Here in the Tirol they know how to keep the lid on the cost of a ski trip. This is, after all, a region where small, family-run guesthouses intermingle with glittering, state-of-the-art hotels, and mountain huts serve meaty, €6 bowls of soup alongside more elaborate fare. The assumption is that skiing is for everyone, not just the super-rich. How could it be otherwise when most people live on the side of a mountain, or in the valley beneath one?
Here are seven money-saving tips to make your winter holiday more affordable.
1. Ski in the low season
Mayrhofen in the Zillertal is a buzzing, well-rounded destination for a mixed-ability group of adults. What’s more, hotel and package-holiday prices are reasonable for such a high-profile resort – especially given all the skiing available in the neighbouring resorts (which you can ski on the same lift-pass).
But that doesn’t mean the prices are set at the same level right through the season. As is the case with every ski resort they rollercoaster about according to the popularity of the week in which you travel. New Year and the mid-February school holidays are usually the most expensive times. Mid-December, January and March are considerably cheaper – especially when you factor flights from the UK into the equation. At the time of writing, for example, a week’s flights-inclusive package holiday over February half term, staying half-board in a four-star Mayrhofen hotel can be more than twice the price of a week in January in the same property. So ski in January if you can. Not only will the pistes be quieter: you’ll be making a considerable saving too.
2. Don’t pick a giant ski area for your first wintersports trip
These days, the Alps are brimming with big ski areas. And no wonder: knitting together hundreds of kilometres of pistes, they offer a mouthwatering sense of possibility to those with the skills to ski them. But they can be expensive. The most fashionable have become as famous for their prices as they are for their snow.
Vast winter playgrounds like this are wasted on beginners. So save the behemoths for later in your skiing career and look for somewhere smaller instead: somewhere like Auffach in the Wildschönau. Part of the Ski Juwel lift system (which celebrates its 10th anniversary this winter), Auffach is pretty village which has just expanded its beginners’ area, and supplements that with several broad and steady intermediate pistes a little higher up – where you can build your confidence and make your first parallel turns. Add some friendly mountain restaurants on the slopes into the mix, and the Grutt’n Stadl bar in the village for the odd drink, and you’ve got everything you need for your first, mid-winter ski holiday. The icing on the cake comes courtesy of the prices. At the three-star Hotel Platzl in the valley, for example, double rooms in January are around half the price (on a B&B basis) of those in some three-star hotels in Courchevel 1850 in France.
Of course, you don’t have to be a beginner to enjoy Ski Juwel Alpbach Wildschönau. If you’re an intermediate who wants to boost your fluency and precision then a good, mid-sized area like this can be a Godsend. Use some of the money you’ve saved on the price of your accommodation to invest in some group or private lessons – and focus on improving rather covering lots of terrain. You’ll find the tuition prices are lower in the Ski Juwel than in the A-list ski areas as well.
3. Use public transport for your airport transfers
There’s no doubt that a taxi transfer from the airport to your chosen resort is the most relaxing way to travel. But in a country with a public-transport system that’s as well developed as Austria’s, you can save a packet by using trains and buses, without spending too long waiting for your connection.
In the Tirol, the 60-mile trip from Innsbruck Airport to St Anton is one of clearest examples of the savings you can make. At the time of writing, a one-way taxi transfer for a group of three can cost €197. Contrast that price – €66pp – with the cost of quick bus ride to Innsbruck’s railway station, and a fast connecting train to St Anton’s mainline railway station: €18.80. What’s more, the journey by bus and train can be done in 90 minutes.
4. Hire your ski and boots in advance
It’s almost always cheaper to rent your skis and ski boots online and in advance of your holiday – rather than when you get to the resort. At the time of writing, a six-day rental with Skiset of intermediate-level skis, boots and a ski helmet in Söll in the SkiWelt came with a 10% discount over February half term. The total cost: €154.80. Interestingly, if you book the same rental package for the same week through Skiset in Les Gets in France the discount is bigger – at 20%. But the final price is also nearly €49 higher, at €203.20.
5. Stay in a self-catering apartment
It’s almost always cheaper to stay in a self-catering apartment than in a hotel. Yes, you’ll have to cook for yourself, but also you’ll have more privacy and more space to spread out in. Plus, you can use your kitchen to make sandwiches for inexpensive ski lunches – and if the shopping and chopping gets too onerous then you can always give yourself a night off and seek out a local restaurant. At the time of writing, a one-bedroom self-catering flat at the Aeon Apartments in St Johann in Tirol cost £810 for a week in early January, and sleeps up to three people. That’s only €270pp a week for piste-side setting. It’s only 100m from the nearest ski lift, too.
6. Look out for lift pass discounts
Austrian skipass prices are already competitive with those of other Alpine ski areas. This season, for example, a six-day high-season Arlberg pass, which opens up 301km of pistes around St Anton, St Christoph, Stuben Zürs, Lech, Warth and Schröcken costs €358, compared with €378 for Val d’Isere-Tignes (300km) and €478 for Zermatt (360km). Meanwhile Ischgl’s peak-season ski pass (for 239km) is €293.
But there are ways to lower your ski prices further. For example, in Ischgl, holders of an Ischgl Guest Card (issued to those staying in the resort) get money off their ski pass prices before Christmas and in January and April under a VIP Discount scheme. Meanwhile, during family ski weeks in the SkiWelt, all children and teenagers under 16 ski for free. And in the city of Innsbruck, the Ski Plus City Pass gives you not just to the 13 ski areas around the city but also 22 museums and attractions, as well as public transport. So always check online at a resort’s official website to see what the latest offers are.
7. Tuck into Gulaschsuppe at lunchtime
A long mountain lunch is one of the great joys of a skiing holiday. But you don’t have to indulge in such a feast every day of your trip. Instead, why not save money for the occasional blowout meal by eating Gulaschsuppe at lunchtime? Most Tirolean mountain restaurants serve this mighty, beefy broth. One €6 bowl (with a slice of bread) will keep you going until the lifts shut.
And if you don’t fancy Gulaschsuppe how about Tiroler Gröstl instead? The Tirolean version of bubble and squeak, it features on the menus of many of our more traditional mountain huts and restaurants and is a full blown meal for around €12.