The perfect family holiday should combine, IMHO, six things:
- Getting there should be easy. That doesn’t mean that long-haul is out but it should be as painless as possible.
- It should offer a range of activities, among which every member of the family gets to do something they personally like at some point.
- There should be an opportunity to do something new, learning a new skill or improving an old one.
- There needs to be time to forget house rules from home, for example, fixed bedtimes, only one hour of gadget time, one treat per day, no drinking before 12 noon, that sort of thing.
- There should be shared meals, prepared and served by someone outside the family.
- There should be plenty of time actually spent together rather than farming the kids out all week to clubs. Controversial, I know.
Now we know the ingredients, I would like to propose going skiing – at least in certain resorts – as the perfect family holiday. And here’s why.
- There are plenty of ski resorts that are a short transfer from airports that are within easy reach of the UK. Long transfers and families do not work well together. There are plenty of family-friendly resorts less than an hour and a half from their nearest airport, such as Les Gets and Morzine in the Portes du Soleil, Flaine in France and Westendorf in Austria.
- A skiing holiday doesn’t just mean skiing. A good resort will have an ice skating rink, horse-drawn carts, a swimming pool and, increasingly, huge mountain spas and not forgetting walks in the snow, snowman construction, snowball fights and après-ski.
- Learning to ski or snowboard can be tough but it is incredibly rewarding.
- Forget house rules; chalet rules on a ski holiday.
- Chalets are food factories. You had a big spag bol for lunch? Have two slices of cake with your hot chocolate then. OK.
- Couple of hours of lessons in the morning. Spending time with the family in the afternoon. Sorted.
Family skiing – trip tips
Before you go, you need some straightforward advice to make a skiing holiday go as smoothly as possible.
- Buying new skiwear for the kids every year for a single week on the slopes is not worth the expense. You can rent equipment in resort and even rent their clothing. You can also buy bargain ski clothing at Tesco and TK Maxx.
- Find ski-in, ski-out accommodation – i.e. places where you don’t need to slog from the ifts to get home at the end of a tiring day. Resorts that were purpose-built for skiing in the 1960s and 70s rather than traditional mountain farming villages are often better as a result.
- If you are travelling with babies, ask your hotel or holiday company whether they have sterilisers, highchairs, bottle warmers, stair-gates and other baby items that you don’t want to take on your flight.
- Take suncream. Despite the cold and snow, the sun and the rarefied mountain atmosphere are the perfect combination to burn delicate skin.
- Sharing a chalet can be a great idea if you have children so that you and they can mix with other families. However, if you are travelling with a big tour operator, make sure that you won’t be sharing with rowdy groups of adults.
- Gently introduce your children to skiing. Children can start skiing at the age of 3 or 4 but don’t push them into it as you might put them off forever. In the early days, it is as much about having fun in the snow as putting them in formal ski lessons.
- Pay for expert tuition. Ingrained habits taught by family and friends are hard to kick. This does not have to mean skiing from dawn till dusk every day.
- Book early. School holiday dates in the most popular resorts get booked up quickly, sometimes up to a year ahead. Also, by booking early you will have the best chance of securing early booking discounts.
Where to stay
Here are some ideas for family-friendly places to stay:
- Try a tour operator which is focused on making family ski holidays perfect, such as Mark Warner. Mark Warner can organise both day and evening childcare, if you need it, as well as help you pre-booking lessons, equipment and lift passes. Somewhere like the Chalet Hotel Christina in La Plagne or the new Mountain Spa Residences in St Anton are great family choices
- Scott Dunn is another company who know how to make a ski holiday perfect for families who like a touch of class. The new Scott Dunn at Six Senses Residences Courchevel offers 5-star luxury for families who like a bit more from their ski holiday. It has a lounge for breakfast and après-ski, a daytime Explorers kids’ club and an evening Stargazers club which lets parents nip out into town while the kids snuggle up in their PJs for a movie night, complete with popcorn. Did I mention unlimited Wi-Fi and integrated iPads?
- La Rosiere is on the French side of the Espace San Bernardo with links over to skiing in Italy (and authentic pizza at lunchtime). There are 160km of slopes. Peak Retreats specialises in self-catering accommodation in lesser known resorts. You can stay at the luxury Les Marmottons property from £264 pp based on five sharing a two bedroom apartment, including return FlexiPlus Eurotunnel travel.
- The Austrian town of Bad Gastein will raise chuckles among the kids (and dads) but is actually a wonderful spa town. In winter, you can go snow-shoeing, tobogganing and winter hiking as well as skiing and snowboarding. Haus Hirt is a welcoming, family-oriented boutique hotel which has family suites, a heated indoor pool, a small playground and a free kids club. It also offers nannies, babysitting, table football and movie nights
- Suvretta House in St Moritz is one of the oldest heritage hotels in the mountains and has always been a magnet for multi-generational holidays. The garden has ice sculptures, caves and slides for the children. The hotel has its own ski school where kids can earn in private or group classes and there is a spa for those who prefer to relax rather than ski. Teens can go ice skating and canyoning. The hotel’s Kiddy Club is for children ages three and over and at night there is a kids-only Teddy Club dinner.
- I love Finland for family ski holidays. Ranua in Finnish Lapland offers a huge range of activities, including reindeer sleigh rides, dog sledding, snowmobiling and snow-shoeing as well as Alpine skiing and cross-country skiing. There is also a ruddy-faced gent in red and white who makes his home nearby.
- Flaine is a very practical family ski resort and one that is easy to reach and easy to ski. The Terminal Neige Totem is a good three-star ski-in, ski-out property with an informal atmosphere and friendly staff that is right in the centre of the resort. Stay there with Inghams from £939pp half board. If you’d like something more stylish, try The Loft, a new apartment at the hotel which is ideal for a family. The 150-square-metre apartment (see below) has three-bedrooms and a large south-facing terrace with mountain views.
- Gstaad, the resort that Roger Moore as well as Richard Burton and Liz Taylor loved, has extensive pistes for all levels of ability and children up to nine get free ski equipment, lift passes and ski-school access. The HUUS Hotel – see below – is a new design hotel that is great for families thanks to three different play rooms for table football, billiards, skittles, and cinema and disco evenings. It even has a dedicated kids’ spa with an ice cave shower, sauna and climbing wall.
Mark Frary is family travel editor of 101 Holidays (www.101holidays.co.uk)