A skier for 25 years with 10 winter seasons under his belt, James Young has plenty of advice for those wondering whether to travel with skis or hire equipment on the slopes.
The hire boots on my first ski holiday were extremely painful, near impossible to get into and smelled like someone with Camembert for feet had been skiing through Dante’s Inferno the previous week. What’s more the edges on the skis were so blunt that performing a snow plough was nigh on impossible and the old, bent poles looked like they’d been discovered on an archaeology dig. Despite this, I was still instantly hooked on the sport but vowed never again to rent equipment.
That was 25 years ago and since then I’ve spent a fortune on various pairs of skis and boots that have all ended up in a skip or nailed to an Alpine bar’s ceiling to make it look retro. With ski hire shops now offering high quality equipment and airline companies charging for extra bags it really makes you think twice before splashing out on brand new ski gear.
Charges made by airlines vary but for example easyJet charges £54 return for one piece of sports luggage. That’s a fair chunk on top of the cost of your holiday just to take your faithful skis or snowboard along for the ride. Plus you have the added possibility they may not turn up at all or could, as I’ve experienced with a brand new pair of skis, arrive damaged.
Once at the airport you have to lug everything to the transfer bus or cram it into your hire car. I’ve also tried taking the train from the airport, but with skis, boots and a suitcase I very nearly missed my connection and was extremely unpopular with the other passengers. Once at the hotel you then haggle with the manager for a locker or keep your fingers crossed that no ‘first lift’ enthusiasts pick them up by mistake in the morning.
Considering some ski hire shops charge as little as £65 for skis and boots for a week – just £11 more than easyJet’s ski charge – to travel with skis does seem like a huge amount of effort. What’s more in most resorts nowadays you should be able to find a modern, dynamic ski hire operation who will offer you a good choice of current or last season models that are expertly serviced and set up to be in top working order.
Rows of skis ready for air travel at Innsbruck Airport. Credit Innsbruck Tourism.
A lot of ski hire companies will now let you book your equipment online and deliver it to your hotel in advance of your arrival. All Mountain Rental is a business based in Morzine and Verbier and is staffed entirely by passionate skiers and snowboarders.
Manager Jamie Godbold says, "We invest heavily each year in brand new stock which we test personally. We also listen to a lot of feedback from experts in the industry to make sure we provide the best kit for all standards. A beginner should be skiing on the best beginner skis allowing them to progress quickly and safely just as an advanced skier should be given the best possible ski for his or her ability."
Jamie’s commitment also extends to providing clients with comfortable boots: "We are one of the few ski hire shops in France and Switzerland who put ‘Superfeet’ premium insoles in our boots. Since introducing this over the last four years we’ve seen a considerable drop in the number of people coming back to change their boots."
Another factor to bear in mind is snow conditions. It only takes a small rock to completely ruin your cherished skis or board and, unlike hire shops, you probably won’t have the state-of-the-art tools to repair them so you could end up paying yet more money to have them fixed. If by accident you completely trash your hire equipment, you simply take them back to the shop, buy the tech a beer and he’ll swap them for a newly waxed pair there and then.
Some of the larger travel firms such as Skiplan have their own club hotels with in-house equipment, fitting service and a ski-tech. This can be so helpful especially if you’re travelling in a big group with varied abilities or with school groups where kids are constantly changing or damaging their equipment. The in-house tech will usually fit the equipment as soon as you arrive at the hotel and will run a daily ‘ski-surgery’ for people to come and ask questions or change boots.
Skiplan's in-house tech setting the bindings to the correct weight. Credit Skiplan.
But hiring equipment isn't for everyone. Snowboarding aficionado and all-round mountain goat Henry Hardy is adament that travelling to the Alps with his own equipment is worth it: "It takes a long time to get used to your own board and how well it performs in powder one minute and ice the next. Even if the hire equipment is top standard, I’d rather have the peace of mind knowing I can jump onto my own board and start straight where I left off last year. If you’re only heading out for one week of the season you don’t want to spend any frustrating days getting used to new equipment."
But as skier, I enjoy the variation and flexibility of hiring skis. The makes and models change every couple of years and some ski hire shops will let you chop and change during the week if you pay a little more from the outset. It’s definitely worth sticking with the hire shops when you’re a beginner, but if you’re set on buying your own skis, wait until you’ve progressed to an intermediate or advanced stage so you can buy something that’ll help you progress through the years.
How long you intend to spend on the mountain is another factor. If you’re skiing for longer than a couple of weeks, or considering a doing a season, it would make sense to take the big jump and buy. A good tip is to buy any kit in resort towards the end of the season as many of the shops will have signs outside offering great deals on last year’s stock rarely found at home.
I still like to buy my own boots as I have found over the years they mould to your feet and can be a lot more forgiving. They also fit into your suitcase so no need to pay the sports baggage fee. I aim to spend around £250 on boots which might sound a lot but my last boots survived eight years and a lot of weeks on the mountain before they’d skied their last, solemn run.
Unfortunately a lot of ski resorts still have problems with stolen equipment both on the slopes and from hotels and apartments. Even if your equipment is insured it can still result in hours of wasted time filling in forms or waiting for the local police to arrive. Ultimately you could then still have to fork out for new kit until the insurance company coughs up. So if you do buy your own kit, invest in a lock that fits comfortably in your pocket for when you stop for a coffee and if you hit the après-ski bar at the end of the day, make sure you keep an eye on your gear as well as your Jagermeister.
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