Let’s not kid ourselves. When we say “cheap ski holiday” we’re not talking about something that costs a couple of hundred quid. Whatever you do, and however hard you try, once you’ve factored in your lift pass as well as accommodation, food and travel, you’re still going to spend more than £600 for a week.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t make BIG savings on the cost of your winter trip. Here’s how.
1. Ski the low season if you don’t have kids
Ski holiday prices are not the same for the whole winter. The weeks of New Year and February half term are the most expensive: and in early December, most of January, mid-March and late-April they’re considerably cheaper. In fact, they’re up to 40% cheaper, and that’s before any late-booking discounts have been factored in (see below). If you avoid school holidays in general, and New Year and half-term in particular, you’ll save yourself a packet.
2. Or target Easter and Christmas if you do
Now that the government has tightened up regulations concerning term-time holidays for children, it’s getting tougher for families to avoid peak-season pricing. However, Christmas and Easter holidays are both cheaper than New Year and half-term: and if you’ve got a steady nerve and don’t want the services of a tour operator specialising in childcare, you can usually get a last-minute deal. Just remember to aim for high-altitude ski resorts at Easter to be sure of good snow.
(Families with children in private schools can also make use of their early start to the Christmas holidays – a week before many state schools break up. Ski holidays during that pre-Christmas week are charged at low-season prices – and are often subject to last-minute discounting.)
3. Do your own cooking
Self-catering apartments are almost always cheaper than hotels or catered chalets – even when you factor in the cost of the food. Yes, for many parents, the idea of cooking every night, on top of a day’s skiing, sounds more like purgatory than a holiday. But for groups without children, it can be a blast: especially if someone opens a bottle of wine and everyone lends a hand. Just remember, if you’re driving to the resort, do as much of your shopping as possible in one of the valley hypermarkets – before the final climb to your destination. In-resort prices can be eye-wateringly high.
4. Drive to the mountains
If you live in the south-east of the UK, you can drive to the French Alps in about 12 hours – if you’re lucky with the weather and the traffic. And provided you can fill the car with friends and family, it’ll work out cheaper than flying – even in a low-season week.
Use viamichelin.co.uk to help calculate costs before you go. For a family-sized car holding four people, expect to pay £105pp return for a London-to-Meribel run in January 2014, including Eurotunnel crossings, fuel, and motorway tolls in France. That’s the door-to-door cost by the way. You’ll struggle to sort out travel to an airport in the UK, flights, and transfers up to the resort for the same price. Plus, if you drive, you can carry more baggage, too.
Finally, don’t forget to check out winter driving tips, too.
5. Stay in the valley below a big ski area…
You can enjoy big ski areas – such as the 3 Valleys in France (home to Meribel, Courchevel, etc), the 4 Valleys in Switzerland (home to Verbier), and the Alpe d’Huez Grand Domaine – at lower cost by staying in the valley below them.
For example, Le Chable in Switzerland is only a gondola ride down from Verbier, but like-for-like accommodation here is about 40% cheaper than it is higher up the mountain. You don’t get Verbier’s nightlife, but you do get exactly the same skiing.
Meanwhile, the workaday town of Bourg St Maurice below Les Arcs is linked by funicular to the skiing, and is home to several inexpensive hotels, such as La Petite Auberge. And if you fancy skiing the 3 Valleys, check out Brides les Bains below Meribel, which is linked to the pistes by a long gondola ride. (British tour operator Ski Weekends has accommodation there – served by coaches from the UK: a good recipe for a cheap ski holiday).
6. Or in one of its less fashionable villages
In all the big ski areas there’s usually one village that fashion forgot. In the case of the 3 Valleys, it’s Les Menuires. In the middle of the Dolomites, it’s Canazei. The price of almost everything in these villages – accommodation, bars, restaurants, ski hire, ski school – is cheaper than in their near neighbours, which share exactly the same lift system.
7. Avoid the A-list ski areas altogether
The A-list ski areas are famous for a good reason: nowhere else can quite match the extent and convenience of their lift systems or the terrain they serve.
But that doesn’t mean the skiing’s rubbish elsewhere. In Austria, for example, the SkiWelt offers 279km of seamless skiing, and some of the finest top-to-bottom ski runs we know. Plus, it’s only a short bus ride to Kirchberg and Kitzbuhel, where you’ll find another 168km of pistes. Yes, the altitude is low – so you need to ski it mid-winter rather than at the beginning or end of the season. But by way of compensation prices are cheaper for everything: and you can lower them further by staying in the less-popular villages of Hopfgarten and Brixental rather than Soll and Westendorf.
Another example of an inexpensive interlinked area is the Wildschonau area, shared by Auffach and Niederau as well as Alpbach. All these resorts are cheap compared to the likes of Courchevel, but prices are lower in Auffach and Niederau than in Alpbach, which is better-known internationally.
Meanwhile, in Val di Fassa, the pretty town of Moena has some cracking intermediate-friendly skiing nearby, and is only a short drive from world-famous Sella Ronda. Once again, it’s cheap by A-list standards: private ski lessons, for example, are around half the price you’ll pay in big-name French resort.
For more ideas, check out our guide to ski resorts that offer great value for money.
8. Go in a group
Tour operators love big groups – and offer free places to attract them. Generally, you can reckon on one person in ten going free – and you may be offered two-for-one lift passes and equipment hire deals, too. Shop around to see what you can get, and don’t forget to check our home page for the latest round-up of ski holiday deals and discounts. Incidentally, Inghams is currently offering a generous one-in-five free places and free lift passes.
9. Book early…
Booking early is a great idea if you’re targeting a peak-season week (which is unlikely to be discounted at the last minute), or you’re travelling in a big group and want to fill an entire chalet. One of the best times to do it is during the winter before you want to ski: that way, you’ll often get next year’s holiday at this season’s prices. Look through the summer for come-hither discounts, too. At the time of writing there are still some around from the likes of Crystal. Keep checking our home page for the latest round-up of ski holiday deals and discounts.
10. Or book late
If you’re targeting a low-season week, and you’re not too fussy where you end up – then don’t book until the last minute. It’s one of the surest routes to a cheap ski holiday. Pre-Christmas, mid-January and before and after the school break at Easter are good times for bargain-hunters – when low-season prices are cut still further by the tour operators. In December 2012 package holidays for the week before Christmas were going for as little as £299pp for a week, chalet board, including flights and transfers. Once again, our round-ups of the latest deals and discounts have some of the tastiest offers: check out the specialist travel agents such as Snow Finders, too.
11. Bunk down at night
Don’t forget many resorts have youth hostels – and if you don’t mind sharing a bunk room you can get accommodation at a fraction of the normal price. In France, for example, the sport-for-all organisation, UCPA, is open to anyone aged 18-40, and offers complete holidays including full-board accommodation in bunk rooms, lift pass, equipment hire and tuition. You’ll find branches in many famous resorts – and British outfit Action Outdoors packages them up with return coach travel. For example, in early January 2014 a week’s all-inclusive holiday in Val Thorens costs £653pp. The only thing you’ll need to buy on top of that is your drinks.
12. Wring extra value from your chalet
Not all chalets are ultra-smart and expensive, and in many the staff are pretty relaxed about letting you nip back at lunchtime to make a sandwich or a bowl of soup (providing of course you bring your own ingredients, and leave them a tip at the end of the week). The big tea that’s laid out at the end of each day is a boon too: so if you eat enough breakfast you can ski through lunch and fill up on cake at 4pm.
13. Go Airbnb
The Airbnb revolution has reached the mountains; and in both Europe and North America you’ll find locals offering spare rooms or even whole apartments outside the usual channels – sometimes for a fraction of the noraml cost. Amongst the offering we’ve come across are a private room with bathroom at £100 per night in Verbier chalet, and a studio in Gressoney – part of the Monterosa ski area - for £29 per night.
Expect to be treated as part of the family. For example in Aspen, there’s a B&B listed where a double room with king-sized bed and private bathroom costs £65 per night. The owners say: “This is a family home with two adults, a 10-year-old boy, and small cute dog. We try to be quiet, friendly, and accommodating. We enjoy sharing our home and meeting new people who have found their way to Aspen. We’ve had a great time hosting and look forward to meeting you!”
14. Rent your skis in advance
Online discounts for advance bookings range from 20-50%. Check out our feature, Hire your skis in advance, for details.
15. Buy a rucksack
Finally, don’t forget to bring a good-quality 20-25 litre rucksack and a flask. Take your own drinks up the mountain each day and make (or buy) your own sandwiches: you’ll save at least a tenner a day per person on the price of lunch and snacks.