Even if you skied pre-kids, plan a family skiing holiday very carefully – it’s more complicated than other types of break and you need to ensure, in particular, that you have sufficient support to make it a success. We thoroughly recommend using an operator for your first first family ski trip.
As well as the below considerations, bear in mind transfer times from the nearest airport, train station or ferry port, activities on offer in the resort (swimming pools and so on), the reputation of the resort's ski school, and the suitability of the resort’s slopes for the differing abilities of your family members. And don’t forget to buy the right insurance!
See our pages on skiing in Europe, Scandinavia, North America and the Far East, which in turn link through to specific destinations, to find a region and resort suited to your family and budget.
Before You Go
If you live near a dry ski slope such as Chillfactor, take your kids to at least become familiar with the equipment they'll be using and get a feel for skiing, or to give them a headstart with skiing and snowboarding lessons. You might also find out this way that younger children might not be ready for lessons – in which case you’ll know to look out for a resort with good kids’ clubs and other activities.
See our What to Take: Ski Wear guide for a check-list on essential ski-holiday items.
Independent or Operator?
If you know a resort well, it may be more cost-effective to make your own arrangements. On the other, operators negotiate discounts for buying rooms, ski passes and so on, in bulk, and generally pass on some of that saving, as well as having resort-based reps to ensure your holiday runs smoothly.
Operators highly regarded for their focus on families include Pierre & Vacances, Mark Warner, Esprit and Club Med.
Even if you're not a fan of holidays with organised childcare, you may find your holiday compromised unless your kids are looked after to some degree – as a beginner you won’t be able to learn, while as an experienced skier you’ll be frustrated by having little ones in tow. Bear in mind that you might need different facilities for different ages of kids – check from what age skiing and snowboarding tuition is on offer, and that there’s provision for younger kids (or those not yet ready for formal tuition) in the form of kids’ clubs or crèches.
Centralised crèches, where you drop children off at the start of the day and pick them up when you have finished skiing, can be the cheapest option, but look into the exact set-up; groups can be large and spaces limited, and the crèche may be some distance from your accommodation. Crèches and kids’ clubs are often provided by a ski school independent of your operator, so ask if they have official accreditation (such as OFSTED in the UK). Things to look out for when booking a resort with a kids’ club are the language skills of the staff (do they speak English?), the ratio of carers to kids, and the times and flexibility of the childcare.
Chalet-based childcare, whereby nannies come to your chalet and look after children in and around the accommodation, often using a dedicated playroom as their base, can be a good compromise between the other options and works particularly well if there is a gang of you taking over a whole chalet.
Private nannies are the most expensive option but should fit your exact requirements. Some tour operators provide their own nannies; others use a local agency to source staff. For older children, however, this might not be a sociable enough solution. As an alternative, you might want to bring your own nanny, au pair, friend or relative to look after the kids – in which case, do make sure there will be plenty to keep them occupied at the resort.
Hotels generally offer more services and facilities than self-catering options but less space, and are more expensive to boot. Apartments are a better bet, giving you the choice between eating in or dining out, plus more living space. For the best of both worlds, choose a holiday village with self-catering apartments but also family-friendly facilities such as a pool, restaurants and a launderette.
The classic choice is catered chalets with professional childcare, which vary substantially in size and quality but generally accommodate 8–16 people (ie 2–4 families). These can be great for extended families or families holidaying together.
Ski Expert Nick Dalton's Tips for Holidays on a Budget
Stay in a chalet hotel, where'll you’ll get breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner with wine and can get away with few additional food and drink costs. The children have fun in a place full of British families, and you can stay in some top resorts, such as jetset Courchevel in the Savoie region.
Find out what’s included. Some chalets even feature inclusive childcare. You might also find such offers as Granny Goes Free or £1,500 discounts when booking a whole chalet.
Ski-drive. This can still be a cost-effective way to go, despite the price of petrol, especially if teamed with self-catering accommodation such as that offered by French apartment specialists Pierre & Vacances. You then need to organise yourself well, filling the car with essentials and determinedly cooking pasta rather than popping out for meals.
Go by coach. Acorn's family ski holidays in France, Italy, Andorra and Austria use coach travel and basic, but comfortable, accommodation to keep costs down.
Watch out for last-minute deals. No one quite knows how the season will pan out, so keep your eyes and ears peeled for up-to-the-wire offers, as well as regularly changing (and sometimes short-lived) promotions. Free child places, free kids’ equipment hire and lift passes are just some of the discounts you'll see flagged up, so make sure to compare the special offers.
Check out Eastern Europe. It’s Euro-free and traditionally cheap to ski in Bulgaria’s Borovets or Slovenia’s Kranjska Gora, for instance. The newly updated Tatras area in Slovakia isn’t huge but is a stylish destination with smart old hotels (such as the Grand Hotel Praha). See also our feature on Credit Crunch Skiing.
Investigate less fashionable resorts. Places you haven’t heard of tend to offer better prices. Look to some of the places in Austria – names such as Itter in the Tirol, Rauris near Salzburg and pretty lakeside St Wolfgang in the Salzkammergut are often less busy, and so ideal for family breaks, especially with smaller children.
Stay off the main circuit. Many resorts are accessible by a gondola ride from a main village benefiting from lower prices. At the lowest part of the big family-friendly La Plagne circuit in the Savoie you’ll find Montalbert and Montchavin, or outposts such as Tignes-Les Brevières in the Tignes region.
Remember that good value is subjective. Mark Warner’s chalet-hotel holidays with their award-winning childcare aren’t the cheapest options, but they are exceptional value for money given their service and cuisine.
More Tips from Chris Thompson of Ski Famille
If you were a regular skier pre-children, accept that a family holiday in the mountains is a different beast to an adults-only ski or snowboarding trip. To a certain extent, let children dictate the pace and you’ll avoid frustrations. Then they’ll get the winter sports bug too, and before you know it you’ll be struggling to keep up as they bomb down the slopes!
Picking the right ski lessons for children (and yourselves) can often make the difference between a good and a great holiday. The availability of English-speaking instruction, in particular, will make children more relaxed and enable them to advance far more quickly. If you’re travelling with a tour operator, check they provide a ski-school drop-off and pick-up service as part of the childcare package, otherwise you might suffer frustrating interruptions to your skiing day.
Avoid February half-term and New Year if you can – these are the busiest and most expensive times to travel as they generally coincide with holidays in destination countries.
Look out for free child places or childcare discounts. Some operators include childcare at no extra cost; with others it could add a significant amount to your package price.
Check to see if child prices only apply in rooms shared with parents. This varies from company to company and can make a huge difference to your holiday bill if you want your children to sleep in a separate room.
If you’re making your own flight arrangements, book as far in advance as possible for the best deals. And note that low-cost flights serving Alpine routes have increased in price significantly over the past few seasons, so don’t rule out driving or the train.
Beg, borrow or rent children’s ski clothing. The odds of them fitting in to it on your next trip are slim.
Packing for a ski holiday is difficult enough without having to find space for lots of child-related kit. If you’re travelling with very young children, a specialist company should be able to provide essentials such as feeding bottles, nappies and sterilizers, as well as more obvious items such as buggies, cots and highchairs. If you are putting together a DIY holiday, there are increasing numbers of companies who can arrange for these items to be delivered to your accommodation.
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