Family ski holidays can be the most memorable of trips. You can’t beat the exhilaration of whizzing down glistening slopes together, then crunching through fluffy white snow to an awaiting cup of steaming, thick hot chocolate. But ski holidays with kids can also be hard work. Over the years, we’ve learned what works, and what doesn’t. Here are our tips on ski holidays for beginners. Turn your time on the piste into the best holiday yet!
Where are the best ski resorts?
With family-friendly ski resorts spread across the globe, this is a tricky question to answer. Our skiing has been confined to Europe so far, but I’ve heard that north America’s ski resorts are outstanding. Ski breaks are available in some surprising places: a good friend recently went skiing in Lebanon. Australia’s best places to ski are a good option if you want to go during the UK’s summer months. But for family friendly skiing in the Alps, Scandinavia or elsewhere in Europe, check out this post on the best family ski resorts Europe, by A Bavarian Sojourn. Even if you don’t go with one of Emma’s suggestions, it’ll give you some ideas on what to consider.
Look for a variety of slopes, with plenty of easy runs for the beginners
Families come in all shapes and sizes, with lots of different needs to juggle. A five-year old’s unlikely to spend a long day on the slopes without at least a few grumbles. But a ten year-old novice can soon outflank a 40-something. Especially if they started to ski later in life (ahem….I put my hand up here!). And your family might have a resident ski expert or two, who likes to tackle black runs. But the best ski resorts for kids might not be the same places you used to ski as a child-free twenty-something. It’s important to check that your resort has enough variety to meet everyone’s needs.
If it’s your first time skiing, you might prefer a resort with plenty of low-gradient pistes. Ideally these could start and finish a short walk from the ski resort’s accommodation. Nobody wants to wear themselves out tramping in heavy boots to the green slopes, before they’ve even started skiing. Some ski resorts offer lifts and gondolas directly from the accommodation up to the beginner slopes, which is almost as easy as a ski-in, ski-out hotel.
What sort of accommodation works best for family ski holidays?
Anyone who travels with kids knows it’s important to create a home from home while you’re away. Whether you’re going for a ski chalet holiday, or staying in a hotel or self-catering apartment, your ski accommodation needs to be comfortable and cosy, so you can relax and unwind after a day on the piste.
Family chalet ski holidays
Although so far we’ve only stayed in hotels, my friend swears by ski chalet accommodation when he goes on a ski holiday with kids. He likes the fact that you have the place all to yourselves. So your children – and those of your family or friends, if you go as a big goup – can relax in your own family ski chalet, without worrying that those shrieks of excitement are disturbing the childless couple in the next room.
If you’re looking for a bit of luxury, plenty of resorts offer catered ski chalets. These luxury ski chalets include the services of a chef, so you don’t have to worry about cooking your meals. Just like in a hotel, but with added privacy.
Ski hotels can be warm and convivial. They often come with bonus features, like swimming pools, spas and restaurants, that make them attractive for family ski holidays. The best ski hotels make logistics a little easier, too. Some have heated boot rooms, with your own allocated locker where you can stash all your skis, poles and helmet at the end of the day. You may even be able to find a hotel with on-site ski hire, so you don’t have to lug your equipment around town.
We’ve stayed in some notable ski hotels over the years. The restaurants and cafes in Myrkdalen Hotel, near Voss in west Norway, looked out directly onto the ski slopes. So parents of older children could sit with a glass of wine while their kids skiied safely, in clear sight. The spa at Puradies in Saalfelden Leogang, Austria, had three saunas and a steam room, all with panoramic views of the mountains. It was a blissful way to ease those aching ski muscles. And Passo Tonale’s Grand Hotel Paradiso, in Italy, offered on-site childcare, which made the mornings very easy. We just took the children downstairs in their thermals, and the childcare staff got them kitted out ready for their lessons – without us having to drag grumbling kids out into the cold.
We’re yet to try self catering accommodation with the kids, but I’ve heard it’s a good budget option. Do you have any tips on how to find the best self-catering ski holidays?
Should we book kids’ clubs and ski lessons?
Kids’ clubs aren’t for everyone. But until the children get their ski legs, it’s difficult to spend much time together on the slopes. So if you’re going to choose childcare on any family holiday, a family ski holiday would be the one to go for.
Lots of ski operators offer all-inclusive family ski holidays with childcare. We tried out one of these ski packages on the invitation of Crystal Ski. The childcare was a huge hit, both with the kids, and me and D. Austin and Gwen spent two hours every morning in ski school. Then the childcare staff took them back to the hotel for a hot lunch. In the afternoon, they spent time doing arts and crafts, brick building or in soft play. If the weather allowed, the children all went out again, on gondola rides, to have snowball fights or go bum boarding.
This childcare was only for children aged eight and under, so if you have older children, or if you just want to stay together on the trip, you could consider group lessons, or private tuition. Most resorts offer ski school instruction, and lots of ski schools end the week with a nice little awards ceremony for the kids.
When the Austrian resort of Saalfelden Leogang invited our family to stay, they arranged private tuition for the kids. In just three days, kids’ instructor Atu progressed our two from complete beginners, to children who could do a slow slalom down the nursery slopes. Meanwhile, D and I were left in the capable hands of Roly, a ski guide. He took us off to pistes that challenged us at our own pace. We’d occasionally all meet up, for hot chocolates, vins chauds, or lunches at one of the resorts mountain huts. It was a nice, personalised way to learn (although not the cheapest option, by any means).
Good food and drink
At ski resorts you can usually find crowd-pleasing meals for all the family: winter warmers, served with a hot drink and – depending on which country you’re in – lashings of cheese. My favourite is raclette, an Alpine mountain recipe featuring melted cheese, potatoes, cured meats and a smattering of vegetables if you’re lucky.
But it’s worth double-checking a resort’s restaurants, to see what’s on offer. Some resorts have a wide range of eateries serving hearty lunches, and early evening meals. Other only begin to serve dinner later in the evening. So if your children are used to going to bed at around 7.30ish, it might be tricky to find somewhere that serves evening meals early enough for your family.
What to take skiing
If it’s your first time skiing, it’s worth putting together a list of the items you’ll need. It will look something like this:
- Suncream with a high SPF. It’s very easy to burn when you’re high up in the mountains. Pack miniatures, so you can slip them into your children’s pockets for re-application over the day.
- Sunblock for lips
- Warm ski jackets. Unless you’re feeling super-flush, you only need one jacket each. People wear their daytime ski jackets everywhere, even to the bars at night.
- Salopettes. You might want to consider taking a spare pair if you’re skiing for a whole week, as you’ll be wearing these all day.
- Thermal layers, for legs and tops. Wool, or a high-grade polymer, is best. You’ll need to pre-warn any wriggly kids that they have to put these on before going outside. Mine hated layers when they were little!
- Warm jumpers.
- Invest in a good pair of children’s ski goggles. Don’t forget your own! We love our Electric anti-fogging goggles.
- Sunglasses. You’ll need these as well as goggles, unless you want to sit in a piste-side cafe at lunchtime with your goggles on. Don’t be tempted to replace goggles with sunnies when you’re on the slopes. They’ll just fall off.
- Hand warmers. You can buy gel packets that warm up when you snap them. These are great for slipping into kids’ pockets, for when their hands get cold.
- Decent gloves – ski gloves and wollen gloves. On all the family ski trips we’ve been on, the children have ended up with chilly fingers. A way to help prevent this is to double layer, with a warm woollen layer topped by a good set of waterproof ski gloves.
- Warm ski socks. These are specially designed to be long enough to ride over ski boots. This stops the boots from rubbing.
Everything else, you can hire at the resort – skis, boots, poles, helmets etc.
It’s my first time skiing. How long should we go for?
Ski holidays with children are often a week in length. But short ski breaks can be an attractive alternative. Children sometimes find it hard to ski every day for a whole week. So long weekend ski trips can be better value for money, and more manageable. If you do find yourself going for a whole week, one of my top first-time skiing tips is to let yourselves have a non-ski day, mid way through, to avoid burnout.
Festive Fun and non-ski activities
Of course, if you’re a family of ravenous ski hounds, you’ll all want to be out on the piste, all day every day. But the chances are, one or more of you might want some variety. Whether it’s a day off to rest beginners’ achey legs, or an afternoon with the kids to give them a break from the slopes, it’s good to make sure there are non-ski activities at the resort, so the family can mix it up a bit.
Ski resorts often offer activities for non-ski winter family holidays. These range from dog-sledding to cross-country skiing or snowmobiling. I’ve posted here about some exciting things you might like to try on family snow holidays. Do go over and have a look.
When is the best time for family ski holidays?
Christmas ski holidays can be a lovely chance to celebrate together as a family. When else are you guaranteed snow for the big day? We spent a special family Christmas last year in Passo Tonale. There were ten of us – Granny and Grandad, D’s brother and his family, plus the four of us. Our hotel laid on a Christmas Eve Italian feast, with bollicine, a local sparkling wine, and five different kinds of panettone.
If you fancy seeing in the next year in style, New Year skiing can be a lot of fun, and there are always plenty of new year ski deals. Spring skiing is also worth looking at when you’re on a budget. By the afternoon, the snow’s often a little slushy in some of the lower lying resorts, so ski package holidays are cheaper. But beginners, and children, might only have enough stamina to ski in the morning, so it doesn’t matter that conditions aren’t perfect in the afternoons.
How to save money on a ski trip with the family
Last-minute ski holidays can save you money, when you find a good-value package to a family-friendly resort. But travelling last-minute, or at the end of the ski season, can save you money in other ways.
Lots of people buy new ski gear for their kids, who only wear it for a week or a fortnight. So at the end of the ski season you’ll find tons of barely-worn kids’ ski clothes for sale online, at a fraction of the regular price.
With the strength of the Euro against the GB pound at the moment, all-inclusive family ski holidays, where you pay a one-off price that includes your meals, can help avoid any unpleasant surprises when you have to buy food in a ski resort that turns out to be more expensive than anticipated. If you do choose self-catering as an option, though, packing a sandwich for lunch can help save money.
Cheap family ski holidays aren’t easy to come by. The cost of tuition and hiring all the gear means that it’s likely to cost more than a sunshine holiday. But if you ski regularly, you can save a little by re-using your salopettes and jackets rather than buying new ones for each season. You could even invest in your own ski boots and helmets (although you might want to wait until the kids have stopped growing before you splash out, otherwise it’s not a good investment).
Do you have any tips for making family ski trips fun?
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