Love skiing, hate the prices? Here's our guide so you don't have to break open your piggy bank
No, it's not dirt cheap, but you do get the super-luxe chalet experience - VIP catering, canapés, free bar, WiFi, bathrobes and bootwarmers - without the glitzy price tag. Rather than having to shell out for a whole chalet, take a room in a shared one, such as the nine-roomed Club Pierre at Méribel. Not only right by the slopes, it has a south-facing terrace and hot tub with a view. New friends, free beer and the biggest ski domain in the world: what more could you want?
FACTS 7 nights at VIP Club Pierre, Méribel, from £899 pp half-board, inc flights and transfers (www.vip-chalets.com; 0844 557 3119).
OK, let's be honest, it's the prices that draw most people to Bulgaria. Here, you don't pay a small fortune for access to ski runs you may never use: the £99 fee for a six-day pass is great value for money, considering there are still 14 lifts and 65km of pistes. And, as a beginner, that's plenty for me. The super-large French ski areas might have more runs, but chances are I'd only see them on the piste map. Admittedly, this may not be the resort for action junkies or powder hounds, but for cruisey blue skiers it's great. The more-bang-for-your-buck ethos extends to the accommodation too - the five-star Kempinski Hotel offers luxury at a fraction of the cost of similar hotels elsewhere in Europe. Its spa still offers all the usual muscle- and mind-soothing treatments plus a cave-like indoor pool, steam rooms and sauna - a welcome haven after a hard day's skiing. Plus it's only a two-minute walk from the slopes and five minutes from the old town centre of Bansko, a World Heritage Site. And the final bonus? Hotel guests get to jump the lift queue and so get a headstart on the slopes! You don't need much spending money here, either, as you can get a round of drinks for four for about £6 - or 12 leva (like us, Bulgaria isn't in the Eurozone). Yes, sometimes you get what you pay for - instructors are friendly but most speak faltering English, and tuition quality varies. However, for the beginner or improver there's one amazing draw - the wide, winding Ski Road, which runs for a scenic 7km through snow-dusted trees all the way down into Bansko town. It's the ultimate confidence builder - after that I may just be ready to conquer France next year.
Facts 7 nights half-board, from £755 pp, inc flights and transfers (www.crystalski.co.uk; 0871 2312256).
Vallnord and Grandvalira, ANDORRA
Andorra is a hugely popular package destination for UK skiers, but isn't everyone's first choice for an independent ski trip, as it's a long trek from the nearest airport - it can seem so much easier to let the reps do all the organising for you. Go under your own steam, however, and suddenly a ski break can become a real steal, especially here, where the bargain accommodation, good local transport, plus fantastic snow and sun (it's as far south as Rome) are rich rewards for the independent traveller. And as a newbie wanting a crash-course in snowboarding, who soon realises sliding down a mountain is a lot harder than it looks, I'm grateful that tuition too is good value - go for a week and you can get 15 hours of group classes for about £85. I don't think you ever forget your first slope and, as I stand at the top of mine, it looks like a World Cup downhill. But after a few lessons from my very patient instructor, I'm soon whizzing - slightly out of control - down my first blue. By the afternoon of my third day, as the bruises begin to show, I'm thankful once again for the bargain lift pass, and not just because it's boosted my après budget. After a bumpy morning on the mountain, I call it a day with a clear conscience that I've had my money's worth and head off to relax my aches and pains in the warm lagoons and steam rooms at the Caldea spa. Accommodation is also easy on the wallet, but rather than stay at one of the apartment complexes at a resort, I'm at the chic and cheap Hotel Fenix in Escaldes-Engordany, one of the villages that make up the capital Andorra La Vella. It means I can make the most of the duty-free shopping and the great bars and restaurants. Buses run from La Vella to the two main ski areas: Vallnord and the more challenging Grandvalira - though I think I'll save its 22 blacks until next year!
FACTS Hotel Fenix, from £57 per twin room per night. Valnord ski pass, £109. EasyJet flies to Barcelona from £19.99. Return bus fare from Barcelona airport to Arinsal, £60 (www. skiandorra.ad; www.andorra.ad).
Bank balance hit the skids? These new luxe self-catering condos make a trip over the Atlantic feasible. They're ski-in, ski-out and give you use of the hot pools the resort is famous for. There's varied skiing terrain for all: cruise the blues if you're just beginning, or pros can battle the blacks and trees in the Extreme Dream Zone or Taynton Bowl.
FACTS 7 nights self-catering at Upper Village Condos (studio, 1 and 2 bed), from £789 pp, inc flights, transfers/ car hire (www.crystalski.co.uk, 0871 231 2256).
Just bring your hand luggage on this fantastic value short-stay package. Ditch the costs of excess baggage and save space for more duty-free, as you can rent not just skis and boots, but all your ski clothes, too. There's also no paying piste-side, as hot lunches are included. And you won't be disappointed with the destination: cute alpine scenery, trad mountain menus and local grappa galore. Overlooked by the awesome Mont Blanc, there's great skiing, as well as a day in the nearby Pila on your lift pass. Having saved a small fortune, you can afford a treatment at Terme di Pre spa, ten minutes away at Pre St-Didier.
FACTS 3 nights half-board, from £299 pp, inc lift pass, insurance, complete kit hire. Excl flights and transfers (www.interski.co.uk; www.termedipre.it).
St Jean de Sixt, FRANCE
Slope off on a Monday to the Aravis Lodge and make the most of piste time and your purse. Cheaper weekday flights mean more pocket money and a quieter mountain, too. After your speedy transfer from Geneva, you're kitted out at the chalet on Monday night to save time so you're ready for the first lifts on Tuesday, followed by three full days of action. And being based between La Clusaz and Le Grand Bornand, you can cover the 220km of the Aravis ski region easily.
FACTS Monday to Thursday, catered, from £300 pp, inc transfers, ski pass, ski hosting (www.skiweekender.com; 01202 661865). Flights not included.
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