Skiing: Value resorts

Once the preserve of the rich and famous, skiing is increasingly enjoyed by people on a tight budget. Tania Alexander selects the world's most affordable resorts, where you may break a leg but at least you won't break the bank

SKIING CAN be a horribly expensive sport. If you get hooked, the chances are that it will use up a large chunk of your annual holiday budget. Acommon mistake is to pay through the nose to stay in the biggest, most prestigious resorts such as Zermatt and St Anton when you may not be anexperienced enough skier to take advantage of them. If you have only skied a couple of times, or, like most British skiers, can cope on blue and somered runs but have neither the skill nor the inclination to ski the harder red or black runs, it is worth considering the more modest resorts where the skiarea may be less extensive but the prices will certainly be more affordable.

SKIING CAN be a horribly expensive sport. If you get hooked, the chances are that it will use up a large chunk of your annual holiday budget. Acommon mistake is to pay through the nose to stay in the biggest, most prestigious resorts such as Zermatt and St Anton when you may not be anexperienced enough skier to take advantage of them. If you have only skied a couple of times, or, like most British skiers, can cope on blue and somered runs but have neither the skill nor the inclination to ski the harder red or black runs, it is worth considering the more modest resorts where the skiarea may be less extensive but the prices will certainly be more affordable.

When pricing a skiing holiday, do consider carefully all the costs that you will incur. Many skiers book self-catering only to find they are too shatteredto even go to the supermarket. So they end up paying for meals in restaurants every night instead. Catered chalets (where all your meals apart fromlunch are cooked for you and included in the price) are often better value. Also, check the price of lift passes, ski school and ski hire.

Borovets, Bulgaria

Don't go to Bulgaria expecting the same sort of skiing holiday you would have in Austria or Switzerland. Bulgaria, like the rest of Eastern Europe, isstruggling to get in league with western countries, but you will still find big differences between skiing in east and west. The downside of choosing aresort such as Borovets is that it is a bit of an eyesore: large, ugly, modern hotels and mountain restaurants that are just basic little snack bars,completely lacking in Alpine charm. If you are a beginner, however, you may want to consider it. Package prices are reasonable so it won't be the end ofthe world if you discover you don't like skiing after all. Borovets is very popular with British skiers - about 90 per cent of the skiers there are from theUK - and it has a good English-speaking ski school, as well as friendly locals, an excellent nightlife and lots of bars and restaurants. It is also good forfamilies, with an excellent kindergarten run by an English couple.

Getting there

Fly to Sofia, and then there is a one-and-a-half to two-hour transfer to the resort. Inghams charges £278-£465 for a week's half-board atthe Rila, including flights. Its Learn to Ski Package for £88 includes 24 hours of ski-school tuition, six-day lift pass and ski and boot rental.Crystal offers a week in the catered chalet, Deya, from £289-£479, including flights; or a week's half-board at Hotel Breza from pounds282-£449, including flights and wine.

Where to stay

Hotel Rila is a modern three-star complex at the foot of the slopes opposite the four- man chairlift. If you prefer the homely informality of a chalet,Crystal's Chalet Deya (sleeps 10-11) is about four minutes from the centre of the resort and the ski lifts. Crystal also has its own hotel in Borovets,Hotel Breza, with shower or bath in every room, satellite TV, and free child places available.

Pas de la Casa, Andorra

Andorra is always popular with young skiers and snowboarders looking to have a good time. It is a duty-free principality between France and Spainwhere a bottle of gin costs about £4 and where the partying goes on until the small hours. Andorra attracts a lot of beginners - the teaching is ofa high standard and most of the instructors speak English. It is also a popular choice with snowboarders as the beer is cheap, facilities are good and thenight-life is non-stop. Most accommodation offers doorstep skiing/boarding. There is excellent duty-free shopping, so take an extra bag to bring backsome goodies. The downside is that there aren't many tough runs, good mountain restaurants or resort charm.

Pas de la Casa is situated on the French border by the largest ski area in Andorra. There are 87km of pistes in Pas de la Casa, but this season it is alsolinked to Soldeu, opening up the ski possibilities to 150km of pistes. This makes it good not just for beginners but for intermediate skiers too. Evengood skiers can go to Andorra and have a wild week. It is a particularly good resort for boarders - the snowboard park has a challenging half-pipe andthere are lots of off-piste possibilities as well as wide- pisted runs. The lift pass for the whole of Andorra costs about £70, which is terrific value,and children get a free lift pass.

Getting there

Fly to Toulouse, then there is a three-and-a-half-hour transfer to the resort. Thomson offers seven nights at Sandi IV (based on eight people sharing anapartment) from £269-£445 for a week's half-board including flights. Inghams proposes Hotel Cal Ruiz from £345-£601for a week's half-board including flights, and Sandi IV from £199-£325, accommodation only, based on 2-6 people sharing an apartment,including flights.

Where to stay

Cal Ruiz is a three-star hotel that has just been totally refurbished. It now has its own pool and 57 bedrooms, all with bath, shower, wc, satellite TV andtelephone. The "aparthotel" Sandi IV is close to the slopes and ideal for groups on a budget. Accommodation is in studios or apartments that sleep upto eight people with buffet-style breakfast and evening meals.

La Plagne, France

Intermediate skiers will find lots of confidence-boosting skiing at this French purpose-built ski complex in the Tarentaise valley. La Plagne comprises10 villages, each with its own shops and facilities, most of which are purpose-built with door-to-door skiing, as well as a few traditional villages downbelow. Skiing there really is paradise for the intermediate as there is such a large area (210km of piste), with lots of wide motorway cruising on thehigher slopes as well as pretty tree-lined runs down below. There is not much to test the expert but, for the majority of skiers, you can't get much better.France is not really a budget destination, but the strong pound has made it much more affordable again. There are lots of cheap packages to La Plagneif you are prepared to drive and self- cater.

Getting there

Fly to Lyons or Geneva, then there is a two- to two-and-a-half-hour transfer to the resort. Erna Low is the official representative of La Plagne TouristOffice and offers a wide choice in accommodation and package deals. A week in a Pierre et Vacances apartment costs from £67-£152 perperson including ferry crossings or Eurotunnel, based on seven people sharing a three-room apartment, and a week's half-board at Hotel Eldoradorcosts from £299-£519, including crossings or Eurotunnel. Motours offers an apartment for a week at Club Alpina, Champagny, from£315-£553 (based on four sharing), including Eurotunnel or ferry crossings.

Where to stay

Pierre et Vacances has six different residences in the higher resort of Belle Plagne, all offering direct access to the slopes. Hotel Eldorador is a moderntwo-star French hotel, again geared towards convenience skiers. It has a Mini Eldo club for four- to 12-year-olds, as well as other child- mindingfacilities from 9am-5pm. If you prefer a more traditional village setting, Champagny is a small Savoyard village from where you can catch a fast 10-seatgondola to the main lifts of La Plagne in just seven minutes. The three-star Club Alpina is located next to the gondola lift and just above Champagny'smain street.

Kranjska Gora, Slovenia

If you like skiing in the Alps but want to try somewhere different with good-value prices, it might be worth considering Slovenia. The traditional alpinevillage of Kranjska Gora is located in the triangle between Austria and Italy, dominated by the Julian Alps. Prices are reasonable - expect to pay about80p for a small beer in a bar, 75p for a coffee - but the atmosphere is more akin to Austria. For variety, you could drive from there to the Italian resortof Tarvisio or the Austrian resort of Arnoldstein. Kranjska Gora caters well for the convenience skier as most of the accommodation is no more thanfive minutes from the slopes. The ski area is quite small (20 lifts and 20 runs) - good for families and beginners. Crystal has a learn-to-ski package for£99 which includes six-day lift pass, ski and boot hire, 12 hours of skiing tuition, a skiing test and a diploma. It also has a creche and a WhizzKids Club in the resort.

Getting there

Scheduled flights to Ljubljana and then about an hour's transfer to the resort. Thomson offers flights and seven nights at Hotel Kompas from pounds345-£545 for a week's half-board, and Hotel Alpina from £305-£479 for a week with the same arrangements. Crystal offers sevennights half-board at Hotel Kompas from £295-£499 including flights, Hotel Lipa from £335- £495 including flights.

Where to stay

Hotel Kompas is a large chalet-style hotel with indoor swimming-pool, fitness room, creche, and an excellent position very close to the slopes. HotelAlpina is also conveniently located and its guests are allowed free use of the Kompas pool. Hotel Lipa is a family-run hotel, exclusive to Crystal, with apopular taverna and pizzeria.

Lake Louise, Canada

If you want to ski in North America, Lake Louise in the Banff National Park is an affordable choice as winter is its low season so accommodationprices are very good value. With help from the weak Canadian dollar, you can find some terrific deals here this season. There are three ski areas withina 40-minute drive. Lake Louise Village is the nearest to the main ski area (five minutes away) but it has no resort ambience as it is just a small collectionof hotels, condominiums, a supermarket and a few shops. Most of the action takes place in the town of Banff, a 40-minute drive away. The skiing areashave a good snow record right through from November to May. There is something to suit all standards of skier, the ski area is big, and the views arethe most spectacular you will find in the Rockies. Hire a car and be prepared to spend some time driving and you should have a great holiday.

Getting there

Fly to Calgary, then it is a two-hour minibus transfer to the resort. Ski Independence features Lake Louise Inn from £589-£770 for aweek's accommodation only, including flights. It costs from £689-£1,139 for the same sort of deal at the Post Hotel. Crystal's Club HotelColumbia is from £509-£629 half-board including flights.

Where to stay

Lake Louise Inn is a well-priced modern hotel, a few minutes from the slopes by complimentary shuttle. Facilities include indoor pool, steam room andwhirlpool. They also have a good choice of room combinations to suit family groups of different sizes. For a little more money, you can stay at ThePost Hotel, known to have the best food in the area. Crystal's Columbia is a cosy lakeside Canadian lodge in the Yoho National Park, about 15 minutesby free ski bus to the lifts.

Livigno, Italy

Livigno is a high-altitude resort with a good snow record and a young lively atmosphere due to its duty-free status. The village is very long and spreadout - it was originally three hamlets. The whole area is linked by a ski-bus service, free with your lift pass. Its biggest drawback is that it takes ages toget there - the five-hour transfer is enough to put most people off.

The duty-free shopping is excellent- everything from cosmetics to ski clothes, electrical goods and ski equipment. A litre of gin in the shops will costabout £6, although prices in the bars are not so cheap.

The skiing is best for beginners and intermediates, with 100km of pistes. If you buy a six-day pass you are also entitled to a reduction on a St Moritzpass, so you can go and see how the other half ski. Livigno is also very popular with snowboarders. There is a snowboard school, a snowboard parkwith a half-pipe and jumps on the Mottolino side, and a further half-pipe in the Costaccia area.

Getting there

A pain! Fly to Bergamo and then brace yourself for a five-hour transfer. First Choice offers Apartments Nadia from £239-£375 perperson per week, based on six adults sharing a two-bedroom apartment, including flights. Crystal offers Club Hotel Teola from £269-pounds519 per person, including breakfast, dinner and afternoon tea, as well as flights. A week at Hotel Capriolo is £269-£519 half-board,including flights, and a week's self- catering in Arnaldo apartments costs £224-£395 based on five adults sharing, including flights.

Where to stay

If you want to self-cater, Apartments Nadias are located 300m from the lifts and 1km from the resort centre. Crystal has its own Club Hotel Teola,seven minutes' walk from the village centre. It is near the Mottolino gondola lift and, in normal snow conditions, intermediate skiers can ski off- pistedirectly from the hotel. Alternatively, Crystal also features the two-star Hotel Capriola and Apartments Arnaldo. Guests in the apartments can havebreakfast and dinner at the hotel, and free afternoon tea.

FACT FILE

budget skiing Ski operators

Crystal (tel: 0181-399 5144)

Erna Lo (tel: 0171-584 2841)

First Choice (tel: 0870 754 2574)

Inghams (tel: 0181-780 4444)

Motours (tel: 01892 518555)

Ski Independence (tel: 0990 550555)

Thomson (tel: 0181-210 4555)

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