The Family Ski Holiday - A Guide

Anyone who has ever planned and booked a family ski holiday will tell you it’s not an easy game. Booking the annual boys’ trip is easy... even the corporate ski weekend seems painless to arrange. But there’s something about taking the children to the mountains which requires further care, thought and consideration.

For many families with young children the requirements are as long as your arm! Families with young children need to find chalets or hotels close to the slopes because 4 year olds can’t carry skis for long. They need to be within 2 hours or so of the arrival airport to minimise transfer time. They need to have good beginner slopes, decent tree coverage for shelter, the resort must have off-the-slopes activities, the list goes on....! These days more than ever, the Alps have a very wide range of family-friendly chalets and hotels, and decent childcare can now be found throughout the French Alps, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and other countries besides.

We’ve put ourselves in the shoes of every parent trying to plan the family ski getaway, and these tips and considerations may be handy for this coming season, for you to plan the perfect trip...

Skiing With Infants

Parents with infants.

  • Short transfer. Resorts like Les Gets and Morzine are within 1.5 hours of Geneva airport. Chambery is a smaller airport nearer to the mountains, and it’s close to a wide range of resorts. Meribel, for example, is within 2 hours’ drive.
  • On-site nursery/crèche. There’s no peace of mind like the security of knowing your baby is being safely cared for. Having an on-site nursery is a big step forward in achieving this, and will lead to a relaxed, stress-free holiday.
  • All-day care. Although leaving baby with a nanny for the first time is one of the hardest things for a mother to do, families who are used to the idea of leaving baby in all-day care can benefit from a full day on the slopes, safe in the knowledge that their infant is being amused and cared for throughout the day.
  • Trained and experienced nannies. In these days of red tape, rules and regs, under-qualified or ill-experienced nannies find it harder and harder to work in the Alps. This is to families’ advantage and any childcare outfit worth its salt can demonstrate clearly the steps it takes to ensure it employs qualified child carers.
  • No steps to chalet. Finding the perfect chalet is not easy. Harder still is choosing the “perfect” chalet only to find there are 6 icy steps leading to the front door. Care must be taken to ensure ease of chalet access with a pram. Other considerations like being close to paths for town access and staying close to the town centre for easy strolling are also important.
  • Bottle sterilisation facilties. There is now a very wide range of properties in the Alps where this service is the norm, but it’s an important consideration when taking a baby out of the home environment.

Skiing With Children

Parents with children.

  • Good beginners’ slopes. Although pretty much every resort can lay claim to having beginners’ slopes to some degree, taking your 4 year old straight to Solden, Chamonix or Verbier to learn is a bad idea. Many resorts are great for kids, and Courchevel, Morzine, La Rosiere, Les Gets, Val d’Isere and La Plagne are just a few examples of resorts with very child-friendly slopes.
  • Close to slopes (or a chalet with driver service.) It’s never ideal to finish a hard day on the hill with a tired 5 year old only to then have to walk 600 metres to the chalet in ski boots, carrying skis. Many chalets get around this with friendly and helpful driver services and Morzine is a great example of this. It’s always worth being open to the idea of a chalet that has a private driver service – it’s far better being picked up and whizzed home in 2 minutes than having to walk 3 or 4 minutes with a tired child in tow.
  • Sheltered pistes. Bad weather can turn even the hardiest little ski champion off the snow. It’s worth considering resorts that you know to have sheltered, tree-lined areas for bad weather days. La Tania, Meribel, Les Gets, Morzine, Courchevel, La Plagne and Les Arcs are all good examples.
  • Good tuition is vital. Meribel, Val d’Isere and Courchevel boast some of the very finest ski schools in the Alps but they’re far from the only options. Ski schools such as Magic in Motion, Parallel Lines, New Generation and Oxygene are market leaders.
  • Off-the-slopes activities. There’s nothing like a good toboggan hill to make sure your 6 year old is ready to pass out by 8 o’clock, leaving you free to enjoy good wine and good conversation. Morzine has the best one I’ve ever seen, and Courchevel 1650 has a proper luge run!
  • Tougher slopes for progression. It’s important to keep the kids feeling tested, in order to make progress on skis. Val d’Isere is a great resort for kids to learn to ski, and with Tignes offering steeper pistes just over the ridge, the Espace Killy is a great example. Learning in Merbel’s Altiport area then tackling Courchevel 1850 is another good option.
  • Due care and attention regarding transferral of pastoral care. When you take the kids to school, you expect due care to be taken in the transferral of care. Ski schools and kids’ clubs are no different and it’s important to feel comfortable that the administrative boxes are ticked before you ski off.
  • Not close to main road. Many resorts are pedestrianised, with no cars whatsoever in the town centre. Avoriaz and St Anton centre are two fine examples of this. This means kids can explore safely, without the risk of traffic spoiling the fun.
  • A play area for snowmen is also a bonus, as is a DVD area or games room for relaxation.

Skiing with Teenagers

Skiing with Teenagers

  • Big ski area. Many teens can ski faster than Mum! This, coupled with their seemingly unending desire to explore, means you need a lot of slopes to cater for them. Ski areas like the Three Valleys (Meribel etc), the Espace Killy (Val and Tignes) and Paradiski (Les Arcs and La Plagne) are examples of ski areas which should do the trick.
  • Good altitude. Teens can be opinionated at the best of times, and trying to take them to a resort of 800 metres in altitude may not work! Avoriaz, Tignes, Val Thorens, Les Arcs and Zermatt are resorts which ought to give them a nice dose of altitude sickness. (Not really...!)
  • Close to nightlife is always a bonus, if they’re older and allowed to party a little. It’s never a good idea to promote boozing in the Alps, and nasty stories seem to surface annually about this, but having a bar or two close by for a nightcap isn’t such a bad thing.
  • Off-the-slopes activities like bowling, climbing and ice-skating are great family activities, and many resorts are well equipped on that score. Some, like Morzine and Chamonix, even have professional level ice hockey teams you can go and see play.

In conclusion, there is no cut and dried “best resort for families.” It simply doesn’t exist. There is, however, a massive range of resorts right across the European Alps and beyond, which attract families with children year on year for their facilities, slopes, activities and great locations.

Tell us where you want to go,
and let us find your perfect holiday!