The true cost of a budget ski trip? It’s not what you think

Stock photo.

It’s been a week since my 13 year old daughter and I had a last minute snow adventure in Australia. We waited until we knew the snow was sticking around and made a pilgrimage to Victoria to visit Falls Creek, a snow field I hadn’t visited since 2000.

In every sense of the word, the trip was epic. From our home in Newcastle, I drove solo on the 3000km round trip, had a great time and remained uninjured to deliver us safely home.

We camped in my trusty 25 year old tent in the beautiful park in Mount Beauty. Daily we rose early, sprinted to the amenities in the sub zero temperature to brush our teeth, and then headed up the hill to commence the days activities.

I’d forgotten how brutal the wind in Australian resorts can be. We were almost blasted off the chairlifts at times as they progressively closed behind us, but still we pushed on. When the whiteouts were so extreme we couldn’t see our feet, we navigated by feel and the sound of the closest lifts. When the grapple coated our goggles with ice that stuck like wet sand, we jettisoned them and ploughed on.

Amongst the trees we were alone and we could see a little. The snow was good, the crowds non-existent, and we were doing it. 

We skied four days. We had planned five, but the trying conditions (wind, visibility, wet tent from torrential rain, increasing tiredness) caused me to pause and really consider the viability of the fifth days potential.

Would the wind settle? Would we remain uninjured? Would it snow? I couldn’t answer these unknowables, so I applied financial science to the things I did know.

I’d been keeping a (kind of) running tab on costs for our ‘budget’ ski trip; well, I’d been throwing receipts in the glovebox to examine when we returned home. There were three costs that had to be considered before we could stand on the snow; National Park entry fees, lift tickets, and ski hire.

I knew definitively two of these numbers, but wasn’t sure about how much an extra day of hire would be. I ball parked the hire cost and asked myself – was I prepared to spend a minimum of $300 to gamble on another day skiing?

I wasn’t prepared to risk it, and of course that was the Friday of the 30 centimetre dump, which we missed. That’s skiing and I accept it, but damn and boo.

Today, a week after we’ve returned home, I added up the cost of four days in the snow in Australia.

Some things to be considered before I reveal the cost –

1. We camped. It cost $185 for five nights.
2. We stayed overnight on the drive there ($150) and the way back ($240). This decision was made for fatigue safety.
3. I drive a hybrid car so petrol costs, despite the 3000km’s, was under $200.
4. We ate out for a few dinners, and had a few on mountain coffees, but otherwise we were eating cereal, bread rolls, and fruit, & drank box juices and long life milk (groceries $246).  We ate at the pub in Gundagai ($58.30), the restaurant in Bundanoon ($126.00), an Italian restaurant in Mount Beauty ($55) and Stockpot restaurant also in Mount Beauty (outstanding for $97.00).
5. Comparatively, Falls Creek and Mount Beauty were well priced in relation to other resorts. Chain rental was $27.50, though we didn’t use them, and they were diamonds and brand new. The other hire gear was brand new, never been used or worn, & top shelf. We did pay a little more for this privilege of using demo gear ($345 for seven days for both of us), but it was well worth it.

So you ready? I wasn’t.

$3000. Three. Thousand. Dollars.

My eyes nearly popped out of my head. How can this be? Four days, four days!

Yes, if I lived closer it would have been less. If I owned gear it would have been less, though that cost is just transferable.

Yes, we had a lot of fun and some very cold times, but it’s all great for building strong women.

What I cannot reconcile is how it can cost so much for a lift ticket and national park entry fees. The argument used to be that the season is short and the businesses have only a limited time to make their living or recoup their investment.

However the boom in year round tourism for the alpine areas has negated that argument. So why is an adult lift ticket $126? And a child’s ticket more than half that cost at $74.

We did buy lift passes online with a 3 day buy ahead discount. Four days for one adult, and one child for $696. No lessons. Our park entry was also discounted as a buy online price and we paid four days for $198.
 
The remaining expenses were a Falls Creek t -shirt ($40) and two stickers (under $10), a few bottles of local wine ($55), a balaclava ($40), and petrol (around $200). I also bought a few hot chocolates on mountain that aren’t receipted.
 
I really love the Australia alps. They’re unique and beautiful. The cost of participating in winter sports in Australia though is truly eye watering. I do not know how families do it. I don’t know how people stay on the hill. I don’t know how they’re eating out three times a day.
 
Help me understand snow fans. Are we being fleeced in Australia? How did my ‘budget’ trip end up ‘not budget’ or am I out of touch with the cost of a ski holiday?
 
Also, please share your budget tips. I thought camping in freezing rain might have been top 5, but now I’m not so sure. 
 

13 COMMENTS

  1. I have to say, it’s just not surprising. I reckon for a week for a family you don’t get much change from $10k. It is eye-watering. There are ways to do it cheaper – staying in lodges, cramming into a motel-style room with no kitchen, booking well in advance with specials. We have all our own gear, and used to do it cheap and stay in motels in Bright or Mt Beauty, bring 2min noodles from home for tea etc., but it’s so much extra travelling that is really exhausting and we’re just not that hardcore any more. Plus, that sort of arrangement is much less feasible with little kids. Now we just know that if we want to go, that’s how much it will cost.

  2. I used to go to Buller for 3 days for $400. Petrol up to mansfield and the bus up the Mountian to avoid paying for parking. Mid week student lift passes 50/day, staying at the backpackers for 50/night and eating packaged food or meals I’d cooked before leaving and put in Tupperware.

  3. The big killer is what you said – lift costs and entry – although I also had ski lessons for the kids when they first started. All the resorts have been conspiring/consorting forever on the cost of a day ticket (and I skied when Buller had the red and blue lifts!! ) and yes it is maybe an 8-12 week season in which to make money, but really there hasn’t been a great improvement in facilities or lifts over the past 40 years (ok getting rid of the summit T was good). Sure at Falls they have put in a couple of new lifts but the Gully is still a 2 seater, The entry covers car parking and ski patrol – the latter I have no complaints with, only praise – yet it is extremely pricey. There really has been no effort to make it more affordable because they make enough as it is. Mind you, if the snow is poor in a season, listen to their reasons to jack up the prices!! I started skiing at Falls in the early 70’s in leather boots and rat trap bindings!!

  4. Depends on how you do it.
    I have kept track of finances for every trip since 2006.
    On average I have been able to keep the cost to under $200 per day per person.
    That includes everything – accommodation (not camping and not on-snow) food, lifts, travel expenses.

    I have heard of others who spend more just for 5 days accommodation at Thredbo than I spend in total for 3 5-day trips.

  5. You can ski (relatively) affordably in Australia if you commit to it and average the costs out over years, so I recognize this won’t work for a one off trip:

    Background prep:

    * Get a share in a lodge (assume $10k buy in). This sets you up for cheap long term accom.

    * Buy all your ski gear second hand off eBay, Gumtree or local Jindy garage sales. Never pay retail if you buy new stuff. The younger kids in the family spend their life in hand me downs. Assume $100 boots, $250 skis and bindings, $150 jackets, pants, thermals from Aldi. Add in a few incidentals to call it $3000 to kit out a family of 4 (2 kids, 2 adults). Assume a full refresh of gear every 3.3 years over 10 years = $9000.

    * Cost per year averaged over 10 years = $1900 (But assume the lodge share can keep going for life!)

    Season:

    * Buy season passes in the end of year sales. $2800. This makes sense if you can ski more than 7 days in the winter.

    * Assume 4 drives from Sydney at $200 each in petrol + $200 park pass = $1000.

    * 15 nights accom in your discounted members lodge @ $200 per night = $3000.

    * $50 per day food (make your own lunches and dinners) x 15 = $750.

    * Incidentals $1000.

    Total per season: $10450.

    Total per person, per ski day (15 days) = $174

    This cost per day goes down the more days you do in a season.

    ==========

    This approach works out around the same as a one off family trip to Bali or Fiji each year and means you can ski through the whole season – picking the best days and sitting out the crappy ones if you have flexibility. It also means a great place to visit outside the winter season.

    Otherwise, it is freakin’ expensive. I committed to this approach after paying about $3000 for 3 days on snow when the kids were younger and realized there had to be a better way if we wanted to do it consistently as a family!

  6. I would say main cost are ticket and rental. So here I found only one way to make skiing cheaper – skiing more often.. Paradox. But if you spent more than weekend a year on the slopes – make sense to buy your own gear (you save money and save a lot of time as well) you can find pretty good deals on gumtree or buy online from Europe. Ski ticket: if you skiing more than 6 days a year, or 3 weekends, you can buy season ticket with early bird discounted hero pass for Hotham and falls creek. 800$, but you get one rental and one day ticket included for your friend( I would say you can get about 150$ value from it). Rest.. Will cost you money anyway.
    One weekend this year cost me about 150$ for two days of skiing (plus hero pass cost) :
    Only one night accommodation of the slopes, 2 days skiing, my own gear, shared cost for fuel and resort entry.
    Ski resorts in Australia, will be charging hips of money untill people ready to pay! It’s all about greedy and no will to improve the things for customers 🙁 there are no competition.

  7. Yes, we do unfortunately get fleeced here in Australia. There’s not much you can do other than just:
    A) accept it and whinge to friends/family
    OR
    B) go to NZ/Japan
    C) save up and do a Europe trip and tag your skiing onto that (think Italy, Austria, Switzerland, France)
    OR
    D) Don’t go skiing at all. Go for a ride on your bike … that’s free.

    Skiing, as a sport, has never been cheap. Generally speaking, it’s always been considered a sport for the more affluent, or those with more disposable income, but let’s face it, it has become much more expensive over the last two decades, like many many things in Australia 🙁

    If you want to go skiing and you’re not driving around in a 2018 Land Rover, you definitely have to financially plan for a day trip, and considerably more for a week trip.

    In Australia, the most expensive aspects from my experience are (in order):

    1) Lift passes
    $125 for a day lift pass is steep. And they seem to increase each year. If you’re going for a week it pays to buy online WAY IN ADVANCE. You save, but it’s not a huge saving. Better than nothing, though.
    You actually DO have some options IF you keep an eye on the resort websites often. Buller was smart (and very strategic) this year in the sense that they significantly lowered their day lift passes to $64 (adults) mid week ON CERTAIN DAYS from June to mid July. That’s half the price of what they normally are. I took the bait and was lucky with the weather/conditions … amazing!

    2) Accommodation
    For a couple, expect to pay approx. $1300 for 4 nights (Falls) in a decent, comfortable hotel … includes good breakfast, but not dinner

    3) Food
    Always overpriced. Eg; a beef burger at a well known eatery at Buller = $14 … one of the saddest burgers you will most likely ever consume and doesn’t even rate to what you’ll get at McDonalds for half that price. Compared to what you have on offer in European resorts (anyone for wild boor Ragu with papardelle?), Australia is seriously lagging behind. Cloud 9 (Falls Creek) has this year had a rehaul and it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Well done Falls. Come on Victorian resorts, how about some German Bratwursts with mustard and caramelised onions on offer SOMEWHERE around the pistes?

    4) Rental
    It pays to own your own gear. Advantageous for many reasons.

    5) Transport
    Petrol. If you’re going to drive up, fill up when the petrol prices drop. Bus fares unfortunately also aren’t cheap, however they can really take the stress out of getting there and getting back and you don’t have to worry about resort entry (included in bus fare) and fitting chains (fiddly and renting chains is a pain).

    One of the main problems in Australia is that there are a minuscule amount of ski resorts compared to say, Europe. Simply put, less competition. If you look at Italy for example there are many, many resorts scattered across from the north east (Cortina) to the north west (Courmayeur), so there’s SERIOUS competition and that’s why things such as lift prices are lower. Skiers have many options on where to go. 3 ski resorts here in Victoria; HUGE difference. There is also a relatively small window of time for the resorts to make money, hence why prices are the most likely the way they are. EU has roughly late October to early May which is nearly 7 months for the now season. That’s a LOT of skiing!

    Yes, of course prices should be a BIT cheaper in Australia but at the end of the day when you’re out there carving up the piste, ‘how much you’ve spent’ quickly fades away. The experience and incredible sense of freedom you feel, reigns. Unfortunately, there’s a price for everything in life. You either go skiing or your don’t, it’s as simple as that. And if you can’t go, well, life just goes on 🙂

    To do a comparison, I’ve been fortunate enough to ski in Livigno and Cortina in Italy and Hintertux in Austria. All stunning resorts in every way and far superior than anything we have here in Australia, but take a look at the lift prices you pay there and compare them to what we pay in Australia 🙁

    LIVIGNO
    1 ​​day​ pass​​ (Weekday & Weekend​) ​​ ​
    Child: €35.00 ($55 AUD)​ ​ ​
    Adults: ​€44.00 ($70​ ​AUD)
    – – –
    CORTINA D’AMPEZZO
    1 day​ pass​ (High ​Season)
    Child: €38​ ​($59​ ​AUD)
    Adult: €54 $85 AUD)​
    – – -​
    HINTERTUX​ (​AUSTRIA​)​
    1​ ​day pass from 8​.00​am​:
    ​Child: €24​ ($37 AUD)​​
    Adult: ​€53​ ($83 AUD)​

    1​ ​day pass from 11.45am the price drops to​:
    Child: €17​ ($27 AUD)​
    Adult: €38​ ($59 AUD)​​

    Finally, when the Australian resorts send you emails to ask for your feedback, don’t delete them. Take the time and give them your 100% honest feedback. That’s one of the ways things MAY improve at our resorts here in Australia.

    Have a great 2018 season everyone 🙂

  8. Agree with Sasha. The only way to reduce daily cost is to ski more. But here are a few tips I’ve learnt along the way –
    #1 Buy season’s pass early to get biggest discount. You’ll have to pick one resort, and stick to it, so make sure it’s one you love

    – This one’s a bit tricky, but the way to go if you love to ski more than a week every other year, if you already own a SUV, station-wagon or van, you’ve got what you need, (well maybe not if you’ve got four kids, they’ll just have to take turns, but perfect for one or two people) if you don’t, consider one as your next vehicle. Buy a warm sleeping bag (I heard Aldi has them cheap sometimes) a wool blanket, a $30 campstove and an esky. Fix up your vehicle so you can black out the windows (parking lot lights are very bright, should you, ahem, accidentally get too inebriated to drive to the campground). And if your vehicle is on the small side, at least get roof racks or maybe a ski box

    – Pick a resort that has a National Park campground (included with park entry fee, so free) There are two camping areas in between the Perisher Ski Tube and Thredbo. You can warm up your boots on the short drive to the resort. Invite your friends and make a fire, have a party, this option can be a lot of fun

    – Thredbo Sports Centre has showers, gym, pool etc. ($8 – $15 I think) but only costs about $100 for year with ski pass

    – Buy a hot drink in your favourite cafe, so you can enjoy the mountain atmosphere, but plan on cooking the majority of your own meals – prepare most of them in advance, you don’t have to live on snags and white bread – it’s really easy to heat up a risotto or a hearty soup – there are lots of choices these days, including organic and vegetarian. Maybe pour some pre-made pancake batter into a pan to eat with lemon and maple syrup (I’m Canadian), gnochi with mushroom pesto, any pasta that cooks in under 6 minutes is a good bet. Grilled cheese sandwiches (cook them in frypan, use organic sourdough bread and good cheese) with soup and a hot drink make a great quick lunch You can eat as well as you like, (it’s easier if you cook before dark)

    – Use the seasonal difference to buty your ski gear in Europe’s spring sales at the start of our season – FreezePro in Scotland had lots of gear at half the price of here, with free postage to boot. And yes, Aldi has cheap merino long underwear, though their gloves are crap

    – Skip the tent – when it’s dumping powder on the mountain, it’s probably raining in the campground – I was flooded out of mine, which is how I discovered sleeping in a modified SUV was just fine – You need a bit of creativity to make a small vehicle comfortable, but it can be done on a budget.

    I skied 60 days last season (30 of them with my teenage son) spending under $10,000 including purchasing 1 pr skis, 1 pr boots and a Goretex ski suit (Patagonia/Arcteryx) and $1,500 worth of diesel (I ski every week – 800 km round trip)

  9. Unfortunately snow sports are expensive in Australia. Lift tickets are really the only thing you are limited on trying to save on and are generally the most expensive item you have to purchase. Everything else you CAN save on if you have time to prepare and/or invest for the long term. A lot of people have already said invest in a membership at a lodge and invest in your own gear. These don’t have to be top dollar brand new current season fashion. I would recommend new boots though only because the soles mold to your feet but these can be purchased at end of season. Both my board and ski boots only cost me $100 each at (different) end of season sale, but the board, skis and poles are all second hand which I have looked after which is key (though I am due for an upgrade after 15 years on and off).

    One thing that no one mentioned and everyone seems to forget is that if you are a young family and/or a beginner and never set foot in the snow before, there are other mountains you can go to other than the big 3 (Falls, Hotham, Buller). Yes they might be smaller parks and not as challenging if you are experienced and sometimes not as good quality snow if it’s a bad season but they are cheaper and adequate for someone who is new to the sport.
    – I have had specific experience with Mt Baw Baw so I base my knowledge off this resort –
    Mt Baw Baw is closer (takes me 2.5 hours door to door from south east melb) and cheaper than the Big3 and has a more community atmosphere as most of the accommodation is lodges. Being closer means that it is also not unrealistic to just do a day trip, especially if it’s a last min decision based on snow conditions. With membership to a lodge and owning my own gear (inc chains), I can go to Mt Baw Baw for only ~$200 for the w/e. With the lodge you can cook your own food instead of eating out (there are only 2 pubs on the mountain anyway) and if there is a large group of you it’s even cheaper to cook if you you share.

    Basically, snow in Australia is expensive but with some forward planning and if you’re committed long term it really doesn’t have to be. And the alpine regions are also beautiful in summer for hiking so worth investing in a lodge to visit all year round!

  10. Some of writers are getting delusional. Skiing is not the sport of the affluent in other countries. Why is that? Oh the poor resorts and businesses need to charge more to survive. Get out of the business then. Gear can be bought on Ebay sometimes at more than 50% off. Aldi are great for clothing as is Aliexpress.
    All of those above mentioned items can be addressed with some homework.
    The real killer of dreams is the Resort Park Entry and Lift Tickets.
    Its my National Park? My taxes help maintain it through all seasons. The lift tickets. Put up Solar panels and harness all that power to help through the less sunny months. Oh that’s right AGL is a sponsor at Falls Creek, enough said.
    Just go overseas, bring your own food and snacks and show the Resorts People Power.
    I will not go anymore to an Australian resort. My money stays with me and gets spent where I choose. Canada, here I come again.

  11. I travel from Sydney to perisher regularly and for two adults we spend no more than $850 for a weekend.
    Petrol
    Food
    And REAL accommodation – no skimping.

    INVEST in owning your equipment and a season pass as hiring is dead money.

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