Skiing: mountain high, prices low

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The cost of a winter sports holiday doesn't have to give you the chills. Patrick Thorne reveals how to book a budget break on the slopes

What's the attraction?

Last winter was the third successive ski season to saw fewer Brits heading to the slopes. Now tour operators are hoping that 2011-12 will be the bounce-back season. Conditions are more favourable, they say, than last season when Christmas and New Year's Day fell on Saturday changeover days, there was a clash between French and English half-term weeks and Easter fell on its next-to-latest possible day in April – by which time almost all the snow had melted.

 

Websites are full of apparently cheap deals, giving the impression that affordable ski holidays are readily available. However, that initial price is usually only a fraction of the true cost. Add in lift passes, equipment rental, ski school, child care and meals and you'll soon be deciding between that new kitchen and your ski holiday.

It doesn't have to be that way. Ski in a smaller resort in the "big six" of Austria, Italy, France, Switzerland, Canada and the US or pick one of the dozens of other countries in Europe that have ski areas.

Travel low season and, if you can, overland, to save more.

 

Low-season savings

If you travel between now and Christmas (or after Easter) you'll pay less for almost everything. Snow-sure resorts such as Austria's Obergurgl (00 43 57 200 100; obergurgl.com) and Val Thorens in France (00 33 4 79 00 08 08; valthorens.com) open on 17 and 19 November respectively. Until 27 November, Obergurgl's opening offers include adult ski passes at "senior" rates (€225 for seven days) and one-fifth off equipment hire.

Val Thorens offers a guarantee that it will have better conditions than any other resort and that you'll have doorstep skiing from opening day to May. The terms and conditions are not favourable to most Brits – compensation is in the form of extra days of skiing, for example. But it shows that the resort trusts its snow cover.

 

Cut-price commute

However bad the economic woes of Europe, the premier league of Alpine ski resorts such as St Moritz or Courchevel still command high prices. By booking at a smaller resort, you can enjoy a more intimate ski holiday experience at a substantially lower cost. Plus if it's near a big-name resort, you still have the option of accessing it too.

Becky Horton, of the Tirol Tourist Board, recommends Kappl, situated 15 minutes away on the free shuttle bus service from better-known Ischgl. Half-board hotel packages start at €1,370 for a family-of-four (two adults and two under-sevens) in a family room which includes local ski pass and supervision at the Sunny Mountain ski kindergarten. Book through the local tourist office (00 43 50 990 700; kappl.com).

 

Insider information

"Don't look at the cheap lead-in price used by some operators to entice you as this is usually a self-catered studio based on four in one room. The best value is often found in 'inclusive' catered packages," says Craig Burton, MD of leading travel agency Ski Solutions (020-7471 7700; skisolutions.com). Crystal Ski's (0871 231 2256; crystalski.co.uk) Ski Plus packages, costing from £395 to resorts such as St Anton and Tignes, include flights, transfers, accommodation, ski or snowboard rentals or carriage of your gear on the plane, and lift pass. Book by 30 November.

 

Travel overland

Several companies offer coach holidays to the Alps which – if it's an overnight journey – give more time on the slopes and cost less than flying. Two leading tour operators are Ski Weekends (08444 060600; skiweekends.co.uk) and SnowCoach (01727 866177; snowcoach.co.uk).

For example, Ski Weekends offers a four-night budget break by coach departing from four pick-up points in the South-east on 8 December. The trip also includes accommodation with breakfast at the two-star Hotel Verseau in Brides-les-Bains for £219 per person. Brides-les-Bains (brideski.com/en) is linked by gondola to Méribel (meribel.net) and the world's biggest linked ski area, The Three Valleys (les3vallees.com), with 600km of piste.

 

Ski local

Skiing in the UK shouldn't be overlooked (depending on what sort of winter lies ahead). Scotland's five ski areas (ski-scotland.com) – Nevis Range, Glencoe, Glenshee, Cairngorm and the Lecht – have had good snowfall in recent years and have invested in new lifts and alternate attractions such as a high ropes course at Nevis Range.

Fill your car with food and equipment and drive to the slopes without fear of motorway tolls. A six-day lift pass costs £120 at Nevis Range; a four-day pass at Cairngorm is £105.

 

February half-term

The week's break from school between new year and Easter is traditionally the peak period of the winter sports season, when prices head skywards. Pierre & Vacances (0870 0267 145; pv-holidays.com), which operates apartments in resorts across France, reports that prices for half-term are down as the result of an unusual calendar year: half-term from 11-19 February is still "term-time" in France. England and Denmark are the only European countries on holiday. "The British will have the Pierre & Vacances portfolio to themselves and be able to enjoy off-peak prices and less crowded pistes," says spokesman Cathy Rankin.

The price of an apartment sleeping up to four at Pierre & Vacances Les Terrasses d'Azur in Isola 2000 (0870 0267 145; isola2000.com) in the French Alps costs £674, which is one-third cheaper than February 2011 and works out at £24 per person per night.

 

Technological revolution

Although we live in an ever more mobile world, the ski industry is still largely stuck in the 1960s model of week-long ski holidays with Saturday change-overs for their clients.

Michael Bennett, the boss of tour operator Ski Independence (0131 243 8097; ski-i.com), has sought to change this trend with a new dedicated ski accommodation website called powderbeds.com. It offers accommodation prices sourced in a similar way to search engines used by airlines, ensuring that the best available price is shown for each property in the resort.

For example, a four-night B&B stay at the three-star hotel Les Ancolies in the classy French resort of Courchevel, arriving on Sunday 18 December, costs £305 per person. Travel to the resort is not included.

 

Seasonal savings

Christmas Day 2011 falls on a Sunday, not quite the problem it was last winter when it fell on Saturday, the traditional changeover day, but still not ideal. Inghams (020 8780 6680; inghams.co.uk) has decided to offer a Friday (23 December) changeover for its Christmas holidays instead. "We've ensured that Inghams guests won't be the ones arriving at their hotel halfway through the big festive meal. Don't forget Europe generally celebrates on the 24th for Christmas, not the 25th, so we've moved almost all of our December flights to the Friday, to ensure our guests enjoy their first day's skiing before the two big evening celebrations," says a spokesperson.

For the best holiday prices, families whose children break up from school on 16 December will find they can pay much less if they travel 17 to 24 December, than over the following Christmas week.

 

Who said that?

"I don't want a cheap lift ticket. I just want an expensive lift ticket that costs less." – Warren Miller, ski film director

 

"The sport of skiing consists of wearing $3,000 worth of clothes and equipment and driving 200 miles in the snow in order to stand around at a bar and get drunk." – P J O'Rourke, 'Modern Manners', 1984

 

"The only sport where you spend an arm and a leg to break an arm and a leg" – proverb

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
football
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
News
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<p>
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
</p>
<p>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
<p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
<p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
News
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
Voices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?