Skiing on a budget in Europe – Take a trip to Val d’Isère at high season for £300 less than the tour operators cheapest deals.
Skiing is a passion of mine and I particularly enjoy skiing in Val d’Isère. It is well known that a ski holiday is not always the best value for money – a couple of years ago I stayed in the cheapest apartment I could find in Val d’Isère and the experience wasn’t pleasant. Even a cheap apartment cost upwards of £600 at the end of the season.
Another problem is that my partner is a teacher and can only ski during the rip-off package hell that is half-term week. Last year I went with her sister during term time, as you can imagine this didn’t go down too well! There are plenty of cheaper places to ski other than the French Alps, but very few of them offer the massive ski areas & après ski that France is famous for.
This year, after looking at the package ‘deals’ and getting more depressed by the minute I decided to investigate the art of the DIY ski holiday. There are numerous websites out there that will help you with organising this, I am only listing those I found most useful to me.
I started by looking for self-catering Ski chalets during the half-term week – big mistake. All the big tour operators have Google tied up with adverts & paid rankings. I found the same overpriced apartments from the same operators again and again. So I applied a little bit of sideways logic.
holiday-rentals.co.uk is a site that lists independently-owned accommodation in Europe and many parts of the world. I figured I might find a holiday cottage that was available in half term that just happened to be in a ski resort – and I found just that.
The owners of these types of places generally stay there themselves during their own holidays, so you’re practically guaranteed a decent quality of accommodation – unlike the other budget fleapits I’ve stayed in over the years. We chose one of Chris Rotsey’s apartments in the end – great looking apartment, only 100m away from a ski lift!
Take a 5am flight from Gatwick to Geneva followed by a 5 hour coach journey to the resort? I don’t think so. I’ll take the train thanks. More environmentally sensible, quicker & more comfortable by far.
Eurostar Ski Train
This is brilliant. You book a ticket, you get on the train at St Pancras on a Friday night or Saturday morning and arrive in Bourg St Maurice (gateway to Val d’Isère, Les Arcs, La Rosière, Val Thorens & other resorts) 10 hours later, refreshed or seriously hungover (your choice!).
The only problem with the Ski Train is that tickets can sell out 18 months in advance, especially if you are trying to go at half-term as I discovered.
The alternative to Eurostar
You can get the Eurostar to Paris Gare de Nord, catch the Metro to Gare de Lyon and finally travel on a TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) all the way to Bourg St Maurice. From there you can either hop on one of the scheduled coaches to the resort of your choice, or hire a taxi – if there are 5 or more of you, it often works out cheaper to book a taxi.
- Eurostar releases tickets ‘around’ 120 days before departure & TGV tickets are available around 90 days before departure – ‘around’ means anywhere up to 10 days either side from my experience.
- All the train companies operate an Easyjet-style pricing policy, the prices go up as the availability goes down, so you have to get in there quick – and you may have to gamble.
- When booking the train leave at least an hour to cross Paris (2 hours if you want a croissant en route!)
- To save money, travel during the least sociable hours you can bear – taking into consideration what time you can get in & what time you have to leave your apartment.
- It can be cheaper (it was for us) to stay in a hotel in St Pancras the night before & get a very early Eurostar to Paris the next morning than it is to get a later departure (we got family rooms in the Kings Cross Travelodge for £50 each, sleeping 3 or 4 people per room)
Ski hire & lift passes
You’ll be spoilt for choice for ski hire shops in Val d’Isère; shop around & book your equipment online before you go for some decent discounts. I recommend Snowberry Val d’Isère, who were voted Best ski shop in Europe 2009. They also gave me a cup of tea after I scared myself silly on an ill-advised last run of the day! You can avoid the crushing queues buy booking your lift passes online.
I hope you have a wonderful holiday, wherever you go. I saved nearly £300 each for my group – I suspect most of that will get spent in the outrageously priced bars – no advice there I’m afraid!