THERE’S a common misconception that the only way to get more than three or four weeks of skiing out of a single winter is to “do a season” – move to a resort town, find low-paid, temporary employment and then spend every penny you earn (and then some) on lift tickets. But there is another way.
Armed with a ski-scotland All Area Season Pass, it’s possible to clock up a respectable number of ski days without having to pull a single pint or scrub a single toilet bowl.
In the seven years since ski-scotland launched the passes – valid at CairnGorm, Glencoe, Glenshee, the Lecht and Nevis Range, and with a complimentary voucher for the Snow Factor thrown in as well – few people can claim to have squeezed as much value out of them as Michael Cambridge, his wife Moira and their six-year-old daughter Anna.
Based in the village of Birkhill, just north of Dundee, the Cambridges have bought the passes every year since they were introduced and get at least 40 days of skiing out of them each winter. With early bird passes priced at £430, that works out as just over £10 a day for Michael and Moira – about a third of the price of an adult day ticket. Anna does even better: an early bird pass for five to-17-year-olds costs £235, so her ski days come in at closer to £5 a pop.
Although Glenshee is their local hill, thanks to their passes, the Cambridges can go wherever the conditions are best on any given weekend, and in their quest to seek out the freshest snow available they have a secret weapon: a large motorhome.
“We’ve had motorhomes for about ten years now,” says Michael. “The one we’ve got at the moment, an Auto-Roller 707, is fairly comfortable – it sleeps seven so it’s not quite your typical ski bum VW. We’ve been there though –we’ve had a converted van in years gone by. We’ve gone from a tiny little minivan when we were in our twenties to a full camper van to a medium-sized motorhome to a couple of fairly big motorhomes.”
The Cambridges leave their motorhome packed with ski and snowboard gear right through the winter. On Friday nights they consult the weather reports, check the webcams at the various ski areas and then make a decision as to which resort is likely to have the best snow.
Driving to the hill on Friday nights and sleeping in the car park has its advantages. “There have been a couple of classics at CairnGorm where we’ve driven up on the Friday night and the access road has been closed on the Saturday morning,” says Michael. “The lifties’ll get through and they’ll open up the funicular so you’ll get to ride for an hour or two while everyone else is struggling to get up the hill.
“That’s happened a few times. I don’t want to be smug, but if you know people in that queue you can’t help but phone them and remind them where you are.”
The Cambridges aren’t the only people using the combination of a motorhome and an All Area Season Pass to maximise their ski time – Michael says there is a small community of what he calls “car park gypsies” who have got the lifestyle down to a fine art. Not all of the people camping out in the car parks have motorhomes either. Some make their money go even further by either travelling to the resorts by public transport or hiking there and then pitching tents.
“We’ve spent a couple of New Years up at CairnGorm because the craic up there is great,” says Michael. “But equally we’ve spent a couple up at Glenshee and at the bells we certainly weren’t the only ones up on the hill at midnight – a lot of people get the bottles out and get the headlights out and go for a slide. It’s infectious – if you do it once, you want to do it forever.”
The Cambridges usually use their motorhome for weekend forays, but sometimes they’ll go on longer trips, moving from resort to resort as the conditions change. In a good year, they reckon they can pack in as many as 60 days skiing in a season, and for much of the time they only hit the slopes at weekends. A committed ski fanatic could easily beat that total. You’d just need an All Area Season Pass and a means of getting from one resort to the next – ideally, but not necessarily, a seven-berth palace on wheels.