Swiss operators: Our plans' prices beat Colorado

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NEW YORK -- It is that time of year again: the prelude to ski season, when European ski destinations, including Switzerland, compare their pricing with that of ski resorts in the U.S.

The Swiss AlpsSwissair Vacations, for example, in a recent brochure, compared the rates for three Alpine Experience ski packages in Switzerland with two other major tour operators' packages for three Colorado resorts.

Tour operators selling Swiss ski packages claim that it is cheaper to ski Switzerland, largely because the U.S. exchange rate is the best it has been in recent years; that the Alps offer longer runs and higher peaks, and that skiers here get the bonus of also experiencing Europe.

Colorado Ski Country, a trade association representing 25 ski areas in that state, considers such comments to be a compliment. "I think it's fascinating they're comparing themselves to Colorado -- it lends a lot of credibility to American skiing," a spokeswoman said.

The association has positioned Colorado as a better choice to European skiing because of its better snowfall, longer season and the claim that it is less expensive and easier than traveling to Europe.

For agents, the answer may simply come down to customer preference for Europe or the U.S. But when it comes to comparing prices, they need to check if competing packages include the same features, such as air and land transportation, meals and lift tickets. And, suppliers said, shoulder seasons in each destination can offer other price incentives.

The price comparison in Swissair Vacation's brochure for ski packages this winter was based on high-season rates, including economy air fare from New York and Boston, seven nights' accommodations based on double occupancy in a first class hotel, hotel transfers, breakfasts and dinners daily, service and local taxes and a six-day ski pass.

The brochure, published before 1998-1999 winter pricing was released, quoted 1997-1998 winter pricing. Grindelvald was $1,624 compared with $2,213 for Deer Valley; Zermatt was $1,692 vs. $2,411 for Vail, and St. Moritz was $1,767 vs. $2,473 for Aspen/Snowmass.

Many people think Switzerland has a pricey reputation and that they can't afford it. "But packages with air included tend to be affordable," said Mary Beth Keenan, Swissair Vacation's manager, leisure marketing.

John Frasca, vice president of the ski division of Central Holidays in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., said such comparisons are usually accurate, largely because the U.S. dollar is the strongest that it has been in comparison with Swiss and Austrian currencies in recent years, making European ski vacation prices competitive with those in the U.S.

He cited comparisons between packages Central Holidays offers in Switzerland that are less than comparable vacations the company offers to Colorado. He cited a seven-night package, including accommodations at the five-star Hotel Kulm in St. Moritz; nonstop, roundtrip transportation on Swissair from New York (Kennedy) to Zurich, and roundtrip train transportation from the airport to the resort for $2,006 per person. He said a seven-night package for Aspen that includes a deluxe room at the St. Regis (formerly the Ritz-Carlton) and a six-day ski pass (but no air or other transportation) is priced at $1,911 per person. A Swiss destination such as Zermatt, he said, "sells itself very easily" because Americans associate it with great skiing.

Chips Lindenmeyr of Lindenmeyr Travel, a New York-based travel agency and tour operator, said that for years she has found cost comparisons that show European skiing vacations to be less expensive than those in the U.S. to be "very legitimate." For example, she said, in Zermatt, last year an adult, six-day ski pass was $200, compared with $304 in Aspen. "Zermatt's terrain is seven to 10 times larger than Vail, and there is just the excitement of the concept that you have skied another resort," she said.

In addition, she said, most Swiss hotels include breakfast and dinner. "Swiss breakfast buffets are not just rolls and coffee but have all fruits, cheeses, cold meats, yogurts -- it is a whole meal," she said.

Swissair Vacations,(800) 688-7947

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