Follow these tips to make sure the price of your ski holiday doesn’t snowball this season. WORDS Amy Adams
For those who aren’t already addicted, often the biggest barrier for hitting the slopes is the cost of the trip. You might score a decent ski package deal but then there’s the ski pass to think about, lessons, equipment hire and expensive mountain restaurants. All this can leave you with very little change to blow on £5 pints in après-ski bars. But, while we can’t promise camping-in-your-backyard cheap, a ski break is like any other holiday in that there are a few sneaky ways to save your pennies.
Out of the zone
With the euro biting the heels of the pound it makes sense to look outside the Eurozone for bargain holidays, and skiing is no different. Try Bansko in Bulgaria, Slovenia’s main resorts Kranjska Gora and Bovec, the High and Low Tatras mountains of Slovakia and Romania’s Poiana Brasov. Increased interest in these resorts has resulted in bigger investment, so although none rivals the big hitters of the Alps, the areas are improving all the time. And if you’re a beginner the size of the ski area will be the last thing on your mind anyway. At ski resorts outside the Eurozone you won’t only save on package deals, but you’ll find lift passes, ski hire, lessons and restaurants are cheaper too. Oh, and a beer in Bulgaria will only cost you around 80p.
While there are great package deals out there, budget airlines and an increasing range of ski hostels mean it can be cheaper to arrange a trip yourself. Don’t rule out overland transport either — grab a few mates and a hire car and turn your journey into a road trip. Coach travel is another option (try Snowcoach), as is the so-called Snow Train, which departs St Pancras for four key ski destinations in the French Alps. Plus, because you arrive first thing Saturday and depart last thing the following Saturday, you get an extra day on the slopes.
Once you’ve sorted out how to get to your destination, you’ll need somewhere to stay — unless you’re very brave and have a particularly warm sleeping bag. Try Hostelling International for beds in ski resorts across Europe. There are also several independent hostels that have sprung up. In Switzerland you’ll find The Bunker in Verbier — a former atomic shelter — or Riders Palace in Laax. A good option in France is Dragon Lodge in Tignes. Scared of dorms or other people? Look into renting a self-catering apartment with Interhome or Erna Low.
Teachers look away. The golden rule of getting a bargain ski break is avoid half term (February 16-24 next year) and the Easter weekend (April 10-13). Other peak times are Christmas and New Year. Instead, snag cut-price deals by going early in the winter season (before Christmas) or in January, just after New Year. And because Easter is late next year, there should be some good breaks on offer for weeks in March. To wait for last-minute deals or not to wait, that is the question. If you’re in a small group and don’t mind where you go then you’re likely to find a good trip at short notice. Big groups and fussy skiers beware.
Look for the smaller, satellite towns that link to the ski areas of bigger, more expensive resorts. For instance, Brides-les-Bains is a 25-minute gondola ride from Méribel, giving you access to the huge ski area of Les Trois Vallées, as does St-Martin de Belleville near Les Menuires. Other smaller resorts include Les Boisses and Les Brévières, which join the Espace Killy area of Tignes and Val d’Isère; Cervinia on the Italian side of the Matterhorn, a run or two from Zermatt; and Stuben, which links to the St Anton ski area. The nightlife won’t be pumping, but fill a chalet with mates and beers and make your own fun.
Money-saving tips for the slopes
- Book your ski hire and lift pass online. Intersport, which has outlets in France, Austria and Switzerland, and Skiset in Italy and Andorra offer hefty online discounts.
- Avoid airlines that charge you extra to take your own ski equipment. These include EasyJet and Ryanair.
- As part of Freshers Ski Week, first-time skiers and snowboarders can get free lessons at 50 resorts across Europe and Canada. The offer applies to the weeks starting January 17 or 24 that are booked with certain tour operators.
- Find cheap package deals. Check out the tour operators that advertise with TNT.
- Find a supermarket and make a packed lunch (or take advantage of your buffet breakfast) to take to the slopes with you.
- Watch out for happy hours — most après-ski bars will have them.
- Take a hip flask.