Skiing’s not known as the cheapest type of holiday, but ‘when in Europe’ you’d be mad not to experience what the Alps have to offer. Get a group of mates together or persuade family back home to visit, on the promise of a European ski holiday… It’s definitely possible to enjoy the mountains without spending mountains, and here’s how to do it:
Time it right
If you can, avoid school holiday weeks like New Year and February Half Term, when holiday costs are hiked up. The cheapest times of year to ski are usually the very start of the season in December (before Christmas) and in January. If anyone in your group is restricted by school term dates, book as early as possible because peak weeks get snapped up quickly – early booking discounts can sweeten the deal.
Pick a cheap ski resort
Val d’Isere and St Anton might be the most famous ski resorts, but you don’t have to ski one of the ‘A-Listers’ to have a good time.
Some have likened Flaine’s off piste to the kind of stuff you get in Canada – it’s part of the massive Grand Massif area which has a great snow record and tons of runs for different levels. Cheap apartments are easy to come by, and most have doorstep skiing as an added luxury. It’s also one of the easiest resorts to drive to if you’re keeping travel costs down. The cons are that there’s no big party scene (just a couple of good pubs) and being a newer, purpose built resort you won’t find any classic Savoyard architecture. The pretty villages of Samoens and Les Carroz are included in the ski pass though, so you can soak up some alpine charm at lunchtime if you’re craving it.
Sauze d’Oulx, Italy
In a huge international ski area called the Milky Way, Sauze d’Oulx is the king of Italy’s après ski scene. It’s not as wild as it once was, but there’s still plenty of opportunity to get merry on the mountainside without spending a fortune. Happy hours seem to go on forever, and beer tends to cost the same – or less – than you’d spend at home. Eating out is affordable too, and boy do the Italians know how to make pizza.
Pas de la Casa, Andorra
Andorra’s duty-free status certainly helps when it comes to saving money, and if you’re a group looking to party, Pas’ offerings rarely disappoint – in atmosphere or prices. You’ll struggle to find a bar that doesn’t to drinks deals and it’s possible to dine out for under a tenner too. The Grandvalira ski area is big enough to keep all levels busy for a week and the savviest packages include flights, transfers and accommodation in one bundle.
Most of the cheaper resorts lack traditional Alpine charisma, but not Soll with its church steeple and Austrian chalets aplenty. It doesn’t lack skiing either, being linked to the enormous SkiWelt’s 284km of pistes. And there’s more than enough scope for affordable après, with the drinks menu at Moonlight Bar keeping prices low. Look out for simple catered chalets that provide breakfast, tea and dinner six days of the week with no-frills accommodation.
Get a Group Discount
Go for a package where flights, transfers and accommodation are bundled into the cost – it’ll often work out a lot less than getting the same things separately. Specialist travel agents like SNO tend to have the biggest selection of accommodation and resorts, and often give group discounts or, even better, a free place for the group leader (you). This also keeps organising everyone simple – they can call in and pay their own deposits, or add on to a booking later if they haven’t made up their mind yet.
Drive & Self-Cater
If you’re skiing in France, the cheapest way to travel is by car. Fill it up with people who are happy to take turns in the driver’s seat and know the rules of the roadabroad, then split the cost of the channel crossing between everyone. If you’re a big group, drive in convoy and keep in touch to arrange pit stops along the way.
A big bonus of bringing a car is that you can fill the boot with food and drink from home, or stop at a French hypermarket and stock up on goods. The more you can avoid the hiked up food prices in resorts, the better!
Self-catering doesn’t have to mean hours spent tied to the stove. Take turns at cooking and stick to quick and easy dishes like pesto pasta, bangers and mash or noodles. Bulk buy packets of crisps and make packed lunches to eat on the mountainside. Pair driving with self-catered accommodation and you’re looking at a really affordable, hassle-free way to ski.
NB: you can still get group discounts with self-drive and self-catering packages, so it’s still worth phoning a specialist ski travel agent, to get a free place or free lift pass thrown in.
Sort out your ski rental in advance
Most ski hire shops do big discounts when you reserve your equipment in advance online. Ask them if they’ll do any deals if the whole group books together. If you’re booking a package trip, look out for accommodation deals with buy one get one free ski hire.
Don’t forget ski passes
A good accommodation deal sounds perfect until you realise that the ski pass adds hundreds of euros to the cost of your holiday… Instead of sticking to the best known ski areas in France and Switzerland, look at the prices of passes in the big Austrian and Italian ski areas, which can be considerably cheaper. Keep your eyes peeled for 2 for 1 deals with package holidays, or see if the lift company does group discounts when everyone buys their passes together. If you have beginners tagging along, they probably won’t need a pass for the first day or so (a lot of beginner lifts are free) so hold off until their instructor gives you the nod.
Borrow, don’t Buy
Do a shout-out on Facebook to see if any mates have ski gear that they can lend you – whether it’s a jacket, ski pants, thermals, goggles or the full monty, your bank account will thank you for not buying brand new gear. If you can’t borrow clothes, try websites like Ebay selling discounted and second hand stuff.
With the next European ski season just around the corner and the know-how to ski on a budget, there’s no better time to get friends and family together for a trip to the mountains!
Words by Naomi Harrison