Taking the family on a ski vacation may not be easy on the wallet. But as lift tickets are easily approaching (and in many cases passing) the $100 mark in many North American resorts, a great alternative may be hopping over the pond for more-affordable ski holidays that come with an added cultural kick. Sure, you’ll probably pay more to fly to France than Colorado, but lodging, lift tickets and meals in the hideaway European villages we’ve discovered can cost considerably less than many in the Rocky Mountains. And the experience of riding a wooden toboggan down a moonlit Swiss mountain pass with a belly full of fondue? There’s no putting a dollar amount on that.
SWISS SLEDDING WONDERLAND
Two hours southeast of Zurich, Bergün is an end-of-the-valley village where you can sip hot cocoa at an alfresco ice bar while watching the locals pull their groceries and kids through the snowy streets on traditional wooden sleds. Chairlifts lead to a small ski area, Darlux, where lift tickets cost just $47 a day for adults and $27 for kids. But sledding is Bergün’s real draw. Warm up with a fondue dinner at Hotel-Restaurant Albula, rent a toboggan from Mark Sport, and then ride the train 25 minutes uphill from the village to the start of one of Europe’s longest floodlit sled runs. It’s about 4 miles back down to town, and there are amazing vistas at every turn! Put Switzerland’s interconnected ski resort, Arosa Lenzerheide, on your radar too, as it has 140 miles of terrain and adult day passes for $75 and kids’ for just $25.
FAMILY-STYLE FRENCH ALPS
An hour from Geneva, La Clusaz is a compact resort in France’s Haute Savoie region that centers on a typical Alpine village with an ice rink and weekly market. Find affordable slope-side rooms at La Ferme, an erstwhile farmhouse that’s also home to the town’s best raclette restaurant. And unique area activities include skiing behind fjord horses with Aravis Passion and visits to nearby cheese farms. There’s ski terrain for most abilities here, but the most family-friendly area is Beauregard, where a cable car reaches gentler beginner slopes that stay sunlit most of the day. Adult day passes, $47; kids 14 and under, $36.
AUSTRIA FOR ALL
Tots in Austria learn to ski almost as soon as they can walk, and the country brims with fab family-friendly resorts. SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser Brixental is Austria’s largest interconnected ski resort, offering 173 miles of slopes surrounded by charming villages. Five-day peak-season passes, good through mid-March, are just $259 for adults and $130 for kids 15 and under. Consider basing yourself in the village of Söll, where you can head out on dogsledding excursions from the tourism office ($34 a person) on Fridays and enroll the kids in Ski School Knolln at bargain rates (4 hours of daily group instruction for 5 days, $220 per child). If you fancy a more intimate ski experience, try Kühtai, Austria’s highest Alpine village, where special January deals for kids born in 2008 or after include free accommodation, skiing and lessons.
Darlux: 41-81-407-1256; berguen-filisur.ch
Hotel-Restaurant Albula: 70 Hauptstrasse, Bergün, Switzerland; 41-81-407-1126; hotelalbula.ch
Mark Sport: 106 Hauptstrasse, Bergün, Switzerland; 41-81-407-1165; marksport.ch
Arosa Lenzerheide: 41-81-378-8484; arosalenzerheide.ch
La Clusaz: 33-4-5032-6500; laclusaz.com
La Ferme: 1078 Rte. du Col des Aravis, La Clusaz, France; 33-4-5002-5050; lesfermiers.com
Aravis Passion: 564 Ranch Rd., La Clusaz, France; 33-4-5002-4851; aravis-passion.com
SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser Brixental: 43-533-3400; skiwelt.at
Ski School Knolln: 135 Dorf, Söll, Austria; 43-664-594-4051; skischule-knolln.at
Kühtai: 43-5239-5222; kuehtai.info
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.