Hiring a car on a ski holiday gives you the freedom to set your own agenda, rather than being limited to the excursions on offer at your hotel or as part of the package you’ve booked.
It also makes it easier to get to and from your hotel or chalet. As well as avoiding the group transfer bus from the airport to your resort (via what seems like everyone else’s), you can get to and from the slopes each day in comfort.
Travelling around the resort under your own steam means you can save money on accommodation, because you won’t need to rely on ‘ski-in, ski-out’ options – and you’ll be able to explore the whole area by using different lifts as your daily starting point.
Although driving in unfamiliar snowy conditions might seem daunting, for those in the know, there’s no reason to avoid hiring a car and enjoying the thrill of driving the mountain roads.
To stake the stress out of the rental process we’ve asked the experts at car hire service Rentalcars.com for some simple tips to help skiers feel confident.
Carefully consider which car is right for you
While it’s important to consider the extra luggage you’re likely to take skiing – especially your ski boots, skis and snowboards – the most popular car groups for skiing are economy and compact.
It’s easy to be tempted by something bigger, but the mountain roads are generally well-maintained and kept clear of snow, so there’s no need to choose anything bigger than you’re comfortable with.
Hire cars tend to be in high demand in ski resorts – and nearby airports – during the ski season, so don’t forget to book early too. The best time to book tends to be three to six months before you go.
Understand your insurance
Understandably, people tend to worry more about insurance when they’re driving in snowy conditions. But there’s no notable difference between the number of claims made in winter versus summer, or in wintery destinations compared with warmer climates.
While Collision Damage Waiver is included as standard with most rental packages, it only applies to the exterior bodywork of the car. It doesn’t cover everything, and there’s usually an excess to pay in the event of any damage. So, if you’re planning on putting your skis in the car, keep them in kit bags or try wrapping them in an old towel to avoid any accidental damage.
If you’d rather more of the exterior is covered, e.g. the tyres, wheels, wing mirrors and windows, you can buy a top up policy for added peace of mind. The most common one is Super Collision Damage Waiver, which will cover more parts of the car and/or reduce the excess (sometimes to zero). If you’re doing this, make sure to shop around before you go as paying at the desk can be up to £160 more expensive than buying from a third-party provider.
Plan your route
Hiring a sat nav is a good idea (if the car doesn’t come with one already), or you can use the navigation system on your phone.
If you don’t want to rack up roaming charges or rely on a data connection in remote places, make sure you download ones that allow offline use. Google Maps allows you to download specific areas or you can download maps for entire countries with HERE WeGo.
The weather can change quickly in the mountains – so always check the forecast before you set off and be ready to adapt if conditions change.
In places where severe winter weather is the norm, something known as ‘winterisation’ is a legal requirement and the cost is usually included in the price of your car.
This means, in colder climates the car you hire will be ready for snowy roads with the addition of winter tyres, snow chains or socks to the car, to help keep everyone safe on-board.
However, if you’re hiring a car somewhere warmer where ‘winterisation’ is not a legal requirement, but you plan on driving in harsher conditions using the car elsewhere, the equipment will need adding as an optional extra. If you discuss it with the car hire company at the time of booking, they’ll be able to advise you on what applies to your booking.
Slow and steady
Whether or not your car is ‘winterised’, there are a few key things to remember when driving in snowy conditions. Remember, slow and steady wins the race.
The RAC recommends increasing your stopping distance by ten times when driving in the snow, and it’s best to stay in a low gear as much as possible.
If you happen to skid, steer gently into it and try not to slam on the breaks – instead, engage the clutch to cut off the engine and you’ll feel the car start to come back under control.