“ For Mountain destinations this high-quality data carrier is suitable for multiple re-use. It provides full RFID functionality even when carried in a clothes pocket. „
If you are a regular reader of my reviews it will come as no surprise by now to learn that our family are keen skiers. Recently it has been mostly just my wife and me. The kids are now grown up and have financial responsibilities that mean that cash is perhaps not readily available although it is not true that skiing holidays necessarily have to be expensive.
What gives the perception of skiing being a rich man's sport is usually the initial cost of clothing and equipment. Once you have acquired these your capital outlay is more or less over, so long as you are not a fashion victim who just has to have the latest skiwear for each new holiday. We are long past that stage!
Even clothing for skiing holidays can be hired these days and that might be a good idea if you are not yet certain if this is the pass-time for you. We jumped in at the deep end and bought ours the very first time but in those days C&A were still a High Street presence and sold skiwear at unbeatable prices. These days T K Maxx seems to have usurped that title. In any case, one thing I would always buy not hire, if nothing else, is ski gloves.
We also have our own ski boots, skis and poles and they have been a good investment. Apart from avoiding the need to rent them at the resort, with all the time it takes to make sure you get the right fit, most especially where the boots are concerned, you also make a good saving on the rental fees, which can be substantial. The counter-balancing cost is of course the extra carriage fees on the plane for ski bags.
Other than that the biggest cost is going to be the holiday itself and that will largely depend upon the destination. France is starting to price itself out of the market, unless you go to the less well-known resorts. Austria is still expensive, as is Switzerland but for great skiing with exceptional value for money you will not go wrong with either Italy or Andorra.
But then there is the ski pass!
Buying your ski pass to allow you to make use of the lifts, without which only cross-country skiing becomes feasible, is the one other single most expensive part of the cost of the holiday, but there are ways of reducing this cost as well.
Over the years various different lift pass systems have been used in ski resorts. In years gone by the pass was generally a thin piece of plastic about twice the size of a credit card, which had on it a passport size picture of you. At its simplest you showed the pass to the attendant at each lift and he checked that the picture really was you and that the pass expiry date printed on it had not expired. This system started to fall out of use at most resorts because it required at least two attendants at each lift; one to check the passes and one to make sure that there were no accidents getting onto the lift. It also restricted the throughput of skiers, unless you added extra attendants to check the passes.
The next development was to include a magnetic stripe on the pass and to install pass readers, so reducing the number of attendants required. This did require a substantial initial capital investment and so was slow to be introduced in many resorts. It also didn't really resolve the problem of getting skiers through the turnstiles. Passes were fiddly to handle, especially with ski gloves on and often misread, causing inevitable queue hold-ups.
As well as that, the passes had to be on the outside of the clothing, for easy access, so making them very easy to lose or damage. In addition, the actual technology was often not the same between adjacent resorts meaning that passes could not be used across a wider ski area. A prime example of this was the battle between Pas de la Casa and Soldeu in Andorra, which raged for years, now, fortunately resolved.
So, what has sorted out this problem? The SkiData card.
The SkiData card is an RFID card; a radio frequency ID card. It's like the Oyster card, for anyone familiar with these on the London Underground. Their biggest benefit is that they do not need to be physically inserted in a reader. The card contains a radio aerial and a microchip. The microchip is encoded with a unique reference number for that card and only that card. When brought into proximity with a SkiData terminal the signal from the terminal induces a current in the card and the card broadcasts its number back to the terminal. It really is just as simple as that. All you need to do is carry the SkiData card in a pocket on your left (all SkiData terminals are located on the left of the turnstile) and brush past the terminal panel. The indicator light will turn from red to green.
The SkiData terminal is part of a computer network and once the card number has been read it is checked against a central database to make sure that the appropriate fee has been paid for that card to entitle the bearer to use it. There is, of course, no check to make sure that you are the valid owner of the card, only that the card itself is valid. With the base infrastructure already in place, adding a SkiData terminal to each set of turnstiles involves much less of a capital expenditure and so the SkiData system is becoming ubiquitous.
Generally, when you go skiing, it is the local ski company rep who organises your ski pass for you. You hand over a bunch of money and they present you with your pass for your holiday at the Welcome Meeting. This ensures that you need to turn up for the meeting and so gives them an opportunity to sell you the add-ons such as pub crawls and quiz nights. You also pay the price the ski company set, which is generally a conversion from the local currency, for instance the Euro, at conversion rates that may not be most favourable to you. You also have to hand the card back at the end of the holiday or else you don't get your deposit (generally only a couple of Euros though) back.
I would like to suggest that there must be a better way (apologies to NatWest).
In preparation for our holiday in Cervinia this year I did, as I always do, check to see what sort of ski pass the resort was using. I discovered that they had SkiData installed on their slopes. I then discovered that I could buy my pass online, direct from the resort's own website and that at that time the Sterling/Euro exchange rate meant that I could get it for less that the price in the tour company's brochure. I just needed a SkiData card.
I didn't have one so, where could I get one (or two, to be precise, as I needed one for my wife as well)? Google came up with the answer. It turned out that Aviemore in Scotland also uses the SkiData system and will sell you your very own personal SkiData card for the princely sum of £4. Bargain! They arrived the next day by First Class post. To get yours, give them a call on +44 (0)1479 861261.
The SkiData card is a normal credit card size and has a hole drilled in it at one end so that you can secure it with a cord if you want. On one side is a passport photo sized space and a plain white space below that. In Aviemore, if you are buying a full season pass, they print your photo on the card and add personal data in the white space so that you can be reunited with it if you lose it.
On the other side it says "SKIDATA access unlimited". Below that in the bottom right-hand corner is printed the unique KEY No for that card, an 11 digit number in two groups of 6 and 5 digits.
Enabling your SkiData card for your holiday involves simply going to the resort's website and buying the number of days of skiing that you want. As a part of the process you will be asked to quote the key number from the card. They then store this number in their database until you arrive at the resort. The first time you go through a turnstile the system registers this first usage and so sets the start and end dates for the validity of the pass.
The pass, once bought, can be used over and over again, at any resort that uses the SkiData system. Each time, all you have to do is purchase your period of usage, quote the key number and just use the card. What could be simpler?
This has saved us so much hassle this year. Not only did we get the passes at a more favourable rate but we also didn't need to attend the Welcome Meeting. I'd give it full marks for that alone!