Cheaper to Ski Europe?

Could an Austrian ski vacation possibly be less expensive than one in Colorado? The Austrian Tourist Office seems to think so. They sent us a press release complete with charts that show a one-week ski vacation in three Austrian ski areas - Innsbruck, Zell Am See and St. Anton/Arlberg - range from $1,002 to $1,600 per person, while a week in Aspen or Park City, Utah, is slightly over $1,600.

Of course the ATO is hardly unbiased in these matters, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are wrong either. So we decided to do some checking on our own. First, we determined the elements of a ski vacation: air fare, ground transport, lodging, meals and lift tickets. From New York, the best roundtrip airfare we could find to Aspen in early January was $651. According to the Aspen Skiing Company, a well-located bed and breakfast would set us back $279 per night but we insisted on cheaper accommodations and were quoted $83, or $41.50 per person, at Aspen's Buckhorn Lodge (no breakfast). We assumed taxi fare from the airport to the hotel at about $20 and we also assumed one could eat three decent meals a day in Aspen for $40. A six-day lift ticket would be $228. Whether we went to Aspen or Innsbruck, we would take our own skis, boots and poles, so let's call that a push.

To compare, we decided on a one-week package to Innsbruck from Austria Ski (1535 West Loop South, #319, Houston TX 77027-9509, phone 800-333-5533, fax 713-960-8966) for $792 per person, double occupancy. It includes roundtrip air to Munich, ground transport between Munich and Innsbruck, and six nights at the Pension Alpina, including breakfast. Our six-day lift ticket is $158 and we figured eating would a bit more expensive in Austria and that lunch and dinner would set us back $40 per day.

So here's the breakdown for a week of skiing in Innsbruck and Aspen, assuming one flies from New York.

Innsbruck Aspen
Airfare Incl. $651
Hotel Incl. $249
Breakfast Incl. $48
Lunch/Dinner $240 $192
Lift Ticket $158 $228
Ground Transport Incl. $40
Package Cost $792 NA
Totals $1,190 $1,408

Going west, the price for the Austria Ski package increases: it's an extra $87 from Chicago, $195 from Houston and $231 from Los Angeles. Of course it is also true that the closer one gets to Aspen, the lower the airfare will be. You can upgrade the hotel in Innsbruck to the four-star Hotel Sailer for an additional $110. I don't know the Sailer but would be willing to bet it's substantially better than the Buckhorn.

We chose Austria Ski for our comparison because we know it is a reputable company with long experience in selling Austrian ski vacations.

According to the ATO press release, many packages to Austria may also contain such add-ons as a welcome party and a farewell dinner. There are packages to Aspen but phone calls to travel agencies revealed that most one-week Aspen ski vacations start at around $600 and don't include airfare.

Swissair's winter ski program may be even better. Their package includes roundtrip economy class flights to Zürich or Geneva, roundtrip ground transport between airport and the chosen resort, seven nights accommodations, and breakfast or breakfast plus lunch or dinner. Prices begin at $789 per person, double occupancy, from New York or Boston, $859 from Atlanta, $854 from Chicago and Cincinnati, $930 from Los Angeles and $836 from Philadelphia and Washington. The rates apply to all Swiss resorts plus Kitzbühel (Austria), Chamonix (France), Courmayeur (Italy) and Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany. For those arranging their own air transport to Europe, Swissair also offers land-only packages at 26 Alpine resorts that include seven nights hotel, breakfast or breakfast plus lunch or dinner, and transfers via first class rail or bus. Using Kitzbühel as an example, the price for a week in January at the "first class" Hotel Jagerwirt is $645. Book with a travel agent or call Swisspak at 800-688-7947.

No Soap? No Way!

Our service which clips travel articles on Germany, Austria and Switzerland provides a constant source of interesting reading. The Los Angeles Times is among the country's most respected newspapers, but a full-page feature for business travelers to Germany had this advice on hotels: "Although more business-class accommodations now have rooms with private baths, many hotels still have shared bathrooms, so make sure to request a room with private bath if you want one. Remember that many German hotels do not provide soap."

I can't remember the last time I was in a hotel in Germany (or Austria or Switzerland) that didn't have soap. Many three-star hotels, and virtually every four-star hotel, equip guest bathrooms with a tray of complimentary toiletries containing the usual collection of shampoo, bath gel, conditioner, soap and so on. As for shared bathrooms, they still exist but seldom in hotels where American businessmen would go. In any case, every price quote for a hotel room I've ever gotten was very specific as to the facilities. The Times writer is about 15 years behind the times.

On the Autobahn

More enjoyable was a story by Stan White writing in the Placerville Times (California) about driving on the German autobahn. After pulling into the right lane to allow for a much faster car to rocket past, Mr. White says, "I looked down at my speedometer to make sure I hadn't inadvertently parked."

Then he offered this right-on advice:

"Good road maps are essential. The best place to find them we discovered, is Germany. They are printed in German, but so are the places we were going. It only took a short time to figure out what the symbols meant and how to determine mileage ('kilometerage,' that is) between points."

"We had picked up maps at AAA before leaving, thinking they would suffice. Compared to their detailed German counterparts, the domestic variety came up short, offering a bare overview of main autobahns and secondary roads. The maze of byways simply did not appear, and without such information, we could have been seriously lost instead of just periodically off course."

"We obtained maps of Germany and nearby countries from the Reutlingen office of the ADAC (Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club; German equivalent to our AAA)."

The kind of maps referred to by Mr. White, I would add, are available at most service stations and book stores in Germany and, in this country, through Gemütlichkeit's retail travel store/catalog, Travel Essentials, phone 800-521-6722.

Car Rent Prices Continue Down

Two months ago we quoted an industry source who predicted a week's rental in Germany on a Mercedes Benz of "less than $100." It sounded far-fetched but just at press time we received new, generally lower, car rental rates including a price of $109 for a BMW 316i. Last year, a week in such a car would set one back anywhere from $290 to $450. The Ford Escort category (also VW Golf, Opel Astra) is now $69 per week. Rates don't include 15% value added tax or collision insurance. Phone 800-521-6722.

November 1994