Now we’re into December, there are many families who will be considering a skiing holiday. For people who haven’t been before, there are many questions to be addressed before booking that trip. Based on my family’s experience, I have tried to provide answers to some of the most common queries.
What is the best age to take your children?
My daughter F was 4 when she went on her first skiing holiday. This seemed to work out well. She was able to master the basics and have a fun time. Any younger than this and the ski school may not be prepared to teach your children. You may be reliant on a crèche to look after them while you ski. If you’re snowboarding, the minimum age might be higher.
What time of year should you go?
We decided to reduce the chances of extreme cold weather by going in spring. Winter weather can be unpredictable, but January is likely to be the coldest month. If your children are of school age, you may be limited to school holidays. These times can be very expensive and the slopes crowded at February half term. If your school holidays are not quite aligned to most of the country, prices can be significantly cheaper and there should be less queuing at lifts. An early Easter is also worth considering.
Where should you go?
This may depend on when you go. If it’s a spring break, make sure you visit a high altitude ski area that’s likely to hold its snow till late in the season. This matters less in January or February. Picking a resort with plenty of green and blue (easy) runs is important when your tribe are beginners. Somewhere with a small ski area should suffice and is likely to be cheaper than high mileage piste networks. There is no point in paying for access to 600kms of piste when you are not going to be capable of taking advantage of that much terrain. That said, some larger resorts do offer free nursery and beginners’ slopes or reduced price limited area passes to try and entice beginners. It’s worth considering these if you are more advanced skiers than your little ones.
We chose Chamrousse in France which offers 90kms of high altitude skiing on mainly easy and intermediate runs. This proved adequate for my intermediate level abilities and worked well for our daughter F. The fact my wife S was stretchered off the slopes on the first morning was a minor mishap (!), but the blue skies and sunshine enabled plenty of al fresco dining with the odd carafe of wine acting as an anaesthetic. She also enjoyed taking in the morning sun while reading on our balcony and watching F on the nursery slopes.
You might want to consider additional activities like sledging, ice skating, children’s play facilities and swimming pools when choosing a destination. These can work well for little people if they find a full day skiing a little tiring. They are particularly important if you have any non skiers in your party.
Alternatively, if snowy pursuits are not for all the family, a city with ski slopes nearby maybe worth considering. Vancouver in Canada, Innsbruck in Austria or Sofia in Bulgaria are all worth checking out for a combination of city break and winter sports.
Ease of access and transfer times are things to check before making a decision, especially if your youngsters get travel sick.
Hotel or self catering?
This is really a matter of personal preference. Having a full meal plan can maximise snow time but self catering can save money. Be wary of under occupancy charges or hefty deposits for potential damage on the latter though. On one holiday, 7 of us crammed into a 2 bedroom apartment in the 3 Valleys. Its official capacity was 9!
Package or independent?
For a family break, I tend to prefer package holidays when skiing is concerned. By their nature, airports are in flat areas and ski resorts in lumpy areas. For this reason, they can often be far apart with limited public transport. I’m also not the most practical of people, so if I was stopped in a blizzard and ordered to put snow chains on my car, I don’t think I’d have the foggiest clue what to do. I’d much rather somebody else had the responsibility for that sort of thing. There are exceptions though. A number of Swiss resorts are well connected by rail and Whistler has a good bus service from Vancouver, making it easy to arrange an independent holiday.
Do you need childcare?
Some specialist family tour operators provide a full child minding service, transporting your little ones to the slopes, taking them to a crèche or playgroup afterwards and babysitting if you want to go out in the evening. This can work well for experienced skiers who want to take full advantage of the mountain, safe in the knowledge their children are being well cared for. For us though, this sort of defeats the object of a family holiday if it means we don’t spend much time together. An occasional babysitting service for a night out may be welcome, but be wary of inclusive package holidays that leave you paying for services that you will not fully utilise.
There is no right answer to this. Our preference was originally half day group lessons. This enabled F to meet other children and me to have some proper mountain time with our ski leader. It also allowed us all to meet up for lunch and have family time in the afternoon. This was spent helping F practice her skiing, sledging, swimming or a combination of all 3. Sometimes, S had consumed enough anaesthetising grape juice to join in with the swimming! It worked out really well in Chamrousse.
After this experience, we did exactly the same for our 2nd ski break in Cervinia, Italy. This time, the outcome was quite different. F had to get on a moving carpet chairlift without her instructor. Not having been on one before, she fell as she tried to mount it and was left behind. She had no physical injury, but was quite traumatised and only stayed on the nursery slopes after that. It must have been quite harrowing for a 6 year old. I wished I’d forked out for a couple of private lessons, where she would have had one to one attention, minimising the possibility of such a thing happening. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
What gear do you need?
You’ll need thermal underwear, ski jackets and salopettes (or all in one ski suits), ski socks and lots of t shirts – several thin layers are better than one thick one. Goggles, sunglasses, ski gloves and hats are also a must.
Remember your children will have grown out of everything by next year, so there is no point in spending a fortune. You can kit them out relatively cheaply at stores such as Aldi, Lidl or Mountain Warehouse in Europe.
For the same reason, it is better to hire skis, boots and helmets rather than buy them for kids. Although you might get a cheaper deal before you go on holiday, I’d recommend renting in resort as if something is not right, you can go back to the rental shop and change your equipment.
Winter sports sun cream is very important as the sun can be more intense in snowy mountains. I have seen people who normally have no trouble in the summer, get sunburn while skiing or snowboarding.
Finally, it is always worth looking out for offers on child places, lift passes and equipment hire. We obtained a free child place (flight, transfer and accommodation) on both the holidays mentioned, free lift passes for all in Chamrouse, free child lift pass in Cervinia and 2 for 1 equipment hire in Chamrousse. As the extras can add up on this type of holiday, such offers can make a considerable difference to the bottom line.
If you’re considering a first family skiing holiday, I hope this has been useful. If you would like to read more on our holiday in Chamrousse, click here
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