Addiction can be cruel – the more you indulge the more you want. You count physical and financial costs, you contemplate quitting, but you’re hooked and you need a bigger fix…
In case you think I’m way off topic (or my head!), it’s snow I’m talking about, not substances. My husband Geoff and I have always enjoyed skiing, but once we’d discovered the freedom gained by taking our motorhome with us, we were truly hooked. And upon early retirement we had a dream – to ‘do’ a season in the Alps.
We had a lot of questions. Was it achievable? Could we afford it? Would we be bored and would our middle-aged joints complain? What if there was no snow? And how would we manage life in a ’van for several months in the cold, dark, early season?
Preparation is everything
Apart from the skiing and winter aspects of the tour, we had a lot of research to do in preparation for such a long time away from home. We had to prepare our home to be left unoccupied, and had to set up our affairs to be managed remotely. Our insurance would need reviewing, too – our vehicle breakdown and insurance policies covered the period, but our home insurance did not. In addition, our belongings and equipment would exceed the limits of a home policy, plus our medical cover required scrutiny. We chose to take out a ‘seasonaires’ insurance, but other people we met decided to rely on the ‘EHIC’ card plus cover for on-mountain rescue such as Carte Neige or Carré Neige.
We gave careful thought to cost and to where we’d spend the season. Austria is attractive and ski costs reasonable, but we’d need to consider the cost of near-mandatory campsites and a Go Box for the motorways. With the exchange rate in Switzerland unfavourable, we had in mind a favourite area of France with some time over the border in Italy.
For us, it felt important to choose an area that we enjoyed away from the slopes, and a base that we were familiar with. We’d want to ring the changes with activities other than Alpine skiing, and we’d value having a ‘real’ town nearby for time out, and for refuelling and restocking.
If money was no object, we’d tour Europe’s mountains all winter, resort-hopping and seeking out the best conditions. But as a day’s ‘forfait’ can cost up to £50, this would be beyond our reach. Skiing a single resort all season could get boring, but the cost-per-day of a season pass can save money even for two or three weeks of skiing. For us, the best option was to buy a good-value season pass and tour locally from that base. So we took the plunge and ordered our season passes for Alpe d’Huez online.
The first weeks away passed in a haze – largely one of sunshine as the snow hadn’t arrived! We spent lazy days walking, lunching in the sun and enjoying Christmas celebrations in the resort. We decorated our ‘van with festive lights and a tree, and prepared to entertain visiting family.
The New Year was ushered in with snow, and we marvelled in the freedom to ski all day or just for a part of it – feeling no pressure to venture out in all weathers, as we weren’t going home any time soon. We joined friends on the slopes and cosied up to read books or watch DVDs in the evenings, warm and snug in our chalet-on-wheels.
Best of all, we toured. Our ski pass included 17 days in other resorts in the region, so we travelled around taking advantage of these, and threw in a few purchased deals on top. We skied a lot, but spent occasional days snow-shoeing or Nordic skiing, finding it a peaceful escape from school holiday crowds. We had domestic days and days of rest. We luxuriated in a thermal spa and swam from time-to-time in resort pools.
We made friends – other motorcaravanners as addicted to skiing as ourselves – and promised to stay in touch. Above all, we felt healthy and privileged just to be in the mountain air and we vowed to do it all over again. Next time, as we have other commitments, it will be elsewhere and for a shorter period. But the season was affordable and we weren’t bored, cold or uncomfortable. Our joints survived, and yes, we are still hooked.
So, if you’d like to do the same, here are our top tips to ensure you get the most from your ski holidays.
- Look for season passes that include multiple days in nearby resorts – their value alone can add up to the cost of the season pass
- Look for included extras such as swimming pool entry or spa vouchers
- Buy early – most season passes are discounted if bought early, some by a staggering 50%
- Research thoroughly for bargains – I found a season pass covering the four ‘Eski-Mo’ resorts in the Maurienne for €260 (purchased in advance)
- Consider a cheap pass for a likeable, if limited, resort and use it as a base with pay-as-you-go days elsewhere
- When venturing elsewhere, do your homework for special offers, such as cheap weekend passes or book-ahead Saturday prices
- Consider loyalty schemes such as Ski à la Carte that offer discounted day prices for a small upfront charge
- Look for non-consecutive day ticket bundles
- Choose a resort you know and evaluate off-slope life there as well as the skiing; it can be dull stuck in a purpose-built resort away from the real world
- We particularly value having an open view, a sunny aspect and a swimming pool
- Consider proximity to a town for shopping and fuel
- Establish where you can obtain LPG or local gas bottles
- Explore possibilities for walking, ice-skating, snow-shoeing or cross-country skiing if you think you’d like to vary activities
- Consider social company. We network with others of similar interest, and sometimes visit resorts with Ski Club leaders. This service is currently reduced in France for legal reasons
- Plan where you will stay. Campsites offer comfort but cost more and require booking at peak times. They can also be further from the lifts
- Aires offer freedom and convenience but can’t be booked, and some limit the length of stay
- Ensure there is a frost-free service point as well as electricity if you require it – we rarely hook-up, managing with solar panels, extra batteries and occasional use of a generator
- Many ski resorts allow motorhomes to overnight in car parks, but there are exceptions and it will not feel restful for long periods
- Factor in gas, power, fuel and equipment, and site or Aire charges as well as ski costs, and offset them against savings on utility bills at home
- Consider keeping costs down by only eating on the mountain if socialising, otherwise taking a flask and a snack
- Shop in the valleys, topping up perishables in resort shops
- Factor in some treats – occasional meals out or relaxing in the warmth of a spa pool or sauna – a luxury for tired muscles
- The internet is essential to us, so we use a Wi-Fi booster and often find free FON WiFi through SFR. We also have a 3G aerial with MiFi box – ski resorts usually have a good network signal
Reality check – our costs for a three-month season:
- Season ski passes – £850
- Additional ski passes – £150
- Ski insurance – £180
- Swimming pools and sauna – £100
- Meals and eating out – £250
- EuroTunnel (using Tesco vouchers) – £46
- Fuel – £600
- Motorhome parking – £475
- Gas – £205
- Generator fuel – £32
- Internet – £75
- Food shopping not included (same cost as in the UK)
TOTAL = £2963
For us, the best option was to buy a good-value season pass and tour locally from that base