Welcome to the first of three blog articles with our very best advice on how to get the most out of your family skiing holiday. We have been providing family-only skiing chalet holidays with childcare for over 20 years and we are more than happy to share everything we have learned. We’d love you to come with us but promise our best advice not a sales pitch.
Family skiers generally fall into these groups:
- First time for all the family
- Back skiing after children
- Going with other families
- Including grand parents
In all these cases the best family skiing experiences meet the aspirations of all family members as individuals and together as a family or bigger group.
The two biggest factors in this are childcare and resort choice and so here are some pointers on both to look out for when planning your holiday:
Even if you are all beginners young children learn best with kids their own age whilst you are in an adult class. For families with more skiing experience, if your children are having fun learning to ski on the nursery slopes, or playing in the crèche and your partner is burning adrenalin with some competitive pals whilst you are taking a few gentle turns in a nice sociable ski lesson everyone is happy.
You can all look forward to a nice lunch and some quality time skiing together in the afternoon. When it comes to families skiing together, good childcare is really the key to making it work for everyone.
You need childcare that clearly recognises that what works best changes as children grow – not kids of all ages in the same group.
If your children are younger than 4 they won’t be skiing but having just as much fun playing in the snow, hunting bears in the woods, playing games indoors with children their own age. Younger skiers aged 4 to 6 respond best to a morning in ski school and other fun activities in the afternoon, rather than a whole day’s skiing. At 7 plus, skiing 6 mornings and then varying afternoons between skiing and other adventures produces the most progress and is the most enjoyable for most children.
Of course children are different and you need to make sure that childcare arrangements are sufficiently flexible. By far the best is full-day childcare for all your holiday but with flexibility to take your children skiing for the afternoon whenever you like. Though if the childcare is really good you may find the youngsters take a little persuading to leave their friends. Childcare is at heart of what we do and this is how we organise it.
How to choose the best family skiing resort
Once again the trick is to meet all the family’s individual needs and there are a few resorts that really do let you have your family cake and eat it. Here are some pointers.
Firstly don’t be fooled by the term “family resort” applied to a small ski station at low altitude with few facilities. We have nothing against small resorts and they can great fun and great value but only where nursery slopes are good and easily accessible and only then when snow conditions are really good and you will usually know that far enough ahead to book a family skiing holiday.
Neither do you want to be in a big strung out resort with long and difficult access between the slopes, your accommodation and other facilities. For example St Anton and Chamonix are great for serious skiers but a poor choice for families with young children.
No matter what your level of skiing you need snow and in fact beginners benefit from good snow more than experts who can cope with different snow different conditions. If you have good skiers among your party you will also want an extensive ski area for variety over the week.
Putting this together we have found that small, low traffic resorts that are well located at the centre of big ski areas are best for families. This might mean villages you have never heard of but in famous ski areas. We are in the Portes du Soleil, Three Valleys, and Paradiski (La Plagne Les Arcs).
Access to the lifts and especially the ski school is critical. Carrying your skis and clomping in ski boots to a bus stop and then on to the slopes is never much fun but you really don’t want to be doing it with young children. Accommodation within 150m of the lift to ski school and beyond, preferably ski-in and ski out is best for families. It is nice to have a bar or two for an après ski or evening out but our experience is that while many parents enjoy an après ski celebration of their skiing day, late night bar revelling tends to be replaced by chalet dinner parties with children asleep upstairs.
How do I make sure there will be snow?
You will be told that it is all about altitude and that you should pick a resort at 1800 or 2000 metres. It is certainly true that high altitude is a good way to be sure of snow but it is only part of the answer. In recent years snow-making has become more and more widespread as resorts have invested heavily to make sure key runs are skiable and the bigger resorts have invested the most.
However the orientation and substrate of the slopes can be even more important than altitude. For example, our resort in Ardent at the heart of the Portes du Soleil is at just 1200 metres but the run down to our resort of Ardent is in a sheltered north-west facing valley and on a rock base which keeps the snow cold. As a result in the twenty plus years we have been skiing there the run has been open and skiable from the very beginning to the end of the season apart from three days fifteen years ago.
Lower slopes in nearby Les Gets and Morzine are on meadow, lower and not so sheltered so lose their snow much more readily. So it is worth checking out more than just altitude when you are selecting a resort. Ask also about snow record on the runs down to the resort where you will be staying.
A special note on the nursery slopes were young children will be spending their first few days on the snow before venturing up the slopes. It can feel like a good idea to pick a resort where the nursery slope is on the edge of the resort village.
This is fine for high resorts and our “Jardin de Neige” nursery ski school is in our resort of Reberty – but that is at 2000 metres. But in all but the highest resorts better snow conditions, easier for beginners to learn to ski in, will be found higher up by taking a lift up. Check too where nursery slopes are and how easy it is to get there.
three family friendly resorts:Ardent, Reberty & Les Coches.
we have previously been in other resorts and left because they did not work as well for families.
Coming up in part 2:
We will look at choosing where and when to go looking at accommodation choices: self-catering, hotel or chalet. We also look at the pros and cons of various time of the skiing year.