The best resorts for cheap ski holidays

Photo of Mary NovakovichPhoto of Mary Novakovich
By Mary Novakovich

1 January 20175 min read

A view of a ski slope in the Bulgarian ski resort of Bansko with chalets in the background, snow and forest trees

Skiing can be an expensive business – even when the pound isn’t taking a pounding. Eastern Europe’s ski resorts are still among the cheapest, although you may have to sacrifice size for price.

However, if you’re a novice skier, having hundreds of kilometres of pistes at your disposal won’t necessarily be your first concern. What’s more important is saving money on accommodation, eating out, lift passes and ski hire. You should also add lessons if you’re a novice, regardless of what your friends might tell you!

And don’t forget transport to the area: get your timing wrong with flights and a cheap ski holiday could end up costing the earth – if you’re heading to the Alps then one way to keep costs down is to take a coach, which you can do with the low-cost company Snow Express.

Italy, Austria and France also offer plenty of affordable options – along with high-altitude resorts and up-to-date lift systems.

Kranjska Gora, Slovenia

There are only 20km of pistes in this small resort in the Julian Alps, but it’s a popular choice for families. You’ll find wide, tree-lined slopes and a charming village, as well as some very good hotels that don’t cost a fortune. What’s more, it’s only about a 40-minute drive from one of Slovenia’s most enchanting sights: Lake Bled.

Bansko, Bulgaria

Bargain Bulgaria has been a favourite for some time among British skiers who want some decent slopes and lively, cheap nightlife. Bansko is the largest resort, with a respectable 75km of well-groomed pistes and lots of modern ski-in-ski-out hotels, but be prepared for large queues at the gondola that takes you up to the ski area.

Passo Tonale, Italy

Slopes are high but prices are resolutely low in the fun resort of Passo Tonale in the Italian Alps. The village won’t win prizes for beauty, but its high altitude, speedy lifts and great snow record across its 100km of wide sunny pistes make up for it – and, of course, the low cost of staying there. It’s linked to Ponte di Legno, giving you the option of skiing in sheltered slopes below the tree line if it gets too windy in Tonale.

Val Cenis Vanoise, France

This collection of villages in the Haute Maurienne valley is one of the most affordable ski domains in France, in huge contrast to Val d’Isère just to the north, which is one of the priciest resorts in Europe. Instead of sky-high prices you’ll find traditional Savoyard (a geographic area spanning France and Switzerland) charm and a large choice of apartments where you can save cash by self-catering. Across its 125km of pistes there’s a good combination of slopes above and below the tree line.

Ellmau, Austria

You’ll have 280km of the largest linked ski areas in Austria – SkiWelt – on your doorstep in this extremely good-value resort north of Kitzbühel. If you’re travelling with a mixed-ability group, you won’t have to worry about certain people in the party getting bored.

It’s great for beginners and intermediates who like lots of long cruising runs, and experts can be let loose on the challenging off-piste terrain. Even snowboarders will be happy with the terrain park and a relative lack of flat areas. And don’t forget the legendary Austrian après-ski – be prepared for rowdy renditions of cheesy Austrian pop.

Monterosa Ski, Italy

Tucked away in the Aosta Valley, Monterosa Ski is made up of three friendly, low-key resorts – Champoluc, Gressoney and Alagna. Between them they cover 73km of pistes, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but the area is a big hit for expert skiers who like tough off-piste skiing.

Champoluc is the largest and a good base, as there’s more going on than in the other two villages – particularly remote Alagna. On weekends, Monterosa Ski is hugely popular among locals, so make the most of the more peaceful ambience during the week.

Ste-Foy-Tarentaise, France

You’ll probably hear more British voices than French in this little resort in the Tarentaise valley – many of the chalets were bought by Brits as the village started to develop in the early 1990s.

Now it’s a cosy, compact place with traditional Savoyard architecture and some truly superb off-piste skiing, and it has probably the cheapest lift passes you’re likely to come across in a decent-sized resort. If you have a car and fancy a change of scenery, it’s easy to spend a day at one of the large resorts nearby, notably La Plagne and Tignes.

Livigno, Italy

Thanks to a quirk of history, Livigno has had duty-free status since 1840, meaning cheaper prices on various goods. Considering the resort’s high altitude and snow-sure slopes, prices in general are relatively low – and it has an admirably fast lift system.

There’s excellent skiing for all levels among its 115km of pistes, and the lift pass also includes the chance to ski for half prices over the Swiss border in seriously swanky St Moritz. Its biggest drawback is that it can be a bit of a faff getting there if you fly into a northern Italian airport – Innsbruck in Austria is usually a better bet.

Valmorel, France

This purpose-built resort in the Tarentaise valley is classically Savoyard in appearance – with no modernist horrors in sight, unlike some of its contemporaries. Although it’s very much geared towards families, it’s surprisingly animated for a place its size. There’s only one hotel, so you’re most likely to be self-catering.

Mayrhofen, Austria

As long as you’re not a nervous beginner, you’ll love this buzzing resort in the Ziller valley in the Tirol. Mayrhofen is surprisingly affordable for a high-altitude resort, and you also have access to the Hintertux glacier, which brings the whole area up to a whopping 489km.

Its slopes are more suited to intermediates, although experts make a beeline for the infamous Harikiri piste, which is one of the steepest in Austria. The terrain park is among the country’s best. It’s also home to the Altitude Comedy Festival as well as fantastically raucous nightlife, so make sure you have comfy ski boots – you’ll probably be dancing in them.

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