Top 3 low cost European ski resorts
Autumn is a time when thoughts turn to skiing and searching for the best places to ski in Europe. Every year I go through the same process: look for a snow sure resort that’s close to the airport (or around eight hours from Calais if we’re driving), research the cost of ski passes and cost in resort, peruse accommodation options, check to see how family friendly places are, look at the amount of blue and red runs on offer and then generally decide against most of them as they’re far too expensive.
However, years of research has helped me uncover some money-saving nuggets of wisdom:
- Skiing is generally cheaper at Easter as most resorts offer discounts on ski passes at the end of the season
- There are lots of traditional towns and villages (known as satellite resorts) throughout Europe where you can stay relatively cheaply and still be close to the lifts, you just need to search a bit harder
- Driving is a cheaper way to travel, particularly if you’re looking to go during school holidays. It also means you can pack the car with ridiculous amounts of skiing paraphernalia
- Booking accommodation last-minute is a winner – there’s always plenty to choose from in the larger resorts
- Having a day off from skiing in the middle of your holiday is an excellent idea
- Instead of buying a six-day ski pass, think about buying passes daily: a half day pass is cheaper and still gives you around five hours of skiing a day, which is plenty for me
So if you don’t have thousands of pounds to spend on a week on the slopes and want to avoid elbowing your way to the front of the ski lift queue with the masses, here are some recommendations for the best family ski holidays in Europe that won’t break the bank:
Cauterets, French Pyrenees, France
The French Pyrenees often get a bit of a bad rap from seasoned skiers who wouldn’t be seen dead south of Courchevel. But this charming region in the south west of France is the perfect place for a skiing holiday.
Ride the gondola up to Cauterets’ ski bowl – the Cirque du Lys, with its 2,415m peak – keeping an eye out for the beautiful old train station that looks like something out of a Spaghetti Western. Cauterets covers quite a small ski area (20 pistes) but there are lots of blue runs that are great for practicing your technique and skiing on pretty much deserted slopes. Excellent snow, very family friendly skiing and not a kamikaze skier in sight. There’s a DJ on the terrace of the ski station too, so you can listen to good tunes while sipping an end-of-day beer in the sunshine.
If you like a challenge, you’ll probably get bored after a few days. But don’t despair, you can head to Grand Tourmalet where there are 100km of pistes beneath the 2,877m Pic du Midi. La Mongie, Barèges and Luz Ardiden are also nearby.
Cauterets itself is a centuries-old spa town, frequented by the bourgeoisie in the 19th century who came in search of the healing spa waters. Beautiful architecture is all around you in this small, friendly French town and it really does feel like life hasn’t changed much over the years. Le Ski Bar, part of Le Bois Joli hotel, is the best place in town for an après ski tipple; A La Bonne Franquette is a tiny restaurant styled like the inside of a cosy ski lodge serving fondue to die for (literally). If you prefer a crepe and mug of local cider, Crêperie du Moulleau is excellent. We stayed at the cheap and cheerful Lagrange Vacances Le Domaine des 100 Lacs. Very basic but everything you need for a week – plus, there’s a pool. When you’ve had enough of skiing, treat yourself to a spa treatment at Les Bains du Rocher or explore the pretty town.
Fly to Toulouse (two hours away) or Lourdes (30 minutes away). The whole week cost around £1,200 for ski passes, ski equipment, accommodation, car hire and flights for a family of four. Don’t think you can get a lot cheaper than that for a family ski holiday.
Pila, Valle d’Aosta, Italy
Ah, beautiful Pila. An unexpected surprise for all of us. Located in the Valle d’Aosta in northern Italy, this alpine ski resort has it all: a super fast gondola whizzing you up to the family friendly ski area, reasonably priced ski passes, lots of low-cost accommodation in the stunning town of Aosta and cosy mountain lodges serving up delicious pasta and bombardinos.
With 70km of pistes and 37 runs, the ski area is around double the size of Cautertes, and it’s easy to spend a week here exploring the varied slopes. The resort has a distinctly Italian feel; runs are wide, long and never too crowded. The mountains soar above the charming town of Aosta, where there’s an abundance of excellent shops, cafes, bars, local restaurants and some impressive Roman ruins.
We based ourselves in Aosta as we wanted to combine skiing and relaxing. Aosta is the perfect place for a stroll, particularly first thing in the morning when the locals are busy going about their business. You can explore the historic town and drink espressos in tiny Italian cafes, buy fresh bread from the bakers and visit local delicatessens bursting with Italian treats.
Gekoo is a great family friendly bar and Ristorante Pizzeria Grotta Azzurra serves excellent pizza and pasta in traditional surroundings. We stayed in an apartment in the atmospheric Roman part of Aosta, which cost around £500 for the week. If you want to try other ski regions, you’re spoilt for choice in the Aosta Valley. Courmayeur, La Thuile, Champoluc and Breuil-Cervinia are a short drive away. Fancy a trip to France? Tignes, Sainte-Foy Tarentaise and Val d’Isere are also within easy reach.
Samoens, Haute-Savoie, France
Samoens is a convivial French town and monuments historiques and ville fleurie – one of the most beautiful towns in France. Home to the Haute Savoie’s stone mason trade, it’s an authentic Savoyard village with a traffic-free centre bursting with speciality shops, pâtisseries, restaurants, bars and the famous Botanical Gardens dating back to 1906.
Just outside the centre, the Grand Massif Express telecabin whisks you to the top of the mountain where you can enjoy 145 runs, divided well between beginner, intermediate and advanced. As part of the wider Grand Massif ski region – including Morillon, Flaine, Sixt and Les Carroz – there are 265km of pistes that pretty much guarantee excellent skiing conditions right up until the end of the season. It can get busy though; if you want to avoid the queues, head down the road to the pretty hamlet of Vercland, home to Samoens original ski telecabine, Les Saix. From here you can get to the top of the mountain on the incredibly Instagrammable 40-year-old orange bubble lift.
On our visit I stumbled on the gorgeous Popcorn Vintage in the town square. Part shop, part cafe, it’s run by a very friendly Swedish lady who also hires out a chalet in town. The best coffee we drank by far. Plus, I found some beautiful vintage French coffee cups that I still use every day for my morning coffee. We ate at the excellent Auberge de Montagne la Table de Fifine and drank at the Aspen Cafe, the town’s most lively apres ski spot.
Accommodation is reasonable compared to the larger resorts in the Apls – we stayed in a well-priced chalet in the centre of town. Geneva Airport is an hour away by car, so it’s an easy transfer. Definitely worth a look if you want quality skiing in a charming French town.
Other ski resorts to watch:
Lake Bled, Slovenia
After a road trip from Brighton to Croatia this summer, we fell in love with Lake Bled in Slovenia. Further research on our return uncovered that you can ski here in the winter. The Vogel ski resort is set in the Triglav National Park; Krvavec and Kranjska Gora also look like good options. A ski trip to the Slovenian Alps may well be next on our list.
One of Scandinavia’s largest resorts, Åre has five ski areas and over 100 runs. We’ve always dreamed of exploring Scandinavia and this could be the perfect place to start our family adventure. Skiing in Sweden isn’t like in the rest of Europe, but that’s no bad thing.
Known as a satellite ski resort, Vaujany is a charming French village that just happens to be linked to the vast alpine ski region of Alpe D’huez by one of the largest cable cars in the country. Family friendly, well priced, authentic and crowd-free – the perfect resort.