5 Cheap European ski destinations

Richard Mellor

Budget slopes and affordable apres-ski await in northern Italy, Bulgaria and former Soviet republics...

Skiing is a notoriously expensive way to spend a holiday, but also famously fun. Here, we give you five amazing ski destinations that won't break the bank.

 

Livigno, Italy
Passes from £35 per day

Hold on, hold on. You’re thinking “There's no way an Italian ski resort can be budget – and especially not a high-altitude, guaranteed-snow one close to the Swiss border”, right?

Well, it can be, and it is, and that’s thanks to a special tax status dating back to Napoleonic days. Livigno is VAT-free, which means all consumer goods rank among Europe’s cheapest. 

Other reasons to make the three-hour drive from Innsbruck to "Little Tibet"—the name refers to Livigno’s remote mountain location—are excellent bars in vintage wooden houses, a long November-May season and lots of freeriding options.

Main park Mottolino has a superpipe, rails and kickers for all abilities, while Carosello caters more to intermediates and Amerikan suits beginners and children.

 

Niederau, Austria
Passes from £36 per day

Austria is full of low-cost gems if you know where to look. With Niederau, though, it’s a case of looking more closely.

The immediate resort itself is tiny, with one gondola and barely enough pistes to fill a morning. However, get the free ski bus to Auffach and you now have access to the entire Ski Juwel Alpbachtal Wildschönau area and its 109 km worth of perfectly-preened runs.

Not all are linked by lifts, and obviously a bus is far from glamorous. But service is reliable, and you’ll be saving clumps of euros.

Niederau also oozes Tyrolean charm, largely through cutesy chalet houses scattered down a valley, and readily-available horse-drawn sleigh rides. 

 

Bansko, Bulgaria
Passes from £26 per day

Named Europe’s least expensive resort in the Post Office Travel Money’s ski report, Bulgaria’s best option offers everything from lift passes to lessons at well under half the price of some Alpine counterparts.

An early-Noughties development boom to the tune of £20 million also betrothed it with snowmaking equipment, 14 smart lifts and a convenient gondola-side hub of apartments, hotels shops and hotels.

Queues for the sole entry gondola can be long, but the compensation comes from 75 km of Pirin National Park pistes suiting families, beginner and intermediate skiers.

Another impressive quality is the cobbled, rustic town’s buzzy apres-ski scene, even if everything is quite spread out. 

 

Jasna, Slovakia
Passes from £31 per day

Accessibility and efficiency abet the low costs at Slovakia’s ski HQ: Jasna is just a 30-minute taxi ride from Poprad-Tatry airport—where direct UK flights land—and has modern, fast lifts courtesy of a recent £115 million investment.

One gondola speeds skiers up to the summit of 2,024m-high Mount Chopok, and its restaurant and rum bar. More high-standard dining options await back down in the resort village, as do a proud range of craft beers.

That same investment raised the total skiable terrain to 50km, covering both flanks of Chopok, and easing the strain of busy weekend crowds.

Beginners will find dedicated nursery slopes and entry-level runs, while couloirs and off-piste powder fields should delight veterans.

 

Gudauri, Georgia
Passes from £11 per day

Formerly an exclusive retreat for the Soviet elite, Gudauri—found north of Turkey—has opened up to western Europeans thanks to improved air links to Georgia’s hip capital, Tbilisi.

Found high in the dramatic Greater Caucasus mountains, close to the old Silk Road, Gudauri is small in piste terms: it offers skiers only 33 km of slopes. But snow is reliable, and there are 14 lifts and 20 runs.

Plus, everything is absurdly cheap—from lift passes to glasses of Georgia’s recently-acclaimed wines.