Yes, it’s that time of year again when I start banging on about skiing. It’s still weirdly warm here in the south of France (in fact we just had lunch outside) so I don’t hold out high hopes for this year’s Pyrenean season, but we’ll see.
Skiing is usually considered an expensive holiday, and while it can be pretty pricey, it doesn’t have to break the bank if you choose your destiation carefully. My other top tip, if you can bear to take your children of school (or they are still pre-schoolers) is to go in the first two weeks of January. The slopes will be virtually empty, snow is likely to be good and there are some real bargains too be had.
I recently wrote this piece below about budget ski destinations for The Express – I hope it gives you some ideas.
“IKEA principle” skiing in top French resorts – If you want the scope and facilities of a large resort without the usually-accompanying massive price tag, Action Outdoors offers bargain-basement holidays for 18 to 40 year olds in top resorts including Val d’Isere and Chamonix – huge ski areas with almost every type of slope imaginable from snow-sure glaciers to tree-lined glades – by stripping away all the frills. Several people share a room (although twin rooms are available for a supplement) and guests are expected to wipe down tables after meals and clean their room at the end of their stay. All packages include a buffet breakfast, lunch (hot or packed), afternoon tea and an evening buffet, lift pass, equipment hire and various kinds of instruction (from beginners to off-piste) or guiding as required. Options this year range from a week in Tignes from Dec 10 for £446 to a week’s “Steeps Off-Piste Guiding” in Les Arcs (a fantastic ski area marred only by its ugly tower-block buildings) from Feb 18 for £830. Travel is not included but coach travel can be arranged from £99 with Snow Express.
Bulgaria – Bulgaria is a great budget option, having the added advantage of being outside the euro-zone. The smaller, comparatively low-lying resorts with plenty of trees mean it is generally best suited to beginners and early intermediates rather than experts – although there are some more challenging runs. The largest and best known resorts are Bansko, Borovets and Pamporovo which are all good options for beginners and families. Pamporovo is said to be the sunniest Bulgarian mountain resort with around 120 sunny days during its December to April season and has 11 easy slopes for beginners, a four for intermediates and “The Wall” – a steep and challenging mogul field – for the more advanced. Eating out is very reasonable – try the “Chervemeto” for spit-roast lamb and The Lodge is good for lunchtimes on the slopes. Seven nights half-board at Hotel Snezhanka, Pamporovo costs from £436pp including flights, transfers, equipment hire and lift pass. www.crystalski.co.uk , 0871 231 2256.
America – With dollars now going so much further than euros, a skiing holiday in America can now make financial sense. To keep accommodation costs down, stay in Salt Lake City, within easy reach of 11 of Utah’s ski resorts while also being close to the shopping, dining and nightlife of the city. Park City Mountain Resort, which hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics and the pretty mining town dates back to the 1870s, is so close to the city it has a lift in the old part of the town and you can ski right down to its many shops, galleries and restaurants. It’s family friendly with small classes for children which snake through wooded trails and for adults there are 50 runs, three terrain parks, buzzing night life and even a lift-served tubing hill. The resort is next to the luxurious Deer Valley (skiers only – no snowboarders!) and the larger Canyons ski area with 182 runs. All three areas are covered by the same pass and linked by frequent shuttle buses. Seven nights B&B at Crystal Inn Mid Valley including flights, airport transfers and lift passes cost from £799pp. www.funwayholidays.co.uk , 0844 557 3333.
Andorra – Duty-free Andorra is made up of several linked resorts and works as a budget option whatever your level of skiing or boarding. While the mountain terrain is somewhat open and stark, the resorts arguably have a more laid-back and relaxed atmosphere than many of their French neighbours. Everything runs on Spanish time – don’t expect to be able to get lunch before about 1.30pm or dinner before 8pm. Pas de la Casa is the highest resort with the busiest nightlife and a wide range of pistes suitable for everyone from beginners to experts. Soldeu is glitzier but also has budget accommodation alongside the four and five star hotels while El Tarter and Canillo are quieter and linked to the huge Grandvalira slopes by high-speed gondolas. Arinsal is arguably most suited to beginners and families with wide-open slopes, tree-lined runs, on-mountain childcare facilities and beginner slopes right at the top where the snow tends to be better and the view, fabulous. Spa-lovers are also well-catered for in the thermal waters of Caldea (around 20 minutes away) and shoppers should head to Andorra La Vella for fashion, jewellery, perfume, food and drink – and electronic goods are especially competitively priced. Seven nights B&B at the 3* Hotel Compapedrosa, Arinsal starts at £304pp including flights from Birmingham and transfers. A six-day skier’s pack (tuition, lift pass and equipment hire) costs from £209. www.neilson.co.uk , 0844 879 8155.
Poland – It may not be the most obvious place for a skiing holiday, but there are several small ski areas around Zakopane offering slopes to suit all abilities. The resorts, built a mix of traditionally-built buildings of wood and stone and modern remnants of the communist area are all independently owned and each have their own lift passes which cost around £10 to £20 per day. You can get a good, hearty meal of mountain-bred lamb or similar for less than £5 per head or a wide variety of international cuisine for a little more. Nosal is good for beginners, Kasprowy Wierch is the largest and most challenging area with mainly black and red runs (including one 6km long) and in Bialka Tatanska, the slopes are floodlit so you can ski till 10pm every night. Public transport and even booking taxis between resorts can be difficult (unless your Polish is good) so it is wise to book a package which includes transfers to the various resorts. Seven nights half-board chalet accommodation, flights, transfers, lift pass, tuition and equipment hire from just £465pp (quote THE EXPRESS)for bookings made before November 15 with Sunshine World www.sunshineworldpoland.com 020 7581 4736.