Skiing in much of North America is outrageously expensive. Consider heading to Europe instead

A young skier zips downhill at Zermatt ski resort in Switzerland with the Matterhorn in the background. North Americans might be surprised at how affordable a European ski vacation can be.

A young skier zips downhill at Zermatt ski resort in Switzerland with the Matterhorn in the background. North Americans might be surprised at how affordable a European ski vacation can be. 

Unless you’re wearing skins on your skis to climb up the mountain, crashing on a friend’s couch and cooking meals in, you might have noticed that taking a ski vacation to one of the big resorts in North America — where the lift tickets alone can easily push $250 and higher per day — is hardly an affordable endeavor.

That’s especially true if you’re traveling as a family and require rental gear, lessons, on-mountain snacks and more.

“I’ve been to Vail, British Columbia, Montana, Beaver Creek to ski before I had kids,” said Katie Mersinger, a Tampa, Florida, mother of three.

“When I started looking into the prices for traveling as a family with our kids to these spots, I told my husband it was going to be as much as $20,000 with flights, lift tickets, hotels, lessons and rentals for a week,” she said.

He suggested they go to Europe instead.

Mersinger found flights from Tampa to Italy for a spring break ski trip in March 2022 for about the same as what it would have cost her family of five to fly to Denver or Salt Lake City during the same peak period.

But where the real savings came in, she said, was on the mountain in the Italian resort town of Bormio — a thermal spa and ski resort in the Alps of Northern Italy. There, her family paid about $2,000 for four days of lift tickets, gear rental, private lessons and a stay in a four-star hotel with breakfast included (a spread of homemade crepes, omelets, charcuterie boards and specialty coffees).

Nightly dinners out for the family of five were under $100 – bottle of wine included, Mersinger said.

Overall, the family found their European ski holiday a far better value than in the United States.

“It’s not a value to spend $20,000 to go skiing,” Mersinger said. “I’d rather go to Europe to ski and have amazing food, culture and sightseeing.”

The Mersinger family poses for a photo on the slopes in Italy.

The Mersinger family poses for a photo on the slopes in Italy. 

The family plans to travel back to Bormio again this March for spring break. And while the price of flights has more than doubled compared with their trip two years ago, Mersinger said she still expects to come out ahead considering all the other savings.

“When we came back (in 2022), friends were curious about our spring break, and we shared that we took the family skiing in Italy,” she says. “Much to their surprise, many started comparing similar trips to Jackson Hole, Vail and Beaver Creek, and found that our vacation was a fourth of the cost.”

The many ways to save

Americans are catching on to the fact that there are serious savings to be had during a ski trip to Europe compared to similar vacations in North America, said Sammy Salm, CEO of Best of the Alps, a marketing association for 10 ski resorts in France, Austria, Italy, Switzerland and Germany, including famously luxurious and pricy spots such as Megève in the French Alps and Kitzbühel in Austria.

The value of skiing in Europe is an argument they’ve been making for three decades, Salm said. “Since Covid, our numbers are exploding from North America for summer and winter travel.”

It all starts with cheaper lift tickets.

“We are noticing more and more travelers are turning to Europe for their ski trips instead of staying right here in the US.  Much of this has to do with cost.  You can find lift tickets for less than $100 a day in Europe — a steal compared to the US where many prices hover closer to $200,” said Adam Duckworth, president of travel agency Travelmation.

Much has to do with supply and demand, he said. “Europe has a wealth of options for ski resorts compared to the United States, so that will drive down prices to attract customers.”

Skiing in Europe as a cheaper alternative to the United States is a trend influencers are taking and running with, too, he says.

“Hop on TikTok or YouTube, and you’ll see many people sharing how they can travel all the way to Europe and do a full ski trip with lodging cheaper than flying and staying at a resort domestically,” he said.

Italy's Dolomites offer spectacular skiing at lower prices for lift tickets and other ski essentials than many top US resorts.

Italy’s Dolomites offer spectacular skiing at lower prices for lift tickets and other ski essentials than many top US resorts. 

In addition to lift tickets, food, ski rentals and accommodations are also generally less expensive at major European ski resorts compared with similar big-name spots in North America, Salm said.

A wider variety of accommodations in European ski towns as well as the fact that breakfast is almost always included with lodging helps add to the savings, too, he said.

“In the Alps, we have a full range of one, two, three, four and five star hotels,” he said.

Pricing in Europe

When comparing luxury ski resorts in the United States and Europe, daily lift tickets in Megève in France (where 225 ski runs include many with views of Mont Blanc) cost 59.50 euros (about $64), compared with $269 per day at Park City Mountain Resort, Utah, and Beaver Creek, Colorado, for single day walk-up lift tickets this season.

Top US East Coast resorts can be pricy, too. Lift ticket prices at Stowe in Vermont are in the $200 range.

At Dolomiti Superski in Italy — with access to 12 different ski areas in the Dolomites, all connected by cable cars and slopes — skiers and snowboarders pay roughly $573 for a seven-day lift pass compared with $1,218 at Colorado’s Aspen Mountain for the same timeframe. A day of private ski lessons in Cortina d’Ampezzo within Dolomiti Superski costs roughly $464 compared with $1,041 in Aspen.

“There are still cozy, boutique-style, three-star hotels even in a town like Megève,” said Salm. “And a nice pasta or pizza dinner with wine in a place like Cortina d’Ampezzo will cost you around $30 per person.”

France’s Les 3 Vallées — which includes seven ski resorts, among them Val Thorens and Courchevel, with access to 372 miles (600 kilometers) of slopes — offers family passes for six days for two parents and two children for 300 euros per person (roughly $323). And budget-friendly lodging is available in the nearby towns of Brides-les-Bains or Les Menuires.

Austria’s Stubai Glacier offers lift tickets from around 64 euros per person for adults (about $68) — and half that for kids. And even five-star accommodations at a place such as Spa-Hotel Jagdhof , priced around 480 euros (about $515) a night for a room with daily breakfast and cakes served every afternoon, feel like a bargain compared with a similar luxury property in North America.

Even in Switzerland, which is hardly considered a budget-friendly destination, prices at ski resorts can feel like a deal compared with the United States. For example, take Andermatt in the Swiss Alps, where lift tickets cost 89 Swiss francs (roughly $100) and full-day group ski lessons for kids are 145 Swiss francs (roughly $165). By comparison, full-day, group-ski lessons for kids at Vail in Colorado cost $480.

At the Ski Hostel in the Swiss region of Valais, near the village of Liddes, guests pay 950 Swiss francs (around $1,070) for a seven-night package that includes lodging in a four to six-person dorm, airport transfers from Geneva, a ski pass for three ski resorts in the area for the entire stay, breakfast and dinner daily and sauna access.

Look to Scandinavia for ski savings in Europe, too, including in places such as Åre in Sweden, where three-day lift tickets for adults cost 190.50 euros (roughly $205) and Levi Ski Resort in Finnish Lapland, where adult lift passes cost 51.50 euros per day (about $55).

Factoring in airfare

While it’s often more expensive to fly across the pond than somewhere within the United States, airfare deals can be found to ski destinations in both North America and Europe, said Katy Nastro, a travel expert with the airfare tracking site Going.

“Winter months in the Northern Hemisphere are a great time to travel when flight prices are substantially lower, even to popular ski destinations,” she said. “For example, back in January, we sent roundtrip deals like Miami to Salt Lake City for $177, or even further afield like New York to Milan for $378, which both make hitting the slopes a lot more affordable.”

Even with more people looking to head to seasonal ski towns, there is more capacity at this time of year from the airlines, she said. “It’s not uncommon to find deals for places like Aspen, Colorado, since more flights are being offered.”

Keep in mind that while you might be able to find a cheaper flight to a domestic ski destination than somewhere in Europe, there are potential workarounds, Nastro said.

“Even if the ticket price has risen to one of the ski resort cities in Europe, you still can search for an alternate city with budget flight or train connections across Europe, getting to your desired destination without much cost added on top,” she said.

And remember — savings in Europe come down to the little things, too, said Salm.

“I paid $8 for a brown hot water for a coffee break in Vail. For the same price in Saint Anton am Arlberg in Austria recently, I had a double espresso with a Schnapps shot and whip cream on top.”

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