Skiing in Italy‘s fabulous Sella Ronda in the Dolomites just last month, I was stunned by the low prices I found for food and drink. In cute little mountain restaurants I paid 1.10€ for coffee, 2€ for soft drinks, and 4€ for a pint (half a litre) of beer… and that’s just the drinks. I was bowled over by a 6.50€ bowl of soup and pasta for 8.50€. Quite a change from France’s Val d’Isère, where coffee ran anywhere from 2.90€ to 4€, soup (soup!) set me back 13€, and let’s not even talk about the 26€ pasta. Germany and Switzerland, similarly, are emphatically not “budget skiing” territory.
And so I happily added Italy to my list of European skiing destinations that won’t break your bank. When planning your next skiing trip, however, there are several others worth considering, so for those heading for the slopes this winter, here’s a list of my top budget ski destinations in six countries. Lift passes vary greatly in price, depending on where and when you go, but bear in mind that destinations listed here cover hugely varying sizes of ski areas.
One of Europe’s most unusual countries, a tiny speck straddling the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain, Andorra specialises in attracting other Europeans to its ski slopes and shopping centres. If you’re seeking really rock-bottom prices, look no further than Pas de la Casa (top), right on the French border, with cheap and fairly rowdy nightlife at the foot of Andorra’s largest ski area, the Grandvalira. Ground central for skiing in Andorra, it’s most suitable for anyone looking for partying with lots of duty-free booze — so families and older folks might feel more at home in smarter Soldeu or quieter Arinsal. The clubs in Pas are open until dawn, with lots of free shots on offer. As one happy chap told me: “I’ve never been anywhere where they serve so many free drinks!”
That said, Pas does offers some of Andorra’s best skiing, with 193 km. (122 mi.) of mainly intermediate pistes going up from a high 2,095 m to 2,580 m. (6,873-9,350 ft.) and linking with the resorts of El Tarter. Modern lifts abound, and the nursery slopes are smack in the middle of the resort centre. Petit Hotel is a cosy central hotel with just 12 rooms, and rates from 45€. Typical restaurant prices are 4.90€ for soup, 8.60€ for pasta, and 2.90€ for a glass of sangria. A six-day lift pass starts at 240€. More information. Nearest airport: Barcelona.
Söll in the Austrian Tyrol is a great place for intermediates who won’t find anything in the least bit steep or nasty to scare them here. The mountains are more like gently undulating hills, and there are plenty of cute little wooden huts where you can stop off for hot chocolate or Glühwein (hot spiced wine).
The pretty village is a fairly low 703 metres (2,306 feet) with skiing going up to 1,829 m. (6,000 ft.) – but it’s part of the SkiWelt, which is Austria’s largest interconnected ski area. Typical restaurant prices: 2.10€ for coffee, 3.70€ for soup, 8.80€ for pasta, 2.80€ for a soft drink, and 3.80€ for beer. A six-day lift pass runs just 186€ in low season. A typically Tyrolean, typically affordable lodging would be Aparthotel Bergland just across the road from the ski lifts (doubles from 77€). Nearest airport: Munich.
Eastern Europe also has its share of good skiing and great savings, and if you’re interested in mixing schussing with a visit to magical Prague, give a thought to Špindlerův Mlýn, (above), this country’s best-known winter resort, with 25 km. (16 mi.) of piste and 16 lifts, as well as 85 km (53 mi.) of cross-country trails. It’s located about two hours from Prague in a mountain range called the Krkonoše at a height of 810 m. (2,657 ft.) with skiing going up to 1600 m. (5,250 ft.).
Špindlerův is made up of five different ski centres, the best-known of which is Svatý Petr (St. Peter) with an FIS World Cup black run and a big snow park. The others are Medvědín, Hromovka, Labská, and Horní Mísečky, with one ski pass covering them all. Each offers skiing for beginners to the more experienced. Hotel Praha is one of the most popular accommodation choices with a renowned restaurant. Hotels here have some attractive packages, with three-night stays and a lift pass from 50€ per person. Restaurants are also very affordable, with a pasta dish from 99 korunas (3.60€), beer from 33 korunas (1.20€), and coffee from 39 korunas (1.42€). A six-day lift pass starts at 3,160 Koruna (115€). Nearest airport: Prague.
For some of the most reasonably priced skiing in France, try the Lake Annecy resorts in the French Alps, all very convenient to Geneva near the charming lakeside city of Annecy. Le Grand Bornand is not particularly well known outside the country, but offers 90 km. (56 mi.) of skiing from the village at 1,000 m. (3,280 ft.) up to the top lift at 2100 m. (6,890 ft.). It’s also just 10 minutes by bus to the larger resort of La Clusaz, which has another 220 km. (137 mi.) of pistes.
The village is very relaxed and genuinely Savoyard in style; it’s also home to Reblochon cheese, made in the village farms during the winter. Hôtel la Crémaillère is a charming family-run place to stay with just 15 rooms, two apartments and a restaurant that comes warmly recommended, with rates from €66 per person per day with half board. For lunch at the atmospheric Chalet Veney, you can expect to pay 12€ for pasta, 3€ for a Kir aperitif. More information. Nearest airport: Geneva.
In the Italian Alps, the attractive Lombard village of Madesimo (above) in Valchiavenna has narrow streets and a scattering of converted farmhouses. It’s very popular among Italian families who come here for a pleasant break with plenty of snow-sure intermediate skiing. On weekdays the 60 kilometres (36 miles) of slopes remain blissfully uncrowded, although it does get busier at weekends with arrivals from Milan. Slopes go from 1,500 m. (4,921 ft.) up to a heady 3,000 m. (4,943 ft.) and have had some of the best snow conditions in the Alps this winter.
The region’s got real pluses for foodies, too: it’s where bresaola (air-dried salted beef) was first produced in the Middle Ages. The hotels are fairly unsophisticated family-run places, with Hotel Andossi a friendly spot close to the lifts (doubles from 70€). A six-day lift pass starts at 135€, and other prices are similar to the ones I cited above in Sella Ronda. More information. Nearest airport: Milan.
Finally, prices in the Spanish ski resorts are slightly higher than Italy’s but still a lot cheaper than the top spots for skiing in Switzerland or France. For example, lunch prices at Andalusia’s Sierra Nevada vary from 1.75€ to 3.50€ for a coffee, 2€ to 4€ for a soft drink, 6€ to 11€ for a bowl of soup, 12€ for pizza, and 5€ to 7€ for a beer. Six-day lift pass from 149€. Nearest airports: Granada-Jaén, Almería, Málaga. (For more on Spain’s top ski/winter playgrounds, see last week’s post.)
Felice Hardy is co-editor of the ski information website WeLove2Ski.com