Recession or not, snow means skiing maybe for less

November 15, 1992|By Sherry Stripling | Sherry Stripling,Seattle Times

Money's not as free-flowing as it was just a few years ago, and many people have postponed upgrading the car or wrapping the house in a new coat of paint.

But there's an adage among skiers that makes it difficult to keep this year's ski trip on the shelf with other big-ticket items:

You've got to ski when the snow is there.

Northwest skiers were parched last season. No one's saying for sure this will be a banner year in the region, but if hope has sway, nature will make all that newly expanded snow-making equipment obsolete.

Downhill ski resorts in the Northwest and around the country are not fools. You're not going to see big price increases this year. In fact, some are bragging that they've kept weekend lift tickets at 1990 rates, and others have dropped weekday prices.

Diehard skiers will find a way to go destination skiing, even if it means downscaling. For some it will mean cutting back from one week to three days or dropping from four-star to two-star hotels; for many it will mean limiting resorts to those within driving distance.

The crux of it is, there are ways to cut corners so you don't have to eliminate your winter ski holiday because of budget woes.

"The fancy hotels get the publicity, but there's a great number of affordable deals to be had," said Connie Rabold, media relations director for Whistler Resort, a world-class ski area north of Vancouver, B.C., where even souvenir sweat shirts cost $60.

People can call the central reservations number, give an idea of their budget and a package will be designed around it, Ms. Rabold said.

If that's still too expensive, as it may well be, there are alternatives. There are three budget hostels or lodges at Whistler that may test your tolerance for snoring, but cost one-third the price of a lift ticket. Further savings: Use their kitchens to cook.

You don't see it in the slick ski advertisements, but a lot of families or groups of friends rent condominiums at Whistler or Mount Bachelor in Oregon, load up on warehouse groceries and then splurge with one big night out at a restaurant.

Even Whistler, rated the No. 1 ski resort in North America in 1992 by Snow Country magazine (edging out glitzy Vail, Colo.), offers discount lift tickets through grocery store chains outside the municipality, a surprisingly common practice among resorts.

Patti Polinsky, who leads budget European tours for the Seattle-based Mountaineers outdoors club, says it's all a matter of trade-offs. Americans are loath to use the bathroom down the hall at low-cost pensions, for instance, but they're willing to pass up the appealing hot lunch served at Austrian ski huts in favor of bread, fruit and cheese purchased for a fraction of the cost at shops the previous night.

"There are some costs you just can't get around," said Ms. Polinsky, who lately has seen people save harder before they go and think harder before they spend once they're there.

It's not to say that everyone's on the bread line or that a ski trip will put him or her there. For some people, there's still room to splurge.

"The higher-priced stuff went real well last year," said Ken Overstreet, owner of Schwartz Tours in Kirkland, Wash. "The lower-priced trips were the ones that were suffering because those were the people who were on the verge of having a job or not."

Mr. Schwartz said he sold 40 ski trips at $250 a day, but three-day regional ski tours in the $200 range did very poorly.

Dick Gentry of Ski Pak in Bellevue, Wash., noticed the difference in skiers' length of trip. People stopped taking weeklong trips except to Colorado or Europe, but would take as many as three three-day weekend trips over the winter.

Cross-country skiing is enjoying a big boom nationwide in part because it's so much less expensive. It's also influencing downhill, say some resort officials, who report that there's decreasing emphasis on fashion in downhill skiing.

"Skis can cost $600," says Mr. Gentry, before pulling out the old adage: "It's easy to go another year on hard goods -- skis, clothes -- but you've got to ski when the snow is there.

"Even in recessionary times, skiing is addictive. If you go out skiing once, you're sort of hooked. If you don't go skiing, you can do without it for the whole season."

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