Skiing in a Credit Crunch

    What do the effects of the financial downturn and the credit crunch mean for your skiing holiday? And what can you do to get the best ski deals?

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    Rising ski holiday prices

    There's no doubt about it, skiing holidays are getting more expensive. Significant rises in fuel and food prices are affecting tour operators big and small. Scheduled and low cost air fares are on the increase and in resort prices remain high because of the continuing poor sterling / euro exchange rate.

    According to Meribel based chalet company Fish and Pips they are now paying about 25 per cent more on groceries and 30 to 40 per cent more on fuel than before the credit crunch started two years ago, which has seen them hike their ski holiday prices by 10 per cent. However, Fish and Pips founder Pillipa Eyles argues that:

    'If you look at ski holiday prices in the 1970s or 1980s, in real terms they were very much more expensive than they are now, so nobody should really complain that their holiday is now slightly more expensive when in reality, it was ridiculously cheap beforehand.'

    Ski package holidays can still represent better value for money than travelling independently, with a proportion of increased costs being absorbed by tour operators in a bid to keep their loyal customers. However, most ski tour operators are still hurting and in the long-term increased costs must be passed on to the consumer.

    Stalwart skiers

    Some might be pre-occupied by economic doom and gloom, but not the stalwart skiers and boarders. They're a steadfast bunch, that as one 'Snowhead' put it; he 'would rather cut his own ear off with a rusty saw' than forgo his annual ski holiday.

    A spokesman for ABTA (The Travel Association), Sean Tipton, agreed: 'Skiing has such a loyal market. Even after 9/11, when most of the tourist industry suffered, wintersports bookings went up.'

    So it's no wonder that avid wintersports enthusiasts are undeterred from taking their winter break - or two, or three - by the credit crunch and rising costs. In fact, it may be as a consequence of the miserable economic forecasts and a lousy summer, that people see a winter holiday as a necessity to escape the doom and gloom.

    Exchange rates, taxes and choice of ski destination

    With the Euro's strong stance against Sterling and the Dollar also climbing back against the pound, and looking highly unpredictable, it is the cost of flights that will be the deciding factor for many UK holidaymakers.

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    'With the increasing fuel costs, I'd say a ski holiday in Europe will be cheaper, just because of the taxes on flights to North America, which have gone up massively. Last year, I would have definitely recommended the United States and Canada because of the value you could get for the pound over there' said Betony Gardner from the Ski Club of Great Britain.

    In Europe, skiers wishing to avoid the impact of exchange rates and higher costs in Eurozone may find that skiing holidays to Bulgaria, Romania and even Serbia offer cheap alternatives.

    Book with a tour operator or independently?

    Will you be booking your ski holiday with one of the big tour operators, such as Crystal or Inghams, through a small independent tour operator or doing your own thing and booking flights, transfers and accommodation independently? If you are thinking about travelling independently, consider totting up all of the costs before you go, and see if you can't find a cheaper package.

    The giants have better economies of scale and therefore can offer fantastic ski deals, especially early in the season. Smaller independent operators also offer excellent value for money partly because 'they're able to react more quickly to changes in demand, and therefore adapt,' says Ian Bradley of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO).

    'One thing we have noticed,' says Marion Telsnig of Crystal 'is a downgrading of budgets, for example from £800 per person to £700.' It is a no-brainer that to be able to afford their yearly slice of powdery heaven this winter, the majority of skiers are looking to cut costs and budget and shopping around to get the best deals.

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    Tips to get more skiing for your money

    Book early - especially for high altitude and snow-sure resorts, as the days of prices falling closer to the departure date are long gone. Prices will rise late in the season when capacity is limited relative to demand.

    Be flexible - surf the net for the best ski deals. Some ski tour operators offer free ski lift passes, free childcare, a percentage off the price, or even 'one goes free' for larger groups. The ski resorts on offer may not be the one you had in mind, though. Check out skideal.com, igluski.com, and directski.com as well as the big tour operators like Inghams, Crystal and Neilson. See family specialists Ski Esprit and Ski Famille for 'One child goes free' or even 'Granny goes free' deals.

    Avoid fuel surcharge - if you are going across the pond for your snowy thrills, book yourself on to a chartered flight, such as the Crystal flight to Calgary, as they will absorb the costs of fuel surcharges, rather than you if it is a scheduled flight.

    Pay attention to detail - compare prices of ski holiday options in detail. You'll need to budget for: travel, transfers, accommodation, ski lift passes, travel insurance, food, ski equipment hire (unless you have your own) and watch out for baggage allowances and charges.

    Financial Protection - pay by credit card rather than debit card and if you book with a small tour operator that's a member of AITO or ABTA, you are financially protected in case the flight company or the independent tour operator goes bust. Check the small print for other companies.

    Exchange rates - if you fear that the Dollar or Euro will go up further against the Pound, consider a prepaid currency debit card, such as the one offered by FairFX (FairFX.com), which effectively freezes the exchange rate at its current standing or buy foreign currency well ahead of time if you're happy with the prevailing exchange rates.

    Christine Ottery

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