Regular snow addicts will have spotted with dismay that their affliction is costing more and more every season. It’s not just the fact that the credit crunch cut the pound off at the knees and meant you suddenly had to take out a mortgage on every plate of frites either – tour ops are increasingly unwilling to sell their holidays at a loss (how rude!), lift pass prices go up every year and it’s a matter of time before you’re paying more to get your gear in the hold than you are for your own flight seat. A cynic might wonder if Michael O’Leary plans to start a ski hire business.
While it’s possible to screw your costs down on most of it – youth hostels and lunchtime sarnies anyone? – the one expense you’re stuck with is the lift pass. And the bad news is that your six-day pass is the resort’s bread and butter, so they’re not inclined to do you any favours there.
But don’t give up – there are discounts and deals to be had if you look for them:
Child passes: as far as most holidaymakers are concerned there are kids passes and adult ones and that’s your lot. But how old are your children? The cut-off age varies from one resort to another, so your 13-year-old could be skiing in Les 2 Alpes on an adult pass while his classmate is enjoying a final discounted week in Tignes, thereby allowing his parents a well-deserved extra beer or two. As savvy skiers they’ll probably sneak another week at the junior rate next year by going to Montgenevre, where you don’t pay for an adult pass until you’re 15. Check the age requirements.
Old crocks: checking age limits can pay dividends for the older skier. Over 65s in Les 2 Alpes find themselves back on the child pass rate. But in other resorts the magic age is 63 or even as low as 60. And what’s more, most resorts do a free pass for the serious crumblies among you – you can ski the Espace Killy for nothing as long as you’re over 74. But if you come to Les 2 Alpes as a mere stripling of 72 we’ll happily hand you a freebie. That’s an extra three years of free skiing just because you did a bit of research and chose the right resort.
Disabled skiers: disability doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be missing a limb or using a sit-ski. You’re deaf? It makes no difference to your skiing, but it’s a bona fide disability and we’ll give you a discounted ticket for it. And if you need someone to ski with you, there’s every chance they’ll qualify for a reduction as well. Back to Les 2 Alpes for an example: a friend skis here each season with her teenager who has Aspergers. He qualifies for a reduced rate and because he needs supervision she gets a free pass. That’s a big bonus for a single mum with a disabled child.
Remember though that you’ll need some kind of ID which gives the nature of your disability. An easy matter for the French, who just wave a carte handicapé which tells me their status and whether or not they need a carer, but less simple for a foreigner. The deaf lads who came to my ticket window and spent half an hour signing to each other and (rather less effectively) to me were straightforward, but something like Aspergers is less obvious. Don’t be shy about e-mailing resorts to explain your situation and ask what their policy is – they’ll find an English speaker if you can’t write French.
Family rates: it’s standard across French tourist attractions that families qualify for reduced prices, and ski resorts are no exception. If you don’t see a family rate on the website, e-mail the lift company and ask about it, because it’s almost guaranteed that there is one. You’ll usually need to buy at least four or five passes to qualify. Again, you’ll need ID which demonstrates that you’re one family – passports in the same surname, something which shows you all live at the same address, etc.
Ski schools: book lessons with a ski school and it’s highly likely that you’ll get a discounted pass as part of the package. ESF in Les 2 Alpes do a six-day lessons and lift ticket package where they throw in the pass at cost price – if you want tuition, this is the way to go. If you’re eligible for family rate and your kids are in ski school but you aren’t, their ESF passes still count towards the reduction on your lift tickets. This kind of deal varies from one resort to another, but you get the picture – if you’re not sure, ask at the ski school and the ticket window before you buy.
Tour Op deals: TOs make a wedge of their margin on profits from lift pass sales, so don’t expect too many giveaways. Good deals are a bit hens teeth, but they’re not unknown, so it’s worth keeping your eyes peeled – there was a bit of BOGOF going on earlier in the year as ops made it attractive to book early, and beginner packages with equipment, lessons and pass all included can be a bargain for inexperienced skiers. It’s worth signing up to RSS feeds or tour op newsletters to keep abreast of what’s on offer – the juicy deals are usually time or availability limited so you need to get your oar in quickly
Limited area passes: are you really, honestly going to ski the whole of the three valleys in a week? When you’ve got two kids in morning ski school and one in creche? Are you sure? Be realistic, it’s not going to happen. Don’t be seduced by the full area pass if you’re not going to get the use out of it. I’ve seen far too many people pile on the transfer bus home having used half the pass they paid good money for. If you’re going somewhere like the Portes du Soleil or the Three Valleys, think carefully about how much skiing you’re going to be able to do, especially if you’re a family. You’ll have more fun if you spend the cash on skating and swimming than on access to lifts 50 miles away that you’re never going to see.
Talk to the ticket sales people: we’re here to provide a service, not just flog you a lift pass. We can tell you the best option for beginners, children, pedestrians, whatever. If you’ve lost your pass we can replace it. If you’ve bought a full area pass and discover that you only need a beginner ticket we can change it and refund the difference. If the weather has been foul all through Christmas week we might (note might – I’m not guaranteeing this) offer you a refund or a free day to use on another trip. If you don’t ask you’ll never know. Besides, it’s not that exciting selling lift passes – it’s much more fun when people come and talk to us.
About the Author: Christa Gimblett. Skier, boarder, Customer Service and Sales (Lift Tickets) Executive, shameful waster and ski bum. Living in the French Alps for no really good reason, three cats, no cash and a car which looks like a frog. Attempting to pass myself off as something worthwhile by writing a Blog: It’s All Downhill From Here. Probably failing.