ski holiday
16th October 2015

DIY SKI Holidays: Be Your Own Travel Agent

It is a bit intimidating, the thought of arranging your own ski holiday – and yeah, it can be tempting to click a few buttons and pay more to have someone else organise everything for you. BUT – if you’re looking to save money on your ski holiday and get the best bang for your buck, or even if you just prefer to have more freedom with dates and choice of accommodation, it’s really worth putting in the groundwork and being your own travel agent.

In the BI (Before Internet) age, those dark days when everything you could possibly want to know wasn’t just a few clicks away, using an agency was the only way to organise a ski holiday without giving yourself a stress-related hernia in the process. But today, DIY ski trips are completely doable. Sure, you won’t have a rep to help you with those first-day tasks (gear hire, transfers, getting lift passes), but what you DO get is:

  • Flexibility
  • Freedom
  • A holiday that’s personalised for you and your friends/family
  • The option to book cheap flights now and choose a resort later, based on the best conditions.
  • The smug satisfaction that comes with any successfully completed DIY job.

If it’s all still a bit daunting, don’t worry – once you sit down and start to do the research things start to fall into place. To get your imagination-juices flowing, I’ve put together a list of possible ski holidays you can easily organise when you fly to some of our top snow destinations. It’s not an exhaustive list. We fly to loads of destinations that are great for snow-hounds, and each of the below airports has far more nearby ski resorts than just the ones I’ve chosen. Choosing the perfect resort for your needs is down to you, but in the mean-time, check out the following great options.

Fly to Basel…. Ski in Grindelwald

Grindelwald Ski Resort

Who’s it good for?

Grindelwald is a perfect all-round ski resort. There are 16 easy slopes, 24 intermediate and 15 black slopes. Jungfrau is perfect for intermediates, with over 200kms of gorgeous runs suited to them.  Pistes are above 2,500 metres, so you’re unlikely to have problems with a lack of snow. The lift and train system is great, and there’s loads to do for non-skiers too. As far as the scenery goes it’s just incredible.

Is it expensive?

Yeah. It is. It’s awesome, and awesome doesn’t come cheap. But if you’re used to ski and snowboarding holidays, you know that they are pricey little numbers anyway. Shop around online for accommodation, there are budget friendly options – and go for self-catering apartments if you want to save on eating out. If you don’t have your own gear, there are loads of places to rent it in Grindelwald. Again, shop around online and book it before you go (some rental centres will offer online booking discounts).

A five day ski pass will set you back around €245 if you’re over 20, and 16-20 years olds pay just €190. Under 16s will get a 5 day pass for around €120. Check out the prices here.

How’s the Apres Ski?

It’s lively, with a good selection of bars and clubs to choose from. You can have a fairly civilised and sedate après-ski if you want, but if you have the energy for late nights and dancing, you’ll easily find that too.

How do you get there?

Public Transport will get you there in 3.5 hours. Take the SNCF bus (Line 50) from the Airport to the Bahnhof in Basel. From there, take the ICE Intercity train to Interlaken OST, then change for the Grindelwald train. You might need to get a taxi from here to your accommodation. If you want to hire a car from Basel Airport, it’s a 2 hour drive from there.

Fly to Milan Bergamo… ski in Livigno.

Livigno

Who’s it good for?

Livigno is one of Europe’s most difficult to access ski resorts. It’s a long old trek from Bergamo – I still remember it well from when I was there, too many years ago. It’s almost a 4 hour drive – but if you’re away for a week of skiing or snowboarding, it’s worth it. As well as 112 individual pistes with plenty for all abilities, it has two massive snow parks and a freestyle zone – a boarder’s dream.  Its altitude means that you are virtually guaranteed good, snowy conditions with regular fresh powder.

Is it expensive?

It’s not so bad, actually! Livigno is a duty-free resort, which definitely helps. You can get really good pizzas for around €8, beers are around €2.50. If you’re with a family, everyone can get a decent lunch on the mountain for under €40. Accommodation isn’t too prohibitive either, just have a look online – you can get self-catering apartments that will sleep four or five people in the height of the season from €6/700

Lift passes cost €223.50 for six days in high season (€153 for kids aged 8-15). If you want to hire gear, you can expect to pay between €60-€90 for six days, depending on the gear you require. Shop around online and look for discounts – and book before you go.

How’s the Après Ski?

Really good. Since it’s not so expensive here, and because of those awesome snowparks, the resort is a magnet for students and young boarders (don’t worry skiiers, plenty of pistes are reserved for skiers only!). The young demographic in addition to the duty-free prices means there are always parties going on.

How do you get there?

Like we said, it’s a long trek from Bergamo. You can hire a car and drive, otherwise there is a shuttle bus that takes people from Milan Bergamo right to the slopes for only €45. It runs from the end of November up until April – check the exact times or book online here.

Fly to Grenoble… Ski in Méribel

Ski slope in Meribel Valley, French Alps

Who’s it good for?

Méribel is slap-bang in the middle of the incredible Trois Vallées ski area. With Méribel’s slopes as well as those in Courchevel, La Tania and Val Thorens, you’re heading to one of the world’s largest linked ski areas. In Méribel alone there are 9 black pistes, 24 red ones, 34 blue and 10 green, served by 61 mostly modern ski lifts – it’s good for everyone. It’s also got a bakery that sells the most incredible almond croissants I’ve ever eaten, which should factor in your decision.

If there are any non-skiers travelling, there’s a spa, ice rink, swimming pool, a cinema, a bowling alley, and plenty of cafés shops and restaurants to keep them busy.

Is it expensive?

It’s not super cheap, but you can do it. Mulled wine (vin chaud) averages at about €4, and a coffee in the morning will set you back around €3. Restaurants there offer three-course set menus for somewhere around the €40 mark and pizzas cost somewhere in the region of a tenner. If you’re happy to forego having your bed made daily and a eating breakfast buffet in the morning, self-catering apartments are a good (and good value option).

6 day adult ski passes in high season cost €239 for the Meribel slopes, and €289 for access to the whole Trois Vallées area (child passes, for 12 year olds and under – are €194 and €234 respectively). There are family passes etc available – check other dates and rates here.

How’s the Aprés Ski?

It’s really good in Méribel. You can have a quiet one of course – dinner, a few glasses of wine, and an early night is easily had. For actual après-ski – as in the first place you go after the slopes, it has to be The Ronnie (The Rond Point), but there are loads of bars, pubs and clubs to keep you well-oiled.

How do you get there?

If you’re driving, it’s about 1.5 hours from Grenoble. If you prefer to use public transport, there are buses running from Grenoble to Moutiers, and from there you can take another bus or train to Meribel. You can buy tickets for this at the airport.

Fly to Salzburg… ski in Kitzbuhel

Kitzbuhel skiing

Who’s it good for?

It’s good for everyone. There are 170km of slopes of varying difficulty, the lifts and cable cars are second-to-none, it’s home to the ‘Streif’ – the world’s most famous ski run, it’s topped the skiresort.info list of the world’s best resorts for the last three years in a row – and it’s where I learned to snowboard, so I feel particularly attached to the place.

There are 13 black pistes, 25 red and 22 blue, and there are good links available to slopes in the wider area if you feel like branching out. If you do, try the brilliant 35km ‘Ski Safari’ route.

Is it expensive?

It is. You’ll walk past plenty of designer shops selling fur coats and wildly expensive clothing – but don’t be intimidated. You can do it on a reasonable budget too, you just need to shop around for your accommodation. The supermarkets are pretty good if you want to buy your lunch from there and take it to the mountains with you. If you’re self-catering, even better.

A 6 day ski pass in peak season costs €248 (€186 for youths and €124 for kids) – check out different rates here. Ski and snowboard rental starts at around €100 for 6 days – it’s best to shop around here, look for deals and book online.

How is the Aprés-ski?

It’s always lively, and particularly so at weekends. There are loads of pubs to choose from, but for those of you who just don’t know when to call it a night, the Londoner is the place to go until the wee small hours. You don’t have to go mad here though – there are loads of gorgeous cafes and tea rooms where you can gorge on the finest cakes you’ve ever eaten, and drown yourself in gluhwein or hot chocolate.

How do you get there?

From Salzburg, it couldn’t be easier. The resort is about an hour away (making it perfect for short ski trips), and there are shuttle buses running if you don’t want to hire a car, and they will take you to your accommodation. Shared transfers will cost around €30, depending who you go with – have a look online.

Fly to Turin… ski in Cervinia

Matterhorn, Zermatt, Switzerland

Who’s it Good for?

The Aosta Valley in the north of Italy is good for everyone. Even if you aren’t into winter sports. It’s just gorgeous. For skiers and snowboarders, though, it’s a big, beautiful playground. And the best part of the playground has to be Cervinia, an awesome resort right at the foot of the Matterhorn. It’s a brilliant resort for beginners and intermediates who want to build up a little confidence – the slopes are long and lovely with quite an easy gradient, so you can have some lovely long cruises. It’s a fairly safe bet for snow, too.

For experts it’s not quite as exciting, but the unbelievable slopes of Zermatt in Switzerland are linked to Cervinia – just watch the time and the weather, or the links may close and you’ll get stuck in Switzerland for a night!

Is it expensive?

It’s not too bad. It’s a little pricier than Livigno, certainly, but you have to weigh up the time it takes to get to Livigno too – Cervinia is just 1.5 hours from Turin airport. Accommodation is a little more expensive in general, but still reasonable enough and you can find some great deals on self-catering apartment rentals. Food prices are ok, and it won’t cost the earth to have lunch on the mountain. Hearty pasta dishes and gorgeous pizzas can be found for under a tenner.

Ski passes for 6 days in high season will put a €222-shaped hole in your pocket if you’re an adult, €196 for teens and €155.50 for kids. Check out more rates here. If you’re renting gear, it’ll cost from around €60 for the 6 days, depending on where you go and what you want to hire.

How’s the Aprés-Ski?

It’s really nice in Cervinia. It’s not an all-nigh rave kind of place, but you’ll find a party if you’re looking for one. Thistles Pub is a hopping place, particularly at weekends, and drinks don’t cost the earth (happy hour is from 5-6 and drinks are two for one).

How do you get there?

From Turin, it’s only an hour and a half away if you’re driving (making it a top choice for shorter trips). Public transport will take a little longer (around 3 hours) and it can be a bit of a hassle. There are private coach transfers that cost a little more but will get you there directly. If you’re with a group, it might be worth pricing a private taxi transfer

***

One more thing: Ryanair have reduced their charges for checking in ski/snowboard gear. It’s now €40 each way, which often works out a lot cheaper than renting… plus you get to use your own gear that you’re used to using (priceless), and you don’t have to deal with rental places.
Dee Murray

Dee Murray

Dee Murray has a very simple travel MO... Go to great places; do awesome stuff; eat delicious food; then come home and write about it all.

9 Comments

  • Patricia

    Found your info great. Could you advise on best destination for total beginers. 2 middle aged adults and 3 teens. Also 2 with fear of heights so the height above ground of the beginer lifts is crucial. I used to ski some in Colorado myself years ago and know the smaller resorts with gentler slopes can be the best for beginers . I would really like to see that type of info on some european destinations for potential skiers travelling from Ireland.

    18th October 2015 at 8:31 am
    • Dee Murray
      Dee Murray

      Hmmmm. It’s tricky – I think Cervinia and Kitzbuhel are great for beginners, but it’s difficult to avoid getting lifts that take you pretty high above ground. There will be some T-bar lifts on nursery slopes, but as soon as you want to progress at all you need to get the big lifts! I get a little nervous on them myself so I understand the fear – maybe if you look for places where there are good gondola lifts, so that at least they are ‘inside’?

      19th October 2015 at 8:24 am
      • David

        Nevis range in Scotland is good for lifts not being too high.

        12th December 2015 at 3:26 pm
    • Iain

      That’s a good challenge. I’d offer Alpe D’Huez as a good absolute beginners resort – lot’s of easy green runs close to the village with surface tows and relatively low height chairs. You can also get there fairly quickly in a rental from Grenoble or Lyons airport. Usually gets a lot of sun though, so probably best to go before mid March (St.Patrick’s day at the latest !). Flaine is another good option with free beginners lifts on the green runs around the village itself and it’s close to Geneva. My kids learned in both !

      19th October 2015 at 7:17 pm
  • Lissie

    A big gotcha is that if you fly to Geneva, there is a weird law about not being able to buy a transfer to resorts at the airport. Prebook your transfer and don’t be one of those people I see every time milling around having a stressful start to their holiday.

    Other than that – DO IT, I’ve been ‘my own travel agent’ for a couple of years now and it’s great fun.

    It might sound a bit dull but if it’s a bit daunting, go to a resort that you’ve been to before on a package holiday, that way you know the lay of the land, where all the lifts and buses are, etc..

    Aggregating sites (I probably can’t name them) for hotels are your friend for finding a place to stay.

    Happy skiing. I’m going to book mine right now! Thanks for the reminder, Ryanair.

    18th October 2015 at 10:17 am
  • Margy

    Is there good cross-country skiing in any of the places you recommend???????

    26th October 2016 at 10:28 am
  • Karen O'Neill

    any thought on short ski holidays from Northern Ireland – Belfast or Dublin. Been skiing several times but cant get away for a week in January but would like a short ski break in January.

    26th October 2016 at 1:42 pm
    • Helen

      Hi Karen. You could try Krakow and from there take local bus from bus station to Zakopane, or arrange a pick up at airport (zakopane-goski.com) and ski Kasprowvy Wierch Mountain – book cable car tickets online before hand. Bialka, 45 mins from Zakopane on a local bus, has nice interconnecting slopes and night skiing. Skiing not as extensive as the alps but still lovely, do-able and all at a good price. Accommodation easy to come by online.

      2nd November 2016 at 10:06 am
  • Melanie

    Bulgaria is one of the cheapest places to ski and you just started flying there. We were in pomporovo resort and accommodation is basic but cheap, food is reasonable and if memory serves me correctly, ski passes were about €25 per day. I’m not sure how much of a drive it is from sofia airport though, I think it’s far. There are other ski places closer to sofia though. Language can be a bit of an issue, but if you’re skiing on a budget, we found it great!

    17th December 2016 at 12:39 am

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