Passo Tonale in Italy is widely regarded as one of the best family ski resorts, when you’re looking for a good value ski resort, and somewhere that caters well for beginners. Crystal Ski Holidays invited us to stay there for a week, over Christmas, to see what we made of the place.
We arrived in Italy with a mixed bunch of ski abilities. Austin and Gwen had only skied once before, in Austria. I’d been on three ski holidays, and would place myself in the ‘nervous intermediate’ category. D skis well, after starting to learn when he was six. So we were looking forward to honing our diverse skills at Passo Tonale. It’s one of Crystal Ski Holiday’s family ski resorts, and they offer ski package holidays there, across 13 hotels.
How to get to Passo Tonale ski resort
Flying off on a family ski holiday only a couple of days before Christmas is possibly the most thrilling experience. The excitement carried us through the early morning flight (6.25am from Gatwick), and the three-hour coach transfer from Verona airport.
At one and a half hours long, the flight was quick and painless. A relay of cheery Crystal staff directed us from the airport exit to our coach, where we met Jess, our key Crystal Ski rep for the week. More coaches were lined up for holidaymakers arriving on different flights – D’s parents, plus his brother and family, were flying from Bristol a couple of hours later, to join us for Christmas.
After our reps had made sure all the families were on board, we set off on the drive, past Austrian-influenced churches, the beautiful Lake Iseo and up narrow, winding mountain roads, whose verges became more snowy the higher we climbed.
Checking in to Passo Tonale, one of Italy’s family ski resorts
The Grand Hotel Paradiso was to be our home for the week. It was turnaround day and five coaches had arrived at once, so there was a queue to check in. Rather than waiting, Jess suggested we stash our cases in the luggage room and walk the five minutes into Passo Tonale’s centre. It’s a small place with only 300 inhabitants off-season, but there were plenty of eateries along the resort’s one main road. We chose La Botte, a cosy bar/restaurant with a roaring fire and a 10% discount for people who buy the Crystal Ski Holidays discount card (€5).
Top tip: I’d recommend investing in the Crystal Ski Holidays discount card, as it more than payed for itself, offering lots of discounts in restaurants and bars over the week of our stay.
Several hot chocolates and tasty paninis later, we headed back to explore our hotel room.
Settling in to the Grand Hotel Paradiso
Greeting us in our double deluxe hotel room was the most magnificent view of the setting sun, framed like a painting by our balcony window.
I’ve written a feature about the Grand Hotel Paradiso in Passo Tonale, including a description and video of our bedroom. Do check it out if you’d like to find out more.
Our stay included half-board accommodation. After meeting up with the rest of the family, we headed to Paradiso’s restaurant, where a buffet dinner was served an hour earlier than usual (6pm Italian time). This was so the youngsters could have an early night after the journey, and wake up fresh for the piste.
Compared with some Italian ski resorts, Passo Tonale is exceptionally snow-sure. Sixty cm of snow had fallen the week before, and at least eighty cm more fell while we were there. But just in case, the latest snow-making technology was there to give nature a helping hand. There was no need for it while we were there, though.
Crystal Ski kids’ club
Crystal suggested we sign our Pigeons up to their childcare for the week. For our stay, this was the Whizz Kids club. It’s since been renamed the Beanie Bear club, for children between three and eight (a separate club, Pepi Penguins, runs for younger children).
It was a good call. Sammy and her team of childcare staff really looked after our family while we were away, from the welcoming text message before we’d even arrived at the resort, through to the presentation ceremony at the end. Gwen was crowned Whizz Kids Picasso, for her artistic talents, and Austin was named Piste Prince, after he wowed the team with his smooth moves on the blue runs. The staff really ‘got’ our kids, and did everything they could to make the stay a fun, happy time.
This was the first year Passo Tonale offered Crystal Ski Holiday’s specialist childcare. It made all the difference to our trip. The club was based in our Grand Hotel Paradiso, so it was an easy journey, from bed, to breakfast buffet, to club HQ.
We took the children in at 8am, padding along in their ski socks and base layers. After drop-off, the patient staff dressed them in salopettes, jackets, jumpers, ski boots, skis, goggles and helmets, ready for ski school at 9am. The kit all stayed in Whizz Kids HQ and the heated locker room, so we didn’t have to carry it at all, unless we wanted to take the children out skiing ourselves.
After ski school ended, at 11am, the staff took the children back to the HQ for a child-friendly hot lunch – like chicken nuggets and vegetables, pizza or spaghetti bolognese. Indoor play, with arts and crafts, brick building or soft play, was usually followed by an outdoor excursion: gondola rides, snowball fights or bum boarding.
If we’d wanted to, D and I could have taken off for the whole day, skiing from 8am until 5pm, when the club ended. There was even an evening childcare service, for an extra charge, from 7.30 till 9pm. We decided to take advantage of the flexible sign-in, sign-out system, and kept the children with us on the afternoon of Christmas Day. Father Christmas had found us Italy, so there were presents to open! And our son was poorly half-way through, so he didn’t ski on the last few days. But once he was contagion-free, we put him in Whizz Kids just for the afternoon sessions.
Christmas at Passo Tonale
This was our family’s first Christmas out of the UK, so we wanted it to be special. Making sure that we had everything we needed so that Santa’s visit went smoothly was a bit of a challenge. We planned well, though, and I’ve shared my tips on how to plan and pack for a Christmas ski trip here.
Santa did find us in Passo Tonale, and we opened presents in our hotel room before joining the rest of the extended family in the restaurant for breakfast, and a morning of skiing.
The restaurant served the main Christmas meal in the evening. Everyone dressed up for the occasion, and it was exciting to walk up the curved staircase to the restaurant, where the staff greeted us with glasses of franciacorta, a local fizz which tasted a little like cider. The kids were treated to pink grapefruit juice.
Grand Hotel Paradiso’s Christmas meal was a merry feast. Arranged in a beautiful display were salads with aubergine and grilled vegetables; speck, rocket and orange; couscous, rice or beans. These starters were followed by a choice of main courses, like cannelloni with ricotta, mushroom risotto, pork cheek with apple sauce, and potatoes with rosemary.
It was the desserts that were most impressive. A stomach-groaning range of around thirty different cakes and sweets were lined up to choose from, including panettone: with fruit, pistachio, chocolate or cream; flans, soufflés and mousses in flavours of coffee, chocolate and vanilla; and sponge cake drenched in chocolate. I wish I could have sampled them all…..
You can read some tips on spending Christmas at a ski resort with kids here.
One of the best ski resorts for beginners? Ski School at Passo Tonale
Passo Tonale is blessed with 100 km of ski slopes, including plenty of quiet, wide pistes for beginners. Unsurprisingly, it has one of the busiest ski schools in Europe. I signed up via our helpful Crystal reps for six days of two-hour lessons. On our first day, the Italian ski instructors took the complete beginners off together in one big group, and we ‘intermediates’ – people who could just about do a snowplough, through to those who’d skied black runs – took it in turns to ski down a gentle slope, so the instructors could group us based on our ability.
My group was led by Tiziano, a young local who’d lived in the area all his life. The teaching was excellent. Over the week, we graduated from very gentle slopes, to an easy red and on the last day, we even skied down part of the 3,000m glacier overlooking the town.
Ski lessons for kids at Passo Tonale
The children’s ski school followed the same pattern. My daughter was in the group for complete beginners. She learned how to whizz down a very gentle slope without falling, and travel up on the button lift.
My son, who’d already picked up how to snowplough and turn when we were in Austria, went up the mountain on a chairlift with a handful of other slightly older children. If he hadn’t been struck by a bug halfway through our week at Passo Tonale, I have no doubt he’d have been a better skier than me by the end of the week. As it was, I did see him zipping past me on a blue run on his second day, all cool and nonchalent in his bright orange jacket.
In a presentation ceremony on the last day, the ski instructors gave us all booklets showing which skills we’d mastered. The children received medals. My daughter was so proud of hers (as were we!).
If you want to read more about Passo Tonale and the Pontedilegno-Tonale ski area, I’ve written more about it in this feature.
Passo Tonale: one of the best family ski resorts?
Travelling to Passo Tonale with Crystal Ski Holidays was loads of fun, and hassle-free. Because of all the services Crystal offered to families, D and I could enjoy ourselves without having to worry too much about keeping the children happy.
Although we didn’t pay for this trip, we’d definitely book to go away with Crystal, to Passo Tonale or another of their family ski resorts. Both children adored the kids’ club, and were genuinely clamouring to go back. If our son hadn’t been unwell we’d have put the children into a couple of evening sessions, too. Then we could have taken advantage of Passo Tonale’s night skiing, or Crystal’s evening trip to sample local food and drink in a monastery.
As it was, the extra help from Crystal meant that Austin’s bug was nowhere near as tricky to manage as usual. Let’s face it, those of us with young children are familiar with holidays where someone or other is ill. If that holiday’s still a fun, happy time, despite the lurgy, then someone’s doing something right.
Did we enjoy our ski trip?
Our verdict? Passo Tonale is brilliant, and people on family ski holidays there would find slopes to suit skiers of all levels. Crystal’s Kids club was a huge hit with the children – and it gave me and D a chance to relax, and unwind our way onto the slopes.
I put together some tips and hacks for spending Christmas at a ski resort with kids here.
If you’d like to read more about our time at Passo Tonale, check out my post on the Grand Hotel Paradiso. There’s more on Crystal’s Kids Club here and on Passo Tonale and the Pontedilegno-Tonale ski area here. And here’s a video with some highlights from our trip.
Check out these other posts I’ve written about Passo Tonale:
Family ski holidays to Passo Tonale, and other family ski resorts, are available on the Crystal Ski website. We were sent to the resort on a press trip for the purpose of this post. All views are my own.
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