If you’re searching for the answer to the conundrum of what is the best holiday for the whole family, it is skiing. In the mountains, I – a former Winter Olympian – can savour the same piste as my two-year-old son, with his grandparents following in his tracks. The coming together of families after a day on the slopes to share their experiences is, for me, the most magical way for all generations to make memories together.
This type of holiday synergy has to be earned, though: it’s no secret family ski trips can come with an avalanche of hassle. Put frankly, ski holidays with kids will break you.
It begins with the kit. Once you get past the fact that every little person looks adorable in long-john thermals, you venture into hell. Cue screams of: “This helmet is squashing my ears” and “I can’t see in these goggles” (a pair that you used in the 1980s) and “My hands are so cold!”
And that’s before you’ve picked up a pair of ski boots: there is nothing quite like the on-your-knees stress and grunts that go into wedging your little angel’s tiny feet into plastic shells in the sweltering heat of a boot room.
But once they are ready, their faces, and yours, are lit with excitement – especially when they learn they are spending the day skiing with mummy and daddy. The look from my three-year-old son Cooper when he realises he has been granted a day away from the beginner’s area to explore the magical enormity of “yes, really, the whole mountain” in our company often makes everything worthwhile.
Both my husband, fellow alpine ski racer Dougie Crawford, and I skied with our families when we were young and now life has come full circle. Rather than preparing to race the world’s most daring competitive runs, we now spend chairlift rides high-fiving each other or enjoying the quietness as our boys stare down at the skiers below in wonder.
Of course, there are also snacks: distraction is key and rewards even more so when the weather turns or when – as our eldest, Locki, 5, too often proves – tumbles happen. A sweet treat when he loses both skis and ends up lying in the snow spreadeagled isn’t bribery in my book: I am just giving him and his brother more reason to explore and realise life doesn’t always end in success. Skiing is a perfect sport for this type of personal growth: everyone falls; it is the picking oneself up and trying again that is the win.
I was genetically made to be a skier. My father was a rugby player and my mother a swimmer – I inherited his strong glutes and her big lungs. Childhood memories of holidaying in the mountains, inspired to ski faster to keep up with my older brothers, are some of my favourites. We skied with the same families every Christmas – a yellow apron with purple dots was worn by the person who achieved the best crash of the day or the bravest line. After a long day skiing we would either go to the public pool or go sledging as a group. It was all go, all activity, all-consuming elation for every member of the family.
The thing with skiing is, it doesn’t care how old you are. My toddler loves it as much as his 67-year-old grandad – ski holidays are the door to the mountains, where everyone is welcome to enjoy nature’s playground.
The 10 best family ski breaks – and the tips you need to make yours hassle-free
Going on a family ski holiday can be hard – for many the logistics, gear and expense can be off putting. But by picking the right resort, choosing a specialist operator and timing it well you can find perfect harmony for every generation on the slopes.
From joining up and booking a large group trip to travelling outside of peak dates with preschoolers or trading the Alps for Scandinavia, the perfect family ski holiday lies in the planning.
For families eager to return to the slopes the below breaks will guide you to a hassle-free break, for all generations, this winter.
Find a friend – or two
Nothing is more relaxing for parents, or grandparents, than when the kids have plenty of distractions after a day on the piste. Chalet-hotels, with their sociable dining rooms, play areas and games rooms, offer plenty of opportunities for this and are great for making new friends. Supervised evening kids clubs also mean you can enjoy relaxed, child-free dinners.
Mark Warner (0344 2736793; markwarner.co.uk) offers the slope-side Chalet Hotel L’Ecrin du Val Claret in Tignes, with spa, swimming pool and onsite childcare available for children aged four months to 12 years, from £2,316. Departs April 3.
Vary the mix
Six consecutive days of dawn to dusk skiing is not for everyone – especially youngsters or non-skiers. So how about pepping things up with a bit more variety? Norway, with its additional activities such as husky sledding, snowmobiling and sledging, offers precisely this and is reliably snow sure for a late season break during the Easter holidays.
Ski Norway (020 7199 6015; ski-scandinavia.co.uk) offers the four-star Radisson Blu Mountain Resort & Residences in Trysil, with pool and complimentary childcare, from £1,438 based on a two-bedroom self-
catering apartment. Departs April 3.
Cut the hassle
It’s not just the cost of all the extras on a ski holiday, it’s the stress of having to remember and book them for yourself and the kids that takes its toll. If you have children under 12 or fully-vaccinated teens, relax and opt for an all-inclusive in Italy. All arrangements, lift passes, equipment hire, lessons, meals and drinks will be taken care of – and included in the price of the holiday.
Club Med (0345 367 6767; clubmed.co.uk) offers stays at Club Med Pragelato Sestriere in the Italian Alps from £2,853, including all meals, drinks, lift passes, group lessons and kids clubs. Departs February 13.
Time the trip
There is lots of pressure on half-term getaways this year, so Easter is looking like a better option. Most schools break up for Easter on April 1, but if you are among the lucky ones who finish a week earlier on March 25, then be sure to make the most of it. There will be better availability, cheaper deals and quieter slopes.
Ski Solutions (020 3944 2669; skisolutions.com) is offering Peaks Place self-catering apartments in Flims Laax, Switzerland, sleeping up to six, with swimming pool and spa, from £1,005. Departs March 27.
Enjoy the pre-school years
If you have children who have yet to start school, heed my advice: don’t let the pre-school years go by without taking advantage of a ski trip outside the peak holiday weeks, when prices are so much lower and slopes much quieter. March, with good snow and warmer temperatures, is the perfect month for giving small children a gentle introduction to the slopes.
Inghams (01483 319565; inghams.co.uk) is offering the Allalin Apartments, sleeping up to six, in the family-friendly Swiss resort of Saas-Fee, from £584. Departs March 13.
Keep it wallet-friendly
When you tot up the total cost of lift passes, ski hire, lessons and meals out, Bulgarian resorts are among the best value in Europe for a family ski holiday. The resort of Borovets, with plenty of gentle nursery slopes, is a good choice for those who want to try their hand at skiing or snowboarding without breaking the bank.
Crystal Ski Holidays (020 3451 2821; crystalski.co.uk) is offering Hotel Rila in Borovets, Bulgaria with kindergarten and kids’ entertainment, from £921. Departs February 12.
Share and save
For many families, the sheer expense can often be the biggest challenge of a ski holiday. One way of keeping costs right down – and adding to the fun – is to team up and share with another family or relatives of your own. Go for a family-friendly resort like Valmorel in the Tarentaise, France, which has plenty of well-equipped apartments designed for groups
Peak Retreats (023 928 9310; peakretreats.co.uk) offers stays at La Grange aux Fees, a ski-in/ski-out residence with indoor heated pool. From £599, self-drive, based on eight people sharing a three-bedroom self-catering apartment, including Eurotunnel crossing. Departs February 12.
Limit the exposure
For young skiers, a full day on the slopes can also be overkill – especially for a first holiday on the slopes. Specialist operators cater for this problem by offering kids clubs which allow plenty of flexibility – ski lessons, but also supervised play and activities indoors for those that prefer it.
Esprit Ski (01483 944516; espritski.com) offers stays at Chalet-Hotel de Champoluc in the Italian resort of Champoluc where onsite options include a nanny service as well as children’s clubs for ages 17 weeks to 12 years, from £1,034. Childcare from £270 for six days. Departs April 3.
Free up the day
Family holidays aren’t just about the children. How do parents make sure they have enough time to do some decent high-mileage skiing and enjoy the odd long, child-free lunch? You may have checked the kids into ski school, but after two or three hours it will be time to pick them up again. Lunchtime supervision - filling the gap between morning and afternoon lessons is the answer. And it’s more fun for the children too.
Le Ski (01484 548996; leski.com) offers stays at Chalet Marmau, a spacious, family-friendly chalet in Les Trois Vallées resort of La Tania sleeping 23, from £1,561. Lunchtime supervision from £150 per week. Departs April 3.
Keep the teens happy
Having to police teens in the evenings - or frankly during the day - is never easy. But if you have given up and are happy to wave them off into the night or are up for some partying yourself, then how about coinciding with the Snowbombing Festival in Mayrhofen from April 4 to 9. Fatboy Slim performs this year and events include street parties, live DJs and “Party in the Pines” an open-air concert in the forest.
Inghams (01483 944 526; inghams.co.uk) offer stays at four-star Alpenhotel Kramerwirt, in the centre of the resort with spa and wellness area, from £1,244. Departs April 2.
Unless stated otherwise, prices quoted are per person, based on seven nights’ chalet board for two adults and two children, including flights and transfers, and are subject to availability. Accommodation is in shared or adjoining rooms.