Hitting the slopes with kids doesn’t need to be tricky. Here Mama editor Morag Turner - skier and mum-of-three - explains how to make it a hassle-free holiday.
Words Morag Turner
Let’s be honest, any holiday with children can be a bit of a faff. The effort that it takes to pack for everyone, navigate the airport and actually get you all to your hotel room takes military precision and serious stamina at the best of times, but no holiday is trickier to manage than one on the slopes. Ask any mother who is a seasoned skier and she’ll tell you it would be easier to take your toddlers trekking in the Amazon than to the Alps for a long weekend.
Firstly, where’s the best place to go and when? And then there’s the kit to contend with – the copious amounts of warm (bulky) clothes that weigh a tonne and require ten suitcases to transport. Next the jigsaw puzzle of childcare and, of course, the actual skiing – what’s the best way for your little one to learn but stay safe?
But it doesn’t have to been this hard. By choosing the right resort and booking with experts who can guide you through the process, making sure all the bases are covered, you can make skiing with kids just as easy as any sunny ‘fly and flop’ holiday.
“There is no reason why you can’t ski with kids and have great, relaxing trip,” says Kirsty Edwards, Ski Manager at Scott Dunn. “You can and you should – it’s one of the best holidays a family can have together.”
According to Edwards the key to making the most of your time on your slopes is careful forward planning. “Do your research or ask your travel company to advise you and come up with suggestions.”
A quick flight and a short transfer are key to the success of a skiing holiday. No one wants to spend hours on a plane followed by even longer on a coach twisting through mountains – especially not with little kids in tow.
So put those thoughts of Whistler or Aspen on hold until your children are old enough to watch inflight movies and can handle the time difference.
For parents of under-fives skiing is all about European destinations. Easyjet and British Airways have daily flights from Gatwick to Geneva – only one hour 30 mins flight away and Innsbruck and Zurich are just half an hour more.
Once you reach the airport you ideally want a transfer that is no longer than one hour 30 minutes. From Geneva you can reach Morzine, Les Gets and Courchevel in this time. All are great family friendly resorts that have a good selection of runs including plenty of greens and cruisy blues for when your little ski bunnies tentatively venture out onto the slopes for the first time.
Likewise Obergurgl and Alpbach in Austria, both only a short journey from Innsbruck, and Saas-Fee and Wengen close to Zurich, offer the same family friendly skiing.
Other things to consider when choosing a resort are accessibility to shopping and childfriendly restaurants.
When to go?
The first thing to say about timing is avoid the school holidays if you possibly can. The hotel and flight prices will be inflated due to high demand, the slopes will be packed (with way too many fearless/crazy teenagers) and the babysitter’s diaries choc-a-block. And be aware that it’s not just the British school holidays you are trying to dodge. European schools all have their equivalent half term weeks too. Your tour operator can tell you when these are. If they can’t then the prices alone should be a good indication.
Pick a quieter stretch closer to the end of the season in March when, even though the snow might be less predictable in some resorts, it should be a few degrees warmer than the beginning of January, when biting winds and freezing temperatures could really put your shivering little skiers off heading outside. It’s inevitable that they will get cold and wet, and loose gloves/scarves/snoods, but you want to minimise the freeze factor or you’ll find yourself with a crying child who refuses to put their skis back on.
Hotel or chalet?
Both can cater for families brilliantly. While hotels offer more facilities such as swimming pools and restaurants, the traditional, cosy feel of a chalet, especially a small one, can really add to your holiday, plus you’ll meet other families which can be fun and sociable.
Self catering is always an option, but, just as with any holiday, it adds to the to-do list. Instead why not book a catered chalet and enjoy the amazing breakfasts and dinners, as well as afternoon tea when you kick your ski boots off for the day.
For the ultimate ski accommodation, opt for a private chalet, many of which come with a chef, nanny and perks such as a hot tub.
“A big consideration is proximity to the slopes,” points out Paola Fiochhi Van Den Brande owner of Passepartout Homes who run luxury chalets all over Europe. “The closer the better really. Children don’t like walking far carrying their skis, helmet and all the other kit they need, especially if they are cold and wet, so you don’t want to make them walk too far at the end of the day. Ski in ski out is great because it’s so easy but a private shuttle or at the very least a bus service close by, can help you get to and from the lifts,” she explains.
However, the downside of ski in ski out chalets is that, by their nature, they tend to be more remote. While this is lovely, it makes these chalets tricky to get to with children who can’t ski. And what happens if you suddenly need a trip to the pharmacy to pick up some Calpol? That isn’t going to be possible when the lifts are closed.
Firstly if your children are too young to ski then you need to arrange childcare. Babies and little ones under three can spend time in a kids club, often including time outside playing in the snow. All good ski holiday operators will offer hotels with kids clubs.
For total flexibility, however, a private nanny is the best option. They can arrive at your chalet first thing, follow whatever routine works for your child and even bring your little one to meet you for lunch on the slopes, as many restaurants in resorts can be reached by lift alone with no skiing involved. Parents can then head back down the mountain with their children or squeeze in a few more afternoon runs, letting the nanny take them back to the chalet.
All ski resorts will have a selection of nanny agencies working locally. Many of these girls will speak fluent English. Ask to see references and qualifications to give yourself peace of mind.
Also let’s not forget about après ski? Yes, you have kids, but you also want at least one opportunity to dance to questionable European pop while still in your ski boots. Ask the nanny to put them to bed that night – and maybe help with breakfast the following morning.
Ski lessons and instructors
Within reason, the younger the better when it comes to ski lessons. Who hasn’t been made to feel like a really rubbish skier when a zippy little five year old whizzes past them? Well that child could easily be yours if you get them into the sport early.
All resorts have ski schools. Some will be attached to the tour operators or hotels, while others will be local, but all will have English-speaking instructors and be happy will to take children as young as three for up to two hours in a group of four or five, getting them used to wearing skis and falling over, er, we mean, skiing.
You will be truly amazed (and slightly jealous about) how quickly they progress. Children of that age have no fear and much more flexibility so when they do fall (which they will – a lot) they don’t seem to care and it rarely hurts. But if you do have a child who is unsure, don’t force it too much. If taken often enough, they will come round to skiing eventually, but you don’t want to put them off. Build some snowmen instead and get them used to rolling about in the powder.
As well as ski schools you have the option of private instructors who can take the kids to the nursery slopes. They can be booked through the ski school and, while a more pricey option, one to one tuition will undoubtedly bring your child’s skiing on far quicker. This option is great if you are going away with another family and have for two or three children who can share lessons. Instructors are flexible and can work around your own timings and location more.
But if a two hour slot isn’t enough when you’d planned on lunch in that perfect little Alpine spot, then that’s when good childcare mentioned earlier really comes into its own. If you have a private nanny she can collect your children and take them back to the chalet to wait for you.
The final point to make is book early. Seasoned skiiers know all about the points we’ve mentioned here and will book up to a year in advance. So get cracking and come the season, you’ll be hitting the slopes with ease.