by Max Hardy
The ski season is here again and soon all of your friends will be sorting out their beanies and backpacks ready to brave the slopes on two planks.
Every year the snow reports come in, and every year you stay behind. Something always comes up, doesn’t it?. Your friends return with tales of Gluhwein and amazing food on the mountainside, horizons as far as the eye can see, and blasting out of that first lift like a World Cup winner in the starting gate. And what you really miss are the little things: the happy faces, the après-ski stories, flying down those black runs and dropping “hey, are you single?” in the lift queue, and sinking into a bubbling hot tub back at the chalet.
Sound familiar? Then it’s time you took a long hard look at those so-called ‘reasons’ that have stopped you heading to the Alps in recent years. Let me take you through them, show you why they can be easily dismissed, and then you’ll really have no option but to get cracking.
In other words: if you want to get back into skiing again but don’t know where to get started, I’ve got you covered. The truth is getting out there is easier than ever.
Reason 1: “It’s so expensive!”
When February half-term at a top resort in the Alps for a family of four comes in at over £4,000, it’s no surprise that the biggest obstacle keeping many of us from returning to the slopes is the price of the thing.
But whilst skiing is never going to be a cheap holiday, it needn’t cost a fortune. Sure, there’ll always be the loaded Martini-advert lookalikes willing to spend it big at the top resorts. But for the rest of us the good news is: tour operators are trying to offload some pretty fantastic deals. In fact there’s some great skiing to be had out there.
Here are some easy ways to get more for your Euro this season:
GET THE TIMING RIGHT
Whoever said the key to everything is patience clearly never stood elbow-to-elbow in a lift queue. It’s hard to say which is worse about a ski resort at capacity: the traffic jams in mountain restaurants, the crowded pistes, or paying top prices to boot.
February half-term is notorious – transport and accommodation will cost a fortune and the queues for lifts can be interminable. With some flexibility and careful planning, though, there’s a solution to overcoming these problems: go when it’s quieter.
The cheapest months to ski are early December (the start of the season), January (short days and snow storms), March and April (apart from the Easter weeks).
If you want to experience a world-class ski area, consider staying in a satellite village. It’ll be cheaper than the main resort and you can still ski the entire mountain. Places like Soll, Höpfgarten, Brixen and Ellmau, along Austria’s Orion’s Belt of skiing, offer easy cruising on pleasantly wooded slopes, and all come in at a super-low price point compared to the larger towns on the same lift pass.
FIND A DEAL & MIND THE HIDDEN COSTS
If you’re inflexible about dates or resorts, monitor the online deals pages of your preferred ski holiday website with the assiduity of a Facebook addict. If hotel rooms and apartments are still unsold a couple of weeks before the departure date, you can reasonably expect tour operators to slash their prices.
If you’re piecing together your own deal, consider the hidden costs that are unique to a ski holiday. For example, there’s the special clothing and equipment you’ll need (more on that shortly), refresher ski lessons if your skills need brushing up, and a lift pass.
In fact, lift passes will be one of your major costs, and tour operators buy theirs in bulk. It’s often more cost-effective to buy your 6-day pass through them – call and ask if they have any surplus lift pass vouchers to sell.
The simplest solution in this area, though, is to just go inclusive. Find a package deal that includes the lot at a good price, and benefit from the bargaining power of a larger tour operator.
For example, packages offered as part of Austria’s Ski Again programme include flights, transfers, 7-night half-board accommodation, a 6-day lift pass and 6-day ski hire, plus a 16-hour small group refresher training course with a local instructor. You better believe it’d cost a lot more to purchase all these things on your own!
You can find more information about that Ski Again programme at the end of this article.
Now, you can’t skimp on water – especially at those high altitudes – but it also doesn’t make sense to spend £4 on a bottle you’ll probably gulp down in two minutes. Pack a small refillable water bottle, or even better wear a Camelbak, so you can stay hydrated while saving money.
The same goes for food – the most hardcore ski bums I know wouldn’t be seen dead in mountain restaurant. They pack their own lunch in the morning and eat it on the chairlift. Money saved + more ski time = a winning strategy.
Now, ski clothing. Got none of your own? Then borrow. It’s easy to spot the types who dress to impress and can’t really ski. Good skiers wear whatever works, no matter how mismatched. Start by recycling the things you already own: thermals, your waterproof winter jacket, and sunglasses. As for the things you don’t: borrow helmets, ski gloves, ski pants and goggles from friends. It’s the done thing.
Reason 2: “Don’t you need all your own gear?”
We’ve all been there: the ski hire boots that were near impossible to get into, that crushed your feet, smelled like cheese and a sweaty Danny DeVito. The ski edges that were blunt with poles so old and so bent that you vowed never again to hire ski equipment.
But that was then. Now, with ski hire shops offering the very best in high-quality equipment and airlines charging for sports equipment, it really makes you think twice before splashing out on brand new ski gear.
Charges made by airlines vary, but some add as much as £54 return for one piece of sports equipment. That’s a fair chunk on top of the cost of your holiday just to take those Atomic Redsters you’re ogling right now along for the ride. Plus there’s always the chance that they’ll arrive damaged, or not at all. Once at the airport you’ll have to lug them to the transfer bus, too.
Considering some ski shops charge as little as £65 for ski and boot hire per week, travelling with skis does seem like a great deal of effort.
Another thing to bear in mind is snow conditions. It only takes a small rock to butcher your cherished skis or board, and, unlike hire shops, you probably won’t have the state-of-the-art tools to repair them which means forking out yet more money to have them fixed.
Meanwhile, Inghams says that: ‘provided you take every precaution to safeguard hired equipment, the Inghams insurance policy covers you for all loss or damage.’ So, unless you throw your skis under a snow machine, it’s pretty smooth sailing.
Reason 3: “I’ve been away for too long.”
Forget dodgy knees and broken wrists. The one thing that a doctor can’t fix is the one thing that’s kept many of us away for so long: lack of confidence.
You’re too old to go back.
You’ve been thinking it. Pictured, even, speeding down the mountainside like a wrecking ball, knocking people over like fancy-jacketed bowling pins.
You won’t remember anything.
You’ll struggle to keep up.
If anything, the opposite is true. Most of the changes in ski design share a common goal, and that is: to make turning easier. Take the most recent development, the rocker. The easiest way to think about it is to imagine the legs of your grandmother’s rocking chair. As the tips and tails come up on both sides, so now does the modern recreational ski, with a manoeuvrability that is so much lighter.
It was an innovation originally intended only for experts, as rocker skis and snowboards offer superior float in soft or deep snow. But manufacturer K2 soon realised that for a less experienced skier, having some rocker in the tip and the tail made the ski easier to start to turn and release from turns and minimises the risk of catching an edge by pulling the tip up to skim over a surface – inspiring confidence.
Developments like these are just some of the reasons why skiing is constantly becoming simpler, less physical, and more effortless than ever.
But in any case, superbly groomed slopes, true mountain charm and a side dish of tobogganing, snowshoeing and horse-drawn sleigh rides mean you can take it all at your own pace.
A RELAXED KIND OF FUN
Because it’s all about being free in the mountains. “There used to be a pressure to get in as many runs as possible,” says Petra Hutter-Tillian from the Ski Instructors Association Salzburg. “Nowadays the focus is on fun, absorbing the fresh air and the peace and calm.”
And when you get right down to it, carving up the slopes certainly beats lunging at the gym. The proper squatted posture and all the moving you do on that downhill ski will help to tone your lower body muscles, particularly the glutes and thighs. Then there’s the 400 odd calories you’re burning – more than a regular session on the treadmill.
When your workouts have become stagnant, or your results have reached a plateau over time, the fastest way to shake up a regimen is to challenge your body in a new way.
So don’t stay behind. Make this the year that you join your friends for an après-ski Gluhwein on the mountainside, fly down those black runs and relax in a Jacuzzi back in the resort.
It’s never too late to go back to skiing again.
Max Hardy is a director of ski information website Welove2ski.com.