Half-term week on the slopes is one of the busiest of the season, especially in big name European ski resorts. The key week when most UK pupils will be on holiday in 2020 is from Saturday, February 15. A few areas have half term the following week, but the majority of school children will be off from February 17-21.
UK half-term dates notoriously coincide with the French holidays, taken at different times over a four-week period depending on country zone. The key zone, because it normally leads to the highest number of French people on the slopes, is zone C, covering Paris. In 2020 this is February 10-21, so a week's overlap with the main UK half term. Also on holiday from February 17-28 will be zone B, which is northern France, so expect exceptionally busy slopes.
Families looking to book holidays from the weekend of February 22 should not feel too smug though, as this coincides with the bulk of Dutch school holidays as well as the French zone A, which is the south-west and central region.
So what’s the best strategy for finding a family-friendly resort without the masses?
One of the best bets, if budget allows, is to go to North America. As a general rule slopes are far less busy than in Europe and notably so in February, when there are no North American school holidays. Facilities for children are excellent as is instruction and the snow tends to be plentiful.
Choosing a holiday in Italy or Austria has the benefit of resort prices tending to be lower than in comparative French destinations; if price is not an issue then consider Switzerland. If only France will do, lesser-known, lower altitude destinations will deliver lower prices and, reassuringly, at this time of year snow cover tends to be reliable.
Another option for families with the budget is Scandinavia. Resorts here are less well-known internationally and so tend to be relatively crowd free. They also offer many additional family-friendly activities such as husky sled rides and snowmobiling.
Whether they’re underrated, high on value or simply less likely to attract crowds, even at peak time, these family-friendly resorts will help keep costs down during February half-term.
Unless stated otherwise, prices are per adult, based on two adults and two children aged two to 12 sharing a family room, half-board for seven nights, including flights and transfers. Half-term 2020 is almost sold out, so consider thinking ahead to 2021 – some operators already have options available.
Best for off-slope entertainment
Åre is Sweden’s biggest downhill resort, with three separate ski areas strung out beside a frozen lake, and a ski season that goes on well into April thanks to the long hours of sunlight and warmer temperatures later in the season. It’s popular with families who love the off‑slope activities including dog or reindeer sled rides, tobogganing, snowmobiling, skating, curling and ice fishing. During the ski season EasyJet flies to Östersund, about an hour’s drive away, avoiding a change in Stockholm and making it quicker to reach this far-northern resort.
In general, Åre’s slopes suit beginners and intermediates – most of the runs are green and blue, set among trees on the lower part of the mountain. The main ski area is above town, while Björnen (a dedicated ski area for kids) and Duved are along the valley.
A special piste map highlights fun things and areas of slopes for children, and those aged seven and under get a free lift pass so long as they wear a helmet. The dinky town centre is made up of pretty, coloured wooden buildings and some larger modern additions. Families often take their children to the lively après sessions as the lifts close, so expect to be dancing next to six year olds – as well as resort mascot Valle the Snowman, who pops up all over Åre to keep children entertained.
While there are few piste challenges for experts, the terrain park in the main ski area has red and black lines of varied kickers, plus a mix of rails, boxes and fatpipes to suit all levels. It’s also open at night, illuminated with colourful LED lighting. There’s another main park with beginner and intermediate features, and a couple of children’s parks in Björnen.
Where to stay
Availaibility is very limited for February 2020's half term, so plan ahead and take advantage of Ski Safari's early booking offer at the Copperhill Mountain Lodge, Åre's only five-star hotel. From £1,307, with Ski Safari.
Best for relaxed charm
The 200km Monterosa ski area is one of the most underrated in the Alps. It stretches over three valleys, with one small-scale resort in each: Champoluc in the west, Alagna in the east, Gressoney in the centre. Champoluc is a charming village, with a typically Italian laid-back atmosphere and some decent bars. The scenery is beautiful and there’s a general lack of crowds and traffic in the area.
From the village, a gondola goes up to Crest and the beginner slopes. From the nearby hamlet of Frachey (served by a free ski bus), a funicular gives direct access to the rest of this varied, unspoilt ski area. Gressoney and Champoluc are suitable for intermediates, while runs out of Alagna hold more challenge for experts. The slopes are tucked beneath the mighty Monterosa massif, which reaches 4,364m and divides Italy from Switzerland (Zermatt is on the other side).
Child care tends to be limited in Italy because Italian families bring granny and grandpa along to look after the little ones. A big plus point in Champoluc is the nursery with British nannies, run by tour operator Ski 2, which has specialised in the resort for over 20 years and has its own ski school with a mix of British and local English-speaking instructors teaching children from four years old. The Italian Scuola Sci Champoluc also has a good reputation for teaching both adults and children.
Where to stay
Book one of Champoluc's last remaining rooms for half term 2020 at the three-star Hotel Villa Anna Maria, in the centre of the village. From £1,588 for adults and £1,388 for children, excluding flights, including six-day Monterosa lift pass, lunch at mountain restaurants, daily guiding and free equipment for children under 12, departing 15 February 2020, with Ski 2.
Best for North American adventuring
The largely car-free resort village at Panorama is very family friendly. There are two levels linked by a free gondola, and the Upper Village is the best place to stay; it’s close to the main slope lifts and has lots of accommodation with direct access to the snow. It’s based around a skating rink and outdoor hot pool complex, with swimming pools, water slides, hot tubs and a sauna.
Wee Wascals child-care centre looks after children aged 18 months to five years, with a combination of child care and ski school available for kids aged three and up. Daily activity programmes are offered and there’s a list of babysitters for out-of-hours care.
Panorama mountain has a 1,300m vertical, one of the biggest in North America, and there’s terrain to suit all levels. Near the foot of the mountain, the Discovery Zone has easy-to-use lifts and gentle green runs, ideal for beginners and young families, while the wide, groomed trails and mellow off piste of the mid-mountain suit intermediates. For experts, there are two black-run powder bowls accessible from the resort high point of 2,365m, and plenty of gladed tree areas. A luxurious 12-seater snowca makes it easy to lap the highest terrain. RK Heliski specialises in taking out first-timers and provides fat skis or snowboards to make powder easier.
Where to stay
A short walk from the slopes, the Upper Village Condos are comfortable, spacious, and residents have free access to the hot pools complex.From £2,247 on a room only basis, with Skiworld.
Best for ski-in/ski-out convenience
The largest of five French resorts in the 265km Grand Massif ski area, Flaine is all about family-friendly convenience. Its concrete apartment blocks were designed in the 1960s in Bauhaus style, with outdoor sculptures by Picasso, Vasarely and Dubuffet, so some find it hard to love – but everyone appreciates the ski-in/ski-out access to the slopes.
Flaine Forum is the main part of the resort, based around a big square with an ice rink, a children’s sledge run, and the main gondola to the slopes. The resort also has bowling, a driving simulator for ages seven and up, an airbag and tubing. Above Forum is Flaine Forêt, and lifts run between the two 24/7. Both have bars and restaurants serving reasonable food to a largely family clientele. Two more chalet-style bases, Hameau de Flaine and the Montsoleil apartments, sit just outside the main arena.
The Grand Massif’s ski area is nicely varied and big enough to keep even the keenest intermediate happy for a week. Nearly all the pistes in the wide north-facing bowl above Flaine suit intermediates best: a few easy cruising blues, but mostly reds with short steep sections. For experts, there is off piste to be explored with a guide. But Flaine is dominated by families and first-timers, and has two nursery areas, short green runs and a long gentle blue to move on to. There are no terrain parks, but the Grand Massif has various fun areas, aimed mainly at children, with bumps, banked turns and trees to negotiate.
Where to stay
The ski-in/ski-out Residence Les Terrasses de Veret a short walk from the main gondola in Flaine Forum has a indoor pool, hot tub and sauna. From £739 for a one-bedroom self-catered apartment sleeping up to four, including ski passes, departing 15 February 2019, with Sunweb.
Best for spectacular scenery
Wengen might have been designed for families. The village is essentially car-free (with the exception of taxis), and at its heart there’s a snow-covered meadow that serves as a combined playground and gentle nursery slope. It shares a ski area with Grindelwald, and most of the slopes are above its neighbour – lovely long red and blue runs under the towering north face of the Eiger.
The village sits on a sunny shelf and is made up of a mix of small chalets and bigger, more institutional-looking hotels. The main way up the mountain is a cog railway that is easy to use, and also gives access to the village from Lauterbrunnen down in the valley. The Jungfrau region lift pass covers the slopes of neighbouring Mürren as well as Wengen and Grindelwald. While Switzerland is generally expensive, lift-pass prices are free for the under-sixes and reduced for children aged up to 19. A six-day Wengen/Grindelwald pass costs 309CHF for adults in 2019/20.
There are plenty of family-friendly activities on offer, including 50km of toboggan runs. The most obvious of these is the 4.5km run from Wengernalp down to the train station in town, but there are also long runs from the top of the mountain going in the opposite direction towards Grindelwald. In the middle of the village there’s indoor curling and outdoor skating.
Where to stay
The four-star Hotel Silberhorn is in a convenient position by the cog railway station, with the nursery slopes not far away. There are outstanding views from the south-facing rooms, a playroom and spa that’s open for children until 5pm. From £2,299, departing 15 February 2020, with Inghams.
Best for little ’uns
If taking young children to the Alps a short transfer and low-risk environment is preferable. Obergurgl’s traditional village is set around a fine church, there’s no through traffic, and the ambience is essentially family friendly. It is popular with Britons and many families return every winter, for the low-key atmosphere, traditional hotels and scattering of chalets.
Set at 1,930m, Obergurgl happily obliges with guaranteed snow cover at village level. The ski area is ideal for beginners and improving intermediates and is linked by lift to higher Hochgurgl. The more advanced will find challenging runs in nearby Vent and Sölden, both of which are covered by an Obergurgl lift pass, and excellent off piste to explore.
There’s a small selection of ski schools in Obergurgl and most of the instructors speak good English. British family tour operator Esprit runs its own classes for children, and also provides child care for ages between 17 weeks and 12 years. Weekly lesson packages are available for children aged three to 12 years, priced from £290; while six full days of child care costs from £349.
Where to stay
Chalet Alpenblume is 200m from the nearest piste, and also close to the Festkogl gondola. From £1,849, departing 15 February 2020, with Esprit.
Best for a city/ski break
Sierra Nevada, Spain
It’s hard to believe there are any ski resorts this close to the Costa del Sol and Andaluçia’s sun-baked hills, but in fact the Sierra Nevada boasts some of Europe’s highest peaks. The Penibético mountains are spectacular enough to rival Granada’s incredible Alhambra, in all its Moorish grandeur.
The resort base sits at a snow-sure 2,100m, with slopes going up to 3,330m. The highest viewpoint on the slopes is Veleta at 3,398m. From here, on a sunny day, the Mediterranean sparkles in the distance in one direction; in the other, 110km of mainly intermediate pistes unfold. Two gondola lifts rise from the base to Borreguiles at mid-mountain, the main hub for ski schools and from where a huge nursery area caters for beginners, and lifts fan out across the mountains. A large self-service restaurant here offers excellent value, while the table-service Alcazaba above it serves high-quality, beautifully presented local fare, including barbecued meat dishes and teen-friendly burgers.
The après scene swaps tartiflette for tapas and paella, and typically doesn’t get going until very late. When it does, it seems like it may never end. While a day out from Sierra Nevada to Granada is easy enough, it’s well worth topping or tailing a ski trip with a night staying in the ancient UNESCO-recognised city, where it’s easy to feel further from home than southern Spain.
Where to stay
The three-star GHM Hotel Monachil is located at the foot of the slopes in Sierra Nevada, and has a games room and spa, family rooms sleeping four, and family menus in its Cervino restaurant. From £1,292, departing 15 Feburary 2020, with Iglu Ski.
Best for learning the ropes
With 75km of slopes above two bases, Høyfjellssenter and Turistsenter, Trysil is the largest ski resort in Norway. The slopes are less crowded than in the main Alpine resorts – worth knowing when holidays have to be taken at peak holiday times such as half-term. The majority of hotels here are ski‑in/ski‑out, which is great news for beginners.
Trysil is so convinced of its snow reliability that it guarantees there will be white stuff in the village during high season. On the slopes, the volcano‑shaped Trysilfjellet (Trysil Mountain) offers the best part of 360 degrees of runs. While the resort is definitely best suited to beginners and early intermediates, and has dedicated, closed-off children’s ski areas on the slopes, there is some challenging terrain in the Høgegga sector. There are also four levels of terrain park, from an advanced black line, via red and blue, down to green for small children (or nervous adults).
Trysil is fairly laid back, though there are several good spots for late-afternoon live music sessions on the mountain, and a decent selection of bars and restaurants at the two village bases. At Turistsenter, Sindrestua is an unpretentious, friendly coffee shop-cum-bar that encourages après for the whole family (in contrast with noisier places), while Sagbruket near the nursery slopes serves hot chocolate.
Where to stay
The ski-in/ski-out Radisson Blu Mountain Hotel in Høyfjellssenter sits below a network of green runs and has a children’s playroom and games room, two on-site restaurants, a bakery and a well-equipped spa. From £1,167, B&B, departing 15 February 2020, with Crystal.
Best for a massive ski area
Les Menuires, France
Les Menuires, with its prime location in the centre of the 600km Trois Vallées (3V) ski area, has long had an ugly duckling reputation thanks to some monstrous 1960s architecture. These days, while hardly a swan, it has matured into a pretty presentable drake, but remains underrated and easier on the pocket than 3V big hitters Courchevel, Méribel and Val Thorens.
The village is at 1,850m, and Les Menuires’ local slopes are great for all standards. They also boast some of the best intermediate runs, both on and off piste, in the entire 3V ski area. The lifts go up to the 2,804m summit of Pointe de La Masse, with superb runs on and off piste that remain uncrowded, even during peak season. The benign blue Bouquetin run allows enjoyment of the views from the top without the challenges of the more extreme descents on either side. Lifts towards the rest of the 3V are fast and efficient.
The modern, largely ski-in/ski-out satellites of Reberty and Le Bruyères have been built in sympathetic chalet style, with their own shops and restaurants. Most accommodation is in self-catering apartments, and nightlife tends to be sedate. Restaurants such as La Ferme de Reberty do good-value grub for families who want a break from cooking.
Where to stay
Ski Amis has limited availability at its catered, ski-in/ski-out chalet Delfina, which serves three or four course meals on six of the seven nights. From £929, excluding travel, with Ski Amis.
Best for pounding pistes as a family
It’s not difficult to find low-cost ski holidays in Austria, if you’re prepared to compromise on either the quality or quantity of the slopes. There are dozens of small villages with loads of charm, but limited terrain and lift systems. However, Söll has plenty to offer – the extensive SkiWelt area of largely intermediate pistes, plus lots of budget places to stay.
The traditional Tirolean village with its onion-domed church is set in the middle of a wide valley. The slopes are a kilometre away and best reached by ski bus. If the SkiWelt’s 284km aren’t enough for keen piste-bashing families, the region is directly linked (by a short bus ride) through Westendorf and Kirchberg to Kitzbühel. This adds another 54 lifts and 179km to the tally, though on a separate lift pass. In town, the Hochsöll gondola takes kids and adults up to the 4km Moon toboggan run, which is floodlit until 10.30pm Wednesday to Saturday evenings.
Söll was once known for its raucous nightlife, and best suits those who come to attack the slopes with gusto or to party – or both. But in recent years the resort has started attracting families, too, with plenty of accommodation.
Where to stay
The Hotel Tyrol is one of Söll's top hotels, a short walk from the village centre and opposite a bus stop. From £1,440, departing 15 February 2020, with i-ski.co.uk.