Ski holidays for the individual are expensive, but for a family they can be seriously pricey – especially if you want to truly relax and book everything through one supplier, as our previous articles show. During school holidays, hotels charge a premium, flights triple in price and ski schools fill up. But there are options out there; even during the school holidays there are savings to be made. Outside of these peak times, dare we say, there are bargains to be had.
If focussed on budget, Christmas and New Year for families is more or less a non-starter. Prices are high, resorts full, temperatures are often very low – not good for small children – and the snow pack is often poor.
February half term, like Christmas, is priced at a premium, and in our view offers probably the most compromised on-snow experience of the season, with huge lift queues and packed pistes.
If you must ski in school holidays – and the headteacher says you must! – Easter is best. Just don’t expect fluffy powder snow in the afternoons. Prices are lower than all other holiday dates, the days are long and, more often than not, sunny. Kids don’t care about skiing slush in the afternoon anyway, and the warm temperatures make for great post skiing activities, such as sledging (and of course the odd vin chaud in the sunshine!)
Outside of school holidays March rules; good snow, higher temperatures, quiet slopes, smaller groups at ski school and empty restaurants make for perfect family trips – if you can dodge the fines!
How big a resort do you need?
As with all things, you get what you pay for. If a resort is cheap, then it more than likely has a limited number of pistes. Therefore it’s very important to ask yourself exactly what you – as a whole family – want from your holiday.
If your children are young, then in reality, a small resort with lots of green and blue pistes is ideal, such as Kranjska Gora in Slovenia, or one of the Ski Welt resorts in Austria. But if you’re a serious skier, and the kids are in ski school or venturing onto reds, then Champoluc in Italy, or Val Cenis in France would be more suitable to keep you all happy.
If renting accommodation independently, even if it’s half board, food can be a big expense and varies wildly between countries. Lunch in France is often poor and ridiculously overpriced, compared to, say, Italy or Austria. Slovenia and Slovakia will have you dancing a jig of joy when you receive your food and drinks bill.
Finding affordable lodging
In, and even out of, resort, there are often more sleeping options than you might think. There are many hostels popping up with twin and even family rooms, such as the Matterhorn Hostel in Zermatt, the Rude Lodge in Morzine, the Lillehammer Hostel in Norway and the great Cube hotels in Nassfeld Austria and the Swiss resort of Savognin. A room for two adults and two children aged under 6 in Nassfeld for February half term is from £950 with HB and lift pass.
If you drive or plan to use local public transport, you will have the much cheaper option of staying outside of resort. Booking engines such as Airbandb, Hostel World, and the International Youth Hostel Association allow for very inexpensive overnight stays, such as the fantastic Lake Louise Alpine Centre in British Colombia from £15 a night or the excellent Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof hostel in Interlaken, from £22 a night.
Driving down costs
There is no getting away from it, driving is the cheapest option, and also enables cheaper accommodation options out of resort. The train is also a good option especially with the new EuroStar direct service to Lyon from £175 return, from where you can catch a local train to La Plagne for £20 return. For more advice on train travel see snowcarbon.co.uk.
Flying in school holidays will only be budget if you check with airlines for their release dates, and then get online at midnight on that day and book before everyone else does.
Cheaper ski hire and passes
Ski Set – who have shops in France, Austria and Switzerland – offer large discounts on hire when booked in advance, sometimes as much as 50 percent. See skiset.co.uk
Lift passes vary widely, so make sure you check before committing yourself to a booking. For example six days adult lift pass in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia (30km of piste) is £118, Val Cenis in France (125km) is £125, whereas Val Thorens (300km) is £170, and the Ski Welt in Austria (280km) is also £170. Resorts often offer free lift passes for younger children, or heavily reduced and restricted beginners lift passes – again check on their websites.
Some ski schools will offer deals on lift pass and lessons. The excellent SkiSchule in Soll, Austria offers 5 days of children’s ski school and lift pass for £195 and child care for under-3’s for £36 a day.
Bagging bargain holidays
Yes they really do exist – take Action Outdoors’ family budget ski weeks in France as an example. These take place over the English school holidays and cost as little as £414 per person for adults and over 7’s, including accommodation, meals, lift pass, equipment hire and 12 hours ski instruction over 5 days.
Crystal Holidays offers one week in Borovats, Bulgaria, for a family of four over Easter, for £1,240 including flights, transfers and Half Board accommodation.