Airbnb and skiing
Our editor chose one of the busiest weeks of the ski season to try out her first Airbnb. Her aim was to find some cheap but pleasant family-friendly accommodation in one of France’s most popular resorts. Did she succeed to find an affordable deal? Read on to find out…
It was with some trepidation that, back in November, we booked into an Airbnb ski apartment over New Year. We have had mixed reports from various friends, colleagues and family who’ve tried Airbnb. Here at FamilySkiNews.com we love the company’s ethos and especially their special offers of sleeping in crazy venues (see our earlier stories: Room with a view in Courchevel and Spend the night at the top of a ski jump) but we had a challenge for them: We were interested to see how cheaply we could accommodate the family, travelling out on Boxing Day and staying over New Year. Could Airbnb deliver a nice, cheap deal for us at the very height of peak-season skiing in a hugely popular resort?
Our criteria was simple:
1) we didn’t want to slum it.
2) we didn’t want to live in a rabbit-hutch-sized apartment, so typical of the mass market self-catering accommodation offered in many purpose-built resorts, where we would have to convert seats into beds every day in the main living space.
3) we didn’t want to be far from the action – namely the ski lifts, ski hire venue, food shops and restaurants.
4) we wanted a car parking space as this was our first time driving to the Alps in winter, and WiFi.
5) we knew New Year was one of the busiest and priciest weeks of the year but nonetheless we wanted cheap, cheap, cheap.
Perhaps, more importantly, booking ourselves and driving down on 27th December meant we needn’t rush Christmas, we would avoid the main changeover day at both ends of our trip, and we would gain an extra day’s skiing (unlike the package holidaymakers). What was not to like?!
Surprisingly, there was plenty of choice. However we found the Airbnb website rather clunky and the maps in particular were rubbish. On close scrutiny, apartments were not where they were shown to be on the map, and sometimes even in completely different resorts. Remember, the Alpe d’Huez ski area (known as the “Alpe d’Huez Grand Domaine Ski”) embraces a number of resorts, including Vaujany, Oz en Oisans, Villard Reculas and Auris en Oisans.
For most Airbnb customers, any part of the Grande Domaine Ski would probably be fine as it’s all interlinked on the slopes, but not for us!…
We specifically needed to be in Alpe d’Huez main resort, and not in Huez village further down the mountain… as we were there on a ski-cum-choir tour so we wanted to be near the venues of our kids’ concerts (see how they got on skiing and singing in resort by clicking our earlier story HERE).
It was easy to get distracted and to blow the budget, once we started looking on the Airbnb website: There were some rather stylish New-York-loft-style chalet conversions; quaint rustic abodes with low dark-wood ceilings, log fires and bubbling hot-tubs in the garden; trendy penthouse suites furnished in glass, fur and chrome with panoramic views to die for…
My other half was rather more rigorous about the costings than me, and so we eventually settled on one of numerous more average, small, homely-looking apartments. The deciding factor for the apartment we chose was its proximity to a chairlift = La Grande Sûre – just 20 metres away. We went ahead and booked.
Despite our initial mapping difficulties, the Airbnb site is ultra-efficient once you start the booking process. It swiftly connects you to the property’s owner/landlord by email and/or phone. We were dealing with “Jack”, a local resident, who was charming, helpful and even offered us a discount if we paid our full amount swiftly. Our bank transfer was straight-forward and we were liking him before we’d even left the UK!
Jack was in touch again a few days before we set off to the Alps, instructing us to ring him when we were in Grenoble (about one hour’s drive from the resort). This we duly did and he then told us to ring again as we were making our final accent into resort on the infamous Tour de France road of the 21 hair-pin bends.
Having carefully chosen an apartment that was ski-in-ski-out – we never even considered that there wouldn’t be enough snow by January to ski-in or ski-out. No worries though – the Alpe d’Huez resort bus was frequent, not too crowded and there was a stop right outside our apartment. (The bus system is excellent. Unlike so many resort which have just one bus and just one long contorted route right round the entire resort, at Alpe d’Huez there are several routes, each colour-coded.. the apple, the blueberry, the strawberry etc… and so you just choose your route and hop on). And the good news was that the resort was exactly where we’d anticipated it being – in the Alpe d’Huez main resort and just a 5 minute walk from the town centre.
Jack’s directions were impeccable – important after a long drive from the UK – and we met him, as arranged, at the entrance to the carpark of our apartment. And there we met our first snag – there was no room in the car park even though we’d chosen our apartment specifically because it had parking. Jack managed to arrange for us to park in a neighbouring hotel’s car park which was fine for a few days, until a space became available outside our apartment.
The apartment itself was ideal – a living room with a small kitchenette with limited but adequate utensils (as it was just a couple of days after Christmas, we’d brought all the turkey leftovers to finish off!) Two bedrooms, each sleeping two, with plenty of cupboard space, a bathroom and a separate loo, and a spacious balcony with breath-taking views across the resort and the valley below. Regrettably there was no table indoors for meals (and it was too cold to eat outside with young children) and no WiFi (although it had been listed as having WiFi on the Airbnb website). Miraculously my husband survived the week without WiFi although it was not ideal!… oh, and there was no key for the ski locker but this was not a major problem.
All in all, our first Airbnb booking was a good experience – not amazing but reliably good. Looking back at our booking criteria, we didn’t slum it, the apartment was surprisingly spacious and definitely larger than a rabbit-hutch, and near the action. Furthermore, it eventually had parking. Just no WiFi…
We were pleased that the Airbnb site encourages feedback after your holiday. After all, with such websites as TripAdvisor continuing to thrive, more and more of us are looking at reviews before booking our holidays. It enabled us to air our grievances and comment on the lack of WiFi, the initial parking issues and the lack of ski locker key – all of which we’d discussed with Jack in resort, who’d been very helpful in sorting out as much as he could.
All in all, Airbnb was a satisfying process which converted peak-season skiing into a surprisingly cheap family holiday option. We will be doing it again… but hopefully with more snow next time!