Although traditionally thought of as expensive, skiing and snowboarding can be done on the cheap. Skyscanner’s guide to getting to the slopes for less will help you get your snow fix for less.
Ski Package deal VS DIY trip?
It may seem a little more daunting to put together a DIY ski trip rather than get a package deal, but independent ski holidays make up a massive proportion of the winter sports holiday market.
Why? Because booking independently can be cheaper, offers more flexibility, allows a more bespoke rather than mass tourism experience, and means you can tailor your trip to your personal ski holiday needs.
With snow falls seemingly becoming more erratic and snow cover less predictable these days, DIY trips also give the option of being able to book flights in advance, but hold back on picking a specific resort until nearer the time.
Saying that, by all means scan the package holiday pages, as good deals can be found.
The DIY Ski Trip Check list
Use Skyscanner’s simple checklist below to help you organise your DIY ski trip. For the average ski holiday, you will need to arrange:
3. Lift Pass
5. Extras: ski equipment hire, lessons, guiding etc
All of these components can be quickly and easily booked over the internet, often at a lower cost than as a package.
Where to go? Choosing a cheap ski resort
France and Switzerland remain the most expensive Alpine destinations.
Traditionally, duty free Andorra, Livigno in Italy, Spain and Eastern European destinations like Poland, Romania and Bulgaria offer the best bargains.
Some eurozone countries are still good value, for example Slovenia and Slovakia are both cheap, yet worthy ski destinations.
If apres ski night life is not a priority, staying in a small village that's part of a larger ski area can save money too. For example, the village of Vallandry is connected to the main Les Arcs area, but may be cheaper than staying at Les Arcs 2000 or 1950.
Take a look at some of these places for ideas on the cheapest ski resorts.
When to go? – Cheap times to ski
The cheapest times to ski are normally early season (before Christmas) and late season (mid to late march). The obvious reason for this is that good snow conditions are less certain outside of mid-winter. However, choose a resort that is high or quite far north (for example Riksgränsen in Sweden opens till June!) and snow becomes less of a risk. Read more: 10 Best Ski Resorts for Late Season Skiing).
The spring is also a nice time to ski if you want to enjoy warmer, sunnier conditions. That being said, it’s not unknown to get powder days in the middle of May so always take to the slopes prepared.
Avoid Christmas, New Year and school holidays if you can; these are not only the most expensive times to visit a ski resort, but also the most crowded.
How to get there? Cheap travel to ski resorts
Flying is generally the quickest, easiest and often cheapest way of getting to a ski resort. Use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights for your trip.
Find out which airports are closest to your chosen ski resort, then search for flights. Remember it’s often worth checking the prices on flights to airports nearby as you may find a better deal. Some resorts have two or more airports within a three hour drive, so it’s worth looking at flights to nearby airports to see if they’re cheaper.
Also – try to be flexible about the days you’ll fly. Weekdays tend to be cheaper than weekends. Use Skyscanner’s month view tool to compare flight prices on different days.
When to book your ski flight?
The general wisdom is that it’s cheaper to book in advance rather than leave it till the last minute. Keep an eye out for seat sales, or special deals too – for example free ski and snowboard carriage, that is sometimes offered by budget airlines. Read more: When is the best time to book my flight?
Luggage and ski equipment carriage on planes
Remember to check the small print details of ski equipment carriage – many airlines, especially budget carriers, charge extra for carrying ski/snowboard gear. Make sure you book in carriage in advance as you’ll almost always be charged more if you leave it till the check-in desk. See more information here: Airline Ski and Snowboard Carriage Fees.
Trains & Ferries
Don’t forget other travel options; the Snowtrain offers a good alternative for Londoners travelling to ski resorts in the French Alps such as Courchevel, Val d’Isere, Les Arcs and Val Thorens. The other option is self-drive/ferry, which will take longer, but can be cheaper depending on how many people you can put in your car.
Ski Resort Transfers
So you’ve landed at the airport or arrived at the station, now you’ve got to get to the ski resort. At the cheapest end of the spectrum there’s local transport; often there are dedicated ski trains or buses that run to or near ski resorts.
There are also hundreds of private companies offering transfer services via minibus from airports to ski resorts. Ski-transfers.com can help there.
You can also hire a car at your arrival airport or train station – a good option if you’re happy to do the driving and there’s a small group of you to split the costs. Car hire can be a double edged sword though – a car gives you extra flexibility, but check that parking is available, as in some ski resorts free spaces are in short supply.
2. Accommodation – finding cheap ski hotels, chalets and apartments
Booking your own accommodation is quick and easy over the internet. Use Skyscanner's hotel search to find hotels for any resort.
Generally the most expensive accommodation is the fully-catered chalet and the cheapest will be the self-catered apartment, which are easy to come by in most resorts and offer a kitchenette to prepare your own food, or if you prefer you can eat out in town. The self-catered ski appartment is an especially good option for groups or families.
If you're booking for a large group (say 8 or more) then it's probably best to book well in advance, as availability for larger accomodation is more limited. If it's just for a couple or a smaller group, you can risk leaving it till later - but remember - some hotels, chalets and appartments offer discounts for early booking.
3. Buying your Lift Pass
These can be bought directly from the lift ticket stations in resort. You can normally choose from day passes, week passes, 10 day or often a ‘ski 4 out of 6 day’ type pass – the best value if you think you’ll be taking a day or two out from the slopes to relax. Some resorts even offer single run tickets – ideal for beginners.
Because currencies can be volatile, you may protect yourself against bing swings in value and save yourself money by booking your lift pass online in advance. But remember – it’s always a gamble as exchange rates can go up as well as down.
4. Insurance and the European Health Card
Don’t skimp on insurance when skiing or snowboarding. As a high risk sport, the chances of needing medical attention of some sort are reasonable, and medical costs can run into thousands, depending on the healthcare system of the country you’re in.
If you’re going to travel abroad more than twice a year, it normally makes financial sense to get an annual multi-trip deal, which covers you for several trips over a 12 month period. You can add winter sports cover to these, but do check the policy details carefully to make sure you’re covered for off-piste riding if you intend to venture away from the groomed trails.
In addition to insurance, get a European Health Insurance Card, which allows you access to state-provided healthcare in all European Economic Area (EEA) countries and Switzerland at reduced (or sometimes free) rates. It's free to get and will make your life much easier when you turn up at a foreign hospital with broken bones.
5. Extras: Ski & Snowboard Lessons, Ski Guiding and Ski Equipment Hire
Ski and snowboard rental
Skis and snowboards can be hired locally in resort, but you can sometimes save money if you book online and collect in the resort.
SnowRental.net claims you can save up to 40% on the resort price by booking through them, and there’s the added advantage of ensuring you get exactly the skis or board you want, rather than some battered relic from the 1980s.
Remember it may be cheaper to buy second hand gear if you intend to ski more than once a season. Bargains can be picked up on ebay, or visit ski shops towards the end of the season when they are clearing winter stock to get a good deal.
Ski Lessons and Guiding
Whether you’re a complete beginner looking at your first time on snow, or an experienced skier or snowboarder wanting to see the best backcountry the resort has to offer, you should be able to book ski/snowboarding lessons and guiding from the ski resort’s official website.
A cheaper option for guiding can be to get friendly with the locals and ask them if you can tag along . Get chatting on the chairlift; being friendly can go a long way – failing that, offers of free alcohol will normally do the trick.
If you're venturing into serious backcountry however, you should only ever go with experienced guides, and with the correct safety equipement and knowledge to use it.
Saving Money on the Slopes
Mountain restaurants are notoriously pricey so save money by making your own lunch and bringing it with you. Just pack it in a sturdy lunch box, or ensure you don’t fall over. At all.
By chosing the right place, the right time and the right travel option and accommodation, it’s possible to save money and ski on the cheap – so get looking and start booking!