Cheapskate’s guide to the snow on a whim
It should come as little surprise to you that ski resorts will happily take as much of your money as they can get – and the earlier the better.
They’ll do you a good deal on a season pass if you buy in advance (I would argue too far in advance when it comes to Hotham/Falls where the pass more than doubles in price if you didn’t get it by the end of the previous season) and pre/early season accommodation deals abound.
But when it comes to fate’s fickle hand, snow holidays can be crueler than most leisure activities. Book in the first week of July in 2014? You were laughing – weren’t you? Riding top to bottom at Thredbo with a cheese-eating grin, not thinking about the wads of cash you were spending because the conditions were so good. Book for the first week of July in 2015? You’d be kicking stones, the cat and anything else you could wrap your Dalbellos around. Just to rub it in the snow came by the bucket load when you returned.
This is the frustrating duality of the snow holiday. Now, it isn’t always straight forward and compromises invariably have to be made but there is another way. As a life-long master of the last minute decision I am well-versed in doing all kinds of things on whim, so I share with you my humble tips for doing the whole snow shebang at the drop of a beanie.
Don’t want to drive or would like to split costs perhaps? The new Apple App Go Snow connects like-minded snow types and you may be able to organise a lift or perhaps give one. While you’re on the app store you then may as well get the Snowy Roads to give you the word on whether you will need chains, booking options and even a demo on how to fit them.
Another option is to join the Facebook noticeboards for groups such as the Perisher Snow Riders and Thredbo Snow Riders. These are big communities (in Perisher’s case over 6,000 people) of snow-loving souls who may be wanting to do the same thing on the same day as you. There’s a wealth of information to be had here and plenty of people ready to answer your questions – quickly too.
Thinking about an NZ trip? The flights to Christchurch invariably represent the best value, and you can often get one-way fares for under $200 each way, even fairly late in the piece from the likes of Jetstar. Mid week departures and arrivals tend to help if you can swing it. With the great snow in places like Mt Hutt, Porters and the other clubfields that is worth serious consideration at the moment. The other option here is to check Ebay and Gumtree where you will from time to time find people selling unwanted airfares. Of course do your due diligence in terms of fees for name/date changes and who you are dealing with but two years ago I swung return airfares with baggage for two people for under $600 to Christchurch by doing this.
The peak season and good snow combo will of course limit your options. On snow won’t be cheap; so in the first instance you may want to consider feeder towns. For the NSW resorts that’s Jindabyne (East Jindabyne, 4km north should not be overlooked), Berridale, Kalkite and Cooma. You’ll have to travel in to either Perisher or Thredbo but there’s likely to be more beds and cheaper ones at that. For Victoria think: Mansfield (Mt Buller) Mt Beauty (Falls Creek) and Dinner Plain or even Omeo (Mt Hotham).
There’s also the accommodation section in the ski.com.au website. I had a great last minute stay on a very busy weekend two years back in East Jindabyne for $160 a double including breakfast.
Hit the likes of Wotif and Need it Now too. You do get cancellations or sometimes odd room configurations that aren’t filled – even on snow. I got a cracking deal three years ago at Perisher’s Eiger Chalet. My brief perusals of Air BNB haven’t generally thrown up significant options though you may have better luck.
And of course, those Facebook forums I mentioned as well.
NZ I have generally found is better in regards to last minute beds. Check out the travel sites as mentioned above and the other usual suspects. If you find something then see if the resort itself has online booking. It may well save you a fee that the third party site wants to charge.
Sometimes you can get combo-deals including tickets from travel operators and accommodators but getting much love last minute and peak season is usually a stretch. Do however check what discounts the various resorts offer online for either pre-booking a certain period of time in advance or, if you have one, by simply loading up your pre-existing pass with days on it. (For example a Thredbo day pass drops from $115 to $103 on a seven-day advance purchase). At the very least that will save you significant time stuffing around at the ticket office of the resort where, particularly on weekends/good snow days, it can be extremely busy.
There are no strict rules here but if you can organise in advance at a city ski shop before you go you should be better off; at least in the time-saving department and perhaps financially. There are plenty of ski hire places on-mountain and out of town; the general rule of thumb being the closer to the hill the more you are likely to pay. That said there are all-inclusive deals at resorts (ie ticket, lessons, hire) worth crunching the numbers with. Also if something goes wrong with your equipment it’s quite handy to be able to get a fix on the mountain.
FOOD AND DRINK
The closer you get to the snow the more you’ll get hit here. The odd day eating in resort makes a nice treat, over three or more days this really starts to hurt the hip pocket. On snow/resort/club accommodation can actually work out well here if you can duck back into your abode for a sandwich or snack. That aside you can either store some treats in the car assuming you are driving to the mountain or carry them with you. I know the latter can turn some people off but there are plenty of great, lightweight packs these days which won’t hinder your riding. Let the most competent skier or snowboarder in your group wear it! Also carry a water bottle in it or Camelback. The price of bottled water on the mountain would make even Melissa Etheridge cry.
My motto is on a good snow day you don’t think about what you’re spending. On a not so good one you think about taking up prancercise instead.
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