If you’re tired of the over-inflated prices charged in the big-name ski resorts, then it is time to look further afield to get value for money. You can still enjoy the major ski resorts in the Trois Vallees at lower cost by staying either in one of the less fashionable villages – or a short drive away along the valley. Alternatively you can opt out of the well-known ski resorts altogether, and choose an area that has yet to be discovered by the masses.
1. La Norma, France – What it lacks in size, it makes up for in punching power
This is a ski resort where the plat du jour in a mountain restaurant will set you back around £8 instead of twice (or three, even four times) that. Where an adult lift pass can be as little as £17.30 per day, and you can get a good bottle of wine in the resort supermarket for £4. You can even buy a three-room apartment here for around £60,000. The best thing about reasonable prices? They’re even more reasonable in the second week of January, so this really is value for money.
At 65km, the ski area may not be the biggest in the Maurienne Valley. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in pound-for-pound punching power. There are simply dozens of great descents here – far more than anyone would typically expect for a ski resort of this size.
2. Sauze d’Oulx, Italy – Hard to find better value in the Alps
Sauze d’Oulx once had a reputation as one of the party capitals of skiing – a sort of Benidorm on snow, where pub culture took precedence over skiing. But Sauze has long since cleaned up its act and somehow morphed back into the charming Italian mountain village that it once was.
Sauze’s slopes – even in high season – are never impossibly over-crowded. You’ll queue for a maximum of ten minutes at the hub access points, but will then find yourself on blissfully empty slopes once you are the out of the main ski resort and headed towards the smaller and lesser-known villages. Everything is good value for money here, too. If you’re after lots of intermediate skiing, good food and a laid-back unsophisticated atmosphere, this could be the place for you.
3. Alpbach, Austria – Cute and cuddly usually costs extra in the Alps. But not here
Over the last ten years the fashion at the top end of the chalet market has been for a rough-hewn and reconditioned look. People want their mega-properties to seem ancient, and many an Alpine (and Balkan) barn has bitten the dust to provide the requisite timbers.
But you don’t have to be a gazillionaire to enjoy this kind of environment. Just check into Alpbach for a week and it comes as standard. Clustered around its church, the whole village is a delicious muddle of pitched roofs and creaking wooden balconies, and has in the past been voted the prettiest in Austria. On Sundays, the locals still go to church in their Lederhosen. After a week here, you’ll probably feel like joining them.
Sounds like the perfect ski resort? Well, not quite. The problem lies with the pistes. Until recently there were only 53km of them, with the highest reaching only 2100m. But now it has a new link to Auffach in the Wildschonau (the nearby villages of Niederau and Oberau also share the lift pass), which make the new area – Ski Juwel – an important one. The link runs between Inneralpbach and Auffach with two eight-person gondolas and a long descent from the top on either side. If you fancy spending some quality time with your partner, or your children, or maybe just a novel – then Alpbach is just the ticket.
4. Madesimo, Italy – Top-quality piste skiing and some great restaurants
Few Brits have heard of Madesimo. But now we’ve become a nation of bargain-hunters, that ought to change. During the week the slopes are blissfully uncrowded and there is a distinct lack of lift queues, although it gets busier at weekends when visitors arrive from Milan. The local skiing is mostly intermediate, with long trails leading into the neighbouring Valle di Lei with its mainly red runs and some challenging blacks, including the famous Canalone itinerary. The compact village means that you can be up the mountain quickly from wherever you are staying.
The village has a good range of restaurants, cafes, pizzerias, bars and shopping opportunities. So if you’re after a smooth, sybaritic experience, which won’t break bank – put it high on your hit list.
5. Les Menuires, France – It’s no beauty, but the skiing is a treat
Do you know where Meribel chalet owners send their guests when they ask for the best, quiet, on-piste skiing in the Three Valleys? They send them to Les Menuires. It may be famous for its eyesore architecture, but beyond the multi-storey apartment blocks lies one of the most neglected corners of the entire ski area – 2804m Pointe de la Masse. It’s home to some cracking runs – and oodles of off-piste too – and if you stay in Les Menuires you’ll have trashed the place long before the Meribel-ites have even made it to the bottom of the Masse 1 gondola. Chances are, you’ll have paid a lot less for your accommodation too. Many of Les Menuires’ apartments are small and pretty basic. But a week in one of them can be had for the price of lunch in one of the high-falutin’ restaurants elsewhere in the Three Valleys.
6. Canazei, Italy – One of the cheapest resorts from which to ski the Sella Ronda
Why don’t more Brits ski in the Italian Dolomites? It has oodles of what many of us are after: comfortable, mid-priced chalets, hotels and apartments; m ountain restaurants where a proper lunch needn’t cost more than 20 euros a head; w ide and well-groomed pistes which flatter us rather than trying to make us feel inadequate; and stunning mountain views. Canazei has these qualities in spades. It’s also a little cheaper than its neighbour, Selva, which is the better-known base for skiing the Sella Ronda (the famous circuit of pistes that girdles the slab-sided Sella massif): expect to pay considerably less in Canazei for a package holiday in a catered chalet than in Selva. Because of the rather dry Dolomite climate, snowboarders and powder hounds should give it a wide berth. But everyone else will have a ball.
7. Pas de la Casa, Andorra – Heaven for party-loving 20-somethings
Pas de la Casa provokes strong emotions. Unpretentious, beer-loving Brits who want to party as hard as they ski or snowboard, love it. They’ll like the prices on offer too: a pint here costs roughly £2 less than it does in the Alps.
By contrast, anyone looking for cute little chalets and old-fashioned resort charm, or who have young children in tow, may find themselves walking back down the road to France within hours of check-in. Make no mistake: this is not a compromise destination. Come here ready for a whole week of apres-ski. Or don’t come at all.
The one thing everyone can agree on, however, is the quality of the skiing. Pas de la Casa recently joined forces with its neighbour, Soldeu-El Tarter, to create the Grandvalira ski area. Currently, it offers just under 200km of pistes, but when the project is finished there will be 50km more – which is almost as large as the area shared by Tignes and Val d’Isere in the French Alps. In its current form, Grandvalira suits beginners and intermediates best, and the ski and snowboard schools are dab hands at teaching Brits. So maybe it’s no wonder that everyone is in such a festive mood at the end of each day.
8. Monterosa, Italy – In a good winter it’s home to some of the best off-piste in the Alps
Monterosa is the name given to the three-valley lift system, which links the resorts of Champoluc, Gressoney and Alagna above the Aosta Valley. It can’t compete with the Three Valleys in France in terms of its size, but its relative obscurity has made it attractive in all sorts of other ways. Take the price of a week’s accommodation in a three-star hotel, for example: less than half what you’d pay in the likes of Courchevel 1850 in France.
9. Mayrhofen, Austria – Something for (nearly) everyone
First of all, for anyone used to the ski-in, ski-out convenience of a resort such as Tignes, there’s one important drawback to holidaying in Mayrhofen. You have to ride a bus or a cable-car to get back to the resort at the end of the day. That fact alone has probably kept it out of the A-list, because otherwise it has a lot going for it: a pretty resort centre of traditional chalet-style hotels; pulsating evenings in the Ice Bar at the Sporthotel Strass, and a wide variety of terrain from tree-lined pistes to wide-open powder fields. A championship-level terrain park is one of Mayrhofen‘s many attractions. Significantly, the Zillertal lift pass also gives you access to the Hintertux glacier, which offers the best lift-serviced glacier skiing in the Alps. So you’re never going to have to worry about snow quality.
10. Morillon, France – Cheaper end of the Grand Massif
Morillon is a traditional Savoyard village and Morillon 1100 Les Esserts is the purpose-built village above it. Sixt Fer a Cheval is quite separate and is classed as one of the prettiest villages in France. Together they form part of the Grand Massif ski area (along with better-known Flaine) and make a good family destination with a friendly, low-key atmosphere. The accommodation is mainly self-catering, and there’s a small selection of restaurants and bars, a few shops and a mini-supermarket…so you won’t be tempted to spend a lot of money here.
Highlight of Morillon’s immediate ski area is the 14km Cascades run, which is a wonderful route for an unforgettable day’s skiing: you start at the top of the Flaine cable-car, cross the Sixt Fer a Cheval Nature Reserve and the Gers bowl, and at the bottom a free shuttle bus takes you back to Morillon.