It’s the ‘Gap Yar’ holy grail. Tobias and Lottie are going to do a ski season. Marvellous – oh to be young, footloose and have a whole winter at your disposal to live in the mountains, ski every day and snuggle up on those nasty white-out days! Except anyone who’s ‘done’ a ski season can testify that it’s just not like that. But fear not snowmads – we believe that we have the answer to the cheapest way to do a ski season.
How am I going to do a ski season on the cheap without working? With good preparation, it’s possible to do a ski season in a campervan, motorhome or even a caravan with or without a job to fund your travels.
In this article we’re going to show you how to do a ski season like we did, without spending 96 hours a week scrubbing regurgitated fondue and Merlot from toilet rims or enduring back-breaking snow-shovelling to make safe passage for The Astley-Hudson Clan and their Louis Vuitton 6 piece luggage set.
By the time you finish reading, you’ll have realised that you have no need to sacrifice a single blue bird day in favour of ‘change-over’ and you can come out the other end, just as broke as gappers Tarquin and Lilly, but with considerably more snow days under your belt, and less vomit on your ski boots.
You don’t even need to be on a gap year – and you don’t need to be striving for an entire ski season either. All of these hints and tips for skiing on the cheap are applicable whether you’re just taking a one-off week in the snow or if you’re looking for the ultimate winter road trip (or anything in between).
Here’s what we’re going to cover in this article:
- How to get your hands on a campervan or motorhome (we’ll cover caravans in a different blog)
- Where to park up
- How to pay for stuff
- Cheap ski passes
- The cheapest way to cross the channel
- Gas, electric, water and wifi
- All the gear
- Things not to do
How to Get Your Hands on a Campervan or Motorhome
Short of actually stealing one, you’ve got a whole heap of options. These are our recommendations – in order of preference.
Option 1 – The bank of Mum and Dad
Ask Tarquin’s Mum and Dad to buy one. If you have to persuade them of the virtues of motorhoming then sharpen your PR pencil and write a comprehensive list of the pros and cons of exchanging their Tuscan pied-à-terre for a fully winterised German A-Class fun bus. Do your research – heck, plan them a Grand Tour (in the summer) and you will have yourself a fine road trip machine which of course would be otherwise redundant in winter.
WARNING! Make sure they don’t exercise their grandad rights and get anything over 3.5 tonnes. That’ll cost you a grand before you leave in extra driving lessons and a load more on your journey to and from the mountains in tolls.
Option 2 – Pool your resources
As long as your travel buddies are good mates, put your pennies together. Six months hard slog pulling pints should net you enough, after modest living expenses, to go in on shared ownership of a second hand motorhome. If you’re opting to do this, then you need to keep a bit aside for spares and repairs but, you can get a very comfortable six birth motorhome for £20k – and you can flog it at the end of your trip. If we’d known about motorhome skiing when we were teens, this would have been a very attractive option – just do your research and take a grown up motorhome mechanic to any viewings.
If you’re going down this multi-occupancy route, do go for a white box (coachbuilt motorhome) and don’t be tempted by #vanlife. They’re far more comfortable for a group in winter and you’ll never fit all your gear in a van. If you try to pick yourself what you think is a bargain camper, you’re going to find out pretty quickly that not all insulation is the same and when Bob converted his quirky camper, he might not have had the Alps in deep winter in mind as he stuffed a bit of bubble wrap in the walls.
Option 3 – Hire it
We’ve done a comprehensive overview on hiring a motorhome for a winter trip that you can read here, and whilst this is going to set you back, if it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to spend an extended period skiing or boarding on your own time, this is a smart option.
Why is hiring for a long tour so smart? Because it’s not your problem. You don’t have to worry about all the things you should be worrying about if you own your motorhome or campervan. If you hire from a knowledgeable (and we mean people who’ve actually been motorhome skiing) hire company, they’ll send you out in something fully spec’ed for the job and in the unlikely event that something that’s not your fault does go wrong, they’re going to take care of it for you.
Down side is that you might trundle around like Miss Daisy in fear of pranging your mobile ski chalet, but in all honesty that’s no bad thing – you’re not in a rush are you?
A super pimp 7 berth luxury motorhome will set you back from around £9/ per person/night. No, we’re not joking.
Where to Park Up
Aires are your friend. Cheap and cheerful, legitimate parking areas that vary in service availability from nothing to electric, water, loos and waste – if you want to understand a bit more about aires vs campsites then we have a comprehensive write up here so you can make your own mind up but spoiler alert – campsites are going to eat into your fun-budget.
Expect to pay between €0 and €25 a night (that’d be a super fancy private aire) and you can cut your cloth to suit your budget. We recommend having an ’emergency campsite fund’ if only for Beast from the East like weather events or just because you fancy a shower where you can swing a cat.
There are opportunities to save even more cash by wild camping and some of the smaller ski stations even allow free campervan parking in the ski lift car parks and if you are going to use aires – please check this article out where you’ll find some very useful information that we wished we’d know before we were on the road for the first time.
How to Pay for Stuff
Being a successful ski-bum is all about fiscal control. You have to operate precision financial forcasting, preferably whilst whirling around in a laise-fair carpe diem like haze to keep up with appearances of living the dream.
The best way to do this is to deny yourself access. It may not be the most economical or grown up way to manage your cash but, it will certainly limit costly ‘after midnight at the bar’ mistakes.
Get yourself a travel money card and leave your cards somewhere safe and preferably inaccessible. We cannot recommend this option enough. We researched a variety of pseudo banks and providers but after much consideration, we opted for the Post Office Travel Money Card but the best option on the market now is the Revolut Card. You can load up in all the currencies you might need on a European trip (or just plug into GBP and it draws down in the correct currency) and if you do it like we did, you take it in turns to replenish the coffers. That way you’ve never got access to a huge amount and we managed it on a weekly basis.
There are a few down sides – the exchange rate isn’t always blistering (Revolut is much better than many of the others) but then if you’re being super frugal, you’ll barely notice the difference and some tolls don’t accept it (you won’t be using these anyway Ski-Bum). However, all the pluses of this card far out way the negatives in our experience. Managing everything online/mobile app is a massive bonus.
Cheap Ski Passes
HA! There’s no such thing. Really there isn’t. But, there are ways you can get cracking deals and make sure you don’t waste cash on days when you’d rather be watching Netflix than shredding the pow!
There are as they say, many ways to skin a cat and this is a big topic but because now (off season) is the time when you need to be pulling those pints and establishing your budget, here are your main money saving ski pass options.
Buy an area ski pass
There are many of these available, usually covering several resorts and more than enough to keep you occupied for the season. We love these but only if you’re in an area that has reliable snow and reliable park-ups. Many people committing to an entire season like the security of making a base in somewhere like the Portes du Soleil (Ultimate Guide here) where there are a bunch of great affordable places to park and good season-long snow. If you chose an area pass, the very best thing you can do is spend some of your summer cash on your pass – early bird offers are around now and can be up to 50% off saving you anything up to €600.
Example: Portes du Soleil area pass (12 resorts plus bonus days elsewhere) €774 if you buy it pre-season.
Ski à La Carte
This is a popular choice for you snowmads not restricting yourself to one ski area but willing to wander between an impressive array of big name resorts. It’s still limited but this is a pay-as-you-go ski pass – you pay an upfront fee of €29 for grown-ups and then you get beneficial rates across the resorts and ski areas they cover. Awesome perks include some €1 Saturdays and other bargains however…. And this is a big consideration for a ski bum on a budget – you get billed a month in lieu. That means, it doesn’t directly hurt every time you ride the mountain. This is a good and a bad thing. It gives you organised and disciplined bunnies a month to manage your money in advance but it’ll catch you out of you’re a bit spontaneous and hit the slopes in any conditions short of official closure.
Check the details of Ski à La Carte here.
Now this is a game changer. From a park-up perspective, we’re going through the process of assessing just how many parking opportunities there are at the resorts and stations featured. For €395 (limited numbers at this price), you get access to nine countries and 111 resorts and ski areas (current figure). COVID NEW PRICING APPLIES (we’re investigating as we type).
What’s the catch with Snowpass?
You’re limited to 10 days in each ski area per season – we’re snomads so what?!
The resorts and stations are mostly small and unheard of here in the UK – ace – no school groups and stag dos!
A fair few are not snow sure season round – again – we’re snow chasers so this doesn’t bother us – many are in amazing areas, prime for skinning and snow shoeing when slopes are a bit bare.
4 hour passes/ half day passes
We lived on these throughout our season long tour. These are brilliant. Avoid the first-lift nutters, ski your legs empty and save some energy for the rest of your trip. It is SO easy to burn out early in your road trip. Take advantage of blue birds for sure but if you want to avoid injury, fatigue and make the most of what each area has to offer, part day passes are a mega choice. They also come with the benefit of being a chunk cheaper than a day pass plus, you can wait and see what happens to that lingering fog whilst you sup on another café au lait.
The Cheapest Way to Cross The Channel
Another spoiler alert. It’s the EuroTunnel Le Shuttle (or The Chunnel as we call it) using your Mum’s stash of Tesco Clubcard points or by buddying up on a Eurotunnel Frequent Traveller Wallet.
The catch with the Tesco ClubCard Points: You have to take your Mum as the lead passenger. Or, alternatively get your own Clubcard now and start racking up those points – because points mean prizes and prizes mean free travel.
Your other option – teaming up with another snomad (or fair weather traveller) and benefit from the Eurotunnel Frequent Traveller programme – awesome if you’re popping home a few times in the season or you’re likely to be doing a few trips at any time of year – check out a comprehensive article here if you want to find out if that works for you.
However…. There are other options and as we’re talking winter crossings, without the clubcard vouchers or a frequent traveller deal, the ferry wins out on price. We love the ferry and with time on your side, it’s definitely worth consideration.
There are a few players in the ferry game and if this is the first time you’ve organised a crossing yourself (we’re talking to you planning your Gap Yar, Lucas) you’ll need to know which port you want to leave from and where you want to go. Easy option is Dover to Calais or Dunkirk but there are options via the Netherlands and going from our UK southern ports.
Gas, Diesel, Electric, Water and WIFI – Critical Resources
There’s no getting around it, these are pretty important whether you like it or not. Gas will keep you warm and fed and it’s relatively cheap. Depending on what kind of van you’ve acquired, your heating system will rely on some sort of fuel so that needs to be front and centre in your budget – there is no faster way to end up in an Air B&B than by screwing up your heating.
Here are our top tips on each of these topics:
Try to snaffle a refillable system before you go – especially if you’re looking to travel longer term. You don’t need a fancy integrated system, a simple one will do but it’ll save you a lot of cash in the long run and you’ll feel so smug every time you need to fill. LPG at the pump is between 60-100 cents per litre in France at time of writing.
If you want to find out more about whether you should invest in a refillable system, check out our easy to follow info diagram:
Swing by Luxemburg (very cheap fuel) on the way down – but do the maths on the detour!
Always travel brimmed if possible especially when in France – you might feel the slog going up switchbacks and that’s going to cost you but, it’s not going to cost you nearly as much as finding pumps shut on Sundays and bank holidays or even worse, paying resort tax on a fill up.
If you are staying for a season, schedule in weekly sojourns down hill to the big smoke. You’ll get much better value on everything and sometimes it’s useful to come out of your snowy bubble to remember how lucky you are to be living in the hills.
If you have a healthy budget, buy in resort – there are tonnes of artisan shops where you can pick up amazing food, but they’re not for you if you’re on a ski bum budget!
Hook up whenever possible. Even a €2 top-up on your batteries will save you from complete disaster. Trust us on this – we lost everything that made our motorhome liveable on day 2 or 3 of our trip. We let the battery go too low, blew a fuse and we had nothing until we managed to find some 10 amp electric hook up. Moving at dark o’clock with no plan or intention to move on the hunt for electric is not an adventure, it’s an arse. Do not let your batteries run below their limit (12.1 volts or so on a standard leisure battery) and find out what that is before you go (some are 11 and if you’re lucky enough to have lithium batteries – that’s a whole different thing).
Also try and understand electric draw a bit before you go. We all know that kettles and hair driers are power hungry but you will want to know about charging devises, screens (laptops, ipads etc) and other power guzzling stuff you rely on.
We have a long and torturous history with water. James is a plumber – a good one. And even with that, we spent a HUGE amount of time with no water. We’re not going into the details of how to prevent water freezing here – we’re looking at ski-bum solutions to living with low water levels, just in case you find yourself having to use very small quantities of water during your trip.
- Buy a couple of 10 litre cans and learn how to live with that (these ones on Amazon are almost identical to the ones we have and are great)
- Wipe your plates and utensils after you use them, before you wash them. Saves loads of water.
- If you’re showering in your van, switch the shower off between rinses – same with brushing your teeth
- Don’t leave your water pump on when you’re not using it
- Practice being the water police BEFORE you go. It will be a shock, trust us. But it’s also good for you to see how much water you waste and try and live with a little less.
This is a ski-bum essential and if you do it right, will cost you less a month than you’ll spend in one afternoon session at Folie Douce. You need to invest in a Motorhome Wifi i-Boost. This will allow you log into the free resort wifi, and if you are a proper hustler, local chalet wifi (send your most charming van-mate for the task of acquiring the security code). You may think your phone will offer enough data but it probably won’t – not if you spend as much time as we do watching movies and working online. You can pick up good deals on sims when you’re set up but in all honesty, if you can operate these two systems – your own phone data plan (check data caps in Europe), and the iBoost, you’ll be happy as a pig in poo. N.B. If you’re looking for something a little more reliable and requires less flirting with chalet girls, check out the 4G systems available from Motorhome Wifi. We categorically endorse these guys fully and please have a read of why here because this is not something we mess about with.
Skis, boots, boards – plus all your kit. This is going to set you back. Some will tell you to wait until you’re in resort to buy – you can pick up some epic deals and it’s good to have the mountain pros set up your hardwear. We got some stuff before we left and James bought his boots and skis out in France but, it’s not the most economical way to do it and here’s why.
You can get by far the best deals on skis, boots, bindings and boards, off-season. You might not have the cash to splash at the moment but for the next few months, the online deals are insane. Decathlon in particular (always our favourite) is even becoming a serious player credible in the eyes of the ski-media and gear junkies. About time – their kit is amazing and excellent value. They seem to be the only people working really hard to make mountain sports more accessible to those on a budget.
Here are a few scrimp, save and splash suggestions from us:
Scrimp: Bandanas, hats and other fluffy stuff. Nobody needs to spend £50 on a hat. Also consider going budget on clothes. Easy to say as someone who rocks top line Helly gear but there are some incredible deals on very good kit that’ll see you through the winter and you won’t feel so butt hurt if you slice it up a bit over the months.
Save: Hardwear – do you want to go a whole season or not? Well tighten your belt and suck it up. You might think you’re Candide Thovex but you’ll get all the performance benefits out of a set of Faction 5.0s than you will out of a £1500 phone. If you want to save big, here’s where you’re going to cut the biggest chunks out.
Splash: Boots. On and off piste this in our opinion is the place you want to splash your cash. My opinion on boots is well documented (check here and here for my thoughts on my life changing ski boots) but it’s super personal. Get into that and make sure you’ve got that right. One area where people might scrimp – but as seasonaires you need to take seriously – is snow boots. We have a default position of ‘buy Canadian or American’ when it comes to footwear and it’s not failed us yet. James and I rock the mother of all expedition boots by Sorel – no expense spared – full review here – stick em on your Christmas list.
So this concludes our introduction to being a ski-bum seasonnaire on a budget! We hope if gives you food for thought but before you go, take a look through the following five things to avoid if you want to keep your budget under control and have the winter of your life!
Things Not To Do
Ok – now you’re furnished with all the clever ‘how to’ and ‘top tips’ for doing a ski season on the cheap – here are a few of the most critical things you MUST NOT DO. Failure to observe these important rules will result in instantaneous bankruptcy or having to tout your services in resort once your cash has run out. It’s important to remember just how many of the really great jobs are vacant mid-season! You know, the ones that once starry eyed Theo and Cyril ditched after 4 weeks because the boss was a massive arse and the guests were all total t*ats. Theo and Cyril are now living in a beaten up old Volvo, spooning on a 30 year old mattress, but living the dream!
- That’s a no to jagerbombs. Firstly they’re dreadful for your general wellbeing but more importantly they’re budget crushers. If you like a tipple, get into wine – it’s much cheaper in Europe than un the UK, even in the mountains but buy it by the bag (or the jerrycan if you pass a La Cave) and you’re quids in.
- No mountain dining! As enticing at that tartiflette et vin rouge over-looking a dusty couloir might be, this is another vehement no. It’s not in the spirit of motorhome skiing and you miss out on the trepidation of delving into your backpack to recover what may, or may not, once have been a scrummy cheesy baguette. The real motorhome skiing pros won’t risk a squashed sandwich, and come equipped with an Opinel No.8, a saucisson, a reblochon and a tetrapak of Bordeaux.
- Avoid St Moritz, Val d’Isere and Zermatt. You can’t enjoy these places on a budget and they’re not your people. They don’t understand why you haven’t got an entirely fresh après outfit on or why you always have blue surgical gloves in your pockets.
- ALWAYS use the loo when you have the opportunity – always. French public loos in particular are very good in the mountains and if you’re in a small van, the chances are that your alternative is squatting over a bucket next to your mate Dave or worse still, your new rad girlfriend Michaela. Nope.
- Never give in. Trust us on this one. There will be times when your epic adventure seems more like a huge mistake – a disaster in fact. You’ll hate your van mate and you’ll hate snow and this was a stupid idea anyway. That’s more than likely to occur to you at least once a day. Thug it out. The more experienced you get, the better it is and trust us, by the end of a season, you’ll never look back.
The Other Option
If you’ve got any manual skills, you might choose another option – build your own winter snowmobile! If you’re interested in doing that, stay tuned.