What to buy, what to rent and where to go for a brilliant day’s skiing in the Alps.
A ski trip in the rarefied air of the French Alps can be an amazing way to spend a week’s holiday. It’s also an amazingly fast way to spend a month’s wages.
But what if there was a way to keep down the cost while also exploring one of France’s most beautiful cities?
Because let’s face it skiing is a rich man’s game. And while usually I’m all for eating the rich (especially the men) sometimes you have to admit when they’re onto something.
The feeling of gliding through the trees surrounded by a picture perfect winter wonderland is hard to beat. Or the adrenaline when you’re racing down a slope and you’re like 80 per cent sure you’re in control. But 20 per cent sure you’re gonna careen into a group of five-year-olds, but maybe they deserve it because they’re a fraction of your age yet gracefully dance down the runs while you look like (British comedy character) Mr Blobby on acid and sometimes you have to learn early that life is unfair so really you’d be doing them a favour.
How to take a cheap skiing day trip
But anyway, back to the cheap skiing.
There are several companies that arrange day trips to the Alps from nearby cities. They cost €50-€60 and include a return bus journey and a ski pass for the day.
I took a day trip with a friend from the French city of Lyon, where we live (you can read about my exploits as an expat here). If you want to visit on holiday, Lyon has direct high speed trains to Paris, Brussels and Milan, amongst others. For cheap accommodation in Lyon, there are several hostels in the city where you can get a bed in a dorm for around €20.
I had skied a couple times when I was younger but this was my first time back on the slopes in four years.
A skiing day trip does mean an early start but it was worth it
Our day trip was to Courchevel, one of the most famous resorts in France. We booked through the company Skimania for €60 each. Skimania also serves other resorts in the French Alps like Les Arcs and Les Deux Alpes. Magic Evasion does the same for a similar price.
While a jaunt to the posh resort of Courchevel sounds very glamorous I was quickly brought back down to earth when I had to set 10 alarms to make sure I woke up at 5.15am on a Sunday morning.
The coaches leave at around 6.30am from various points around the city. Once onboard, I sat back and relaxed and before I knew it, we were at the foot of the slopes just as they opened.
Some of our fellow travellers had rented their skis in Lyon so they could get going right away. But I decided to rent from a shop in the resort to avoid the hassle of lugging them about.
I made the mistake of not booking my skis online ahead of time. Even with the 10 per cent Skimania discount I had to pay €35 for skis, poles and a helmet (which annoyingly costs extra). I recommend reserving online from InterSport a few days beforehand as it’s €10 cheaper.
I already had the rest of my gear - ski trousers, jacket, socks, waterproof gloves, balaclava and thermal underclothes - but if it's your first time you’ll have to factor in that cost too. You can rent things like the ski trousers and jacket. But if you think you’ll ski regularly, I recommend buying your own as it lasts for years. Or to be more sustainable, borrow from friends.
Will I remember how to ski after not going for years?
Once you have all the admin out of the way there’s just the simple matter of throwing yourself down a mountain repeatedly for seven hours.
As might be obvious by now, I was a little nervous. The two-hour bus journey gave me lots of time to contemplate my choices. As we climbed higher and higher I began to wonder if I had developed a new fear of heights in the intervening four years since I had last skied.
Thankfully, once I clipped in the skis and got going it came back to me with surprising ease. The money, the early wake up call and the nerves all faded in my mind as I remembered why I wanted to put on two slits of metal and slide down a hill in the first place - because it’s so damn fun!
Courchevel is great for beginner and intermediate skiers. There are plenty of green and blue runs to enjoy (which I stuck to to ensure no five-year-old children were harmed). And the scenery is just breathtaking. So even when you fall (like I did) you are comforted by the sight of gorgeous valleys and snow capped mountain peaks.
Where to eat on the slopes?
After four hours whizzing about we decided to go for lunch and skied up to a place we saw on the resort map. If you are on a budget, I do not recommend this.
As we stood outside googling the menu, I was reminded again of how skiing is a rich man’s game. A plate of food would set us back €40. We turned and ran back to our skis as quick as our clunky boots would allow before settling on a €10 sandwich from a hut. So my next tip will come as no surprise: pack your own picnic. It’s cost effective and it’ll certainly be lunch with a view.
What is the total cost of a skiing day trip?
All in all, going for a day’s skiing from Lyon will set you back about €80 if you have your own ski clothes and bring your own lunch.
So the chance to ski in one of France’s world class resorts can be done for far cheaper than you might think.