I read this first world problems, middle-class moaning article in the FT from their man in New York decrying how the staple winter holiday of their youth is something that they can’t afford to give their own kids now due to the spiralling cost of skiing and their own constrained budgets.
If this was the Mail, I’d consider it a clickbait article, but from the FT? I’m not so sure. But it did get me thinking about middleclass status holidays and my own relationship with skiing over the years.
The article is possibly available for free at this link but, the title of:
Our ski trip made me question my life choicesFt.com
Made me laugh and the intro”
“There’s a new class dividing line in the US: those who can afford a trip to the mountains out west — and those who can’t”
Forget foodstamps or foodbanks, holiday hunger, crushing student debt, ripoff rents, mortgages that cost half of your salery or just being broke and one pay check away from homessness; the new gauge of whether you are plain or just wealthy is whether you are skiing in Lake Tacoe or Vermont?
“I love to ski. I grew up in a skiing family. And yet, because of certain life decisions and the ski industry’s evolution, I can no longer quite afford it — at least not in the style I would like.”
And here comes the crux of the problem (and if it’s not dripping in satire, the writer lacks self-awareness:
“Life involves sacrifices, you say. Cut back elsewhere if you so love skiing. But where? Most of our family expenses are non-negotiable — travel soccer and softball fees for the kids, their voice and skateboarding lessons, the farmers’ market, gym memberships, a dozen streaming-service subscriptions, premium dog food, my thirst for elaborately hopped craft beer and the odd European vacation“
It sounds oddly familiar – our own family finances as told in my month end posts from February, January, December and so on point to our average monthly spend of about £5,000 – and if you asked the Lady if we lived lavishly, you’d be told that we live a frugal lifestyle.
Modern family life ain’t cheap. But our family income may beat that of the FT New York office correspondent (in purchasing power parity terms anyway), and I’m not interviewing billionaires and rubbing shoulders with the 0.1%.
For my own kids now; I took the Master to ski lessons last year, and he was OK at it. He has the gear as well – sourced second-hand. We got up to Glenshee one day but he didn’t enjoy the weather (I’m not surprised, I was freezing!)
It would be better for the Lady me to go skiing in Glenshee mid-week ewith the kids in school – it’s doable. But it’s a day trip in the same way a day at a Scottish beach in Summer is not the same was a week in a villa on the Côte d’Azur.
The thought of taking all four of the GFF family up to a resort in Scotland doesn’t appeal. This winter (this week notwithstanding) has been poor for skiing, and it’s not reliable enough – and when there is snow and it’s the weekend, the queues are long.
If Scotland is not the answer, then a week in the Alps? Total cost is maybe £8,000 for one week. And do we take the out of school and ski when the snow is good and it’s not so busy? Or at Xmas, New Year or Easter and pay more for a worse experience?
Cost is one thing, but our recent booking of a month in Holland will cost us £3,000 in total. We wouldn’t have dreamed of spending anywhere near £8k for our 4 weeks – but then again, as the article says, “The problem with skiing is that there is nothing else quite like it.” You can’t get your fix from anything else.
Things would be simpler with someone to look after our kids. We went skiing once before with the kids when they were younger. Just before Covid in fact. It was costly but we felt we could half afford it and half deserved it – the climate be dammed!
(Upper) Middle Class Malaise?
This problem of affording to go skiing in chic resorts is perhaps an accurate description of a serious condition. Things that were previously in the reach of the middle classes are now beyond reach. It’s not just the decline in snowfall that’s making it harder to ski, it’s the fact that if everyone is middleclass and some are more middleclass than others, not everyone can go skiing every year.
You’d think that the beneficiaries of capitalism would understand supply and demand a bit better?
But it’s the same whether it’s skiing or holidays in summer, private school fees, pony and horse costs, second homes – things that mark you out as (upper?) middleclass a generation ago are not so easy to afford anymore.*
Like the old joke about the “haves, and have yachts”, means that comparison is the thief of joy.
GFF’s Ski History
Coming from Ireland, skiing was something that you saw on Ski Sunday or in a James Bond movie. It was exotic and beautiful but otherworldly. The music still makes me excited just thinking about it.
When I was in university (and counting every penny), my older siblings went twice skiing – Andorra and maybe Livigno. I didn’t join them because I didn’t have the money and also didn’t think I was entitled to go skiing – it being a luxurious holiday and a week would have cost £800-1,000, when my annual budget was £5,000 – an unnecessary extravagance.
After I graduated, I moved to Scotland and heard that there was skiing but struggled to find anyone willing to go with me – a common problem when moving to a new place and not having the friends and connections to make things happen. I did eventually after a few years get up to the Lecht and Glenshee and taught myself to ski (trial and error but thankfully no injury).
When I met the Lady who had come from an Alpine country and loved skiing it was a match – we both would go skiing when we could. Over the years we tried different countries. We settled on our favourite of Süd Tirol (the Sella Ronda is the best in the world).
But now older, richer but with kids, skiing is a serious financial outlay.
The cost with kids day for day is several times anything else I can think of. It makes sense to skip it until either the kids are older and can ski better, not ski until they leave the nest, or bite the bullet and pay for it now.
Investment Case for Skiing
The investment case for skiing is complicated since, with discount cash flow on our fiannces, it intersects with discount snowfall from climate change.
But at least we are skiing for our own pleasure and not to fit into the mould of what an aspiring affluent family does. That pressure to keep up either joneses, I don’t feel and our finances are undercontrol.
It would be nice to ski, but the timing isn’t right just now (maybe 2025 though?).
*My own contention is that you can afford these if you forgo saving for a retirement or paying down your mortgage debts. This means that you can live for today (since your annual luxury holiday is always a “once is a lifetime” trip and “nice to haves” become “can’t do withouts”) and end up with no net worth to talk about by the time the rest of us are FIRE types are planning our early retirements. But hey, there’s always the state pension to fall down to.
Keep finding these “entitlement awareness” pieces. They’re always a good read and occasionally a nice reality check
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I’ve never skied. I did once glissade down an alp above Innsbruck. Wonderful fun. It did make me wonder about all those sissies who insist on taking skis and sticks when they hurl themselves down slopes. A pair of walking boots is all you need if you have a decent sense of balance.
I’ve just googled: apparently Americans call it “glissading” when they are sledging on their arses. More sissies.
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Great post, I’d actually read the article you refer to. Alas I find my own good self sliding down the greasy social hierarchy pole. I regularly ventured to the slopes in young free and single days but kids brought that to an abrupt stop. Hard work pays off however – well I used to tell myself myself it does – and a posting to western Canada enabled me to invest in getting the young cherubs to a level where we could go on regular ski days.
Unfortunately we’ve returned to the UK now and a little look at March 2023 prices for a week had me crying in my snood! It was more WTF than GFF that day. Ironically I’m not far from Glenshee but I don’t have the heart to take them there.