- Small, local resorts offer great-value ski holidays
- Bigger is not always better when it comes to ski resorts
- Make use of regional flights to find the best deals
According to Club Med's 5th annual Ski Report, in the 2016/17 winter season Club Med's resorts saw a 12% increase in the number of people visiting ski resorts
With big-name ski resorts attracting guests from all over the world, one of the best ways to experience a country is to seek out a smaller destination that remains largely undiscovered by the hordes.
1. Serfaus, Austria
- Value: Not the cheapest of Austrian resorts, but great value for an authentic experience
- Family friendliness: There are superb kids' areas, it's car free and gets lots of sunshine
- Best time to go: Serfaus is quite high by Tyrol standards, so avoid the crowds by going in March
- Piste variety: There's a good spread of runs for everyone, particularly confident skiers
- Convenience: Fast lifts and an underground train through the village means that no one has to walk more than 300m from their accommodation
The village of Serfaus is the perfect base to explore the 162km of pistes in the linked Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis ski area.
'This is something of an undiscovered gem for Brits, and a veritable winter wonderland for families,' says Chris Gill (@WheretoSkiandS), editor of the new guide book Where to Ski in Austria. 'It has improved enormously in the past decade; it has some good, challenging skiing but also nice beginner areas, so it's a resort popular with families – mainly German, Swiss and Dutch.'
2. Wagrain, Austria
- Value: A little-known resort that offers access to the Ski amadé, Austria's largest regional lift pass
- Family friendliness: There are extensive family ski areas, plus an ice rink, indoor and outdoor pools and a toboggan run for off-slope fun
- Best time to go: Wagrain is low, so don't leave it too late – January to early March would be ideal
- Piste variety: Great for intermediates and families, with some expert terrain
- Convenience: Much of the accommodation is within an easy walk of the main lifts. Wagrain is 40 minutes from Salzburg Airport
Set in the eastern Austrian Alps, Wagrain offers access to 120km of pistes across the southerly Sportwelt within the Ski amadé region.
Chris Gill says the area is particularly family friendly: 'At the mid-station of the Roter 8er gondola, 3km from central Wagrain and reachable by road, is the excellent Wagraini's Winterwelt – an extensive kids' practice area with two magic carpets and two rope-tows. There's a tubing slope, too.'
3. Jasná, Slovakia
- Value: Amazing value: beers are around €3 a pint on the mountain, while lunch will only set you back €6.
- Family friendliness: There's a dedicated ski school area with magic carpets – a five-day group lesson package is just €89. There are also two large water parks.
- Best time to go: Jasná may be low but winters are cold, so December and January are for the hardy
- Piste variety: The majority of runs are blue and red, but there are 12 freeride zones for experienced skiers
- Convenience: Jasná is just a 40-minute drive from the nearest airport, Poprad Tatry, from which Wizz Air flies from London Luton
Not the biggest in the world – there are 49km of pistes – but in a wonderfully scenic location among the forest of the Low Tatras mountains, this is Slovakia's top ski resort. More than €200m has been invested in the past five years to improve accommodation, lifts, snowmaking (the highest peak is at 2,024m), restaurants and services.
'I love Jasná because it has something for everyone in a compact area. I can venture off piste and hit the freeride zones but easily loop back to the lower runs where the kids are skiing,' says Justin, client director of Jasná Adventures (@JasnaAdventures).
4. Val Cenis, France
- Value: Off the beaten track, everything costs about half the price of the big French resorts
- Family friendliness: It's home to the 10km L'Escargot, Europe's longest green run
- Best time to go: Avoid French school holidays in February
- Piste variety: Great for beginners and intermediates, with some untapped off-piste for experts
- Convenience: Val Cenis is a 1.5-hour drive from Chambéry airport
Sitting in the middle of the Haute Maurienne Valley, Val Cenis has an authentic French vibe and uncrowded slopes.
'The Maurienne Valley is just as close to major airports as its famous neighbours in the Tarentaise, but offers better value for money,' explains Fraser Wilkin, father of two and founder of weathertoski.co.uk (@weathertoski). 'Like for like, hotels are at least half the price, with on-the-spot prices cheaper too.
'The Maurienne Valley has an excellent snow record. It's not that average snowfall is particularly high, it's more about snow preservation. This is a sheltered corner of the Alps with low humidity and lots of north-facing slopes, meaning the snow that does fall tends to stick around.'
5. Champoluc, Italy
- Value: A cappuccino on the slopes could cost you as little as €1.50
- Family friendliness: There's no crazy après-ski in Champoluc, and an enclosed nursery slope at the top of the main cable car offers a safe place to learn
- Best time to go: Gets busy at weekends
- Piste variety: Plenty across the whole 73km Monterosa ski area for every type of skier; Champoluc is the best choice for beginners, with gentle slopes at Antagnod
- Convenience: Everything is walkable within the village, and you can fly to Turin, Milan or Geneva
Champoluc is one of three villages in the Monterosa ski area sitting on the Swiss border. Only one British tour operator (Ski 2) offered ski holidays to Champoluc until 2016, when Ski Total and Inghams also opened chalet hotels there.
'A great choice for families, uncrowded slopes and a rustic, laid-back village atmosphere combine with a real authentic Italian welcome – Champoluc is a gem,' says Andrew Dent, founder and CEO of Family Traveller (@familytraveller) magazine.
For many, a ski holiday is about the whole experience, and après-ski is just as important as time on the slopes. But you don't need to forgo all the elements of a fantastic skiing trip if you want to save some money – there are plenty of resorts that are authentic and good value, as well as being less crowded than the more popular destinations.