Planning a Family Ski Holiday
Family skiing: what could be better? Introduce the kids to the sport you love when they’re still too young to know the meaning of fear and they’ll thank you forever.
Choosing the right ski resort
Look for ski resorts that have slopes which
will appeal to young novices and a good range for improving
beginners to move onto, along with appropriate accommodation.
Ski Resorts in
Canada and USA are well used to dealing with
families. The best of the family-friendlies may even tempt non-U.S.
based families despite the long-haul flight. The lift queues are
often non-existent, ski school groups are smaller, non-ski
activities abound and overall service is efficient and friendly.
The east coast’s more gentle ski hills – Smuggler’s
Notch in Vermont – are particularly well
suited to children learning to ski and Whistler, which caters for almost
every skier profile including families, has one of the shortest
transfer times – just two hours by car from Vancouver.
Within Europe the cheapest resorts are in the east, such as
Borovets in Bulgaria, but there’s a
greater range of tour operators and resorts to choose from in
the traditional Western European ski resorts, which also have a
wider range of facilities. In Italy, Alpe di Siusi in Val
Gardena, offers a perfect mix of quiet on-slope hotels
amid gentle beginner and intermediate slopes, backed by astonishing
scenery. Also in Italy’s Sud-Tirol, the Hotel Bella
Vista in Trafoi is a gem that caters to
families, with a nursery slope just metres from the back door.
Samoëns in France is also
renowned for being family friendly. For teenagers, a park will be
essential – some resorts have several, though all that’s really
needed is one with a booming sound system and hordes of like-minded
jibbers. Scandinavia is a good bet, with a range of
activities in resort and ideal accommodation – frequently in cosy
low-rise apartments that look traditional from the outside and will
remind you of IKEA on the inside. Lapland is a winner
with young families and perfect at Christmas, but there’s no
Ski resorts for Families with babies and
Few children start skiing until three years old so the most
important factor in choosing a resort is childcare. Plenty of ski
resorts and tour operators offer daycare for babies and
toddlers, allowing mums and dads to go skiing.
Most resorts have a ‘snow garden’ on or near the nursery slopes
for kids of non-skiing age, allowing them to find their snow-feet
in a safe environment. Les Gets in France has a
long-established reputation as a family-friendly resort – Les
Fripoules has childcare for babies aged 6 months and up.
Snowkidz also runs a crèche and a private nanny
service resort – also available in Courchevel, Morzine,
Méribel and Val
d’Isère. Top end hotel operator Powder Byrne runs a
créche for babies and toddlers aged 6 months to 3 years in five
European resorts, including Lech-Zurs, Grindelwald and Zermatt.
Thinking outside of the box, Crystal has identified the nappy
issue as a luggage problem and organizes supplies in-resort.
A number of privately run nanny services operate in The Three
Valleys and the Portes du Soleil.
Merinannies, in Meribel are well established. Also
in the Three Valleey Kidsec has private nannies in Meribel
Tania as well as a playgroup in Meribel Les Allues.
Cheeky Monkeys and Jack Frosts, both in
Morzine, offer something similar.
In general, childcare from 6 months is the norm though inLake
Louise the resort provides childcare for babies as young
as 18 days old.
Ski resorts for families with children aged
The choice of resort, or at least the choice of ski school, is
crucial. The minimum age for ski school differs from country to
In France, the ESF (which
runs a children’s programme in most resorts, using the same levels)
and most other ski schools, accept children from three years old.
Schools with English instructors get round the problem of language
barrier. The nursery slopes in French resorts Les
Gets, Morzine, Méribel
and Courchevel are designed
particularly with children in mind. In Les Gets Ile des
Enfants runs lessons for children from 3 years upwards. The
Grand Massif is a good choice for this age group, particularly the
resort of Flaine. In Switzerland, children are
welcome from four years old. The starting age for snowboarding
lessons is normally slightly older.
Austria has a dedicated range of
‘Kinder Hotels’ (child hotels) throughout the country. Strict
criteria ensure your child’s enjoyment, but you can take it as read
that every hotel listed will be a good adult experience too.
Currently the kinder hotels website doesn’t have a good ski-hotel
search but it’s a useful starting point all the same.
Child provision in Italy is less obviously packaged,
perhaps because almost all Italians taking a ski holiday are doing
so as a family. Quite frequently Grandma comes too, so childcare is
taken care of, while speeding packs of eight year olds
enthusiastically pursue charismatic ski instructors. As elsewhere
in Italy, children are very welcome, even well after their bedtime;
restaurants frequently resound to the patter of tiny feet, and
more, while accommodation often has child beds and cots within
double rooms and studios. Champoluc in the Monterosa region is very popular
with families and Ski-2 has dedicated packages
including tuition for youngsters.
Many tour operators offer a mix of childcare and ski
instruction, ideal for children in this age bracket. Powder
Bryne runs a series of clubs during the school holidays for
children aged from 3 to 9 in nine European resorts including Grindelwald and Lech-Zurs. Some European hotels
offer childcare to their guests. Stay at one of the Seiler
hotels in Zermatt, and daycare is available
to children aged 2-8 in the Hotel Nicoletta.
Ski resorts for families with teenagers
The most neglected market until recently. Operators and resort
services are beginning to recognise that they should cater for
teenagers separately and not just shove them into adult ski
Powder Bryne is leading the way, with its Snozone
clubs for 10-14 year olds during the February half term in resorts
such as Courchevel and St
Christoph, near St Anton am Arlberg, in Austria.
Their ‘Ultimate Zone’ at half term in Lech-Zurs and Zermatt
is ideal for adrenaline junkies aged 13 and over wanting to learn
tricks in the snowpark and halfpipe. Teenagers wanting to ski
off-piste can join the Powder Byrne Mountain Zone
course in Grindelwald during half term
and Martin Bell runs an Easter Ski Camp in Zermatt
for wannabe racers. The Oxygène ski school in Val
d’Isère has a teenage ski program run by
Snowline and VIP Ski.
North American resorts have looked after teenagers for longer.
Fishski runs ski clinics just for teenage girls in Crested
Butte. Aspen Snowmass and Vail both
have an all-season instruction program for teens with lessons for
beginners to freeski coaching camps.
Après-ski is a vital part of a teenager’s ski holiday. At the
upper end of this age range, local licensing laws come into play.
In European resorts, the drinking age limit is 18, though most bars
adopt a relaxed approach to it, while the opposite is true in USA ski
resorts where the age limit is 21, and strictly
enforced. In Canadian resorts it is 19. Parents wanting to distract
their teen from hitting the bottle should opt for a resort with
lots of other activities. Smuggler’s Notch has two
supervised evening teen centres with various activities from
Xbox and DVDs to pool tables and table tennis, similar
to Vail’s Hangout Centre.
Stay close to the nursery slopes and the ski
The on-snow experience will be defined by the start of your day
and remember that what’s easy for an adult can be murder for kids –
especially a long schlep to the lifts. You need frequent and
easy-to-use transport or minimal walking distance from
accommodation to the relevant slopes; a walk in ski boots is tough
for children, and for parents lugging extra kit. And remember that
ski-in, ski-out will be nothing of the sort for a toddler unless it
directly accesses a nursery slope. Accommodation is an important
issue for all age groups.
If you go with a company that takes care of the kids from dawn
until dusk, the adult skiing opportunities will be equally
important, all of which points towards one of the bigger resorts
even though your instincts might tell you to avoid the crowds. This
should take care of extra activities, not just apres-ski and
nightlife but impromptu diversions too – swimming pools,
ice-skating, tobogganing, husky-sledding, snowmobiling, cinema,
shopping. These are essential for days off, as younger kids won’t
want to ski or board day in day out and a snowstorm or, worse, warm
weather and rain, can sit for days if you’re unlucky. While you
might just hit the bar, it’s obviously not an option with young
children or teenagers in tow (way too expensive and frowned upon in
Club hotels are popular with families for their convenience,
on-site facilities and childcare. Family specialist Mark
Warner has club hotels in St Anton, Alpe
d’Huez and Les Deux Alpes, while
Club Med’s best known operations are in St.
Moritz, Villars and La
Compare the cost of lift passes and discounts for
Switzerland has the best value
children’s lift ticket pricing in the world overall, typically a
third to a half of the adult price for children up to 14 and a
half. In France lift passes are generally
free for children under 5 and most resorts have a few free lifts
for beginners, irrespective of age while lift passes in Italy are
normally free for children under 7. In the USA and Canada
there is normally a price band for teenagers, likewise at a handful
of European resorts – Lech-Zurs in Austria;
Grindelwald and Zermatt
Book direct or choose a specialist family ski
The ski industry has it worked out too: get ’em while they’re
young and the customer base will grow exponentially. That’s good
news for families as there are plenty of well-developed services,
specialist operators and deals out there, whether it’s childcare
you need, or ski lessons. But skiing holidays will never be
cheap and the prospect of adding just one small child to the bottom
line can be a deterrent, so you need to know how to get the best
experience and value whatever stage your family is at.