If you’re tired of the high prices of A-list ski resorts, don’t despair. It’s not hard to find alternatives that offer much better value for money. In many ski areas – notably the Three Valleys – you can cut the cost of your holiday simply by changing the village or town in which you sleep; for example, trading Courchevel for Les Menuires. You can target the valleys and regions that fashion forgot, too. And there are countries where a sense of fair play seems to have an impact on prices, such as Austria, where a hearty plate of Tiroler Grostl often costs little more than a plate of chips elsewhere. Here are ten great examples of resorts which offer -in an average winter – something special without charging a premium for it.
1. Sauze d’Oulx, Italy: mellow atmosphere, ego-boosting pistes
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.
2. Les Menuires: 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 – the 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. Meanwhile, a week in a catered chalet at the start of the season can be had for less than £400pp, not including travel. Increasingly, the resort’s facilities are putting its posher neighbours to shame, too. It now has two public pools: Aquafun and Aquaspa.
3. Alpbach, Austria: where cute and cuddly doesn’t cost extra
For the last fifteen-odd 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 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.
Luxury accommodation here is cheap by the A-list standards of France. For example, a 40sq metre junior suite in the gracious and gorgeous Hotel Böglerhof is cheaper than a regular double room in some three-star hotels in France. And once you’ve had enough time to soak up the sense of calm, you’ll find some cracking pistes on tap, too. The recent link to neighbourging Auffach has created a 145km network of pistes known, as the Ski Juwel. It’s home to some very sweet fall-line descents.
4. Serre Chevalier: big skiing, small prices
In France, big inter-linked ski areas usually come at a premium. But that’s not the case in Serre Chevalier. Squirreled away in the Alps, south of Grenoble, it has a softer, more Gallic atmosphere than its A-list cousins in the north, and noticeably lower prices. That doesn’t just apply to the cost of a chocolat chaud in a mountain restaurant. Accommodation is better value, too. In high season, a three-star hotel is roughly half the price you’d pay for some three-stars in Val d’Isere.
Recently, the resort has also been proactive in organising great value-for-money deals, too. Last winter (2013-14) for example, it offered free lift passes (worth £192) to groups of four booking apartments in low-season weeks. Given that the cheapest apartments cost around £45pp for a week, self-catering – that added up to a seriously cheap holiday.
That said, Serre Chevalier isn’t a sensible choice for night owls, because it lacks a single resort hub where everyone can gather after dark. But with 250km of pistes on offer, and free mountain tours to get you started, it’s a canny choice for anyone who rates their skiing more highly than their Jaegerbombs.
5. Canazei, Italy: dazzling scenery, delicious food
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 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.
6. Brides les Bains: half-price Three Valleys hotels
Want to ski the mighty Three Valleys at a reasonable price – without sacrificing a sense of comfort? Then target Brides-les-Bains. This little spa town sets at the bottom of the lift system, beneath Meribel, and offers lovely, family-run three star hotels such as the Les Bains, and the chic Altis, for a fraction of the usual 3V price. Add in one of their lift pass-inclusive, low-season deals, and we’re talking about a saving of around 50% on the cost of a lift pass and equivalent accommodation higher up the mountain. (British tour operator Ski Weekends also offers low-cost holidays in the resort with return coach travel from the UK.) The drawback is that you’ll have to ride a 25-minute gondola to get up to the main hub of lifts at Meribel. But with 600km of pistes waiting for you when you get there, that might not seem like such a hardship.
7. La Norma, France: small in size but packs a mighty punch
La Norma is a ski resort where the plat du jour in a mountain restaurant will set you back around 9€ instead of twice (or three, even four times) that. Where an adult lift pass can be as little as 25€ per day. You can even buy a 25m2 studio apartment here for around 72,000€ or a bigger 41m2 for 122,000€. 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
8. Madesimo, Italy: top-quality piste skiing and restaurants
Few Brits have heard of Madesimo. But as we’ve become a nation of bargain-hunters, that is about 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.
9. Monterosa, Italy: in a good winter it’s home to superb off-piste skiing
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.
10. Westendorf: hearty lunches, cracking pistes
Pretty little Westendorf sits at just 800m, and the lifts on its local mountain top out at 1957m, which is below village level in high-altitude Tignes. So you’ll need to save it for January or February in decent winter to be sure of getting good snow. But catch it when there’s top-to-bottom cover and – if you’re an energetic, enthusiastic intermediate – you might wonder why you ski anywhere else. The highlight is the sensational Kandler piste, which drops through a muscle-melting 1026 vertical metres; but there’s plenty more, courtesy of the Skiwelt’s 279km of groomed ski runs. By paying a small, one-day supplement to your ski pass, you can sample the pistes in neighbouring you Kirchberg and Kitzbuhel, too. Accommodation here is reasonable: a roomy, well-equipped four star will set you back less than a three-star in the likes of Meribel, and a proper, sit-down lunch can be had for little more than the price of a bowl of soup and a can of coke in some A-list resorts.
See also our feature on how to save money skiing.