Hit the slopes without hitting your wallet
Skiing holidays don't have to cost an arm and a leg - going to the right place at the right time means you can ski on a budget. Where to go, when to go, how to get there and where you stay are key factors if you're looking for a cheap break.
Sometimes it is cheaper to put a holiday together yourself than go on a package holiday offered by a travel agent. The important thing is to factor in all the costs involved and remember there will be no tour representative to fall back on if things go wrong.
Al Gosling is director of the Extreme Media Group, owner of the Extreme Sports Channel. He skis every weekend throughout the season and has been on package holidays and put together his own DIY trips.
"It's best to start off by deciding which resort you want to go to and booking your accommodation," he says. "The earlier you book, the better deal you will get on both accommodation and flights. You can book a room in a cheap hostel, or pay more to go for a hotel or apartment."
Tourist offices in the UK will provide a list of resort accommodation, and many resort tourist offices now have their own internet sites. Other websites, such as holidaylettings.co.uk, rent out apartments and chalets.
Putting together your own package can reap rewards if you don't fit the standard four or two-sharing room requirement. For example, single travellers can benefit by opting for accommodation where there is no single room supplement.
Next, look around for the best airport to get you there. Smaller, more remote airports will be cheaper to fly to than airports in major cities. Websites such as cheapflights.co.uk, expedia.co.uk and airline-network.co.uk search airlines' websites for the cheapest flights and allow you to book online. Mid-week flights are generally cheaper.
Budget airlines have most of the European skiing destinations covered. EasyJet flies from Luton, Gatwick and Liverpool and destinations include Geneva (for French and Swiss resorts), Zurich (for Swiss and Austrian resorts), Barcelona (for Andorra), Lyon (for most French resorts), Munich (for Austrian resorts), and Milan (for Italian resorts). Some flights cost as little as £10 each way, but you will pay extra on taxes and for taking ski equipment. Ryanair serves 29 winter sports destinations from the UK.
The DIY option means you will have to arrange transport from the airport yourself. Hiring a car is normally the best option - pre-book to get the best deals. Keep costs down by nominating one driver, preferably someone over 25 with a clean licence.
You also need to think about what you will need to buy when you get there. "If you buy a ski pass or lessons online and pay upfront you will normally get a cheaper deal than if you waited until you got to the resort. Also, it's always cheaper to have your own skis and equipment than hiring it, even when you take the extra baggage costs on flights into account," adds Gosling.
Ski package holidays tend to be offered by mainstream travel agents and specialist operators such as Crystal Ski and Thomas Cook.
Watch out for hidden extras, though. And remember, package holiday prices do not usually include ski passes, equipment or lessons. These can be arranged via your operator, although you may prefer to shop around yourself to get a cheaper deal.
Where to go
Andorra in France or Eastern European countries are generally cheap to travel to and the cost of living is low.
Switzerland tends to be the most expensive European destination. St Moritz is generally regarded as the most swanky resort in the world - some hotels charge more than £2,000 for a week's stay. If you've got money to burn, heli-skiing lodges in Canada includes hot tub and gourmet food, and you also travel up the slopes by helicopter rather than ski-lift.
When to go
Flights and accommodation are generally cheaper at the beginning or end of the ski season. Try to avoid school holidays or half-term and bear in mind that being on holiday during Christmas or other public holidays will bump up the cost.
Whether you opt for a DIY or package holiday, travel insurance is vital. A normal travel policy is not enough - you need winter sports cover. Prudential Travel Insurance says people participating in winter sports are twice as likely as other travellers to make a claim.
Shop around for a policy. Cover for a skiing holiday can be from about £14 for a week, but make sure that cheap policies cover you for baggage and cancellation as well as a having a good level of medical expenses. If you fancy trying some more unusual winter sports, such as heli-skiing or snow-tubing, check these are included on your insurance.