in the group, so you can share the driving.
Many resorts are just a day’s drive from Calais and you have the added bonus of extra time on the slopes, and the luxury of being able to take whatever you want and cram the car with some cheap beer and wine on the way back.
Unlike airports, there won’t be any surcharges for extra luggage, so you can take as much as you can fit in the car.
If there are 4 of you in a car then it can cost as little as £50 for a ferry crossing.
Add petrol and tolls £350 and you come in at £87 each.driving_400
Our advice would be to take the Eurotunnel though for speed (it takes 35 minutes to cross the channel, while a ferry can take a couple of hours).
The Eurotunnel journey costs around £110 each way.
Flights are not as cheap as they once were though you can still get a few good deals with the so-called budget airlines.
Where to save here is to travel outside peak times and ensure you don’t pay for extra suitcases you don’t need.
Check the prices for flights at different times of the day as sometimes an early morning flight can be nearly half the price of a later one.
Also look at using different airports as the Swiss town of Basel is often as convenient as Zurich for many resorts.
While in France, Grenoble is closer than Geneva for some French resorts.
The bonus is they are cheaper to fly to and car hire is often less expensive too.
If you’re driving to the airport, book your parking in advance online.
You can do this through the airport’s website or via special airport parking websites and sometimes you can shave up to 50% off the price you’d spend if you paid on the day.
Using the long term car park is the cheapest for week long ski holidays – usually a free shuttle will take you to and from the terminal in about 5 to 10 minutes (arrive with enough spare time to wait for the transfer bus and then the bus drive, and still be able to check-in on time).
Remember that you don’t have to be travelling independently to travel on your own as you will get a discount and at certain times it could save you money.
See this separate PlanetSKI guide on independent travel with more information about how to get to The Alps.
SKI & SNOWBOARD LESSONS
Many ski schools give discounts if you book online and you will be surprised what happens if you ask.
Book with PlanetSKI.eu and you’ll get 5% off with European Snowsport, in Verbier and Zermatt.
We hope to be offering a number of other ski and snowboard schools shortly.
However, here at PlanetSKI we’re very keen on ski lessons and for the cost of a few lessons your ability and enjoyment will go up enormously.
If you’re stuck on the intermediate plateau and want to do something about it then try booking a 2-hour or 3-hour private lesson with 1 or 2 people of the same ability on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
As long as you practice a bit in the afternoons and have the same instructor you will see your skiing improve dramatically.
It is also worth weighing up the pros and cons of group and private lessons.
For an individual, 6 days of group lessons will work out cheaper that 6 days of private lessons, and they provide a sociable way to learn and improve.
On the other hand, private lessons will fast-track your progress (so you might not need to pay for one every day), and you can split the cost between a small group of friends and family if you have similar level skiers coming on holiday with you.
Where you learn also makes a difference. If you are a group of beginners, you might not need one of the A List mega ski areas.
Look at the difference in cost for different resorts for a week of adult group ski lessons in 2015/16 season:
Val d’Isere in France – €282 (with ESF)
Sestriere in Italy – €191 (with Scuola Sci Vialattea)
Bansko in Bulgaria – 210-315 Lev / about €107 – 161 (with Ski Mania)
Soldeu in Andorra – €148 (with Escola d’Esqui)
Sometimes it’s cheaper to book afternoon lessons instead of morning lessons, which can also be a bonus if you like a lie in!
With ESF in Val d’Isere, afternoon group lessons cost €26 less.
GEAR & EQUIPMENT
Now this is where people can seriously waste money.
If you are hiring skis then book online where you can often getting a discount of up to 40%.
Also make sure you get the right ski for your ability.
Some of the writers on PlanetSKI are instructors and often advise people to go back to the ski shop to hire different skis.
Too many turn up with VIP skis, often stiff racing/carving skis, and they will actually make their skiing worse as they don’t have the ability to use the ski effectively.
Alternatively people hire expensive off piste skis complete with the latest graphics, but they are not so easy to carve on.
For a beginner/low level intermediate a softer, basic ski is easier to learn on.
The shops though tend to want to hire out the more expensive equipment if you show the slightest interest in top end products.
If you do hire in resort then make sure you ask for a 10% discount as you will probably get it.
If you are going with a tour operator then don’t always go to the shop they recommend as they could well be pocketing your 10% discount.
It may be a bit tedious but shop around or if you are driving then get your skis down the valley (if you know exactly what you want) or from a shop on the edge of town.
Now you probably don’t want to ski around in an old one piece from the 1970’s (though believe it or not they are coming back into fashion), but do you really need the latest hi-tech jacket designed for a walk to the North Pole or the latest fashion better suited to the cat walk rather than the slopes?
Pick a jacket you’d be happy to wear at home in the winter, and you’ll be buying something you can use more than one week a year.
In the UK some discount shops offer good gear at very affordable prices:
Supermarkets selling clothes like Tesco, Sainsburys and Asda are also worth checking for ski jackets, salopettes and thermals.
Lidl has also been praised for the high quality and very low cost of their ski clothes and equipment.
Alternatively buy in resort at the beginning or end of season as shops are trying to get rid of old stock.
Even better, see if you can borrow ski kit or buy second hand (charity shops, eBay, Preloved or Gumtree).
This is an especially great option if you have children as they will very quickly grow out of their kit.
If you intend to ski the whole area every day then do get a week’s full area ski pass, but if you don’t plan to then you can save by getting a different lift pass.
Get the right one and you will save money, get the wrong one and you will be paying for something you don’t use.
This winter a 6 day lift pass for the Trois Vallées is €289 but if you are staying in Courchevel an area pass will set you back €245.
It might be worth getting a local area ski pass and then just getting an extension on the afternoon or day you intend to go further afield.
A 6 day ski pass for the whole Paradiski (a 425km ski area) is €291, but if you buy the La Plagne pass (covering a respectable 225km) with a 1 day Paradiski extension, it costs €20 less at €271.
The price can also change depending on whether you’re skiing during the high season or low season.
If you ski the Three Valleys at the end of this season, the price drops from €289 to €260.
You can now buy passes covering a few hours skiing, passes for non-consecutive days if you don’t want to ski the whole time and regional passes that you can use in different resorts.
Some resorts have special beginner passes, covering the only lifts you’ll need when learning to ski, while in others (like Les 2 Alpes) beginner lifts are free – so you can hold off buying a pass for the first day or two until your instructor deems you ready to progress onto the main slopes.
Booking your pass online can also save money and don’t forget to check if you can get a discount for being a returning customer or if you still have your old hands-free pass from last year.
Look out for special ski pass packages too:
Some ticket offices offer family passes where all members of the family pay child prices when there are at least 2 adults and 2 children.
There are also duo / group packages.
For the Three Valleys, when you get multiple passes in one payment, 3 skiers and more can save €15 each, while 2 skiers save €10 each.
In most resorts, children under 5 can get a free lift pass (with a paying adult) when you show their passport at the lift office.
Some resorts extend the age limit:
In Obergurgl, Cervina and Sestriere – under 8’s can ski for free.
In the SkiWelt and Alpbachtal under 15’s ski free at each end of the season.
Tour operators often have special ski pass deals included in their packages, so look out for: Buy one get one free, buy one get one half price, £1 lift pass and even free lift pass deals when booking accommodation.
HINTS & TIPS
Go as a group.
Many of the major tour operators give a decent discount for large groups. This can mean free places and lift passes.
Neilson gives up to 20% off bookings for groups of 7 or more, SkiWorld give the same discount to groups of 6.
With Crystal, group discounts are available for groups of 10 or more, and if you book 10+ lift passes and equipment / carriage, you get 1 free.
So persuade some friends or an extra family member to come along and you’ll save yourself a bit of cash.
There is no way we can tell you all the little ways to save money but we hope we’ve given you a few ideas.
Here are a few other hints and tips gleaned over the years;
– Don’t over order at lunch
– Do take advantage of happy hours
– Do your shopping off the main street
– Chose carefully where you buy your foreign currency
– If flying with an airline that charges for bags try ditching your suitcase and take everything in a snowboard bag
– Only get the insurance you need and use price comparison sites to find a good deal (but don’t forget your EHIC card)
– Hire the level of equipment to suit your ability
– Get the right lift pass
– If using airport parking, pre book online in advance
– Using your phone in a different country can result in a big bill at the end of the holiday. Look into buying a roaming add-on / bundle for your phone, where you can get a certain amount of data, texts and calls to use abroad. Or buy a local SIM card.
Here at planetSKI we have a special section on the home page called deals and discounts that will feature the most up to date deals around.
It could save you hundreds of pounds.
If you have any of your own tips then do let us know and we’ll pass them on in this guide. [email protected]
Remember skiing does not need to be expensive!