Skiing must be one of the most popular winter family holiday choices. Stepping outside each day to breathe in clean mountain air, the crunchy sound of snow under your feet and the prospect of a hearty après ski alpine meal at the end of the super fun day on the slopes. But what things should you consider and how to prepare if you are taking your children?
When you skied for the first time yourself, did you see the lines of toddlers on the slopes in France, Italy, Austria, Canada etc, snaking their way down the mountains. Do you recall wondering how in the world they turned and ploughed with natural ease without even looking where they were going? Especially as you took your first shaky kneed adventure down the nursery slope? Children inherently have a natural ability for learning and this of course includes skiing.
Let's not pretend; skiing can is not necessarily a cheap holiday. With the hotels, flights, ski rental, lessons and all ski equipment you need to hire or purchase, it all adds up. Therefore, your decision to ski as a family has to be weighed up and considered carefully. The skiing holiday has to suit everyone to ensure it is a happy one. The following are some things for you to bear in mind before you book your holiday with the travel agent.
Settings expectations: yours, not the children
With young children, how much time they are likely to be able to ski for is the main consideration. This is what we mean by setting expectations. Over time, you'll be able spend longed days exploring the slopes as a family. However, for 3 or 4 year old youngsters, they won’t have the energy to do much more than an hour or so on skis in a single day. This means, you need to choose careful which ski lessons are suitable for your children and select a toddler friendly ski resort that ticks all your boxes.
Kids ski school vs private lessons
Most ski resorts don’t offer traditional and structured group lessons to children under the age of 5 years old. These sort of lessons normally last 2 to 2.5 hours and are done in medium sized groups of children. For children under the age of 5 years old, it is better to have shorter “play-time” lessons. For example, in the Les Arcs resorts in Bourg Saint Maurice, Savoie, France, the Ski School ESF offer Club Piou Piou for children up to 4 years old. Children learn by playing and lessons are held within the specially designed kindergarten area with small groups organised on age and ability. These areas are the perfect place for young children to learn to ski and have fun. Children learn how to ski through fun games and engaging activities with stories and activities played by the Club Piou Piou characters. Your child is awarded with a relevant medal at the end of the week to mark their fantastic achievement.
For children from the ages of 5 to 13 years old, group lesson are no doubt the best option. Again, starting in the a kindergarten which you’ll expect to be well equipped with snow canons, moving carpets or a turnslide allowing for a quick and playful progression for all beginners. As your child becomes more experienced, the will leave the kindergarten and progress onto the slopes with their instructors for a great variety of lessons on the slopes.
Even though private lessons are more expensive, you will get a much greater level of tailor-made ski instruction and your kid will have the complete attention of the instructor. Your child is likely to be taking their first journey down the slopes neatly tucked between the instructor legs and later beside them holding a ski pole. Although more expensive, you’ll find you need less tuition for your toddler to progress compared to a group lesson. Do some research into what the ski schools have to offer, and if you have someone recommending a ski trainer, book them before anyone else does! There’s a reason why they come recommended.
Resorts that are family friendly
Many travel agents will have a list of their favourite family friendly resorts, but it’s quite rare to find a ski resort that is not family friendly. Regarding childcare, it depends on the skill level within your family and the ages of your children. Childcare is available either via your travel company or via the resort directly. You can select either half day to full day childcare and whether it includes lessons or not. In Les Arcs, ESF run an excellent service called Les Les SkiMômes Childcare offering ski lessons combined with childcare and a variety of fun activities with other children. Lunch is optionally available and there are both indoor and outdoor fun activities. Of course, you know your children best as to what’s most appropriate for them and how you think they will settle in.
If regular childcare wouldn’t suit your needs, most resorts will have private nannies. Another option is to plan your holiday with another family so you can take turns in sharing looking after the kids allowing everyone some adult time on the slopes?
Probably to best family friendly ski resorts are those with plenty of other things to do, given that you probably might not be skiing all day. Some ski resorts provide a variety of other activities such as sledding or ice skating and swimming. For example, Les Arcs in France has a swimming pool, climbing wall, rodeo sledge park, freestyle park, water slide, big air bag, kayaking and paragliding.
When selecting the perfect resort, remember to check out not only the facilities but flight and transfer times especially during peak times. Also think about the altitude of the resort. One above 1600 metres will pretty much guarantee you snow. Below 1600 metres, e.g Scotland, and your window for good snow conditions is narrower.
With a little planning, your ski holiday will be easier for the whole of the family. That just leaves you to get to grips with those parallel turns and make sure the toddlers do not learn faster than you do!