Skiing without the snowball of debt
Ski holidays are one of the few good things about winter. Long days carving up the slopes, followed by longer nights drinking too much mulled wine in front of a roaring fire. Not to mention more white powder than a party with Charlie Sheen.
The only problem is, it's not cheap. As the saying goes, skiing is the only sport where you spend an arm and a leg to break an arm and a leg.
With kids in tow, food and accommodation, and expensive gear, the cost can quickly snowball out of reach for many families.
Here are our tips on how to whiz off to the hills without ending up in a tangled mess of poles.
In the sweltering heat of January and February, it takes remarkable foresight to plan ahead for a ski holiday. But if you're planning on spending a decent amount of time on the mountain, a season pass is a must, and you have to get in early. The difference between buying an early bird pass and buying now is huge. An adult pass at Cardrona was $599 at the start of the year. Now it's $1299, more than twice the price.
The difference is a hangover from the days when ski fields needed real snow to operate, says NZ Ski's general manager of sales and marketing Craig Douglas.
"There's more certainty around the seasons these days with all the snow-making technology."
Snowreports.co.nz editor Lawrence Smith says a season pass makes "a great deal of sense" as long as you get the early-bird deal.
In the North Island, the payback period is about 4-5 days, and 6-7 days in the South Island, he says. If you use it any less than that over the 100-day season, individual day passes will probably work out cheaper.
There's not much price difference to speak of between the North and South Islands, but you're not always playing on a level ski field.
It's a hierarchy of price, says Mr Smith. He suggests checking out some of the smaller commercial fields, like Porters, Ohau, Roundhill or Dobson. These tend to be $10 to $20 cheaper a day than the likes of Whakapapa and Turoa, Coronet Peak or Cardrona.
JOIN THE CLUB
Tighter than a pair of Spandex ski pants? Join the club. Or at least pay it a visit – most ski clubs welcome the general public, and they're cheap.
Says the Tukino club website: "This is what skiing used to be like – before hectic lifestyles and commercial interests took over."
Tukino passes cost $50 a day, almost half the price of commercial fields. Accommodation at the three lodges on the Tukino field is about one-third of the commercial price, spokesman Bruce McGregor reckons.
You have to muck in with a chores roster and meal preparation, but it's cheap. Midweek, a day's accommodation, skiing and food costs $95 at Tukino.
If you become a club member, there's a further small discount for the ski field, but it's the accommodation that pays off.
The cost of the annual sub will be offset by the time you've stayed four or five nights. There are big discounts for families, and far fewer people on the slopes too.
YOUNG AND OLD
If your hair is as snowy as the mountain, you may be in line for a discount or free entry. Likewise for young ones.
The age cut-offs and deals range from mountain to mountain. At the Remarkables, for example, children aged 10 and under are free, while at Coronet Peak, you're officially a youth once you hit the ripe old age of 7.
Youths and seniors pay close to half the adult price at most fields, while students can sometimes get about $20 off the day pass.
The benefits really start to kick in once you're past 75. Mr Douglas says you'd be surprised how many game grandpas and grandmas are still hitting the slopes.
"There's a band of locals here called One Ski in the Grave. They're all 70-plus, and they're up here every day. If you're still skiing at 75, we're happy to have you!"
In a car park full of Remuera tractors loaded down with the latest designer snow gear, you can practically smell the expense.
Mr Smith advises renting if you're learning to ski or not yet hooked on the sport".
"There's no outlay, and it costs a lot of money to buy skis and boots and poles and things – easily $1000 or more."
But once you've got the snow bug, it makes a lot of sense to buy.
A new snowboard or skis from Base NZ costs roughly $500 to $1000. Full rental is usually around $50, then $40 on additional days. That means once you've been using your new kit for 4-6 holidays, it will have paid for itself.
Even if the rugrats are growing like mushrooms, it can be cheaper in the long run to buy new. "We buy all our own kids' gear," says Mr Smith. "There's a really good market for second-hand kids' gear."
Other than club lodging, buying a package deal can also save cash on accommodation, Mr Smith says.
The likes of Ski Express NZ and KiwiSki are specialist providers of snow holiday packages.
The prices depend on the type of roof you want overhead. If you're willing to slum it in a backpackers, your holiday will work out a whole lot cheaper.
A shared dorm room for a 3-night long weekend in Queenstown costs $360 a person, a standard hotel room $465, or the flashest hotel room $735.
That particular package includes two days on the mountain (worth about $185), accommodation, car hire and insurance: not too shabby at all.
Have you thought twice about a ski trip because of the expense? What are your tips to make it affordable?
- © Fairfax NZ News