Thinking of going skiing this year, but not sure where your budget can take you? Let us help you with a few options. You have to be quick though before these well-kept skiing and snowboarding secrets are discovered by the masses. Destination ranges from Europe, North America to the Far East. Some of these were once used as Winter Olympic destinations.
BEST FOR BUDGET SKIING
For the cheapest skiing and snowboarding holidays, head to Eastern Europe. Be quick, though, before these well-kept secrets are discovered by the masses.
Bansko, in Bulgaria, is nestled on the Glazane river and is the country’s number one ski resort, boasting the best record and the longest season, which runs roughly from December to May. It might not be cheap for much longer, with massive investment in new resorts and luxury hotels. The town of Bansko has a rich history but there’s also a nightclub scene that kicks on until the early hours. Make sure you sample some tasty Bulgarian vino.
Borovet, the oldest resort in Bulgaria, boasts pistes of varying length and difficulty in the three different areas, while also accommodating night-skiers, cross-country skiers and biathlon, Borovets is also renowned for its après-ski party atmosphere, with nightclubs such as Mamacitas and Bonkers well-frequented by foreign tourists. You can also check out the famous Rila Monastery, which the capital city of Sofia is nearby for shopping and sightseeing.
Over in Poland, the town of Szklarska Poreba, in the Karkonosze Mountains, is unique in that it boasts ideal conditions for skiing and boarding, but is also prone to long, sunny days. Each year, the region has 156 days of permanent snow, highlighted by the annual Bieg Piastow competition. The area is home to the town of Karpacz, which offers a stack of non-skiing attractions, such as climbing, bungee jumping, tennis, paintball and fishing.
Zakopane, in the Tatra Mountains, which constitute the highest part of the Carpathian mountain range, is the most notable Polish resort. Regarded as Poland’s ‘winter capital’, Zakopane boasts resorts that have operated for more than 100 years and now offer access to more than 50 world-class lifts. The slopes of Kasprowy Wierch, Kocio Goryczkowy and Gubawka accommodate skiers of various ability and the city itself also has its own buzz, combining local Polish traditions with the appeal of a western tourist-friendly city.
BEST FOR MID-RANGE BUDGET
If you don’t want to splash the cash, but you don’t want to slum it either, head to western Europe. The Alps boasts the highest mountains and the best (and most expensive) skiing and boarding opportunities but if you avoid the likes of upmarket Val d’lsere and chic Courchevel, you can still find yourself some mid-range deals. Save cash by flying with a no-frills carrier, staying in a self-catering apartment with mates and by shunning big-name hotels. There are literally hundreds of resorts in the Alps (across France, Switzerland, Italy and Austria) that range from backyard affairs with a couple of lifts to behemoths that link several different resorts and towns into giant ski areas.
If you want the best conditions possible, consider the snow-sure resorts, which are high enough to pretty much guarantee good snow coverage. Among the highest are Tignes, Val Thornes. Les Deux Alps and Paradiski in France, and Verbier and Zermatt in Switzerland. For boarders and skiers who like to burn the candle at both ends, Verbier is hard to beat. And, if you think you’ve skied or boarded it all, try the mothership of hardcore downhill and off-piste: Charmonix, which has top après-ski to boot.
France’s Val Cenis, nestled in the Haute-Maurienne mountains is particularly good value. Thanks to the northern exposure of its ski area, there is good quality snow from very early season, as well as pine forest and glaciers to keep skiers and snowboarders happy.
Thrill seekers can get their kicks in the resort’s two snowparks. A six-day ski-pass costs less than 200 euro. For fun off the piste, take a biathlon course, where you can go cross-country skiing and try rifle shooting. Other activities on offer include dog sledding and snowshoeing.
Over in Italy, the snow-sure resort of Livigno offers and extensive ski area that surrounds three cutesy villages, loaded with cages, rustic bars and good restaurants. There’s plenty of budget accommodation to choose from and non-ski activities include husky sledding, snowshoe walking and horse-riding. Best of all, Livigno is a tax-free haven which means food and, most importantly, booze, is at rock-bottom prices.
BEST FOR SPLURGING THE CASH
If you’ve got a bit of cash tucked away, your options are wide open. Canada’s Whistler Blackcomb, just north of Vancouver, is one of the world’s most famous ski resorts, having hosted the 2010 winter Olympics. There’s 3200ha of terrain across two mountains and, aside from the skiing and snowboarding, you can also get involved in dog-sledding and snowmobiling. Whistler’s commitment to snowboarding seems to increase each year, with a terrain park which offers Olympic sized superpipe ready to ride.
Banff, in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, is another of Canadian best-known ski resorts. With 9m of snow dumped annually, the locals will tell you that Banff boasts Canada’s best snow, certainly, the scenery is spectacular – expansive mountain terrain and uncrowded slopes in gorgeous, unsullied wilderness. Across three different mountains, there are 12 different lifts, including eight super-lifts.
Japan’s Niseko resort encompasses three separate but interlinked areas in Grand Hirafu, Higashiyama and Annupuri Kokusai, and has become a wildly popular destination for Aussies and Kiwis during the southern hemisphere summer. On the northern island of Hokkaido, about 100km west of Sapporo, Niseko offers 57 runs, a combination of beginner and advanced.
Hakuba, in the soaring Japanese Alps, is part of the Nagano region, which was home to the 1998 Winter Olympics. The sprawling vally includes more than 200 runs and 139 lifts along with a vibrant aprés-ski nightlife. The main areas in Hakuba are Happo-one – the region’s oldest ski resort, which boasts international-class skiing courses as well as shops and restaurants – and Hakuba Sanosaka, which is on ideal spot for views of Lake Aoki.