The French secret to skiing for less than £30 this winter

If you associate ski trips with dropping at least £1,000 per person on a week-long holiday, you’re not alone. Post Office Travel Money’s latest Ski Resort Report has seen prices rise in almost two thirds of the European ski resorts surveyed since last winter.

Add in the fondue and après, and then subtract the hours of skiing lost because you enjoyed après a little too much, and the hourly cost of skiing works out high. A seven-day lift pass for the Portes du Soleil area (12 resorts between France and Spain including Avoriaz, Morzine and Les Gets) works out as €399 (£350) per adult this winter. It’s these sorts of figures that priced me out of a ski trip.

That was until I discovered the French secret to skiing on the cheap. I’ll admit that living in France is an advantage, but what if I told you that if you’re visiting eastern France for a city break this winter, you could pack in a whole day of skiing for less than £30, including the transport?

Tour company Skiligne offers full day trips to a variety of ski stations from Grenoble – such as Alpe d’Huez and Les Deux Alpes – including a ski pass and return transfers from the city centre, starting from as little as €29 (£25).

Skimania is Lyon’s equivalent, with a day at resorts including La Clusaz, Courchevel, Les Menuires and Val Thorens, starting from €51/£45 (it’s slightly further from the mountains than Grenoble), which includes breakfast. Thanks to a fresh dump of snow in high-altitude Val Thorens, the first trips are running from this weekend.

You can book a day trip with Skiligne or Skimania up to three days before. The advantage of this is that weather forecasts will be more reliable, so you can cherry-pick a bluebird day.

Combine a city break in Lyon with skiing up in the French Alps (Photo: Michel Peres/Getty Images)
Combine a city break in Lyon with skiing up in the French Alps (Photo: Michel Peres/Getty Images)

Ski equipment

If you’ve got ski gear, that’s it cost-wise, and if you want to maximise your day of skiing, do as the locals do and pack a sandwich rather than buying an overpriced tartiflette in the mountains.

If not, you can either rent gear in Lyon or Grenoble the day before (I recommend Espace Montagne in Lyon), or make an advance booking through Sport 2000, which is in every ski station in France, to pick up your equipment when you arrive. Booking ski boots, skis, a helmet and poles costs about €20 per day from either Espace Montagne or Sport 2000 if booked in advance.

The timetable

Buses leave Lyon at between 5:30am and 6:30am, or at the slightly more civilised time of 7.30am and 8.15am from Grenoble. Generally, day trips arrive at the resort before the pistes open, between 8 and 9am. If you’re renting on-site, head straight to Sport 2000 to pick up your gear to avoid queueing.

Your ski pass is given to you on the bus, along with an emergency contact number and breakfast, usually some juice and a brioche or croissant.

Pay attention to the time you need to be back at the bus (usually between 4pm and 4.30pm). These companies won’t wait if you’re even a minute behind schedule, and if you miss that bus, you’ll be stuck forking out for a hotel or an eye-wateringly expensive taxi to get you back to a public transport network.

If you’ve rented gear, you’ll have to factor in time to come down from the slopes early to return it before heading back to the bus. That said, it’s still a well-priced day out on the slopes.

Day trips to Alpe d'Huez are offered from both Grenoble and Lyon (Photo: Artur Debat/Getty Images)
Day trips to Alpe d’Huez are offered from both Grenoble and Lyon (Photo: Artur Debat/Getty Images)

The best resorts

So with all the ski stations that Skiligne and Skimania offer, where should you go? Keen skiers visiting for a week could even do “ski tapas” and try out multiple resorts in a week. There are always Saturday and Sunday trips, but as the season progresses, several weekdays are added. In this instance, I recommend renting gear for a week in the city centre for the best prices (Decathlon is good value). Having tested many of Skimania’s offerings, here are my top picks:

Beginners: Les Deux Alpes

You can ski blue runs all the way down from a glacier at 3,600m to the town, which sits at 1,650m.

Luxe for less: Courchevel

A day pass at Courchevel typically costs €68, making it one of France’s more expensive resorts, but with Skimania, you can enjoy it for €53.50, with transfers and breakfast. It’s in the Three Valleys, the largest skiable domain in the world, with more than 600km of pistes. The only trouble will be limiting yourself to one day.

Reliable snow: Val Thorens

Val Thorens is where all the snow is at (yes, already). The resort has had so much snow that it has opened a week early (this Saturday). Early season skiers, this one’s for you.

There’s plenty to keep you occupied off the slopes in Lyon and Grenoble, too. The Christmas markets start on the 26 and 23 of November respectively, and from 7-10 December, Europe’s largest lights festival, the Fête des Lumières, illuminates Lyon.

And while I can’t argue with the fondue-plus-raclette ski diet, you’ll have plenty of options to eat non-beige, global cuisine. A full day of skiing under blue skies washed down with a South Indian curry, or Lebanese mezze platter? Don’t mind if I do.