Affordable alternatives for skiing in the Alps
Just a few valleys over from Courchevel and Meribel is the Haute-Savoie hamlet of La Clusaz. (Grahame McConnell/Getty)
Planning a European ski holiday can be daunting. The Alps have so much incredible terrain and so many varied resorts that just deciding where to go and where to stay can leave you dizzy with indecision. Factor in the cost of lodging, on-mountain meals, lift tickets and equipment rentals – as well as the exchange rates -- and you might start feeling even more light-headed.
The good news is that lift tickets are generally cheaper at most European ski resorts than they are in the US. And because many European ski packages and hotels offer half and full-pension options (a rarity at US resorts), an Alpine ski holiday can actually be quite affordable. Read on for five lesser-known European ski destinations that won’t break the bank -- so you can stretch your pound, euro or dollar into more quality time on the slopes.
Swap Swiss luxury for the Italian variety
Families in search of the perfect alpine holiday are generally not foolish enough to think they will find it in Zermatt, Switzerland. The Matterhorn’s pedestrian-only base village is about as picturesque as it gets – and about as expensive as it gets too. Buy a postcard instead and drive 360km south across the Italian border to the resort area of Pragelato Vialattea, in the piste-rich Piedmont region. There are more than 380km of skiable terrain here, and this month’s opening of a new Club Med luxury resort makes it all the more appealing for winter sports fun, with the rates including lift tickets, ski instruction, children’s programs, gourmet meals and activities like cross-country skiing lessons and sledding too. If you are the type of skier who wants all the extras as part of the package, this might be one of the very best ones around.
The who’s who of Vienna and Munich -- not to mention jetsetters from around the world -- may be happy to part with their hard earned cash to be part of Austria’s most stylish ski scene in Kitzbühel. But since you came for the snow and not to preen in your finest fur, head 130km west to end-of-the-valley ski village of Kühtai near Innsbruck instead. Lift tickets and dining are far cheaper here, but the ski terrain hardly skimps. Kühtai is Austria’s highest alpine village, sitting above 2,000m, meaning the snow-covered runs last well into May. The Jagdschloss Kühtai, owned by a bonafide Count, is the classiest slope-side hotel in the village and well worth the splurge with the money you have shaved off elsewhere.
The Haute-Savoie for less
Big name resorts in France usually come with price tags and crowds to match – such as in the oh-so-chic scene in popular resorts like Courchevel and Meribel in the Savoie region. Sure, when the snow cooperates, the skiing here is some of the finest on the planet. But if you venture just a few valleys over to the Haute-Savoie hamlet of La Clusaz, your money is going to stretch much farther. For a fraction of what you would pay for a room in Courchevel 1850, the highest and most expensive of the three ski areas in Courchevel, you can stay at the ski-in/ski-out lodge-style hotel La Ferme, slope-side in La Clusaz. This stretch of the Aravis mountain chain (which runs between Savoie and Haute-Savoie) has five interconnected ski areas with some good off-piste sections, as well as excellent groomed runs. The presence of more domestic than international tourists speaks to the area’s affordability, and you do not have to worry about getting gouged indulging in your favourite alpine fare (La Ferme’s restaurant happens to be one of the cosiest in town for a raclette dinner – mountain comfort food that involves a sizzling hunk of cheese sliced atop potatoes and cornichons (small pickled gherkins). When you are not skiing, head to local farms that produce and sell reblochon to buy cheese straight from the source. Consider trying out ski-joering, too – literally skiing behind a Scandinavian fjord horse. La Clusaz is among the few ski towns in Europe to offer this rush of a ride.