Lift passes, equipment hire, cheese-laden fondues and post-piste beers – ski holidays can incur many costs but we’re here to prove it can be done without breaking the bank, if you know where to go. Whether you’re looking for cruisy blues that are gentle on the legs, challenging black runs or perhaps the pick of gourmet mountain restaurants, here are our favourite alternatives for purse-friendly pistes.
Best for an Italian foodie escape: from Cortina d’Ampezzo to Val di Fassa
Italy’s flashiest resort, Cortina d’Ampezzo has Italian glamour in spades. Part of the Dolomiti Superski area, the ancient mountain village is surrounded by the recognisable soaring sandstone peaks and is home to an assortment of pistes for all abilities. Surrounding towns speak Italian and German, while Cortina has clung to its ancient Ladin language. Unsurprisingly for Italy, the cuisine here is exceptional – though it comes with a sometimes eye-watering price tag. Cling on to your euros for longer at a resort in Val di Fassa, a hop to the west, where you can still enjoy the Dolomiti Superski’s 1,200 kilometres of pistes with one lift pass, as well as all-round more affordable prices. There’s no need to skimp on the mountain cuisine in resorts like Canazei, where you can tuck in to crusty rolls stuffed with cheese and prosciutto for lunch, and locally-inspired flavours like venison with polenta and wild mushrooms for dinner. The Dolomites on a budget? Adiamo!
Best for stellar Swiss slopes: from Zermatt to Saas-Fee
The first word in Swiss skiing luxury, Zermatt is a by-word for glamour. With its tight, pedestrianised streets lined with fur shops, apartments strung with chandeliers and the ever-present crooked spur of the Matterhorn peering down from its lofty precipice, there are many reasons why Europe’s glitterati flock here to eat, drink and, occasionally, ski. If Switzerland is your preferred destination of choice but you’re turned off by the rumoured high prices, opt for neighbouring Saas-Fee instead. Just as pretty and pedestrianised as its bigger, bolder brother, you’ll still enjoy the ring of towering 4,000-metre peaks and alpine charm – at a lower cost. At lunch, mountain restaurants bustle but are a far cry from Zermatt’s crowded terraces – this is a Swiss resort with tranquillity and is, dare we say it, relatively low key.
Best for English-speakers: from Val d’Isère to Soldeu
More Brits ski in Val d’Isère than anywhere else in the world – for good reason: reliable snow cover, 300 kilometres of varied pistes across both Val d’Isère and Tignes, some of the French Alps’ finest lift-served off-piste skiing, plus a great English-speaking ski school. Rivalling the Espace Killy ski area for both glamour and size is Andorra, and in particular the resort of Soldeu. The village hunkers onto the side of a steep mountain facing out over the valley, on the French-Spanish border cutting through the Pyrenees. There’s a great mix of modern hotels, but the vast terrain is what those in the know come for. Soldeu is the best setting for exploring the 210 kilometres of pistes at Grandvalira, with steep and deep slopes to rival Val d’Isère’s most fabulous freeride and a wide choice of easy and intermediate runs for those who prefer a shallower gradient. What’s more, the Soldeu Ski School offers an excellent British-run section for English-speaking skiers, with lessons up to 45% cheaper than Val d’Isère’s Ecole du Ski Français.
Best for a larger-than-life experience: from the Three Valleys to Grand Massif
If you learnt to ski in the vast and flashy Three Valleys, a small resort isn’t going to cut the mustard. Enter: Grand Massif. With over 265 kilometres of slopes it’s France’s fourth largest ski area, with a huge variety of choice across four vastly contrasting resorts. Like Courchevel, Flaine is split between different villages, each with its own character; Flaine Forum is built around a traffic-free square linked via lifts and pistes to Flaine Forêt, which sits at a higher altitude, while Samoëns is built around a charming traditional village much like Meribel. Just an hour from Geneva Airport and easily serviced by the A40 motorway, it’s brilliantly accessible, but its main draw is the scale of slopes serviced by the all-encompassing Grand Massif lift pass: a high season six-day pass here is likely to set you back around €250, around €60 cheaper than the Three Valleys. With tree-lined runs, outdoor sculptures by Picasso and Savoie charm on the doorstep, you’ll wonder why you haven’t come sooner.
Best for beginners: from Alpe d’Huez to Kranjska Gora
Beginner skiers are well catered for across Europe, but for first timers the gentle slopes of Alpe d’Huez are a recurrent favourite. While many ski areas seem to slot in nursery slopes as an afterthought, here you’ll discover a huge array of snowplough-friendly runs and no fewer than 12 easy greens. More, ahem, mature beginners will appreciate the variety of slopeside bars like La Folie Douce, but if you’re travelling with kids in tow then consider the quieter, spectacularly beautiful resort of Kranjska Gora in Slovenia. This pint-sized resort is cradled by gorgeously atmospheric mountain peaks and, conveniently, specialises in first-time skiing, with an array of inexpensive hotels lining the ski runs that offer spas to soothe wobbly beginner legs after long days on the snow. The skiable area is relatively petite – daily lift passes cost just €30 – but there’s plenty to do if you fancy a day out of bindings: try snowshoeing, sledging or winter hiking instead.