Revealed: The cheapest ski resorts for families this winter

Lucy Aspden
Resorts in Eastern Europe offer a budget-friendly alternative to the Alps

A resort in Bulgaria has been named the cheapest for families looking to book a ski holiday this winter.

A survey carried out by Post Office Travel Money, in partnership with Crystal Ski Holidays, reports that a one-week break to Bansko in Bulgaria costs, on average, £1,530 for a family of four. This is almost £100 cheaper than the second cheapest resort, Bardonecchia in Italy, which claimed the top spot in the survey last year.

Findings show that prices in the Eastern European resort have dropped by 0.3 per cent since last season, making the Bulgarian resort the cheapest out of 25 surveyed. Prices in its Italian rival and last year’s budget champion, Bardonecchia, rose by 9.8 per cent, with an average trip now costing £1,622 for a family of four.

The budget-friendly appeal of Eastern Europe’s ski resorts is nothing new. Destinations in Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia offer undeniable value, a change from the traditional Alpine resorts, and they are often famed for their lively après scenes, which have made them popular with British skiers and snowboarders. This is despite ski areas being limited in size, something that may not be an issue for families with young children, and snow cover being less reliable than alternatives in the Alps. 

While Bansko came out as the cheapest and Bardonecchia lost the top spot, Italian resorts were ranked as the best value overall by the survey.

Bardonecchia is the cheapest resort in Italy

Five of the top 10 cheapest resorts were in Italy – Bardonecchia (2nd), Sestriere (3rd), Passo Tonale (4th), Claviere (5th) and La Thuile (10th). Both Passo Tonale and Claviere had been surveyed for the first time.

“While Bansko offers unbeatable value overall for families on a tight budget, resorts in the Italian Alps are a great choice for a pound-stretching ski holiday.  With few exceptions, we found that Italian ski resorts were cheaper than in Austria, France or Switzerland,” said Nick Boden, head of Post Office Travel Money.

The 25 resorts were chosen by Crystal Ski Holidays as the top places for families to hit the slopes. The survey then looked at the average cost of important elements in a ski holiday, taking into account lift passes, equipment hire and ski school, as well as the cost of eating out for two adults and two children in the resort. Each resort was then ranked by total cost to give realistic costs for a family of four on a week’s ski holiday.

Boden added: “It is also worth noting that some ski essentials are cheaper in Italian resorts than in Bansko.  For example, a week’s family ski lift pass costs less in Bardonecchia, Sestriere and Claviere, while ski and boot hire is cheaper in Passo Tonale. It all depends what you need to pay out for.” 

While ski essentials such as equipment and passes cost more in Eastern Europe, where Bulgaria comes out top is the cost of eating out and drinking in the resort – which ultimately helped it clinch the top spot. The total cost for food and drink in Bansko, which covers expenses such as coffees, glasses of wine, bottles of beer and lunches on the slopes for a family of four, adds up to £279. In Italy the total rises to closer to £400 in all the Italian resorts.

The rest of the top 10 was made up of Kranjska Gora in Slovenia (6th), which was named the cheapest by the survey in 2016 and but this year has seen prices increase by 11.8 per cent, Ellmau and Rauris in Austria (7th and 8th respectively) and Arinsal in Andorra (9th).

Switzerland's Saas Fee ranked 25th Credit: Photopress/Denis Emery/Denis Emery/Photo-genic.ch

French resorts failed to make it into the top 10, with the cheapest, according to the survey, being Morzine, part of the Portes du Soleil ski area, ranking in 11th place, followed by Alpe d’Huez (14th), Flaine (15th), La Plagne (20th), Les Deux Alpes (21st) and Tignes (22nd).

Unsurprisingly, notoriously expensive Switzerland was at the bottom of the table, with Grindelwald 23rd and Saas Fee 25th.

The survey also shows that in the majority of ski resorts prices have risen year-on-year. Apart from Bansko, only five other resorts surveyed saw a decrease in costs: Ruka, Finland (-4.3 per cent), Morzine, France (-4 per cent), Les Deux Alpes, France (2.2 per cent), Saas Fee, Switzerland (-0.8 per cent) and Cervinia, Italy (-0.3 per cent).

“With price falls in some resorts and limited increases in others, it will pay to do some homework before booking, to find the best value, and it is also worth considering whether to switch to cheaper options in Italy and Eastern Europe.  Another money-saving option could be to avoid half term and plan an Easter break instead,” said Boden.

“With continuing uncertainty about sterling’s value, we advise parents to monitor exchange rate movements carefully before changing money and to be sure to do so before leaving home to avoid getting poor rates at the airport or incurring charges at ATMs abroad.”