Ahhh, the cozy snow-covered chalet on a dramatic backdrop of jagged peaks and blue skies. The steaming cup of mulled wine and boiling pot of creamy cheese fondue. The picturesque mountain villages and the sophisticated ski resorts spreading over multiple valleys and sometimes even over nations’ borders. Living the dream; a dream of carving turns down the European slopes…and all of that without breaking the bank. Yodel-a-hii-hoo!
Last winter was very special for us as we got to travel around and ski in some of the best places on the planet as a family during one of the snowiest winters in years: Switzerland, Savoie, Hautes-Alpes, Grindelwald, Courchevel, Les Saisies, La Grave, Serre-Chevalier…We were so fortunate to stay with friends in most places we visited, which made it easier on the budget but with no income and the hefty exchange rate between the $CAD and the Euro, we still had to be super thrifty and look for the best deals. I would like to share a few tips for those considering a trip across the pond this winter.
1. Early Season Online Deals and Passes
IKON, Epic, Mountain Collective, Magic Pass, etc.
Lift passes are usually slightly cheaper than in BC – typically between 45-55 euros per day in large resorts. However, convert that in $CAD and the costs can add up fast.
Perhaps your local mountain is part of the same group as world-class European resorts? Those passes present excellent deals for skiers. Finally, resorts have understood that lift passes are not where they will make money and they are extending the deals to skiers who know how to take advantage of them. Buy them early!
Same goes for flights. Start looking for seat sales in the late summer, early fall.
2. Pick your country…and time of year
Italy and Austria are usually on the high end of the cost spectrum. Switzerland is flat out unaffordable unless you are royalty or CEO of a multi-national corporation. France, on the other hand, has made vacationing a human right. Well, almost.
Les vacances aux sports d’hiver or winter sports vacations are accessible to almost every French citizen accepting to be piled up with 3-5 other people in a 300 sq. foot- accommodation unit. Through company unions, school trips and low-cost tour operators, Frenchies always get away with at least one week of skiing per year, in a relatively affordable fashion . By avoiding school holidays periods (insanity and higher prices) and by avoiding to travel on Saturdays (when the whole country travels in or out of ski resorts = insanity +++) you will save a great deal.
3. Go All In
All-inclusive Resorts can be a great option for those who want convenience and value for money. ClubMed offers week-long stays including accommodation, meals, après-ski, lift tickets, ski lessons, childcare AND flights from Canada.
For a younger, more adventurous all-in experience UCPA is also a great option.
Your travel agent can make you save some precious dollars and make your booking experience easy by extending its bulk purchase savings on flights, lifts and lodging to you. Gendron Ski is the largest Canadian Tour Operator specialized in ski holidays offering very competitive pricing for packages on the old continent.
Rallying a group of 4 people is the best way to travel as quadruple occupancy usually gets you the best bang for your euro buck.
4. Stay Low
Something to consider when booking a ski vacation in a large-scale resort in the Alps is that the higher in elevation you stay, the more expensive the accommodation bill is. For instance, Courchevel 1850 – meaning 1850 metres of elevation is way more prestigious and pricey than Saint-Bon, located lower in the valley. You are also likely to find cheaper lodging options at Serre-Chevalier 1200 (Briançon) than higher up the Valley in Villeneuve. Bear in mind that those resorts are really well connected and organized and moving around via lifts or shuttles is easy.
Looking for small-scale family resorts can also save you a considerable amount of dollars. Pralognan-la-Vanoise is a super cute family village-resort with a shuttle service to the 3 Vallées. A 6-day pass gets you a free day at the larger resort and there are many add-on options.
5. Skin Up
There is nothing like earning your turns to save big on lift passes and expensive meals at the ski lodge. Skinning up is also a great way to save on extra belt line inches and balance the extra indulgence in fine cheeses, bread and wine.
Many resorts offer discounted “randonnée” passes to get a quick lift up in the alpine. Also look for guiding service and intro to alpine touring packages.
Just like in Western Canada, there is a growing trend for in-bound up-track itineraries providing a safe and fun experience in addition to the ability to discover a resort without shedding a single euro. Arêche-Beaufort, the alpine touring mecca and home the Pierra-Menta, one of the world’s most prestigious ski mountaineering race, offers three different up-track itineraries.
Those in search of a wild skiing experience, big lines on big mountains and deep snow will find happiness in La Grave. There, a mere 89 Euros will get you a day pass to 2,200 metres of pure mountain bliss AND a guide for yourself and three buddies.
6. Ski tiny
Skiing in Europe as a family is simply magical. The scenery and the experience are just second to none. There are so many options of runs to choose from, sophisticated cable cars, funiculars and gondolas, endless kilometres of gentle slopes, many cozy chalets to warm up in and have hot chocolate and eat a bagged lunch.
Kids under the age of 5-6 usually ski for free. Last year we found out many fancy resorts boast a higher elevation beginner area, where parents can for a discounted price (15-25 Euros) ride a gondola to the mid-station, spend the day with the little ones going up and down the magic carpet, enjoy the view and the ambiance, and finish the day with a long ski down on a super long green run.
Last but not least, remember to soak it all in
Skiing is really only part of the fun when you travel this far. The list of amazing activities that don’t cost a ton is endless: go for a soak at the nearby hot springs or the resort’s aquatic centre, explore the snowshoe or the Nordic trails, take a shuttle to the nearest town and go grocery shopping (an experience in its own right), grab a tea on a busy patio and spend some time people-watching – the Euro winter fashion is quite something, check out the local cheese co-op to learn about cheesemaking, and shop for a souvenir to bring home, like a bottle of local liquor, genepi, vervaine, suze or Chartreuse.
Happy skiing (Yodel – a -hi- hoo)!