This is the much requested, “how much dosh” blog.
If ever there was a ‘how long is a piece of string’ question, this is it. It’s the same as asking how much a weekend in London costs – depends if you get chauffeur driven and stay in the Ritz or grab yourself an Oyster Card and Air BnB it… or anything in between.
On the basis that this is a hugely unhelpful response to “how much does it cost to take a motorhome ski trip” we’ve broken some of the costs down, shown you a day in our life on the road and highlighted some areas where you can scrimp and where you can splash out.
However, before we start, the answer to the question of how much we spent, was an average of €90/day between 2 of us. This figure covered approximately 50 ski pass days but has a number of exclusions. It does not cover many of the fixed costs of our trip (the first and last leg to and from home; insurances; equipment etc) and it excludes extraordinary expenditure. The most important thing to remember about that average cost is that it’s based on a near six month trip and we did not operate with a ‘holiday mentality’ when it came to finances.
The purpose of this blog is really to illustrate that whether you’re on a super tight budget or have a more extravagant holiday in mind, a motorhome ski trip is doable – regardless of the depth of your wallet.
Perhaps the least smart place to scrimp.
I wish we could claim to be authors of this statement but recently someone very knowledgeable and experienced in the motorhome and skiing delivered this gem which is worth remembering…
not all vans are created equal”
What was meant by that is that some are designed and built specifically to withstand winter conditions and some aren’t.
We’re not saying that your motorhome will spontaneously combust if it falls into the ‘not as equal as some’ category but life (and holidays), can be deeply uncomfortable, and hugely disrupted by an ill equipped motorhome, RV or campervan. Worst case scenario, you can cause irreparable damage to a motorhome if it’s not prepared for continuously low temperatures.
Our top tips for choosing a winterized motorhome
Trust us on this one – after nearly 6 months tackling the worst winter (best for snow!) in 40 years, and undertaking a daily battle against the elements in a fresh-out-the-box 2017 motorhome, we feel very well qualified to comment on this matter!
We will go into detail in another blog about winterization of a motorhome but in the meantime, a few things to consider are listed below.
If you’re choosing a motorhome with the intention of taking it deep winter touring, regardless of age there are a few critical elements you need to watch for – perhaps our snowmad family can add in the comments below if we’ve missed anything!
Thermal insulation grading
Grade 3 thermal insulation grading is not an indication of true winterization (in fact – industry experts will and have confirmed that this ‘grade 3’ stuff is twaddle – total nonsense – unscientific and boarding on trades description violation). Neither is the term winterization (or winterisation if you prefer!). Find out if the seller or dealer has any experience winter motorhoming and if they don’t you need to do a significant amount of research yourself.
Water tank location
Both your fresh and grey water tanks should be positioned inside the vehicle – this is usually in a floor cavity and heated. If you opt for water tanks that sit attached to the chassis underneath the vehicle (external), you are going to have a crap holiday for one of two reasons – you will have no running water or… worse still, you will have no snow because it’ll be positively balmy! A bit of silver bubble insulation and tank heaters are not sufficient. Mountain conditions are so unpredictable that whilst you may get away with it this trip, you’re unlikely to be so fortunate on round 2.
You must have properly lagged pipes, even inside the vehicle – the whole lot. The grey foam insulation you are familiar with in your loft is not even close to being up to the job – you need the pimp black stuff that feels like neoprene. Check everywhere before you buy a vehicle – if you opt to buy a motorhome or campervan that’s not fully winterized, at least you will know what you’ve let yourself in for.
The controversial topic of heating! We found that unless people had major issues, they tend to recommend their own system fervently so unsurprisingly, we are voting for a blown air system by Whale. The reason we preferred this to other systems is a little random. It dries out your stuff which is ALWAYS WET. It was incredibly warm which is good – but look out for the location of your thermostat – in winter you will discover that if it’s by the door as ours was, the system finds it very difficult to regulate efficiently, especially if you are popping out regularly. You can also shut off some vents, open others, mod a ski boot warmer and heat your van very fast – just check that your van vents are spaced sensibly – there’s no point in having them clustered at one end of the van and this is something that seems to happen regularly.
Anyone favouring a wet system, please comment below as we don’t have experience of living with one of these, just seeing them in action.
Do this. Get an underslung tank or the refillable bottles with an external fill point. You will munch through as much gas in a day as you will in a month in summer motorhoming and scrimping on this is just daft. If you intend on motothome skiing regularly the installation of an LPG system will pay for itself over and over. If you only do a few days a year you might need to do some creative accounting to justify the expense but blimey, clever LPG management can give you a whole new level of motorhome ski freedom. We did a blog – ARE LPG REFILLABLE BOTTLES WORTH IT?
Last on our potted list of what to look out for in a winterized ski-ready motorhome is ‘three-way’. If you’re wondering if this is a creative way to keep toasty warm on those cold alpine nights you’d be right. Appliances and systems (that’s what you were thinking right?) that can utilise at least three power sources (and preferably four by way of diesel) are awesome. It means you can run your motorhome off battery (12v if you don’t have an inverter), hook up (to mains or generator) or gas. Blummin marvellous.
We know this is a huge topic (and can be a minefield) and it’s already intimidating enough trying to work out which layout you prefer without adding these additional variables in, so we’ll be reviewing, in detail, the properly winterized motorhomes available in the UK in the coming months. Whilst we’re focusing on the 2018/19 models, we’ll be trying to find the best in a number of generations and price brackets.
The one thing we have learned is that you aren’t going to get a fully winterized motorhome for the price of a motorhome that “isn’t created equal”. There is additional expense and development necessary to fully winterize a motorhome and you need to accept that fact if you want to get the best tool for the job!
Nobody knows the dark art of timing your crossing purchase right. We’re convinced they fiddle with the system every year – it used to be easy bird catches the deal and then it was best to buy your ticket as you’re ridding the ramp into dover and now who knows.
The general rules are as follows:
- Got a dog or cat? (yup – tonnes of people take their moggies motorhome skiing) – take the Chunnel. Your pet stays with you and you save yourself an hour at least. Although – check this blog out from our mate Wandering Bird – pet cabins are a thing…
- On a week or less road trip? Again – take the chunnel. I’m sure you’d rather spend a few extra hours staring whimsically at yonder snow-capped peaks than at the White Cliffs and the dive that’s Calais.
- Got some time, on a budget, got a massive motorhome, nervous driver? – take the boat. We wrote blog about our boat trip – loved it. We would always choose it unless any of the afore-mentioned applied.
- The boat is a lot cheaper, particularly in winter when it doesn’t have the holiday hoards to service but if you’ve got a Tesco Clubcard, they do a mega deal on Le Shuttle.
Tricky – your policies might cover skiing, they might not. Check the small print, especially the equipment and medical cover and any recovery restrictions.
We learned something this year worth sharing. There are now so many ski insurance policies available that it’s mind blowing. However, many charge extra for side-piste/off-piste/touring etc… this list of exclusions or additions is huge…
I’m sorry Madame, did you say you were wearing a pink helmet when you had your accident? I’m afraid we don’t cover breaking your leg whilst wearing a pink helmet on a Tuesday”.
So – how to ensure you’re insured. Buy the daily insurance provided by the ski lift operators. This way you can be 100% certain that you will at the very least be rescued in the event of an incident. It’s usually about €3/day if you buy it with your ski pass. Bargain for peace of mind.
Why is this in the fixed cost section? Primarily because it’s not optional, you’ll use pretty much the same amount every day and if you scrimp on gas your motorhome might freeze up, crack pipes, wake up with freeze-brain etc…
Resorts vary hugely so do your research before you go. For example, you might be surprised to learn that Switzerland has some exceedingly good value ski passes when pitched against their French rivals. There are a huge number of options but ordinarily, a weekly pass is the most economical approach for the usual trip if you intend to ski dawn to dusk.
Keep an eye out for updates on various resort offers as they come in – we’ll post as we learn of them and check out ‘scrimping’ below for some ski pass savers.
Again – huge variation in cost from the absolutely free to the ‘holy heck that’s pricey’. Budget travellers will usually find the best value in aires (particularly if you’re off-grid and don’t need hook up) and stay away from Switzerland where you’re almost entirely restricted to expensive campsites.
If you have some cash to splash and you like the security of the more structured and well serviced campsites, expect to pay between €30 and €60 per night excluding power.
As with your pitch, your choice of resort will have a major impact on your holiday spends. If you load up before you leave and intend to be entirely self-sufficient on tour, the only thing this will really affect is your pitch and ski-pass. However, if you want to experience a bit more of the resort, participate in some of their on and off-piste activities, choose wisely. Some smaller ski stations (as opposed to resorts) offer great value and an escape from the crowds but can get busy at weekends and don’t have the vast pisted expanses of some of the mega-areas that have been created by resorts joining forces.
This is entirely personal because what you might consider a luxury (wine for example), I consider a necessity – particularly when motorhome skiing.
Other things that we consider to be treats that you can forgo – especially if you are a first-lift bandit – or indulge in, are the activities and experiences that most resorts now offer. Everything from spa experiences to heli-skiing, dog sledding to ice driving.
For those on a budget, there’s still plenty for you to do – if you research your resort as if you were travelling to New York for the weekend, you’ll be amazed at when you discover – magical weekly choral recitals in Alpe d’Huez, free-to-enter Andros Trophy (motor racing) across loads of resorts or maybe an introduction to avalanche training in Les Deux Alpes.
There are too many of these to mention but here’s a few of our top tips – some are obvious – but only if you’ve done this before!
What to buy at home: everything but…
Special mentions for the following which we had to have air-lifted in as a matter of emergency… three times on the Winterized Project season one.
- Salad cream
- Nandos Sauce
- Baked Beans
- Green beans
4 hour passes
Most resorts have a version of this and or ‘Happy Ski’ which is a late afternoon special (sometimes only €15).
The reality is, the way people are skiing is changing. It is a very British thing to be up for the first lift and to thug it out until you’re descending with the ski patrol. These 4 hour passes (or am/pm passes) save you a few quid a day and whilst you do need to be a bit more organised to get the most out of your pass, we found we didn’t suffer from the same fatigue and enjoyed ourselves a lot more when not competing with ourselves for most kms racked up in a day.
A neat trick which many already take advantage of. If you intend to visit an area (say Portes du Soleil) a number of weeks in the season, it may benefit you to purchase a season ticket. You can ski a huge area (and stay in various resorts) and these passes often allow you a few days in a number of other resorts too. At the time of typing, the Portes du Soleil early bird season pass is €774 and by our rough calculation, you’d only need to ski 3.5 weeks a year to be quids-in.
Many areas offer a similar pass to this and if you have a resort you particularly like, start there and you might find it has a deal with various neighbouring ski areas.
Buy your own kit
One of the many advantages of motorhome skiing – no extra luggage charges!
Add to this the fact that you don’t have to spend the first three days in the crippling pain of rental boots and there are many more factors at play than simple economics.
In my day job as the digital editor of a ski magazine, I have the advantage of knowing the best times to buy, what’s hot and what’s not. Here are my 5 top tips:
- Research, research and more research. There is nothing more personal than a pair of ski boots. Try all of them, try them again and then try some more as you refine your ideas of what you want. Talk to the professionals and tell them not to let you buy the colour you like.
I wear something very specific to me – Apex Boots – they are a bonkers design from Colorado and I tell everyone who will listen about them because they changed my life, literarily. Here’s my review when I first got them. They are amazing but not for everyone – but if you’re motorhome skiing (which usually means walking in ski boots), do yourself a favour and at least try a pair.
- Buy new boots and get them professionally fitted. There’s too much at stake to risk a second hand pair in my opinion.
- Consider second hand skis but view them first – you need to see what the bases look like and of they’ve been beasted Candide Thovex style or if they’ve just had a few jolly weeks in La Plagne.
- Get merino wool everything. It’s very expensive but one pair of socks will easily last you a week without a wash (if not longer) meaning you won’t be collecting stinky bags of thermals during your adventure “do we have a dead badger in the bathroom?”.
- Service your kit. It’s an old fashioned concept in our disposable age but look after your gear. Wash everything you wear to the manufacturer’s instructions and treat your top layers with the recommended waterproofing stuff. Same for your merino. Take your skis and boots to a good local ski shop and get them serviced or better still, learn how to do it yourself. That way, it’ll last for years and years and with any luck in a decade or so you can be the fashion equivalent of a perma-tanned Italian ski-god, carving effortlessly in a mint and purple onesie with outdated skis that still slide like a dream.
And to finish… a day in the life of our wallet…
- Rise and shine with a coffee (bought down the mountain) and UHT milk (not like it used to be and also bought down the mountain).
- Breakie – porridge oats (unless our UN emergency delivery had been with bacon) and an apple or some such.
- Top up aire parking ticket (weather and snow condition dependent – we used to decide in the morning whether to stay another day)
- Pack snacks and drinks for the day
- Leisurely saunter to ski pass office to pick up a 4 hour pass – this means 4 hours from the first lift you swipe through to the last…
- Stop of a quick coffee in a mountain bar (and then complain continuously about the price – unless in Italy and then just bang on about how great Italy is).
- Frantically try and get all the way to the very top of the ski area, timing your last ascent to the minute.
- Smugly get to the top and plan your route down (careful not to take a wrong turn because your pass is now broken and you will have a long walk!)
- Quick beer at a bar en route back
- Back to the motorhome, costume change and out for a wander to get any provisions
- Dinner and bed
Not glamorous, certainly no dancing on bars until 4am and shooting jäger with seasonaires…. but… sustainable for nearly 6 months.
If you’ve got any questions about costs, let us know in the comments below or email winterized.eu at gmail.com – if you want to know more about motorhome skiing and the Winterized Project – we keep you up to date through email (you can sign up at the top of the page) and of course if you want, please follow us on YouTube (please subscribe as there’s plenty more to come!), Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.