In January 2016, tabloid newspapers in the United Kingdom labelled the chic Alpine resort of Val d’Isère in France as ‘Magaluf on Ice.’
A year and a half prior to that, the Mallorcan resort was dealing with its own problems and a new mayor whose goal it was to clean up its image after a video of a British girl giving oral sex to 24 different men in a Magaluf club for a free drink went viral.
For one to be so fervently compared to the other was shocking, yet it was an apples and oranges comparison that made some sense.
‘Boozed-up Brits’ were to blame, according to the Daily Mirror, with paralytic partygoers photographed face-down in the snow in the early hours of the morning, reports of people skiing while drunk, trashing chalets and stripping off in freezing weather also making headlines.
The blame was not only placed on drinking culture, but also the appearance of Z-list celebrities such as Gaz Beadle from Geordie Shore, and cheap, supermarket alcohol available in the area, making drinking affordable and accessible to those with less disposable income than the usual clientele.
While it may have been a little bit of a PR disaster for Val d’Isère’s tourism board in the wake of the news, it may be able to benefit them in the long term by attracting a new type of demographic – those on a budget.
Europe, a budget skiing hotbed
But it’s not just Val d’Isère where those who want to hit the slopes for little money can be found. The micro nation of Andorra in the Pyrenees, as well as mountainous regions of both Poland and Slovenia are ever-emerging as top destinations for skiing on a budget in Europe.
But they are not the only places on the continent where tourists can ski on the cheap. As Ivanka Vukova from Samaokov’s tourist board explains, the region containing popular destination Borovets is also popular with visitors from the United Kingdom.
“Borovets is the first mountain resort in Bulgaria. Between the ‘70s and the ‘90s, the resort became the largest winter sports centre in the Balkans. Today, Borovets celebrates 120 years as one of the top mountain destinations in Europe.
“Borovets is a good place for all skiers because of the good conditions for every level of skiing, ski slopes, ski teachers and equipment.”
Skiing is an expensive trip. Unlike more traditional Euro jaunts, flights and accommodation aren’t the only things to factor in.
On top of that there’s ski hire and equipment hire, as well as lift passes, which can all add up to a handsome sum. But perhaps the biggest cost could come in the form of après-ski – the social activities and entertainment following a day’s skiing. According to Vukova, however, Borovets has that covered.
“Borovets topped the ranking of European resorts with the most bars per square kilometre, according to British newspaper The Telegraph.
“The French may have been the creators of the term ‘après,’ but the Bulgarians gathered the crown, where beer costs less than one pound during the so-called ‘happy hour.’”
Borovets or Bansko?
Another one of Bulgaria’s major skiing destinations is Bansko, where ski instructor and Bansko expert Lance Nelson has been making a living since 2011 via his Bansko Blog website.
Nelson is originally from Huddersfield, but said that the business of ski package provision enabled him to leave the regular nine-to-five job and start building more stepping stones to a better online, Bansko Blog world.
Bulgaria the cheap?
Nelson also believes that the price of skiing in Bulgaria is not even its unique selling point. “Price is not the biggest attraction of anywhere – it is vague for money. If this was just a cheap destination, then people like me would not be here making a living,” he explains.
“So many resorts in France and Switzerland, in particular, are simply out of budget. I speak to many Bansko visitors who both ski the Alps and Bansko. You can come to Bansko for three trips per season compared to one in the Alps.
“Bansko offers excellent instruction for first time skiers and snowboarders. The lift system works very well with virtually no poling.
“Affordability, in comparison to other resorts, is unbeatable and the general infrastructure is good, too.”
Much like Vukova, Nelson hails Bulgaria and, in particular, Bansko’s ‘world class’ nightlife.
“There is everything from upscale piano bars, night clubs and late bars with live bands, to 200-plus restaurants with cuisine from traditional Italian, Japanese sushi and teppanyaki and American style diners. Lots of take away food establishments complete the vibrant restaurant scene,” he describes.
“Value-for-money food, eating out and partying every night is affordable for all.”
But for the likes of Andorra and Bulgaria, skiing is a vital part of these countries’ economies - especially for their tourism sectors.
“Bulgaria has one of the lowest average incomes in Europe. Tourism is vital to the economy. Ski tourism brings more revenue per visitor than beach tourism – so I believe ski tourism plays a vital role in providing job and much needed wealth creation for Bulgaria,” says Nelson.
Though these resorts don’t just offer fun in winter, there are year-round activities that appeal to all sorts of travellers.
“In the warmer months, Borovets is the perfect place for a bunch of other activities such as horseback riding, kayaking, fishing, paragliding, hiking and trekking and a number of fun and recreational games for children and adults alike,” says Vukova.
Nelson also suggests some other activities that visitors can participate in: “In winter you can hire a skidoo, go to a real hot spring spa, try a four-by-four safari or go on tandem paragliding flights.
“In summer, there are incredible hiking routes, mountain biking, cultural tours, winery tours and visits to Plovdiv – the European capital of culture in 2019.”
Tender over tradition
A simple search on major ski provider Crystal Ski’s website shows that for flights and accommodation at Christmas time, Bulgaria works out an initial £40 less than France’s cheapest offering, and that’s before factoring in the savings on spending money.
With skiing either being out of reach for budget travellers or a heavy strain on their savings, the likes of Bulgaria, Poland, Andorra and Slovenia are opening up ski holidays to a new and emerging demographic in the snow sports world.
And should places like Val d’Isère continue to appeal to youths looking for a Magaluf-esque getaway, then the next generation of customers are lined up for years to come. Maybe the budget skiing boom is, indeed, just around the corner.