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Getting value for money on holiday is high on the list of most skiers and snowboarders. Staying away from the famous, fashionable resorts, where everything from lift passes and accommodation to lunch on the mountain are likely to cost the most, is the obvious advice. However, while a more obscure resort may cost less, it can also mean a much smaller ski area, lower altitude and hence less chance of good snow. Since most of us are reluctant to compromise on the good times, while many of the resorts in this line-up may be unfamiliar, they are not necessarily the cheapest. Rather they offer value for money plus a quality experience. There may be compromises to be made somewhere – a longer transfer time from the airport, lifts that are slower and less comfortable, a base village that is far from the chocolate box ideal for example – but the money savings over bigger-name destinations should make them well worth the trip.
The remote village is strung out along 10km of mountain road that comes to a full stop in winter at a heady 1,816m, close to the Swiss border – not for nothing is Livigno nicknamed Little Tibet. It’s a great area for beginners and low intermediates, with terrain on both the Mottolino and Costaccia/Carosello sides of the valley, and has a long, snowsure season lasting from November to May.
For experts, Livigno is embracing freeriding with the Freeride Project, a series of managed off-piste routes, mostly off the back of Mottolino, as well as heliskiing. Although the words heliskiing and affordable don’t usually appear in the same sentence, Livigno presents a rare opportunity for both.
The main park is on Mottolino, with kickers to suit all abilities and a superpipe. There are also rails, and an airbag for perfecting tricks. The second main park, at Carosello, is geared more towards intermediates. It also has a large airbag, rails and tabletops, plus a boardercross course. Two more parks – Amerikan, near the Carosello gondola, and Del Sole, near the centre of town – are aimed at beginners and children. Cable Park, in the Costaccia sector, has a variety of rails, boxes and jumps of varying difficulty. A dedicated cable tow pulls riders through the park, making tricks easier.
Beginners don’t need the complexity of a large resort, so a novice’s visit to this Tirolean chocolate-box with oodles of atmosphere – it regularly wins prizes as the prettiest village in Austria– should result in a lifetime of piste enthusiasm. Alpbach has a special relationship with the British that began more than 50 years ago when a Major Billy Patterson came here on leave and enjoyed the pistes and the pubs. He told his army friends and they told others. Thousands of British have since learnt the basics here, and many return year after year. It’s also great value for money – prices are low, even by Austrian standards.
A single nursery slope in the village centre is ideal for practising after lessons, but the main ski area is a five-minute bus, then a gondola, away. Of the three ski schools in the resort, Alpbach‑Inner Alpbach (skischule-alpbach.at) is the original learning establishment, while Alpbach Aktiv (alpbach-aktiv.com) and Skischule Alpbachtal (skialpbach.com) also have fine reputations. During the resort’s dedicated family weeks, under-15s get a free lift pass. In 2017 these run from April 1 to 17.
Alpbach’s ski area was linked to that of Auffach in the neighbouring Wildschönau valley for the 2012/13 season to form the Ski Juwel ski area. But Alpbach itself, only a 40-minute drive from Innsbruck airport, has remained remarkably unchanged down the years. The only difference is that intermediates who might otherwise have moved on now have the incentive to return to explore the respectable 109km of pistes served by 46 lifts in the two valleys.
Think of this as the laid-back country cousin of A-list French resorts such as Val d’Isère or Courchevel. It’s smaller and less high-tech, but friendlier and more relaxed, with bags of character. There are cheaper French resorts, but few can match Serre Che’s extent.
Serre Chevalier is the collective name for a dozen villages along the road from the town of Briançon in the southern Alps, sharing a ski area with a respectable 250km of mainly intermediate slopes, served by 61 lifts. Monêtier Les Bains is the pick of the main villages, a picturesque spa resort – it’s quieter and altogether more charming
to stay in than the others, Villeneuve and Chantemerle.
If you’re stuck on a plateau, British ski school New Generation (skinewgen.com) can help. It’s run here by experienced instructor Gavin Crosby and his wife Mel, who offer group lessons and private coaching throughout the season. Book well in advance.
Pas, as it’s known to its denizens, is a frankly unattractive resort that has grown up at high altitude on the duty‑free side of the French/Andorran border. With a reputation for wild partying, it’s the winter capital of the Monday night pub crawl, organised by tour operators’ local reps.
Part of the extensive Grandvalira ski area, which includes Soldeu, Pas has slopes best suited to confident intermediates. Separated from the rest of the principality by a mountain wall, it has largely missed the facelift that has taken the rest of Andorra upscale, so prices are lower.
The pub crawl takes in all the best bars and pubs in town, and as well as being good cheap fun, it gets people together. It’s certainly not a dignified affair, and officialdom periodically pays lip service to discouraging it on grounds of health and safety. The price is low – a few euros for a tour of a dozen bars with a free shot in each. But then if you want a free shot in Pas, you only have to ask. Thanks to Andorra’s duty-free status, a litre of vodka costs the bar less than a small can of Red Bull, so (within reason) they are literally giving it away. Count the cost of a night out in headache pills.
La Perla Negra is a pirate‑themed bar with DJs, plus a pool table. KSB (Kamikaze Surf Bar) is a popular bar/restaurant/club with steaks and burgers served late. Disco-pub KYU stays open late playing house music, as does Bilbord, but with a pop playlist. Watch your step on the way home – the streets are icy, steep, and patrolled by the police.