Travelling with ski equipment is an experience. It’s comparable to family dinners or dentist appointments. Necessary but preferably avoided. When you’re a full-time ski racer you don’t really have a choice. Unfortunately, mother nature doesn’t allow us to ski year-round on the same continent so at some point you’ll have to get on a plane with your ski gear.
Every winter, I see posts on groups like Facebook Ski Club, saying “I’m flying to France for a ski trip with one set of boots, a set of skis and a helmet. How on earth will this all fit on the plane?” Inevitably, some genius replies telling them to wear their boots on the plane. Despite this joke seemingly funny to everyone who tells it, wearing ski boots on a plane is a bad idea and you look like a complete jerry. I envy the people who worry that their 4kg powder skis are going to be an issue. To put it in perspective, the lightest race skis are about 7kg and the heaviest are 12kg. So, when the weight limit is 23kg – the ski bag alone weighs 4kg and you need to take at least 6 pairs of skis on the plane with you – you can understand why us racers roll our eyes at you struggling to fit your one set of skis in your bag.
Over the years, you learn a few tips that can help avoid the dreaded excess baggage fees. I guarantee these tips will all work at some point and I also promise you they will all fail at some point too… First up, avoid any airlines that weigh your hand luggage. Put as much weight in your hand luggage as possible, this includes bindings, wax, edging machines, vices and plenty of other heavy items that for some reason are seen as less dangerous than your water bottle in hand luggage. I find that the more menacing your hand luggage looks, the less likely airport security is going to bother you. On long haul flights, you can usually check your hand luggage into the hold at the gate free of charge. Therefore, the fact that your hand luggage weighs far too much to lift into the overhead lockers is completely irrelevant. Tip 2. Now that your hand luggage weighs the same as a baby elephant, don’t forget to join the booster straps on your boots and loop them over the top of the bag. People argue that this counts as a second piece of hand luggage (please see point 1, drop off bag at gate) and if not, I find that if you look tired enough – which you will since you’ve just carried a baby elephant through the airport – you won’t encounter any issues. Telling the cabin crew you’re also on your way to the next Olympics (white lies never hurt anyone) works pretty well too.
Now that you’ve squeezed most of your excess weight into your hand luggage, you can turn your attention to your check-in baggage. It’s important to recognise who your enemy is here so you can defeat them. The enemy is the person at the check-in desk. The bonus is that you can pick your enemy. Choose carefully because this could be the difference between paying those excess fees or not. NEVER pick the oldest member of staff, they’ve been working there long enough to know all the tricks. They’re also usually fed up with the fact that they’ve been working there the longest and will take out this internal rage on you. Picking someone younger is usually a good bet as they’re more likely to sympathise with you because they know what it’s like to have no money. Once you’ve chosen your enemy, you need to try and get through the check in without them knowing the real weight of your baggage. Weight is easiest to hide in your ski bags so make sure your suitcase is not overweight. Weigh this first to put your member of staff in a good mood.
When it comes to ski bags, you have a few options. The best outcome is to make it look like they’re too much effort to manoeuvre off your trolley in which case you can get away with not weighing them. If not, put your ski bag on the scales but stick your foot under it to remove a bit of weight or even better, position your hand luggage at the edge of the scales and balance the ski bag on your hand luggage. If you’re really, really overweight then go for the buddy system: Remove a set of skis before check in and give them to a friend to hide. Once your ski bags are weighed and tagged, take your ski bag to your buddy and add in the excess skis. However, know your airport. Do they reweigh the bags at excess baggage? Is the excess baggage too close to the check in so there’s no place to add in the extra skis? This technique requires extra planning and if you get caught, it can be very expensive so proceed with caution. Final tip: airlines count ski equipment as one ski bag and one boot bag. Make sure your check-in agent knows this. If they argue, argue back harder and tell them you’re the customer and you want to talk to their manager. They’ll give in; most of the time.
In conclusion, flying with ski equipment is awful. It’s enough to make any ski racer wish they’d taken up beach volleyball or ballet. Know which airlines are kind and sympathise with athletes. Travel in groups – there’s strength in numbers. Don’t show up last minute for check in and if you can book some of your excess baggage in advance then do. Lastly, if everything goes wrong, it’s always worth begging, bribing or crying.