Weekend Skiing in Europe
Keen on skiing, but short of time? Need a quick-trip powder fix? Ski weekends with two to four days snow-sure skiing and airports nearby offering short transfer times are the ideal compromise.
The last decade has seen an explosion of flights to gateway airports in the European Alps. Where flights land, transfer companies soon follow, so it’s as easy to get the rest of the way. Transfers are usually included in weekend ski holiday packages, but some of you prefer to book your ski accommodation, flights and transfers independently.
Finding cheap flights online is easy enough but finding resort accommodation is trickier, with many online searches leaving you at the bottom of the valley, a long way from the action so it’s worth checking best deals offered by specialist tour operators such as Skiweekends.com
Airports and nearby ski resorts
Friedrichshafen airport in Germany is nearest to Bregenzerwald and Brandnertal and also convenient for the Arlberg resorts Lech-Zurs, Stuben and St Anton and Ischgl in the Tirol, and for Davos, Arosa, Lenzerheide, Flims-Laax, Savognin and St. Moritz in the Graubunden region of Switzerland, Malbun in Liechtenstein and Oberstdorf in the Allgau region of Germany.
Zurich airport is within easy reach of Swiss resorts in Graubunden including Arosa, Davos and Laax. Zurich is also convenient for Brandnertal, Bregenzerwald and Montafon in the Vorarlberg region of Austria, where you will find plenty of good skiing and affordable accommodation.
Geneva airport is the main gateway to several resorts in France, Switzerland and Italy. The French ski resorts of Chamonix, Morzine, La Clusaz, Les Gets, Flaine, Samoens, Avoriaz, St Gervais , Chatel and Megeve are all within 2 hours of the airport. The Swiss resorts of Nendaz, Verbier and Villars are also weekendable. Courmayeur and la Thuile are in Italy but are quicker to get to from Geneva than from the Italian airports. Another advantage of Geneva Airport is that there are plenty of ski resort transfer services based there which run regular low cost shuttles every day and every night from Geneva airport to the resorts, such as the ChamExpress service to Chamonix; the MegevExpress service to Megeve and St Gervais; the MorzExpress services to Morzine, Avoriaz and Les Gets; the AostaExpress to Courmayeur; and the AlpyBus service to Verbier, Les Menuires, St Martin be Belleville and Val Thorens.
It’s easy to overlook France’s regional airports: Grenoble airport (for Alpe d’Huez, Les Sept Laux and Villard de Lans), Chambery airport for Les Trois Vallees and Paradiski and Nice airport (for Isola 2000, Auron and Valberg). These French ski resorts are used to catering for the local weekend skiers, so it’s often easier to find somewhere to stay.
The closest airport isn’t always in the same country: Friedrichshafen airport in Germany is convenient for ski resorts in western Austrian and eastern Switzerland and Milan airport is nearest to the Swiss resort of St. Moritz (two hours) and also close to Monterosa, while resorts close to Turin airport include Cervinia and Sestriere.
Splashing out on a helicopter transfer rewrites the geography, putting almost anywhere within reach, at surprisingly good rates (for the pilot, at least). Next quickest and unbeatable value with a full load is car-hire, with car rental companies at all of airports. If you land at Geneva airport, beware the cheaper French-side rentals which don’t include the Swiss motorway vignette (essential whichever direction you’re heading in, for all but top multi-lingual navigators); Swiss car rentals also come fully equipped for winter with snow tyres/chains (by law), so you don’t need to book them as extras.
Switzerland is best for rail transfers, with stations frequently in resort centre or linked by excellent public bus connections. Though not usually as quick as road transfers, Swiss public transport is incredibly easy: train platforms are within a few minutes trolley-push of the airport luggage carousels, and services are ultra-reliable and comfortable enough to make an excellent start and end to your holiday. Rail transfers can usually be booked online at cut-prices a day or two before travelling.
Finally, a growing number of transfer specialists offer online booking and a range of services, with bus and minibus transfers to many of the major resorts – an excellent option if you don’t want to hire a car, though relatively expensive and at risk of group delays when more than one flight is being met. Less popular routes at obscure times are also covered, but in practice they are simply private taxi rides – fine for a reasonable group size but outrageous for small numbers. If you can bear public transport, buses run to the more popular European resorts from the airport or the nearest big town – with connecting services between the airport and the town.
Check the weather forecast before you leave and adjust your kit accordingly. Knowing that it will be minus 20-degrees Celsius adds a couple of kilos to your baggage that you can ditch if it’s set fair and weather forecasts for the next three to four days are usually quite reliable. There’s only one essential piece of baggage for weekend ski trips: your ski boots. Fanatics take them as hand-luggage, fruitcakes actually wear them onboard, but ski carriage costs and transfer-hassle make ski rental a good bet (treat it as a chance to demo new skis or snowboard) and save on ski resort rental prices by pre-booking your ski rental and other ski extras online before you go.
Weekend ski accommodation
Many hotels have weekend rates, typically the same as high season rates. Try to end your weekend on a Sunday – rather than on a Monday or Tuesday. That way you don’t cut across two rental weeks and you’re more likely to find somewhere to stay. A short break does not have to be taken over a weekend – hoteliers will gladly take a mid-week stay. Keep in mind that many hotels and apartment agencies are still reluctant to cater for short stays in anything but the lowest season. Book early and if you book direct get written confirmation from the hotel or search for hotels and book online using your credit or debit card information to guarantee your booking.
Book well ahead
It’s essential to book well ahead for the more popular periods of the season – or be prepared to wait until the very last minute. Bookings for large groups should also be made as far ahead as possible. Many places initially reluctant to commit to anything less than a week’s booking will be willing to take a last minute booking if they still have rooms available, so it can be worth calling again.
Specialist tour operators
Airlines and airports near ski resorts
SWISS.com (Swiss International Airlines) have the biggest selection of scheduled flights daily to Geneva and Zurich airports, at competitive prices including free ski carriage and no “hidden extras”. EasyJet.com operate scheduled flights to numerous airports convenient for weekend skiing including Geneva, Zurich, Munich, Innsbruck, Salzburg, Grenoble, Lyon, Milan and Turin. Monarch.co.uk will fly four times per week (Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday) from London Gatwick and twice a week (Thursday and Saturday) from Manchester to Friedrichshafen airport.
Search accommodation and book online
Search hotels and apartments in ski resorts worldwide, check availability and book online with a best price guarantee via Booking.com in co-operation with Ultimate-Ski.com.