Required reading for the cost-conscious
On Monday night I went to the launch of the 2012 edition of Where to Ski and Snowboard. This annually updated, highly practical guide to ski resorts, geared to Brits, has been going since 1994 and is a brilliant read, packed with info, well presented and engagingly written. I have several past editions and have found it to be a winning present for keen skiers – as well as a great book to take on holiday so you can plan your next one.
The editors, Chris Gill and Dave Watts, are down-to-earth chaps with a background in consumer publishing (including Which? guides) who appreciate that a ski holiday is not only about mileage or vertical but also about food, drink, scenery, ambience and dozens of other factors.
WTSS’s 712 pages evaluate 400 resorts (in 120 areas) from Montgenevre to Meiringen to Mammoth, examining everything from proneness to queues to sureness of snow to liveliness of apres-ski. Preceding the country chapters are useful articles about gear, new lifts and developments and trends in holidaymaking. What makes the new edition an extra-brilliant buy, though – especially in this year of scary exchange rates and widespread belt-tightening – is its expanded focus on cost.
Chris Gill. He says: "The best value countries with good skiing and modern lift systems are Italy and Austria, plus some smaller French resorts"
Two years ago, Chris and Dave invented a system called the Resort Price Index (RPI), using data gathered by readers as well as by themselves, chiefly concentrating on the cost of ‘extras’ such as meals and drinks, to give each major resort an affordability rating. Last year they widened the RPI to smaller resorts. This year, they have extended it to ski passes, equipment hire and ski lessons, so readers can assess broadly how much they will spend in total on top of their costs of accommodation and travel.
It makes fascinating reading – and has thrown up a few surprises as well as confirming some stereotypes. Below I’ve picked out a few bits that interest me.
Of the 20 Austrian areas reviewed in detail, 12 are below the average RPI of 100 – and these include places I would love to visit this year, such as Schladming, Montafon and Obertauern. The cheapest of the lot is little Alpbach, at RPI 75 (which translates as £435 extra for a week, including a lift pass at £150, ski hire at £90, lessons at £80 and food and drink at £115). Of the rest, even snowsure, upmarket Obergurgl and on-the-up Ischgl come out only just above average at RPI 105. Lech is Austria’s priciest, at RPI 115 (the same as Meribel and Andermatt).
I’m pleased to see an enlarged Austria section, and it doesn’t surprise me that Brits are rediscovering its charms. Chris and Dave report that its investment in lifts and snowmaking, plus its reasonable prices, have been luring us away from our old friend France. The snag with Austria, I suppose, is that the apres-ski is so much fun that beer consumption might skew the true picture…
A whopping 11 of the 12 evaluated Italian resorts register an RPI below average, with only swanky Cortina – at a modest 105 – over 100. Among the lowest is one of my favourite areas, the Monterosa (RPI 80; £440 extra), home to brilliant off-piste, uncrowded pistes and charming villages. The bonus to visiting Italy, on top of the low prices, is the fabulous food – which, sometimes, is even free. In one Alagna bar after skiing we were ogling a neighbour’s spectacular platter of antipasti and wondering how to order it when our own appeared – free with our glasses of wine.
Of the French resorts, funnily enough, another of my favourites is keenly priced: Ste-Foy, a village near the Espace Killy region with great off-piste possibilities, has an RPI of 75. A raft of French spots have a near-average RPI, and to my surprise Val d’Isere, which I have always perceived as a rip-off, is rated at 100, spot on average. The most expensive French resort reviewed is Courchevel.
St Moritz tops the European resort price index
Unsurprisingly, given that you get roughly half the number of Swiss francs to a pound compared with four years ago, only two Swiss resorts have a close-to-average RPI, Meiringen (RPI 95; expect to spend £540 extra) and the lovely Val d’Anniviers (100; £580 extra). Some Swiss resorts, such as my lifelong holiday spot Anzere, have been dropped from the main section this year. For ideas on saving money in Switzerland see this post http://tinyurl.com/3vmrvvq.
If you’re on an extreme budget, turn to the pages for Romania and Bulgaria, whose resorts hold an RPI rating of 40 to 50. There, you can expect to pay as little as £215 on top of your basic package, with a week’s lift pass as low as £60, ski hire as little as £50, lessons £45 and food and drink for the week £60.
Conversely if you have cash to burn, Aspen and Snowmass in the US and St Moritz in Switzerland share an RPI of 150. According to Chris and Dave’s calculations, at Snowmass you would spend an extra £860 on top of your basic holiday price – comprising £340 for a week’s lift pass, £185 for ski hire, £215 for lessons and £120 for food and drink.
Finally, to save a couple of quid on the book itself (RRP £18.99), follow this link http://www.wheretoskiandsnowboard.com/the-book/buy/
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