Skiing is never going to be a cheap holiday, but it needn't cost a fortune. Sure, there'll always be the loaded Martini-advert lookalikes who hang out in the famous resorts, but the economic downturn and rising fuel surcharges mean ski operators are already trying to offload fantastic deals.
A bit of time spent on the internet researching options will throw up pistes to fit most pockets this season.
Skiing in eastern Europe
Skiing the 'big five' (Switzerland, Austria, France, Italy, Germany) is often expensive, and the close alternative, skiing in eastern Europe, has a bad rep. Horror stories of rickety secondhand chairlifts moved from northern European resorts, few shops from which to hire equipment and shocking organisation have generally kept all but students and hard-pressed families at bay.
However, the bad reputation is a little harsh – with a modicum of research you can find some of the most economical skiing in the world. Look for resorts that regularly host international competitions, because the facilities and infrastructure are more likely to be up to scratch. Don't, though, rely on locals speaking English – and it's wise to take your own ski equipment. Oh, and perhaps avoid Bosnia, which has failed twice in its bid to host the Winter Olympics (its promise to clear the hills of mines before the the ski resorts were reopened fell on deaf ears), and Albania where, despite plenty of powder, there isn't a single ski lift or mountain rescue team.
Poland's most popular resort is Zakopane, south of Krakow. Though it's not as well organised as Switzerland, the archaic lift infrastructure is currently being modernised and it's every bit as chocolate-boxy to look at.
Krkonose is the most popular Czech resort, although if you want to save even more cash, try the back-country destination of Spindleruv Mlyn. What it lacks in Swiss glamour is compensated for by its cheap beer (80p a pint for a fine Czech brew), plus you can add a night or two in Prague en route.
Fancy venturing further east? Skiing is no longer viewed as a bourgeois sport in Russia, and the (admittedly bourgeois) resort of Sochi will host the country's first Winter Olympics in 2014 (http://sochi2014.com). Two hours drive from Sochi is the country's most famous ski centre Krasnaya Polyana, still largely unmodernised (although changing fast in preparation of the upcoming Winter Olympics) with some of Europe's best off-piste skiing.
If you hope to bag a real bargain avoid well-known resorts when schools are on holiday. February half-term is notorious – transport and apartments cost a fortune and the queues for lifts are interminable.
The cheapest months to ski are December (it's the start of the season, when snowfall is unpredictable or non-existent) and January (short days and snow storms). Prefer to ski somewhere flash? St Moritz and Val d'Isère can make the sturdiest bank accounts shudder and it's easy to blow thousands before you even step on to the slopes, but look hard and you'll find good deals.
It's also worth considering a satellite village, which will be cheaper than the main resort and you can still ski the entire area. When booking late, check the snow reports daily and book right up to the wire: prices start dropping a month before depature date, but you'll save up to 50 per cent if you book just a couple of days before you go.
If you're inflexible about dates or resorts, monitor the internet with the assiduity of a Facebook addict: the big travel operators hand over their slow-selling holidays to internet-based specialists such as Igluski (www.igluski.com) who sell them on at bargain-basement prices. Clearly, the choice pickings don't last long.
All of the below offer chalets, holidays and deals to destinations across Europe and Noth America:
It's obvious, but beware the hidden charges and don't believe a holiday price until you've got to the 'pay now' stage. Many travel operators offer healthy discounts for booking online but some hit you with unexpected extras.
Going fully catered
If money's really tight, consider paying more for a fully catered holiday. With the pound buying fewer euros, knowing exactly how much you'll be spending on your trip – the odd vin chaud up the mountain aside – can prove invaluable when you can only spend so much on a holiday.
Getting the gear
Don't worry about looking flash – in fact you should actively avoid it. It's easy to spot the types who dress to impress and can't really ski: they're the ones in expensive kit. Hardcore snow fans wear whatever works, no matter how mismatched, and the more shabbily dressed someone is, the better they tend to ski/board.
Got no kit? Then borrow. If it's your first or second time, borrow your outfit piecemeal. It's the done thing – you're not expected to fork out hundreds of pounds as a beginner. Ask friends to lend you clothing and accessories, even ski socks. (Though upon your return check washing instructions, and if you scratch expensive goggles don't quibble about replacing like-for-like.)
Put a bottle opener, small sharp knife, butter knife, and some plastic cultery in your check-in luggage. You'll be one of the canny ones who takes packed lunches to eat on the piste to enjoy in remote, mountain-top locations. Pack a bottle of wine and you'll save around €7 a drink, too. It's a rare resort that doesn't have at least one bar offering free food during après-ski. Find out which and drink there: your dinner's free. Save your shoes! With so much early snow, expect slushy resorts. Don't take your expensive Ugg boots, use your festival wellies and thermal socks.
The Ski Club of Great Britain (www.skiclub.co.uk) is indispensable when researching resorts. The club has reps on the ground in many ski regions across Europe who deliver first-hand piste accounts, rather than generic weather reports, and have detailed information about most destinations across Europe. The club also offers excellent and reliable advice in everything from guides through to social events.
Austria's Snowbombing festival was ten years old in 2009. Anyone interested in attending this hedonistic rave at the top of a mountain is advised to get online pronto – earlybird bookers secure the best deals. Shared apartments are snapped up fast (the most desirable are allocated first; last-minute bookings tend to be further from the main drag).
Festivalgoers book their own flights; fly to Innsbruck, Salzburg or Munich, and then arrange a transfer through Snowbombing. Tip? If you plan to hire ski gear, book in advance and collect as soon as you arrive because in the past there's been a shortage of snowboarding boots in the village. Visit www.snowbombing.com for more information.