Since I've been on skis about as many times as I've worn high heels (very few, if you're wondering), I tapped three British-based powder experts for their advice on where to head in Europe without wiping out your budget.
"The best value in mainstream European ski countries at the moment is in Austria or Italy," says Kate Whittaker, founder of resource-packed online ski guide Mad Dog Ski (maddogski.com). But what about specific resorts?
"Schladming [Austria] is an atmospheric medieval town with a vast range of skiing on a formidable link-up of four mountains. The slopes are dotted with mountain huts serving great traditional dishes and the locals pride themselves on their hospitality," she says, adding that "charming" Ellmau – 132 kilometres west – is also great for families and intermediate skiers.
Over in northern Italy, though, consider Corvara. "There's a huge, mouth-watering ski area here combined with laid-back Italian hospitality and cheap prices," says Whittaker.
"Time your stay at European resorts for weekend to weekend: you'll pay extra for bookings that split weeks," she says, adding that prices (and crowds) surge markedly during February's region-wide school vacations.
Ski writer and instructor Rob Stewart (blog.themountaindepartment.com) also recommends Italy, particularly Cervinia in the Aosta Valley. "It has so much going for it: the Matterhorn, long south-facing ski runs, great mountain food, a fantastic snow record and friendly locals. It's not the prettiest town but it offers great value and access to top skiing."
Then there's Andorra, located in the Pyrenees between Spain and France. "Soldeu is a relaxed village with good accommodation but without the high costs of larger alpine resorts." Stewart adds that the large resort links with the Grandvalira network, one of Europe's biggest ski areas. "Plus, there's lots of sun. It's ideal for families – and Barcelona is only a few hours' drive away."
Despite a pricey reputation, Stewart also suggests France. "Try Serre Chevalier. Cheaper than many French Alpine resorts, the skiing suits all levels – and the infamous La Grave is just a half-hour drive away for the adventurous.
"If you're driving, stay in small hotels in the valleys and drive up to the resorts to ski. Or go directly to resort tourist offices to rent self-catering apartments from owners – particularly in French resorts like Morzine and Chamonix where there's plenty of accommodation available."
Ski journalist Ben Clatworthy (benclatworthy.com) adds that a wave of new resort hostels can also help stretch your holiday dollars. As for destinations, he kicks off in France, recommending La Tania as "the most affordable place to stay in the Bozel valley" and Valloire, "a rustic village of small shops and restaurants around a bustling market square."
Then there's Italy's Livigno. "Few Western Europe resorts offer such value for money. There's plenty of terrain for those new to skiing near the village, whilst intermediates and advanced skiers can enjoy the groomed red and black slopes at higher altitude. Children under the age of seven also ski free."
Eastern Europe – from Poland's Zakopane to the Czech Republic's Krkonose – is also on Clatworthy's budget-friendly radar, particularly one spot. "Bansko is Bulgaria's most advanced ski resort but it's also very popular, which means peak-time lift queues can be astronomical. The upside is it offers very good value – and the chance to experience a ski culture different to the rest of Europe."
Not quite ready to face-plant into Eastern Europe? I also asked our experts for some lesser-known local favourites situated in mainstream ski countries.
Clatworthy recommends Italy's Kronplatz while Whittaker plumps for Austria's Ischgl. For Stewart, Austria's Warth-Schrocken is also worth considering – along with France's historic Samoëns. "Just over an hour's drive from Geneva Airport, it gets lots of snow and staying there is generally cheaper than most French ski resorts. It's becoming more popular but it's still not on the map for most skiers."
OUR READERS WRITE
- Leukerbad in Switzerland is the better-value little brother of Crans-Montana and Zermatt – and it has fab thermal baths. @teens2006
- Torgon in Switzerland. A small resort that is part of one of the largest ski complexes in Europe, the Portes du Soleil, which straddles the Swiss-French border. A great combination of small village value and big ski area destination slopes and facilities. Mark Fields
- You don’t get cheaper than the Vallée Verte in Haute-Savoie, France. @tripalong
- Head to Mariborsko Pohorje in Slovenia. It’s way more affordable than most resorts plus it’s totally friendly. @chibeba
- A package tour with Dolomite Mountains (dolomitemountains.com) is surprisingly affordable. Suzanne Morphet
- Not a resort but the Sudtirol/Alto Adige [Italy] area is certainly value-priced. @HolidayBakerman
- Andorra is great with kids, particularly learners. Bansko in Bulgaria is also uber-cheap and fun – and there’s a fab snow train to Plovdiv. @escapeartistes
- Spindleruv Mlyn in the Czech Republic’s Giant Mountains. I was there in June for cycling and hiking but it has one of the world’s best bobsleigh tracks. It’s surrounded by Krkonose National Park. @lotusandlager
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