How can you book the best family ski holiday?
Fresh from our first family experience, I was shocked to realise just how many moving parts there are to booking the best family ski holiday. If I was overwhelmed, I’ll take a guess that you would be too. So here are 33 (yes 33!!!) ways to book the best family ski holiday. (I’ve tried to group them into logical sections so its not too much to take in!)
Where to go
I think almost the first thing you have to think about is how far you want to travel. Cost might be a factor in this – the further you go, the more you spend. But also bear in mind the amount of time you’re going to spend on a plane and the time difference when you get there.
Most ski holidays are just 7 days long. If it’s your first time skiing I would say your best bet is to stay closer to home than if, say, you’re looking for something completely different or to meet people there.
Within general destinations you have regions. Travelling to North America can mean going to Canada or Colorado or Utah or Wyoming to name a few. In Europe you’ve got resorts in France, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Romania and many more.
Think about things like the language – do you speak it? How about costs? Are some regions more expensive than others? What do you get for that?
3. Flights and transfers
How are you going to get there? If you’re booking with a specialist tour operator, chances are the package will include flights and transfers (it might not though so check the details!). If it doesn’t, or if you’ve booked everything on your own, there’s a lot more to think about.
Flights can be cheaper if you don’t book direct. Budget airlines (where available) often have sales if you’re organised to capitalise on them. They also tend to have flights at antisocial times so that’s your call.
Car rental needs to factor in a decent amount of luggage for a holiday like this – it’s not a one pair of shorts sort of gig! If you’re driving you need to make sure that you know the way (sat nav needed?). Most resorts are pretty good about keeping the roads to them clear but if you’re going more off the beaten track you’ll need to hire extra equipment like snow chains. The best family ski holiday is NOT going to be the one where you got stuck in the snow before you even got there!
Choosing a ski resort
4. Resort altitude
Do you want guaranteed snow? Some of the prettier European resorts were actually the original villages so they have more character but tend to be lower down. The higher up resorts are usually custom built but you have a much better chance of getting good snow. That being said, Les Arcs (France), Vail (USA) and Whistler are all attractive custom resorts that we have visited and loved.
If you’re a beginner you need a resort with some good nursery and green or blue runs. For more experienced people you will want more challenging terrain. Mr Wanderlust always wants fun off-piste runs and to be able to go through the trees. Boarders need to be sure that there aren’t too many flat reversing runs.
If you’re travelling with a group of mixed ability skiers and snowboarders, I really love resorts that offer an easy and a hard way to get down any mountain. My worst experiences have been blindly following Mr Wanderlust (you’d think I would learn) and finding myself at the top of a black run and with no other options. The best family ski holiday needs to cater for all abilities.
6. Resort size
If you’re going for the weekend, a smaller resort will be fine. Longer than a week and you might want something a bit bigger to challenge you. Some resorts have partnerships with neighbouring resorts (for an extra cost of course). You might be able to ski freely in the other resorts or to choose to go there for one of your days.
Equally if you are all beginners you probably don’t need a resort that stretches far and wide. More experienced people will be able to cover more distance and more runs in a day so they’ll need more variety of runs and terrain.
Of course the resort size isn’t just the size of the mountain, it’s the size of the resort itself. If you’re travelling with non-skiers, a bigger resort might hold more attraction to them.
7. Resort amenities
Are there lots of shops, ski schools and equipment hire places? A bit of competition goes a long way and it is nice to have some choice.
Are you planning on eating out every night? It’s nice to have some variety in the places you’re going and the cuisines you can choose from. You might want to have a day off and go to the spa if there’s one available.
Again, if you are travelling with non-skiers it’s more important that there are things there for them to do. From other outdoor activities like snow shoeing to spa days to sitting in cafes drinking steaming mugs if hot chocolate, some resorts are just made for staying off the slopes! Does the resort have a gondola? If it does, the non-skiers can get up the mountain to enjoy the snow and the views for a little while and you can even arrange to meet up for lunch.
For the people ON the slopes, consider if you want there to be bars and restaurants dotted around without you having to make it back to the resort for lunch.
8. Apres ski
Whether you love it or loathe it, the apres ski scene is a crucial consideration in any ski holiday, not just a family one. For those who are looking for a good apres scene, there are resorts that are renowned for having an amazing evening and night life. If you hate that sort of thing then you need to consider if you want to be in a resort where that might disturb you – particularly if you’re staying in a central part of the resort.
When to go
9. Peak season
Peak season is peak for a reason with ski holidays. Peak gives you the closest thing to a guarantee for good snow even at the lower altitudes. Obviously you are therefore paying for the privilege.
Within peak season you’ll find there are extremely popular times: The Christmas and New Year periods can often get busy (although some resorts report that Christmas is a quiet period). February is also a busy time in Europe with UK schools having their half erm. I heard once that German schools close for “ski week” and French schools all take a week off (expat week depends on the region as they stagger it).
Check your dates against other countries’ schedules to see if you’re paying unnecessarily to be on a crowded slope. Of course, most families who are skiing have school aged Things so it’s not as easy as just going whenver you want.
10. Shoulder season
If you can, consider going in shoulder season to save some money and avoid the crowds. Don’t know what shoulder season is? Fear not – I’ve written a whole post on it!
Different regions have different seasons and even within the season can have different times when the snow is best. Do your research based on the time of year you want to travel and you’ll find you have more options than you thought. Want to ski in the Northern Hemisphere summer? Try Argentina or Australia for a change of scene!
Where to stay
12. Self catering / hotel / chalet
Your first decision has to be the sort of accommodation you want to have. I’ve done into the self catering vs hotel debate already. In short, self catering is cheaper and more flexible but more work while the hotel option means everyone can eat what they want and no-one has to cook or clean up. A catered chalet offers a similar option to a hotel except it will be on a half board basis so all meals except lunch (but including breakfast, high tea, kids meal and adults meal with wine) are included. Chalets tend to be a bit more intimate (awesome for larger groups) and can be more flexible with meal timings or accommodating picky eaters.
13. Lodging amenities
Think about what your accommodation needs to do for you. It used to be a place to sleep for us but now that we have Things, it’s a place that we spend much more time. We look for comfortable living areas and 2 bedrooms now. We were excited that our hotel had a swimming pool this year but when it came down to it we never used it! Extras such as jacuzzis and saunas are great for aching limbs but not appropriate for little Things. Really consider what you are going to use and if you’re prepared to pay for it.
14. Lodging location
Do you have visions of a log cabin with a roaring fire in the middle of some trees? Do you want to be able to ski-in and ski-out? Could you be at the bottom of the mountain with the option to get a gondola higher up? Do you need to be close to restaurants? Or a supermarket? Research the resort and think about what you want and need to make the week a success.
15. Kid gear
I’d like to think that most places you stay are going to be reasonably geared up for Things. Still, not all places you stay will be, especially if they are privately rented apartments. Call ahead to make sure anything you need like a baby cot or high chair are available for your stay.
Who to go with
Are you going just as a family? Or with friends or family? I’d never been on a ski holiday without going in a bigger group before so I was interested to see how it would turn out. In the end we had a great balance – it was mostly a family holiday but we had some friends there who we met up with a couple of times and at the airport to come home.
Depending on who you are travelling with and what their requirements are – you may want to modify your decisions.
17. Options for beginners
If you have beginners and Things learning to ski, especially for the first time, it’s important to make sure that you’re going somewhere that caters well for them. The most important things for a first ski holiday is that they enjoy it so they want to come back! Ask friends for recommendations and do your research online to find the most beginner friendly places.
18. Adventurous options
Just as it’s important to make sure the beginners are well catered for, you need to make sure that experienced skiers and snowboarders have options to keep them challenged and entertained for the whole week. Find a resort with challenging pistes, off-piste options and even adventurous activities such as cat or helicopter skiing.
19. Child care
If your Things are too little to ski then you’ll need to arrange some sort of child care for them. On our first trip, Thing 1 was too little for me to be able to think about leaving him so Mr Wanderlust and I took it in turns to hang out with him and Mr Wanderlust’s parents.
If they’re a bit bigger you can leave them in a creche type arrangement which will include activities in the snow such as sledging. Alternatively most resorts will have nannies that you can hire which of course is more expensive but much more personal.
If your Things can do ski school then you can opt to just have them in lessons in the morning or afternoon or you can add a Kids Club / creche to the arrangement whereby they are collected from ski school and taken for lunch and then afternoon activities.
What to take
You need so much gear for skiing! I’m going to write a separate packing list for skiing but as a minimum you’ll need thermals, vests, tops, sweaters, salopettes, a ski jacket, hat, gloves and socks for the mountain. For home it will depend if you are planning to go out in the evening or if you are planning to stay in every night.
Additional equipment for skiing or boarding includes skis or a snowboard, ski or snowboard boots, ski poles, a helmet and goggles. You might also wan to bring a backpack or Camelbak to take lunch and water with you for the day.
22. Weather forecast
Depending on the weather and the time of year that you go you might adjust your packing list. Warmer weather might mean fewer jumpers but more tops. Colder weather will need more thermals and vests.
23. Hire vs buy vs borrow
All resorts have equipment hire shops that will have equipment for a variety of different experience levels. Lots of them will also have the option to hire outer gear like jackets particularly for Things.
Buying your own stuff has the added complication of having to get it there so you’ll need to pay for extra bags on the flight and to have more space in the car.
If it’s your first time you may want to consider hiring or borrowing as much equipment and clothes as you can. Buying all your own stuff only to find you hate skiing would be a big waste of money! If you have friends who can lend you their gear, it can reduce the expense dramatically!
What you need
Not just for beginners, lessons can really change the success of a family ski holiday (or any ski holiday for that matter). Good for people just starting out to learn the basics without holding up the rest of the group, lessons can also help intermediate people to improve to the next level. Ski schools will also offer the option of a guide. Guides will take you all over the mountain and can show you routes that aren’t well known to tourists. They know the good off-piste areas to ski too!
25. Lift passes
All resorts have their own lift pass system. The longer you stay, the cheaper the per day charge is. Some resorts will have agreements with other nearby resorts to allow you to ski in their areas as well. This may be on a restricted basis (e.g. 1 day per 1 week pass) or just an unlimited partnership basis.
Make sure your travel insurance covers winer sports as this is usually only something available on special request.
Make sure you check your policy before you go.
27. Other costs
Costs in the mountains can be high. If you want to eat on the mountain then think about if you want to sit in a restaurant or if you’re happy to grab a sandwich on a chairlift. Carrying your own lunch is much cheaper but more faff and with a high likelihood of you eating squashed sandwiches!
28. History/ ski experience
Who is going and how many times have they been skiing before? I’ve been a few times with friends who were all much better than me so I took the liberty of booking myself in ski school for the morning. This worked out really well for everyone – it allowed them to get some good runs while I was in lessons. When I was finished we would spend the afternoon doing easier runs all together. If there’s a mixed ability group you may find it easier to split into smaller groups so that everyone is happy.
29. Active family / fitness levels
If you’re an active family you’ll find this sort of holiday much easier than if you’re a sedentary family. If you don’t exercise much as a general rule both you and the Things might benefit from only being out in the mornings and doing more relaxing activities in the afternoons. It has to be said I’ve noticed a direct correlation between my fitness levels and how much I enjoy my ski holidays… Preparation is key and if you can get yourself in better shape before you go you’ll probably have a better time.
30. Medical facilities
Speaking of fitness levels, it’s not unknown for certain people (person) to get injured on our trips. Not to mention that now we are talking about family ski trips, the Things are almost inevitably going to get ill. You may be travelling with someone who has a chronic illness. Whatever the situation, on holiday you have to cross everything that you won’t need to see a dr!
Staying in one of the larger resorts has a greater chance of there being a largish clinic nearby. It will probably have a specialism in broken bones and twisted ligaments. Its always good to check before you travel if you have concerns.
31. Prepare to spend time apart
I should have been more prepared for this. I mean, I KNEW we were putting the Things in ski school. I KNEW they were having lunch at Kids Club. And I KNEW we had booked them to stay there for the afternoons so we had the option to ski all day if we wanted to.
What I didn’t know was that I’ve almost forgotten how to have a holiday without the Things. I can remember WHAT it’s like but the how part… I guess after 6 years you just get used to having them around all the time.
Don’t get me wrong, it was really refreshing to spend the days with Mr Wanderlust. And goodness knows when we picked the Things up early they were FERAL and wondered silently why we had bothered. But when they weren’t there I found myself wondering how they were and what they were doing.
32. Specialist tour operator or DIY booking
You can definitely book things all yourself and most years this is the option we have chosen. It gives you total control over what you do, where you go and how much you spend. It’s usually a good option for self-catering bookings but we’ve also booked chalets and hotels this way.
The alternative is that you use a specialist tour operator. This can take a lot more of the analysis paralysis away from the decisions. (For me that’s always a good thing!) It also keeps your whole booking (I’m talking flights, transfers, accommodation, food, equipment hire, lift passes, ski school and kids club) in one place. I’m honestly not sure if you end up paying more or less as it’s hard to do a direct comparison. I’d have to think there’s a cost associated with the service they provide and the fact that it’s just so easy to book everything through them. On the other hand, they probably get better rates on accommodation and can control the charter flight costs directly… so who knows?!
33. When to book
Do you book early? Or do you wait until the last minute? Clearly some of this will depend on you as an individual and your personality! Depending on the season you could get some great last minute deals if the snow has been bad. If they’ve had a good season you might find that everywhere is booked up as people flock to the slopes. My recommendation is to have a general idea how much a holiday for your family should cost and to monitor it over a few weeks or months. That way you will know when a good deal when you see it.
I honestly thought I was challenging myself when I set a target of 25 ways to book the best family ski holiday! Now I find myself at 33 and wondering if I’ve missed anything. What do you think?