All inclusive ski holidays
Big winter tour operators, such as Neilson, Inghams and Crystal, use their enviable buying power to offer all-inclusive deals at reasonable prices. One of the best offers is from Crystal through its winter programme Ski +, which has a week in Les Arcs, one of France’s biggest and best resorts, from £479 per person, including accommodation, lift pass, kit hire and flights if booked by November 30.
And it’s not only the big operators that are offering great all-inclusive deals. Some of the cheapest deals this winter are with Outgoing, which works with the Union Nationale des Centres Sportifs de Plein Air (UCPA), a French government-backed organisation providing cheap accommodation in resorts in France. They are offering six days in Chamonix between February 7 and 13 for £599, which includes accommodation, lift pass, ski hire (snowboard hire €15 supplement), all meals and an après-ski itinerary. They’ll even throw in a return coach fare for £99.
When to go
One of the major price determinants for a ski trip to the Alps, and the difference between affordable and eye watering, is the time you head out there.
As with flights and accommodation elsewhere in the world, Christmas, New Year and Easter price hikes apply, and these times should be avoided. In addition, due to skiing and snowboarding being family and school excursion-friendly pursuits, avoiding the half-term holidays is also critical in saving both your money and your sanity.
The UK 2010 half-term dates (February 13-20) should be given a wide berth, unless you have a bizarre penchant for paying double and being in close proximity to acne. The school holidays in France (staggered from February 13 to March 6) can also up both prices and lift queues.
In a nutshell, the cheapest week in all the brochures is the one starting January 7, while the last half of February is a no-no. Happily that leaves the last three weeks in March, traditionally one of the best months for snow, as a great time for an alpine adventure.
Eastern European resorts
A few beneficiaries of the recession, apart from debt collectors and job centre workers, are those ski destinations positioned at the budget end of the spectrum – countries such as Bulgaria, Slovenia, Poland, Andorra and Romania. Winter deals to these Eastern European countries are some of the cheapest in the business.
Sure, the mountains aren’t as high, the lifts not so fast and the charm not as great, but with shedloads of snow, incredible off-piste terrain and lots of cheap beer, there’s plenty to love about skiing in this part of the world.
“I rate Bulgaria highly,” says veteran ski writer Neil English. “The infrastructure is improving year on year and the terrain is hugely underrated.”
Inghams offers seven nights in Romania’s Poiana Brasov from £599 per person, including flights, transfers, half-board accommodation, free booze, lift pass, ski school and kit hire.
Connected ski areas
A massive trend in Europe over the past decade is linking up individual ski resorts to create massive ski areas. For example Paradiski (Les Arcs and La Plagne), Le Grand Massif (Flaine, Sixt, Le Carroz), the Dolomite Superski (Cortina, Alta Badia, Val Gardena) and Espace Killy (Tignes and Val d’Isère) are just a few of the huge connected ski areas that would each take an Olympic skier months to cover.
Because of these amalgamations, those looking for more affordable ski breaks can stay in lesser known villages and resorts that tend to offer much cheaper accommodation yet still have access to hundreds of kilometres of the best slopes in the Alps.
Quaint village Samoens in France (see peakretreats.uk/ski/samoens for a range of accommodation) has easy access to the Grand Massif. Similarly, the huge Ski Welt area can be reached directly from the traditional Austrian alpine village of Westendorf (great budget accommodation from just €270 per week can be found at Landhaus Krall). While Brides-les-Bains, once a poor cousin to its famous neighbour Méribel, is nonetheless a cheaper base for the great skiing at the Three Valleys.
DIY winter escape
For a lot of people holidays aren’t just about handing over a wedge of cash and all the responsibility to a large operator. By organising your own trip you can add to the sense of adventure, the thrill of the chase, and the sense of satisfaction – and, let’s face it, planning a holiday is often more fun than the work you are supposed to be doing.
If the DIY ethos is more your thing, we advise starting off with Interhome, a rental agency for private landlords, which has an incredible amount of self-catering chalets available at resorts all over Europe.
Self-driving is also an option from the UK, with resorts Morzine and Avoriaz within closest reach. From London you are looking at about a four-hour journey to Calais, and then a 10-hour drive to the resorts from there.
Operators such as Erna Low also provide self-catering packages that can include the cost of a ferry crossing, making life a little easier and cheaper.
If driving yourself doesn’t appeal, Eurostar has direct services from London to the French resorts of Moûtiers, Aime-la-Plagne and Bourg-St-Maurice, from £149 return. There’s a choice between a day or night journey, which takes under eight hours. So you can leave on the Friday night and wake up to a full day’s skiing with your environmental conscience and your body well rested.
Dragon Lodge, Tignes, France
A minute’s walk to the nearest piste, this chalet tailors to each guest’s ideal holiday.
Price: From £25 per person per night.
Chill Chalet, Bourg-Saint- Maurice, France
Flexible resort where you can stay for one night or two weeks at the same price.
Price: From £65 per night.
Ski Lodge, Engelberg, Switzerland
Unique atmosphere, located in the centre of town, with a great bar.
Price: From £55 per person per night.
Hotel Nives, Val Gardena, Italy
Strikes a balance between boutique number and bijou family-run secret.
Price: From €112 per person per night.
Rude Chalets, Morzine, France
Innovative chalet accommodation, in great ride-in ride-out locations.
Price: From €425 per person per week.
Best ski runs
Duty-free run, Ischgl, Austria
Skiing between two countries is always fun, and Ischgl sits on the Austro-Swiss border, which means you can ski into Switzerland on the extended red run.
Weissfluhjoch to Klosters Dorf via Schifer, Davos-Klosters, Switzerland
Sometimes the Davos-Klosters amalgamation (the two resorts recently become one ‘super resort’) feels a little superfluous. Then you take this run and it all falls into place.
La Sarenne, Alpe d’Huez, France
Get the knee brace out for this one. At 16km long, this piste – one of the longest in the Alps – will test the stamina of the most experienced. Quite a journey.
Vallée Blanche, Chamonix, France
One of the most breathtaking runs in the world for skiers. A dizzying arête to negotiate at the top, then flat, simple skiing down the Mer de Glace.
Cresta run, Morzine, France
This famous high-speed ice toboggan run has a 157m vertical drop, 10 testing corners and a history dating back to 1885.
Festivals on the slopes
1. Roxy Chicken Jam, Saalbach (January 8-10), is the world’s biggest girls-only snowboarding competition, with live gigs and numerous parties on the go.
2. Altitude, Méribel (March 20-26), is the world’s only high-altitude comedy festival with international DJs and bands.
3. The Brits, Laax (March 21-28), started off as the British national skiing and snowboarding champs but has morphed into a massive week-long music festival.
4. Top Of The Mountain Concert, Ischgl (May 1) has in past years featured Bob Dylan, Elton John, Scissor Sisters and Sugababes to name a few.
5. Snowbombing, Mayrhofen (April 5-10) has live rock and electronica gigs, and fancy dress is encouraged.