The Art Of Tipping

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Have you heard the one about the Snowbird, Utah, instructor who was tipped a lifetime season pass by a devoted client? He sold it the next day for $14,000 to set up a trust fund for his child. He was lucky. Fact is that only half of private-lesson students tip their instructors at Snowbird, only to be outdone by the more miserly group-lesson students, of whom only 20 percent show their appreciation with cold, hard cash.

"Tips are not expected, but they're well received," says Snowbird School Director Steve Bills. "Our instructors do not teach for tips."

Tipping may be discretionary, yet no travel issue is touchier or more confusing than who to tip when, and how much to give them. Mention the word and concierges squirm, ski instructors become uncharacteristically shy and usually confident skiers wonder if they gave the bellman too little for schlepping their gear-filled bags to the room. Did that meek smile mean he was grateful, you ask yourself, or was he wordlessly telling you that you're a cheapskate?

The origin of the word "tip" is as an acronym for "To Insure Promptness," a phrase stamped on the money boxes placed on the tables of English coffeehouses. Through the years, it has come to mean an expected reward for services rendered.

They may be living in paradise, but waiters, ski instructors and van drivers don't get rich by working at ski resorts. In fact, they routinely work two or three jobs just to get by. The more expensive a resort, the more workers have to shell out to live 30 miles downvalley. Such are the rude economics of ski-town life.

"Remember: The guy who just did that sweet tune on your skis is working for six bucks an hour and sleeping in a crowded house so he can get a few powder days in," says Brian Schott at Big Mountain, Mont. "That gal who just waited your table may be making a little more, but an extra dollar on the table can really help her out. That ski cat guide who pulled you out of a tree-well has a wife and kid and a small paycheck. A tip will make his day."

Tipping not only rewards good service, but guarantees it for the future. You know the drill: If you want to get good service in a crowded bar, you give the bartender a hefty tip on your first drink. Sounds obvious, but at ski resorts, there are many less obvious occasions on which to tip. We asked ski resort workers—both high and low on the totem pole—for guidelines. Here are their answers—a nitty-gritty guide to tipping, straight from the source.

SKI INSTRUCTORS
Good ski instructors are worth their weight in gold, and everyone in the ski business feels they should be tipped accordingly. Yet, amazingly, tipping them is not de rigeur. "Tipping is appreciated, but not expected," says Julia Brennan, former Ski School Director at Vermont's Ascutney Mountain Resort and a veteran PSIA-certified instructor. "Having said that, even the most generous ski schools do not pay their instructors princely sums. Tips can make the difference between having a 'good' winter and barely surviving. Ask yourself, did the instructor do a good job, or better yet, go above and beyond the call of duty? If so, go ahead and tip."

She advocates tipping instructors as you do waiters. Give 15 percent of the lesson cost for a good lesson, 20 percent or more for exceptional instruction.

"But if you end up in the kind of lesson every ski school director hopes will never happen, and your instructor is less than professional, helpful or interested, please don't tip," Brennan says. "Rewarding this kind of instruction only perpetuates mediocrity."

Her suggestions are valid at resorts throughout the country. Joan Christensen, public relations director at Winter Park, Colo., adds that instructors are particularly gratified when someone wearing duct tape, overalls or something else that indicates a rather modest vacation budget tips a few bucks because they had such a great experience. As for buying a private instructor lunch, Bills of Snowbird say "That's somewhat taken for granted these days, but it's a weird situation. The student is your guest all morning, and then at lunch you become a guest of theirs."

And if you should happen to take one of those free lessons that an increasing number of ski areas offer, that doesn't mean you shouldn't consider a tip. Take Northstar-at-Tahoe, Calif., and its Vertical Improvement Program. Spokesperson Erin Bernall says, "Instructors typically receive $10 tips for the nearly two-hour group lesson, which usually includes skills development and a tour of the mountain and its secret spots."

At Northstar, instructors who teach beginner children's ski and snowboard lessons tend to get tipped between $5 and $10 per child, per class. Private lessons average $10 tips.

As for mountain ambassadors, such as those at Okemo, Vt., these volunteers don't need or expect a tip. But when they receive one, they often donate it to a charitable fund.

Of course, if you're a big tipper, step right up. Some Snowbird instructors have been taken to destinations such as the Cayman Islands, South America and Europe. At Vail, clients have bought condos for instructors. Snowbird's Bills said he's received 100 percent tips on multiple-day privates (an all-day private lesson is $480). He's had his house decorated with artwork and had clients buy clothes for his kids. He even had a client pay him, tell him to leave the skis behind and then take him out golfing all day. And then he tipped him, as well.

SKI SHOPS AND OTHER
ON-MOUNTAIN SERVICES

For locals, the rule of thumb at ski shops is that a six-pack gets you twice the tune. If you're not into lugging Fat Tire around, a few bucks is nice. But it depends where you are.

At the Pan Pacific in Whistler, B.C., tipping $10 or $20 for ski equipment fittings and rentals is not uncommon. Daycare workers should be tipped on a similar scale, more if they've taken care of your kid for an entire week. And cash a 10 into singles to hand to the guy who stores your skis for the night and the woman who helps your kid at the tubing hill.

THE HOTEL STAFF
For years, the standard was to tip bellhops $1 per bag, assuming they brought your bag from the curb to the front desk or to your room. But if they're part of a daisy chain of baggage handlers giving your L.L. Bean duffel a work out, you needn't tip them all, though none will refuse you if you do. Nowadays, in places such as Aspen and Vail, $2 per bag is considered average, and it's given to the person who delivers it to your door.

As for room service, when they wheel in your $20 continental breakfast, it pays to read the fine print. If no tip is included, which is a rarity these days, add 10 percent to 15 percent. But if you discover that the hotel has tacked on an 18-percent service charge, no need to add a single greenback.

"Like many hotels, we add a $2 minimum charge and a 15-percent gratuity on room-service orders," says Steve Price, general manager of Spring Creek Ranch in Jackson, Wyo. "But our servers are instructed to tell you that there's 15 percent already on the bill. If you want to give them something else, that's your business."

Spa services are usually tipped at 10 percent to 15 percent. And the cleaning staff often gets nothing more than some loose change left in an ashtray, yet its workers probably work harder than any other hotel employees. Chad Ziegler, resident manager of the Vail Athletic Club, says that for a family occupying a three-bedroom unit, "it's not uncommon to leave $100 at week's end." For those of more modest means, figure on leaving the cleaning person at least $2 per person, per night at the end of your stay, and more if your family of four has inhabited a ski hotel or condo for a week. If you call for a hair dryer or an iron, slip the person who delivers it a dollar. If a concierge has been helpful in securing restaurant reservations during your stay, then a gratuity is a good idea. Figure a $5 minimum and considerably more if he or she has helped you repeatedly over the course of a stay. The guys or gals who get your skis from the hotel ski storage area? Tip them a $1 or $2 each time.

In Europe, a 15-percent service charge is almost always included in the price of a meal and hotel. But it's become an accepted practice to either round off the bill or to leave the change if you pay in cash. It's the gesture that seems to matter more than the actual amount.

AIRPORT BAGGAGE
HANDLERS & VAN DRIVERS

If you do curbside check-in, a dollar per bag and at least $5 for your ski bag is cheap insurance that your gear won't spend the winter in Cleveland. If it's a shuttle van to the mountains, a $5 tip per person is par for the course, more if you and your family have a lot of luggage. For short van rides to a remote car rental lot, a buck or two will do if the driver helps you with your luggage. When taking a free shuttle ride in villages such as Beaver Creek or Vail, an occasional tip of a $1 or so is welcome, but not mandatory. Taxi rides in ski towns should be tipped on the 10 percent to 15 percent scale.

RESTAURANTS & BARS
In ski country, as in the big city, a restaurant tip should be calculated on the total for food and beverages, excluding the sales tax. If the service was friendly and prompt, tip 15 percent. If it was only fair, tip somewhat less, say 10 percent to 14 percent. If it was very good, leave 18 percent. If it was extraordinary, leave 20 percent. It's rare to have a dining experience where you'd leave no tip, but if the meal was appalling and the service abysmal, you make the call.

If you're in a glitzy restaurant with maitres d'hôtel, sommeliers, captains and waiters falling over themselves to serve you, you can take out your calculator and break down percentages for each of them. Better yet, leave a single tip and let them figure it out. If you do want to tip a sommelier—and you don't have to unless he or she was exceptionally helpful—10 percent of the bottle price is the suggested amount, unless you've dropped $400 on a bottle of Pinot Noir. As for the margarita and Long Trail Ale at the bar, $1 a drink still does the trick.

When it comes to the army of young Starbucks servers who have a tip jar so you can reward them for actually handing you the latte you just paid $3 for, you decide.

In short, what to tip basically comes down to common sense. Yeah, you've shelled out a lot to go on a ski vacation, but service can make or break a getaway. And a good one is priceless.

THE LOCAL LAW
mong cash-starved workers in ski towns, a thriving subculture of bartering exists. Shannon Brooks of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming notes that "among locals, tipping with cash is not the norm. Baked goods, clothing, gear and favors all constitute great tips in this town. Much of the service industry here works on a barter system. For example, Tom works as a bartender and gives his roommate every third beer free. His roommate works at the ski shop and tunes Tom's skis for free."

Good thing locals are good to one another, because statistics show that skiers aren't big tippers. There's no Miss Manners for the mountains, but if there was, tipping would be high on her agenda. minimum and considerably more if he or she has helped you repeatedly over the course of a stay. The guys or gals who get your skis from the hotel ski storage area? Tip them a $1 or $2 each time.

In Europe, a 15-percent service charge is almost always included in the price of a meal and hotel. But it's become an accepted practice to either round off the bill or to leave the change if you pay in cash. It's the gesture that seems to matter more than the actual amount.

AIRPORT BAGGAGE
HANDLERS & VAN DRIVERS

If you do curbside check-in, a dollar per bag and at least $5 for your ski bag is cheap insurance that your gear won't spend the winter in Cleveland. If it's a shuttle van to the mountains, a $5 tip per person is par for the course, more if you and your family have a lot of luggage. For short van rides to a remote car rental lot, a buck or two will do if the driver helps you with your luggage. When taking a free shuttle ride in villages such as Beaver Creek or Vail, an occasional tip of a $1 or so is welcome, but not mandatory. Taxi rides in ski towns should be tipped on the 10 percent to 15 percent scale.

RESTAURANTS & BARS
In ski country, as in the big city, a restaurant tip should be calculated on the total for food and beverages, excluding the sales tax. If the service was friendly and prompt, tip 15 percent. If it was only fair, tip somewhat less, say 10 percent to 14 percent. If it was very good, leave 18 percent. If it was extraordinary, leave 20 percent. It's rare to have a dining experience where you'd leave no tip, but if the meal was appalling and the service abysmal, you make the call.

If you're in a glitzy restaurant with maitres d'hôtel, sommeliers, captains and waiters falling over themselves to serve you, you can take out your calculator and break down percentages for each of them. Better yet, leave a single tip and let them figure it out. If you do want to tip a sommelier—and you don't have to unless he or she was exceptionally helpful—10 percent of the bottle price is the suggested amount, unless you've dropped $400 on a bottle of Pinot Noir. As for the margarita and Long Trail Ale at the bar, $1 a drink still does the trick.

When it comes to the army of young Starbucks servers who have a tip jar so you can reward them for actually handing you the latte you just paid $3 for, you decide.

In short, what to tip basically comes down to common sense. Yeah, you've shelled out a lot to go on a ski vacation, but service can make or break a getaway. And a good one is priceless.

THE LOCAL LAW
mong cash-starved workers in ski towns, a thriving subculture of bartering exists. Shannon Brooks of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming notes that "among locals, tipping with cash is not the norm. Baked goods, clothing, gear and favors all constitute great tips in this town. Much of the service industry here works on a barter system. For example, Tom works as a bartender and gives his roommate every third beer free. His roommate works at the ski shop and tunes Tom's skis for free."

Good thing locals are good to one another, because statistics show that skiers aren't big tippers. There's no Miss Manners for the mountains, but if there was, tipping would be high on her agenda.