Ski on a budget in Europe: 7 destinations to rival the Alps

While the pros may rely on sponsors, for most of us mere mortals, skiing can be a pretty expensive pursuit. But your favourite winter sport needn’t burn such a daunting hole in your pocket. There’s some cool and fairly cheap skiing to be had in alternative ski destinations across Eastern Europe, where you’ll save on everything from a ski pass and rental to hotels, food and drink without giving up great snow.

With the help of hefty investment in recent years, these resorts are beginning to seriously compete with the swanky slopes of the popular French, Swiss and Austrian Alps. Sure, they’re smaller than (and perhaps not quite as sophisticated as) their ritzy neighbours but the snow is just as white and fluffy … only far less crowded and at half (or maybe even a third) the cost!

Here’s our list of the 7 best Eastern European resorts for a low-cost skiing vacation.

Spindleruv Mlyn – Czech Republic

Spindleruv Mlyn

Taking a break from the slopes in Spindleruv Mlyn. © romanboed

Snug in the powdered peaks of Krknose (literally The Giant Mountains), the highest mountain range in the Czech Republic, sits tranquil Spindleruv Mlyn, one of four main resorts in the area.
From kid-friendly runs to a snow-stacked terrain park and miles of unspoilt cross-country trails, Spindleruv Mlyn is a serious bargain – and the gorgeous National Park surrounding it is a UNESCO classified biosphere reserve.

Head down to the charming snow-capped village, when your ski day is spent, where the smell of simmering stews and piping hot pancakes seems to linger permanently in the air. For a new and eccentric experience, the local Novosad Brewery offers an unusual spa treatment – soaking in fizzy golden beer baths!

Jahorina – Bosnia

The Jahorina ski centre.

The Jahorina ski centre.

Home to the women’s skiing events of the 1984 Winter Olympics, Jahorina and its snowy peaked neighbours attract downhillers in search of a taste of international snowsport standards.

Standing proud among the tallest Dinaric Alps of Bosnia, Jahorina’s tidy wide slopes are crisp and inviting – towering over the equally charming little town of traditional chalets and foothills coated in fir trees.

Only a stone’s-throw from Sarajevo and a favourite among the après-party inclined, this Balkan budget destination makes for a great ski and city break combo, not to mention its glowing reputation among nature seekers, who flock here faithfully for the hiking, sledding and fresh alpine air.

Bialka Tatrzanska – Poland

The Polish Tatra mountains.

The Polish Tatra mountains. © Leszek.Leszczynski

Zakopane is Poland’s biggest and most recognized resort but if you want to ski on the cheap and avoid the clumsy crowds, head to the tiny picture-perfect village of Bialka Tatrzanska.

The resort’s wide, sweeping, tree-lined slopes are very family-friendly and best for beginners and intermediates to sharpen their skills. A taste of the local smoky sheep’s cheese and cranberries with a warm cup of rum-spiked tea works great as a midday energy boost.

The nights are pretty quiet in this rural refuge but a dip in the steaming outdoor pools of the local geothermal baths is a relaxing – and pretty! – end to the day.

Jasna – Slovakia

The modern Funitel cable car on Chopok peak.

The modern Funitel cable car on Chopok peak.

One of Slovakia’s best kept secrets, nestled in the Demanovska Dolina Valley, Jasna is a real-life winter wonderland of snow flurry and pine trees, where pistes cut through wilderness and back-country skiing through national parkland.

While Chopok peak lures its fair share of adventure-seekers with its 1,000m vertical drop and multiple freeride areas, newcomers can hit the excellent ski schools or wander off-piste with an expert Slovak guide.

The après-ski scene is on the quiet side and revolves around local brews and hot pierogi dumplings but you can always brave the chilly evening air and slice up the last of Chopok’s powder on an illuminated night run.

Bansko – Bulgaria

Bulgaria's Pirin mountains.

Bulgaria’s Pirin mountains. © Nick Moise

Recently modernized Bansko is becoming a top destination for snow lovers seeking both good powder conditions and nights that offer a little (a lot!) more than hot cocoa by the fire.

Although extremely beginner-friendly, the resort is not all bunny-slopes – the reds can definitely hold their own and riding full speed through the skyscraper spruces of the glades is as thrilling as it is visually spectacular.

Bulgaria’s biggest resort can sometimes get a little congested on the lifts, but that’s nothing a cozy late breakfast can’t solve. And you’ll want to sleep in … you won’t find any scary black pistes up top but Bansko’s legendary bar scene is as much of an adrenaline rush as you’ll need.

Kranjska Gora – Slovenia

Colourful Slovenian ski lifts.

Colourful Slovenian ski lifts.

Sitting pretty in the majestic Julian Alps, bordered by Austria and Italy and blanketed in hefty pine forest, is quiet and family-friendly Kranjska Gora.

What this Slovenian resort lacks in challenging terrain, it more than makes up for in gentle, well-groomed runs, compact nursery slopes and a stunning landscape to go with the copious amounts of cross-country trails. It does lay claim, however, to a World Cup black run that has been testing slalom stars from around the world for more than 50 years.

Despite its pedigree, Kranjska Gora is free of prestige and the prices that go with it – you don’t need to be a celebrity to get a guesthouse on the piste.

Popova Sapka – Macedonia

A view of the Popova Sapka resort.

A view of Popova Sapka. © markovskavesna

Standing higher than most Eastern European resorts, you’ll find Macedonia’s Popova Sapka, nestled in the cushy rounded peaks of the Dinaric Mountains.

The town, with its veil of white and empty streets, is in a state of perpetual slumber, perfect for those in search of a secret hideaway. The lifts may be a little old school but the smooth, unmarked slopes are definitely worth it – especially since you’ll have them all to yourself.

If you’re determined to venture even further into the virgin white, you’re in luck, Popova Sapka is home to Europe’s first and only Snowcat operation! A converted snow groomer takes you into the immaculate back-country where you can freeride to your heart’s content.

Why not take a winter ski trip to Eastern Europe to discover these amazing slopes?