For anyone considering skiing, the prospect of forking out for a pricey lift pass can seem somewhat daunting. Selected a ski resort from hundreds of choices is tough enough; European, North American, urban city, rural village, cosy chalet, large hotel, red skis, black skis, blue skis, snowboard!?… But you are then confronted with the lift pass which can be a pricey addition in itself and which, yet again, proffers a selection of local, full, pedestrian, 5 days, 6 days… The whole experience, designed of course to be as accommodating as it possibly could, has been made as overwhelming as ever. But it needn’t be like that! I’ve broken down the lift pass dilemma in to exactly what you need, just what you’re getting and which are the best value lift passes for this coming winter.
Defining the lift pass
Depending on your enthusiasm for the snow, you are able to purchase lift passes for anything from 3 hours upwards to an entire season.
Local Lift Passes
Local lift passes do what they say on the tin; they grant you access to the lifts within the local area. Depending on the size of your ski area, your own aptitude for sports and the confidence level of the group travelling with you will depend on whether you opt for this pass or for the full area pass but for beginners, this lift pass is perfectly sufficient. You will need time to pick up the basics of skiing or snowboarding, and, if money is a concern, as obviously the full pass will always be a tad more pricey, the local pass will provide enough to keep the average novice entertained for the week.
If you are opting for the local pass, it’s important to be aware of the boundaries of this area. In large ski areas which merge a number of resorts for instance, it is fairly easy to ski in to the neighbouring ski area from whence there is no return – unless of course, you sweet talk the lifties! Keep an eye on this particularly if you’re skiing the French Espace Killy on a local pass from Tignes; it’s easy to stumble across in to Val D’Isere! Likewise bear in mind that the Val Thorens local pass does not include the lifts in Les Menuires which just below, though there is more than enough action within the mountains above. Others, such as the Paradiski area in France, are connected across a valley by a gondola which is fairly difficult to miss, being the only one of its size and kind in the area.
Usually, you are able to upgrade a local pass to a larger area through the lift pass office if you decide that you would like to explore further, part way through the week.
In some resorts which link to a number of neighbouring resorts, you may be able to purchase a valley pass which falls in between the local and the full area. Again, it’s important to consider the boundaries of the lift pass before you go exploring because if that quaint mountainside restaurant is on the wrong side of the border, you’re going to find yourself hiking back through the snow or inevitably going a very long way around the mountain.
Local Pass Plus
A local pass plus may also be available in some resorts though they may be referred to as something different. The premise is that of a regular local pass, but with an extension for a day of your choice. For instance the Paradiski Discovery Pass falls under this bracket; granting access to the Les Arcs ski area but allowing one days use over the valley in La Plagne.
Full Area Pass
Full area lift passes area available in locations with neighbouring ski resorts. For instance, the Jungfrau lift pass in Switzerland provides access for Grindelwald, Murren & Wengen and the Portes du Soleil lift pass for Les Gets, Morzine, Avoriaz and over the side of the mountain in to Switzerland. For enthusiastic, seasoned skiers, the full area lift pass would be the only option. As you would imagine, it allows you to explore a much wider area – not just the slopes of course, but the towns and villages as well.
The full area allows you to flit around the mountain exploring the restaurants, the bars and the snow parks in the other local areas but you need to remember not to get too heavily involved in the après! Remember, once the lifts close, the only way is down… And from experience, you want to make sure that you’re going down the right side of the mountain!
Super Area Lift Pass
A super area lift pass extends your access beyond that of the lifts in your area – however large that may be. Normally this means that you will move between resorts by bus as opposed to a casual ski across. The Austrian Arlberg Ski Circus Lift Pass serves Lech, St Anton, St Anton Montafon & St Christoph in this way. Whilst some slope time is lost moving between resorts, the upside is that you are not chasing the lifts back across the mountain and can experience the après in each and every area before taking the bus back again later on.
Pedestrian passes are available for non-skiers or those who need a little bit of a break after a hard day skiing. They’re also great if you fancy trialling snowshoes, heading up to the top for photography or simply meeting up with the rest of the team for a bit of lunch at the peak.
The best way of ordering a lift pass is to do so in advance either at the point of booking or at any point leading up to your departure. This means that you’ll receive your lift pass from your rep either on the first evening of your holiday or at breakfast the next morning, still with time to make first lifts. No lift pass queues, no language barriers, no confusing lift pass jargon! Now all that you have to do is choose a resort!
If you’re really looking to explore this winter and you’re also looking for great value, we’ve carried out the hard slog for you and calculated the price per kilometer (PPK) for a full area lift pass. These are our Top 5:
5. The Arlberg (340km)
Good for: Après ski & nightlife
Lift Pass Price: £190 pp
Price per km: 56p
4. The Paradiski (425km)
Good for: Intermediates
Lift Pass Price: £220 pp
Price per km: 50p
3. The Three Valleys (600km)
Good for: Intermediates & advanced
Lift Pass Price: £208 pp
Price per km: 34p
2. Portes du Soleil (650km)
Good for: Families
Lift Pass Price: £190 pp
Price per km: 28p
1. The Dolomites (1,220km)
Good for: Skiing “Bucket List” Sella Ronda
Lift Pass Price: £185pp
Price per km: 14p