Five lesser-known European ski destinations that will not break the bank -- so you can stretch your pound, euro or dollar into more quality time on the slopes.

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. 

Out-of-the-way Austria
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.

Save francs in the Swiss Alps
The tony alps town of St Moritz may have the name. But if you are looking to save money on your ski holiday, staying in this moneyed enclave is like adding insult to injury in a country as notoriously pricy as Switzerland. Instead, stay a short train ride away in a storybook Swiss village and still access the same slopes. In the Swiss canton of Graubünden, about 170km from Zurich and just 25km from St. Moritz, the tiny village of Bergün looks straight from a Norman Rockwell painting. People pull their children and groceries atop wooden toboggans, two small ski areas offer steep and beginner terrain, and for a token payment of a Swiss franc (the government subsidizes the fare to reduce car traffic in this pristine region), a 45-minute train ride through the mountains takes you to the world-class slopes of St Moritz and Davos Klosters. Hotels here are very affordable, lift tickets are downright cheap -- and the best part? One of the best sledding runs in the Alps is accessed from Bergün’s train station. Ride the train along a Unesco World Heritage route to the top of the mountain pass in the village of Preda and go screaming back down along the 6.5km route under a sky spangled with stars.

Val D’Isere’s affordable cousin
Pretty much every European has heard of the prestigious French ski station of Val d’Isere in the Savoie region, which is why prices here have been on the rise over the last decade. The good news is you can stay in the same Val d’Isere valley and save a heap while carving excellent powder stashes in the nearby ski town of Sainte-Foy Tarentaise, where a fabulous, if smaller, ski resort has been open since 1990. Catered and non-catered chalet rentals in Sainte-Foy Station ski village are priced lower than in Val d’Isere, just 20km to the south. Or save even more by staying at a laid-back hotel like Hotel Le Monal in the original (read: non-purpose built) part of town, from where it is just a short shuttle ride to the slopes. The northwest-facing slopes here keep the powder better for longer than at other resorts in the valley. And if you feel as though you cannot leave the area without a day at the resorts of Les Arcs or Val d’Isere, they are just 30 minutes down the road.