Ski lifts in La Plagne, France

How to book a ski trip on a budget

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Booking a budget ski trip doesn’t mean you have to compromise! Here’s my tricks for getting the best from your trip to the slopes for less – from saving on ski hire to perfecting your packing list. You’ll also find tips on where and when to ski without blowing your budget.

At first glance, the price of winter sports holidays can seem daunting. It’s possible to spend an incredible amount of money on luxury chalets, sled rides, slap-up dinners and the latest kit.

But this doesn’t mean the majority of mountain lovers have to be priced out of the game. Whilst skiing and snowboarding come with a bigger price tag than some other sports, it’s very much possible to enjoy an incredible week on the slopes in Europe for a lot less than you might think.

I’ve been skiing for the past ten years, and over that time I’ve picked up a trick or two for finding budget ski trips that are still outstanding fun. Thankfully, I have an amazing group of friends I ski with who are equally keen to find maximum enjoyment without breaking our budget. Together we’ve found a host of ways to make this a more affordable experience. So today I’m sharing these tips with you – it’s time to start planning your trip!

Plagne Centre in the resort of La Plagne, France | Travel guide | Ski guide | Girl with a saddle bag blog

When to book your ski trip

Timing is key. Choosing the right time to book and the right time to travel can make a big different to the price of a ski trip.

Book early OR book late

But try to avoid booking October to December, which is when most people choose to. And admittedly, I almost always do.

If you’re prepared to plan your budget ski trip with the summer sun beating down on your back, you can find some great book-ahead deals. These are particularly good if you want to book a chalet or for large groups. Or if you’re willing to take a bit of gamble, wait until the season starts – or is underway – to find great last-minute deals.

Ski earlier OR later in the season

Because this is less popular, and therefore more affordable. Most of all, check when the European and UK school holidays fall. These weeks are most expensive and busiest on the slopes, as families try to get away while school is out.

Some folks prefer to avoid these times for fear of poor snowfall early or late in the season. But provided you don’t opt for very low altitude resorts where snow can be patchy at the best of times, you shouldn’t have a problem. Pick a resort with snow-making facilities if it’s an extra reassurance.

For great value for money but a mid-season feel, consider the last two weeks in January. This is when we prefer to go. Good deals are usually easy to find, whilst piste conditions are reliable and resorts in mid-season swing.

Penken Mountain Mayrhofen Austria

Choosing a budget-friendly ski trip location

Location, location, location. There’s lots of tricks to choosing the perfect winter sports destination without compromising on the quality of piste or accommodation.

Consider your country

Whilst you’ll find exceptions, there are broad rules of thumb when it comes to choosing which country to ski in.

Switzerland and Sweden are universally considered to be more expensive, in part because they don’t use the Euro. France and Austria have a more varied offering, with a huge range of resorts from the most prestigious (and pricey) through to some budget-friendly gems. For reliably lower-priced options consider Andorra, Italy, Poland, Bulgaria and Slovenia. Personally I love skiing in Italy – resorts like Sauze d’Oulx offer great value for money and you won’t sacrifice on ski area size or quality. Fabulously-priced pizza is also delightly easy to find.

Choose smaller, less well-known resorts 

If you’re keen to ski in France, Austria or Switzerland, you might want to opt for an under-the-radar resort. This can mean two things from a budget perspective – your lift pass will cost less, and you might be able to upgrade to accommodation you might not otherwise have the chance to stay.

For die-hard skiers and boarders who are out at the crack of dawn and want to cover as many miles are possible, this might not be for you. But for newer skiers and families this can be a great option.

It’s also possible to compromise by choosing a smaller resort village in a larger ski area – such as La Tania in the Three Valleys or Montchavin in La Plagne.

Read more: Skiing in La Tania: The best-kept secret in the Three Valleys

La Tania village with snow at dusk

Ace your accommodation

Be open-minded when it comes to accommodation types. Once you take into account the total costs of your trip, unexpected options may be more affordable than you might think.

Self-catering rules

Self-catering is almost always the best value way to book beds on the slopes. It’s not unusual for access to swimming pools and spas to be included in the cost, and you’ll often get perks like a balcony in even the most budget-friendly space.

Know that the number of bedrooms is key when it comes to booking. The fewer bedrooms the apartment has, the less it costs. This doesn’t necessarily relate to the number of beds in a space though. Sofa beds are common, as are bunk-beds. If single beds and sofa beds aren’t a deal breaker, it’s possible to find one bedroom and studio apartments that sleep 4-5 people for fantastic prices.

Calculate the overall cost of your trip

Be realistic about whether you will prepare and cook at least some of your meals.

Self-catering is a great option for hungry families and those who love to cook. But if you’d prefer someone else to spoil you – and do the washing up – a catered chalet or hotel could be much better value. Once you factor in a couple of meals out plus a few supermarket shops, self-catered accommodation can work more expensive overall. It’s worth doing a quick bit of maths first.

Share a chalet

Ski chalets. All the perks of a hotel, like having indulgent meals prepared for you, but with the relaxing, sociable atmosphere of a private home. With luxury chalets fetching serious money during peak season, it’s easy to assume they’re out of reach for many of us.

But they’re not. There’s just a few tricks to bring them in on budget.

If you can assemble a large group of friends or family, you could get a group booking rate. As the often generously-sized accommodation means there’s room for everyone to have a space of their own, it’s a less intimidating than getting a group of folks who may not all know each other into one apartment for the week.

Regardless of how many of you are travelling, look out for chalets with individual rooms for sale. Tour operators often struggle to fill larger chalets and offer unsold rooms in part-booked chalets at attractive prices. We’ve done this on more than one occasion and have always been lucky. It’s a great option if you’re looking for something a little sociable, or would like a chalet experience when you’re travelling in a small group.

Read more: Everything you need to know about a ski chalet holiday

How to save on your ski pass

Your lift pass accounts for a big part of the cost of your ski trip, and a huge part of the enjoyment. Be reassured to know there’s several ways to save, wherever you’re going.

Right-size your ski area

The cost of your lift pass will depend on several factors; the location, the currency you’re paying in, the desirability of the area and it’s size. As a rule of thumb, the larger the ski area, the more expensive the lift pass.

Start out by right-sizing your choice of resort. If you’re starting out, skiing with kids or happy to rinse and repeat when it comes to runs, choose a smaller ski area. This way you’ll only pay for what you’ll use.

In larger ski areas, look out for the opportunity to choose a local pass rather than a full one. For example, local passes in La Plagne or Val Thorens still offer access to a huge area of popular piste without pressure to head too far from home.

Look for multi-buy offers on ski passes

If you want to ski in larger or more prestigious resorts, look out for buy-one-get-one-free and buy-one-get-one-half-price deals with UK tour operators.

This winter (2019/2020 season) I’ve spotted 2 for 1 lift pass deals for Tignes and St. Anton with Neilson, and last year we saved a huge amount on Three Valleys lift passes on a buy-one-get-one-half-price deal with Crystal Ski.

Check whether you can get a better deal buying direct

If you’re booking a package deal, you’ll be offered a price for your lift pass upfront at the time of booking. I usually find this to be the same that offered in the resort itself, but it’s always worth checking.

Occasionally you can save by buying direct from the lift pass office online – providing you don’t pay any fees for using the local currency. Smaller resort, in particular, run offers from time to time and it’s worth taking advantage.

Dynastar skis propped up in snow in Val Thorens, France | Girl with a saddle bag travel blog

Packing for your ski trip on a budget

You’ll be reassured to know that there’s plenty of ways to stock your suitcase on a sensible budget.

Plan ahead with a packing list

Step inside Snow+ Rock and you might be forgiven for thinking you’ll need to invest in an entirely new wardrobe before you head to the slopes. But for most of us, this isn’t the case.

Start right by making a packing list. I’ve even made a handy printable one for you. You can tick off the kit and clothing you already have, then follow my tips to finding the rest at a price that won’t break the bank. This way you won’t find yourself overspending on items you don’t actually need – at the expense of having fun.

Download your complete ski trip packing list at: A complete guide to what to pack for your ski trip

Shop smart for ski wear

There’s lots of ways to save – and spend wisely – when it comes to buying ski wear.

Re-purpose – If it’s your first trip, the best place to begin is your wardrobe. Start by identifying the multipurpose items you already own that’ll be perfect for your winter escape. Thermals, gym wear, running kit, sunglasses and winter boots are all great starting points.

Borrow – Friends and family members who already ski likely have some kit of their own, and are probably more than happy to loan items to you. Don’t be afraid to ask, and offer to do the same in return with kit you have.

Buy high-quality second hand – Ebay is a treasure-trove of branded winter sportswear and equipment. There are lots of folks out there selling on lightly used gear at a fraction of the price that it would cost new. My advice is to research what you want with high street retailers (even checking sizing), then head online to see if you can find last season’s for less. Keep a wary eye out for 80’s gems (you’ll want more recent items) but I’ve had great success in the past with branded gloves and ski trousers.

Choose quality own brands – Not all own brands are made equal, but there are a few that get stellar reviews. Decathlon is always a good stop for ski wear for less. Their kit comes in three price brackets, so stick to the higher ones if you can – they’re still a substantial saving compared to premium brands. Personally, I think their thermals can’t be beaten on price or comfort, with lots of items coming in at under a fiver. I’ve also skied in their Wedze boots for four winters and I love them.

I’ve also heard good things about Aldi’s own brand, so keep an eye out for a special buy.

What to pack for a ski trip | Girl with a saddle bag travel blog

Shop around for equipment hire

If you’re booking a package deal, it can be tempting to accept the kit hire prices offered by your operator.

Take a moment and price check against ski hire agents like Skiset or Alpinresorts. These aggregator sites allow you to book directly with local chains and independent hire shops in resorts across Europe. Look out for regular promotions and signing up to their mailing lists for exclusive voucher codes. They’ll also let you price compare hire shops in your resort to find better value options.

Eating and drinking on your budget ski trip

If there’s one way that’s guaranteed to build up an appetite, it’s spending a day on the slopes. Add into the equation delicious alpine treats, and it can be very easy to let your budget run away on food during your trip. But there’s plenty of ways to spend wisely when you’re away, that’ll make those treats all the more enjoyable.

Make the most of self-catering

One for the keen cooks and hungry families, self-catering is one of the easiest ways to lower the cost of a ski trip. With just a little effort, it’s possible to whip up delicious meals in even a small kitchen.

To set yourself up for success, agree in advance who is happy to cook a few meals and check out what shops are nearby. Google Maps will tell you what supermarkets and more can be found in your resort. Look out for bakeries, butchers and even farmer’s markets (yes, some run year-round in ski resort towns) if you want to find tasty, local and usually inexpensive ingredients for your home-cooked meals.

Take essentials with you to avoid high prices in resort

Whether you’ve got a self-catering kitchen or even just a hotel-room kettle, consider making space in your suitcase for a few essentials.

If you’re going to be cooking, bring some dry goods and seasonings as an ideal starting point for delicious meals. Packing salt and pepper plus a few herbs and spices makes it easy to add flavour without forking out for full-size packages. Risotto rice or pasta is an easy start to a meal and can usually be picked up for less at home. Keep in mind that it’s unlikely you’ll finish full packets in a week, so bring just what you need.

We also like to bring our own coffee, tea and hot chocolate from home. Things which might cost little at home, like good old British tea bags, can be much more expensive in continental Europe. It’s also nice to be able to put the kettle on as soon as you arrive.

Lastly, whether you’ve got a kitchen of your own or not, bring a few snacks from home. They’re a godsend if your travel plans are delayed, and are much better value brought in a multipack than individually in cafes on the slopes.

Want to ace your self-catered ski trip? Check out my suggestions in Everything you need to know for your first self-catering holiday

Pasta and snacks in the cupboard of a self-catered ski apartment
This little lot came with us in our suitcases. It was a great starter for a few meals, and helped us save for a memorable meal out

Save on the slopes

Eating out during the day can quickly stack up, with restaurants on the piste set up to take advantage of hungry skiers. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying lunch out, but consider some other options that are more budget friendly.

Firstly, try packing a picnic lunch. The first time I skied in France I was blown away by the picnic areas on the piste. Who knew? Make the most of these breathtaking lunch stops by bringing your own. If there’s a bakery in resort pick up a pastry or two, or even a pre-prepared baguette. Or if you’re feeling ambitious, do as we do and seek out local cheese, charcuterie and fruit in town for a slopeside feast.

Plus, pack your pockets or rucksack with a reusable water bottle and a few cereal or choccie bars. Treat yourself to gourmet hot chocolate or a gluhwein or two at cafes on the slopes rather than paying a high price for essentials.

Get to know your rep

If you’re travelling with a tour operator, take advantage of the knowledge your reps have. These guys live in the resort, and will be able to recommend the best value places to eat and drink. Not only can this help to save money, it can help you avoid mediocrity in favour of really good food! On occassion, they’ll also be able to point you in the direction of places that’ll give you a discount if you mention who you’ve travelled with.

Earlier this year we managed to get vouchers from our rep that meant we could tuck into lunch at the Folie Douce in Meribel for just €10. Normally it would cost upwards of €20 for two courses at this iconic spot – a little out of our usual lunch budget. But we couldn’t resist at more friendly price.

Tartiflette for lunch at La Folie Douce, Meribel

So there’s my tips and tricks for a brilliant budget ski trip.

I hope they help you to have the best adventure yet, by making the most of your budget – whatever it’s size.

I’ll be putting these to good use myself in the coming months, and would love to hear from you. Do you have an great ideas for a budget-friendly ski trip? Leave a comment below or get involved in the dicussion on my facebook page.

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How to book a ski trip on a budget and still have fun | Girl with a saddle bag travel
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Alice
girlwithasaddlebag@gmail.com
4 Comments
  • Stuart Forster
    Posted at 11:12h, 08 December Reply

    In my view Austria offers very good value and I’ve enjoyed skiing there many times. I was looking at ski resorts in Bulgaria recently and they look reasonably priced.

    • Alice
      Posted at 12:39h, 09 December Reply

      I completely agree about Austria Stuart, I had a great time on my two trips there and thought it was very good value for money, especially in comparison to France. I’d be interested to hear more stories about skiing in Bulgaria, it looks very promising.

  • Nell (Pigeon Pair and Me)
    Posted at 20:53h, 04 December Reply

    Great tip about bringing the tea bags! We always try to travel with some. Aside from saving money, they just aren’t the same in a lot of places as they are back home. This is a great post – you really can save a fair bit if you try.

    • Alice
      Posted at 12:38h, 09 December Reply

      Glad to know we’re not the only ones taking tea and coffee! Thanks for your kind comments, it really is surprisingly easy to make big savings on a ski trip.

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