I am sitting here on a very warm day in May a long way from any snow or slopes! But there is a reason I am writing about this today and I will explain this below. It’s been 5 months since my friends and I had our last annual Ski trip (OK, I am a dreaded Snowboarder but I love every minute of it) and getting into the heat of summer can mean only one thing. Time to start planning the next trip!
This will be a two part post due to length.
In Part 1 I will share my experience and tips on planning group ski trips, overall costs, online tools, flights, accommodation and the very important topic of food and drink.
In part 2 I will discuss Ski Passes, Ski Rental, Clothing, Airport Transfers, Lessons, Tips, mistakes to avoid, best investments and I will also share my excel sheets that have been used to manage large group ski trips in the past. You can check out Part 2 here (Coming Soon).
So lets get shreddin!
Ski trips are known to be expensive and this might put people off going on them and if you google cheap ski trip you will see endless agencies offering Bargain ski breaks, Ski Deals, Cheap ski holidays all rolled into a neat package, but what is the fun in that? Firstly, you are paying someone else to sort it out for you and secondly you can get better deals, and a more custom holiday if you do it yourself and I will show you how.
I love a good ski trip and It is only possible for us to go on our annual trip every year because we keep the costs really really low. It is our annual tradition at this stage and has been for 4 years running. During this time it has become in equal parts;
- A social holiday catching up with old friends.
- A sports retreat with a good 6 hours on the snow each day.
- A sightseeing and life contemplation retreat.
- A boozy drinks and party holiday with daily Apres Ski.
- Many evenings enjoying the views from the outdoor Hot tub with a box of wine sat in the snow with your classy plastic glass and good company to enjoy it with.
This brilliant combination of experiences is the reason groups of between 12 – 24 of us come from different parts of the world to meet in a huge chalet for a week, it is the highlight of the winter and sharing the experiences with your friends is always better.
This all comes with financial cost that is traditional much higher than a week by the pool in the sun, and Ski holidays with private chalets an outdoor hot tub all within walking distance of the slopes don’t normally come cheap! But, we make sure all of us can afford it each year so we have over the last 4 years devised a method of making the Ski holiday extremely cost effective. I am going to share our methods with you here and show you how I have had all expenses paid Ski trips (with no freebies) for less day £100 per day of skiing (Less than £600! And yes, that includes everything, flights – accommodation, rental, ski pass, food etc). Here is how.
Identify the “Ski trip Manager”
Unless you want to pay an agency to do all this for you this will be the first and most important step! This has been the key to all our successful ski trips to date and the downfall of so many others trips which I have been involved in and heard of in the past. You need someone to step up and designate some of their own time to getting things done. The STM (Ski trip manager) does not have to do everything and can get assistance from friends on many areas but someone needs to be the Admin of the gig. If nobody is stepping up it and you want a great trip then put yourself forward for the role!
The STMs first job:
The first job of the STM is to gauge interest. You can only do this successfully if you have some facts and figures to help the case and as this will all be taking place 4 months in advance (We have gotten away with shorter notice but this is the ideal time scale) you can still be relaxed about absolute certainties. As an STM, you need to get approx times of the trip, approx cost and approx location (with some options available to travel there). A good STM will take the job of taking everyone’s money, arranging everything (but consult first before actually making key decisions), pay for everything, get the best discounts/price and be the most informed person on the trip. Your group are nice people, and if you do a good job it usually pays off for the STM big time at the end of the trip.
The trip is always great if you can get as many of your group of friends to go (and the costs go down and down the more that get involved as your buying power increases massively – I will explain this further below). Remember, the more you can do to make the trip seem easier to sign up to for your friends, the better you are as a STM. Here is an example of the STMs first message to his/her friends (Very similar to my own message when I have was the STM on our most Recent trip, so similar in fact that it is just a copy and paste with some names changed)
Subject: Ski trip 2016
Hi all, the urge to get back on the slopes again early next year has lead me to get going on trying to get something together here in the fear that it may not happen. Time is short and we must act quickly at this stage to ensure that we can have an excellent time at a reasonable cost. The good news is that is still very possible. Some serious study has been done so far by (Laura, James, Lou and I) and a place which seems to tick a serious amount of boxes is CHAMONIX!
WHY: Once we have some confirmed numbers, there is a chalet available still at reasonable cost in an excellent location. Chamonix is massive, has a huge variety of ski/boarding areas, is the home of Mt Blanc AND we can get ski lifts into FRANCE, ITALY and SWITZERLAND!! Excellent options for skiing, there are 7 airports (apparently) within close distance, and Grenoble is the closest. The APRES is excellent.
WHEN: SAT 30th Jan until SAT 6th FEB COSTS:
What do you need to do now? Want to go? Just say you are in and add your name to the list here – Here I had the link to an online google spreadsheet which was open to edit by anyone with the link. I will add my template at the bottom of part 2 for your own use. Then transfer a deposit to put towards the chalet which I will book hopefully by the end of this week 23/Oct. Once the chalet is booked I will focus on the other aspects of the trip with the goal of keeping the costs down. Suggested deposit £150.
ACCOUNT DETAILS – (just reference your name)
UK Sort: xx-xx-xx
Account No: 12345678
And that was it. By the end of the week I had more than enough money and deposits from people to book a Chalet for 14 people. Soon after we booked the flight tickets, rental and transfers.
Notice how I put forward a date and a location before inviting 30+ people to come? Why? If you don’t, nothing gets decided and things take absolutely ages to get arranged. So put things forward that you have discussed already with a few people who will definitely be coming as your starting date and remember, no date will be perfect for everyone. So don’t stress…. Once you have the Chalet sorted, and some flights booked everything else is very very easy!
Online tools are absolutely invaluable for organising a group event like this when everyone is living in different countries around Europe.
The best tools for taking peoples details and keeping track of deposits and payments I have found was Google Sheets on Google Drive and if you can’t jump right in with a set date to go, use a site like surveymonkey.com to have everyone vote for possible weeks they could attend. Pick the weeks/times when most can make it.
Time of year
But seriously, I do have a nice tip here if you want less people on the mountain, and potentially slightly cheaper accommodation. What country are you going to? And what countries are likely close to it or where people might travel from to Ski there? Once you know this list, for example in my case it was France, and Germany, Austria, Italy, England would be popular countries where people will travel from outside of France to Ski there. When you know this, have a look on the internet when each country has their public School holidays. There will be a lot of holidays over Christmas, some in Feb etc. Try and find a week where the least amount of School or public holidays are going on and go that week. There will be less people, less ques and more accommodation available during these quieter times.
Keep an eye on the flights from an early point, weigh up all the options such as the different airports to fly in and out of which are close to the resort (keep in mind how costly and easy you can get to and from the airports – more on this below in Transfers). I absolutely recommend using a service like Skyscanner.net to do this. If you are doing allot of searching though, I might be worth doing it on a computer and internet connection that you wont actually book from (It may be the case that if these websites see you searching allot the price starts to increase the more keen you seem…)
If you really want to keep costs down the late morning or early afternoon flights are always cheaper to ski resorts because you are losing some of the first day but if everything is arranged and sorted before you arrive, this is no problem (sign of a good STM!)
This is probably the backbone of a good trip. Everyone needs a good sleep after a day on the slopes and an evening of Apres Ski. Key requirements;
Firstly, everyone should get a bed as a basic requirement! (you wont be getting a double bed to yourself!)
Secondly, a kitchen is an absolute must.
Thirdly, A hot tub!
Finally, close to the lifts and or the town.
If you are lucky enough to have a nice sized group of friends to share a great week with, you will have good options here. What we have found is that for groups above 8-10 the price seems to be at its cheapest and doesn’t get much cheaper as the numbers increase from there for accommodation.
When you know roughly what numbers you will have you need to start looking and finding some options. In the past we have used websites such as homeaway.co.uk and ownersdirect.co.uk among other less known sites. Set you criteria as best as you can and start detailing the options down in a spreadsheet, cost per night, and cost per person if for example you have 10 people, or if you have 12 people etc. Always be aware of the payments structures though as some will require full payment upfront (not great…), others a deposit and full payment 30 days prior to the stay (allot better). The less you have to pay up front the better as if gives the STM time to gather the funds.
As a rule of thumb, the closer you are to everything to more you will pay, As a general guideline, we have never paid more than about £190 per person for a full week with all the criteria we spoke about above in the Alpes of France/Austria. If you want really really cheap, then head off to other destinations in eastern Europe which are gaining popularity such as Poland.
Food and Drink
This is often overlooked or ignored but the tips i will share below can help you avoid this area costing you a fortune. Because you don’t need to pay up front for food and drink and that it is dealt with in the moment it often gets out of hand and a ski resort is not the place you want to let your nutrition and hydration (or dehydration if we are talking Apres Ski….) get out of hand. This topic can be mastered simply and save you a fortune over the course of a week. If you want to save £300+ on the costs of food and drinks? Read on..
In the morning
Just eat a big breakfast! Get up earlier to enjoy it! It will save you big time for the day, help you avoid the busy restaurants on the slopes and give you energy for a good 3 hours on the snow. You have a few options on how to make this efficient. Either each person gets up and cooks/eats on their own but this can be difficult with larger groups and just one kitchen.
An alternative is to have an appointed Chef/Chefs for each morning, everyday this rotates. These Chefs wake up a bit earlier and prepare breakfast for the group, this might be a whole bunch of pain au chocolats fresh from the oven (mmmmmmmm) and a large pot of coffee (works well if you are in the French Alpes right?) or a huge batch of Scrambled eggs and toast with beans. Or it might just be a few jugs of milk with a load of corn flakes. It doesn’t really matter as long as everyone is fed with at least something.
If you do go this chef route, you can keep control of the costs in two ways.
1: Each Chef or team of Chefs pay for and procure all the supplies for everyone breakfast only on the morning they are on duty. For the rest of the week they eat for free. (Our preferred method in the past)
2: Have a kitty (a miscellaneous pot of money) built up from day one and divide this out into days. For example, each person contributes £5 on arrival into the kitty to be used for breakfast and general cooking supplies. (Not something we have done, we do use a Kitty however for other purposes and build the kitty up at the planning stage to cover any major issues which may need solving quickly. I will discuss this further in Part 2)
On the Mountain
NEVER EAT FROM THE MOUNTAIN RESTAURANTS!!!!
That is the top tip if you want to save some money. Why not? I have 4 very good reasons why not;
- You will waste LOADS of time – the ques in these places are a nightmare, right in the middle of the best part of the day.
- It will cost you a fortune – Yes! Don’t be surprised to pay €15 for a plate of chips, a banana and a glass of Orange.
- You will get very little food – For the price you pay you will never get enough.
- You will be exhausted after eating – If you spend an hour sitting down in the warm, after eating a greasy meal your day will be done. You will struggle down another run and likely call it a day.
My top tips for eating on the mountain during the day
- Prepare the night before: If you see me on the mountain I ALWAYS have dried fruits, chocolate, nuts, cereal bars and a few sandwiches which I packed the night before into my bag or prepared and left in the fridge.
- At all times, any time is snack time: Remember this, if you are waiting for the Chair lift, waiting for your friends to catch up with you because you had a great run. Sitting on the chair lift, on the gondola keep snacking. Keep some food in an easy to access place all the times. This will keep your energy more consistent and stop you getting a slump in energy as if you have had a massive lunch. This tip will save you allot of time over the day, you will be utilising the waiting around time on the mountain as your feeding time, and you can avoid the ques in the restaurants at lunch times. (Extra tip: If you are on a snowboard try not to eat whilst getting off a chair lift, this ended in tears for me once with all my snacks sprinkled in the snow)
- Always have liquids with you: A bottle of water, or a water bladder back pack are your best friend. Again, being dehydrated on the mountain is a painful experience, especially if you had a few drinks the night before. I have learnt this the hard way half way down difficult runs and have had to resort to melting snow in my hands and drinking it (which can be dangerous and not something to make a habit of).
Tip: If you are using a Water bladder back pack, don’t leave the hose out unprotected for too long as it will freeze over and block the flow. If it is a small backpack, put it under your jacket and it wont freeze. Or buy a good insulated sleeve for the hose.
In the Evening
Everyone likes a bit of fun and friendly competition right? So you and your friends can use these facts to your advantage and get yourselves a week of gourmet meals at minimal cost!
A good friend of mine came up with this great idea in our first ski trip and we have repeated it every year since. Know the show “Come dine with me”? It is loosely based on that silly idea. What we do is draw up a rota for the week of 5 teams, each team consists of 2 or 3 people (depending on the size of the group) and each team procures, prepares, cooks and cleans for one night only. We have a bit of a vote at the end of the week for the best starter, the best main course and the best deserts of the week and it results in some fun bragging rights.
You wouldn’t believe the amazing dishes people come out of the kitchen with, often after having had a few drinks with the rest of us in the Bar before heading back to get started before we all arrive at the Chalet. But believe it or not allot of passion gets put into it! Over the last 3 trips, and 15 plus meals delivered this way I can honestly say that everything has been brilliant and nobody wants to let their friends down (especially hungry, tired and possibly a little drunk friends).
It is a simple idea and means that you only have one night of work during the week. Costs normally come in less than €100-€150 or so between your group of 2 or 3 people and you can easily feed everyone with that amount of food.
Oh, I should include that the Team also has to provide drinks for the dinner, which almost always consist of a box of red wine, a box of white wine and a box of rose wine. All of which are cheap and cheerful!
Here is an example of our rota and rules from our most recent trip which was pinned to the wall on arrival.
Overall this is a great event each night, during the day we joke about that night being the night we all get food poisoning or the Chalet burning down to build up the pressure on the Team but they always deliver. We always have so much food that half of it makes its way onto the breakfast menu or into the lunch box for the next day and you will save a small fortune.
You don’t need a Chalet girl or a Chalet boy, or a cook. Do it yourselves, have the extra fun and competition among yourselves and you will get to know your friends even better when you are in a hot kitchen trying to cook for 20 people. Even on your night to cook, it turns out being a fun event that you will always remember!
Picture on the right shows the winners of the messiest kitchen award in our chalet a couple of years ago. We had 22 people staying in that chalet and cooking for that number is a big challenge but a fun one.
Apres Ski Bonus Tip:
Bring a little Hip Flask with your favorite spirit inside to enjoy a little drink to get the blood moving on a Chair lift, at the end of the day when sitting looking at the views or enjoy your favorite drink sneaky style at a bar (obviously just when they don’t serve your favorite)
End of Part 1
I hope you have found some of my experience and insights useful, if you want to continue go and check out Part 2 which covers even more valuable and useful information to help you and your friends have a great and affordable Ski holiday and I will share my excel sheets used to manage all aspects of organising a great group ski trip.