Head downhill this summer. Here’s a rundown of Flip Byrnes’ best Northern Hemisphere snow resorts that won’t break the bank.
It’s heating up down under, but just a plane ride away, cool slopes are calling your name, snow is falling and the après bars are turning up the tunes. Skiing and boarding locations aren’t the cheapest holidays, but a snow experience doesn’t have to put you in the red. Look past heavy hitters like Whistler and St Moritz, and point your tips off the beaten track to discover a bargain in the USA and Europe.
Saint-Gervais is the ultimate quiet achiever. This turn-of-the-century spa town nestled against Mont-Blanc’s flanks is an authentic slice of France, with traditional buildings, rich heritage, baroque churches and gourmet fare.
Sandwiched between glitzy Chamonix and glamorous Megève, Saint-Gervais is a world-class mountain area in its own right, minus the fur coats and attitude. But it does have altitude: the 20-person Le Bettex gondola from downtown whizzes you up to 2350m for a staggering 445km of slopes and 107 ski lifts. Most importantly: stunning views and fewer people. All of that for only a €45 day pass.
After a day on the slopes, head for R&R at Les Bains du Mont Blanc. The L’Oréal-managed thermal baths and wellness centre include steam baths, bubble beds, hydro massage alcoves, massage jets and a yoga studio.
Don’t miss the Thursday markets with local cheeses and produce (sample the local Abondance cheese and Coeur de Boeuf tomatoes) – it’s one of the best in the Haute-Savoie. Stock up and eat like royalty on a normal citizen budget.
There are three big things to know about Romania’s swankiest and best-designed resort: $48 day passes, $12 ski rentals and Dracula’s castle. But that’s not all, not by a long shot.
Cheap flights and tickets put Romania on the British ski map — it was voted the most affordable European ski resort by London’s The Telegraph in 2008. Luckily, it never became a Magaluf on Ice (that is, a bogan booze-fest destination) and 10 years later, it’s retained its rich cultural heart and amazing value, and is one of the most pristine and well-preserved mountain areas in Eastern Europe.
The day pass accesses 24.5km of ski terrain boasting a spellbinding setting in the pine forests of the Carpathian Mountains. Intent on creating the Romanian “Alps”, early founders sent architects and engineers to study famous European resorts and apply the same design and quality principles in building Poiana Brașov. The result: a slickly operating ski area for half the price of Thredbo.
But this isn’t just a ski holiday, it’s also saturated with culture. Located deep in Transylvania, the proximity of Dracula’s Castle 20km away lends an aura of mystique, the medieval city of Brașov is 10 minutes down the road and make sure to pause in Bucharest, the capital.
‘Together with a great exchange rate, toss in some steep ’n’ deep, friendly Canucks, and poutine and buffalo wings galore, and you have a mighty fine mix for a ski trip with flair.
Of all the slopes, our pick is Red Mountain, an original mining village that has retained some of its grit while rejecting the glamour. If it’s skiing you want, skiing it’s got. The stats speak for themselves: a whopping 7.6m of annual snowfall, 890m of vertical and both wide-open groomers and off-piste unfettered by development. With slopes to rival those of Jackson Hole, but a reputation only in skier circles, it boasts fresh turns you don’t have to fight for.
Last season, Red started cat skiing without breaking the bank. A PistenBully 200 snowcat shuttles skiers up to newly cut runs on Mt Kirkup that aren’t accessible by a chairlift. One snowcat ride costs a measly $10, and the day pass is one of the cheapest in Canada at $97.
Don’t miss dinner at Le Petit Fromage, offering evenings with ski instruction followed by a gentle 2km ski on groomed trails to a remote cabin. A blazing woodstove and candle-lit table with a three-course authentic French cheese fondue dinner await — a rustic starlight meal that memories are made of.
Among the well-known resorts that dip their toes in California’s Lake Tahoe, a hidden jewel is the appropriately named Diamond Peak. Despite its small size (655 acres), it boasts a very healthy 2603m altitude, killer lake views and a 4km thigh-burning run.
But where it truly shines is on weekends. When the warriors clamber up from the cities and cause ski jams on other slopes, little Diamond just keeps on trucking under the radar.
On weekdays you’re perfectly poised to wander further afield and test the other 14 ski resorts around Lake Tahoe. Pay a visit to Hotels.com to find a place to call home during your getaway.
Treat your palate to some farm-to-mountain-top dining — California farm fresh cuisine paired with a Napa Valley vintage is a stellar mid-ski pause.
Want more? Cure your jet lag roaming the streets of San Francisco before heading to the slopes, with a drive time between the two of around 2.5 hours.