Cheap and skiing don’t often go hand in hand but it’s certainly possible to make great savings if you’re savvy with your booking. For starters, if you can help it, don’t travel during half-term; check that the supposedly cheap budget airline doesn’t have expensive and unavoidable add-ons; if you’re a beginner consider smaller resorts as they often equal smaller prices; and ring the tourist office of the resort you’re interested in – they should be able to recommend some value-for-money accommodation options. Last but not least check Groupon and other deal-of-the-day websites for cheaper lift-tickets and package deals.
Here are five of the best budget ski resorts . . .
Cauterets, France: Spa town with a long, snowy season
Best for: Beginners & intermediates
Cauterets in France has one of the best snow records and longest seasons in the Pyrenees. Relatively unknown, it is well-deserving of its place in our best budget ski resorts list, as it offers prices at a snip of those in the Alps.
The pistes, located in the Lys area, are accessed via a 12-minute ride on the Telecabine du Lyse cable car. The skiing is best suited to beginners and intermediates and takes place in a high, open and treeless bowl. The cross-country skiing in the Pont d'Espagne area is particularly good and only 7km from the main base.
Cauterets is a lovely spa town so a tip would be to combine a couple of days’ skiing with a relaxing spa treatment. The Thermes Cesar, located in an historic Victorian building in the centre of town, offers a range of treatments to suit most budgets.
Apres-ski is chilled out and tends to be followed by some local French fare served at any one of the excellent restaurants. For lunch on the mountain try either Le Pont d’Espagne or Reine Hortense Hostelerie. As for where to stay, self-catering is a good value option here as there are plenty of well-stocked supermarkets and shops at which to pick up all the necessities. If you’re looking to save a bit more cash there is hostel-type accommodation available; try the Gite Beau Soleil which is tucked away in the town's old quarter.
Mayrhofen, Austria: Lively Tyrolean village with awesome freeriding
Best for: Everyone! Particularly freeriders & revelers
Mayrhofen might seem like a surprising contender for best budget ski resort, given that it should be on every skier/rider’s wish list, but in fact this freeriding mecca offers great deals at certain times of year – Keep an eye on the holiday deals page at mayrhofen.at
The local area covers a good 133km of pistes and the Ziller Valley covers even more. Along with the year-round Hintertux –just a half-hour bus ride away – the area has a total of 620km of pistes. The downside is that you have to travel but half an hour isn’t too long. As for the type of terrain on offer, there is of course the excellent Vans Penken Park for freestylers and plenty of untouched powder for freeriders. Zell am Ziller and Kaltenbach tend to be quieter spots with heaps of shreddable powder.
The village is attractive – all Tyrolean architecture and timbered balconies. For a place to rest your skied-out body there is a variety of accommodation to suit all budgets but a great value-for-money option is the recently renovated Gasthof Edelweiss. Situated in the centre of Mayrhofen it is just a 10-minute walk to the Penken gondola. Guests can eat in the hotel’s Italian restaurant for very good prices too. Another option would be the Hotel Siegelerhof, a charming bed and breakfast set in an elegantly designed garden.
Nightlife is lively, however if you fancy a more chilled out night the resort more than caters for this. Mayrhofen is famed for its après-ski scene and there are a plethora of bars to suit all tastes. If a party is indeed what you’re looking for then look no further than Snowbombing – simply the best mountain festival experience around.
Freeride Hot Spots Austria - Mayrhofen
Copyright: Silvretta Montafon
Ellmau, Austria: Relaxed, pretty village ideal for families
Best for: Families with young children
Quaint Ellmau is a traditional village which forms part of the extensive SkiWelt area, Austria’s biggest linked area of slopes. The other areas include Soll, Hopfgarten, and Brixen, all of which currently offer relatively low prices. Those who enjoy cruising will get the most out of the terrain on offer but advanced skiers will find their technical ability challenged on the black runs atop Solls Hohe Salve, which at 1830m marks the highest point of the area. There are some fantastic nursery slopes on either side of the village making it a perfect place for families, as well as easy areas up the mountain at Astberg and Brandstad.
The downside to this budget ski resort is that the low altitude means that a good snow dump is not a regular occurrence but to combat this, the resort has an efficient snowmaking system which is something of a life-saver.
If you’re after a party then best to head elsewhere as Ellmau après is laid back and will most likely disappoint drunken revelers. The resort is most suited to those who will appreciate its relaxed vibe and is perfect for families with young children. For traditional hearty fare and delectable puddings try Café Hermann. As for accommodation, there are plenty of value package deals available.
Children learning to ski in Ellmau, Austria.
Copyright: Credit Andrew Dowsett
Sestriere, Italy: High-altitude skiing on the Franco-Italian border
Best for: Intermediates
Sestriere (2,035m) forms part of the vast Milky Way circuit (400km) so a good skier will get a lot of bang for their buck (See Three of the best ski safaris). The resort has hosted FIS Ski World Cup races and was one of the main venues for the Torino Winter Olympics. Thanks to its high-altitude, north-west facing slopes the resort is more snow-sure than its neighbours and has more challenging runs. The runs down into Sansicario are great for intermediate to advanced skiers and the Olympic Black is highly recommended.
Sestiere attracts an international set and as such nightlife is generally buzzing. You’ll find the Brits at the Hutel du Col bar at the base of the main piste, otherwise head to Pinkies Pizzeria for a few drinks and Tabata for dancing at the weekend.
The downside of a great resort with budget skiing for everyone? It’s a purpose-built resort and it looks like one too. Self-catering is a good move in Sestriere with nearly all of the major tour operators offering deals. If you can afford to spend a bit more The Miramonti and Savoy Edelweiss, both three-star, are in good locations.
Sestriere, Via Lattea, Piemonte
Copyright: Ezio Romano
Vogel, Slovenia: Pretty tree-lined chutes above Lake Bohinj
Best for: Beginners & intermediates
Some of the best budget skiing is in Eastern Europe and if you’re with a group of beginners then it really is worth doing your homework because you could save hundreds of pounds.
One of the best, in terms of scenery and budget, is Slovenia. This tiny country, just half the size of Switzerland, has earned the nickname ‘Europe in Miniature’ such is the diversity of its stunning landscape. Vogel, one of the better-known ski resorts, is located in Triglav National Park above the tranquil Lake Bohinj. Peer into Slovenia’s largest natural lake and you’ll see glaciers and mountain peaks reflected in its aqua-blue waters. As for the skiing, it is situated within two bowls, and is better suited to beginners and intermediates. There is a decent black run complete with steep drops and tree-lined chutes down from the top of Sija, which at 1,800m is the resort’s highest peak, but confident skiers will conquer the majority of the terrain with ease.
There are a number of inns, chalets, and a hotel on the mountain to choose from, most of them cheap, cozy and with awesome views. The downside of this serene environment is the lack of infrastructure and a lack of convenience; lifts are outdated and restaurant choices are limited. Nightlife is not happening either. However a friendly family-owned restaurant worth a visit is the Gostilna Gombac, its venison is renowned and the gnocchi to die for.
Fresh snow in Vogel, Slovenia.
Copyright: Credit Mitjamavsar