Skiing can be one of the most rewarding holidays to take as a family — and although recent tightening of school holiday restrictions have put some people off, others are more determined than ever to enjoy the mountains with their kids.
Family skiing takes quite a lot of planning, particularly if you have several different generations and ability levels, but we spoke to a few experts for some top tips.
Where to stay and how to get there
French Alps specialists Peak Retreats was recently named Best Family Ski Tour Operator at the Family Traveller Awards.
Company spokesperson Amelia Warner has these words of advice for parents: “Choose self-catering apartments. They are better value for money, but you can still be in high-standard, well-equipped, superior apartments that can offer convenient services such as beds made upon arrival, extended reception opening hours, WiFi and superior leisure facilities such as indoor pools and spas. Some residences even have a main pool as well as a kid’s pool area with a slide and floats.”
Doorstep skiing, where you can ski right back to the front door, with well-linked ski areas are best to save the hassle of walking with your skis — especially when you have young children.
Finally, Amelia suggests a self-drive holiday. “If you drive, you are in control of the itinerary, no airport queues, no luggage limits or hidden airline costs and you can even take those tins of beans if that’s what keeps the kids happy!”
Skiing with young children
Wimbledon Clinic’s own consultant orthopaedic surgeon Jonathan Bell takes his children away skiing each year and says taking children under five requires “a great deal of planning”.
Before your holiday, buy and name helmets (these are compulsory in many countries for children under 12), back protectors, goggles, socks and gloves (on elastic is best), plenty of SPF50 sun cream and lip salves (whether or not it is sunny, protection is essential at high altitudes), snacks to put in their pockets and measure your children’s height so you can order boots and skis online to save time and money, and pick up when you get to the resort. Facemasks are a good option when it’s cold and windy, and snoods are very useful for keeping necks warm.
“Children under five need a caring ski school – you must accept they may spend quite a lot of the day drinking hot chocolate and watching DVDs, the main goal is to avoid putting them off for future years,” says Mr Bell. “Expect a few tears, and think very carefully about putting timid children in ski school – it is not a substitute for child care.”
Until they are around seven or eight, children tend to lean back in a snowplough because they’re not strong enough to get forward in their boots and start to carve turns. Once they reach six and seven, you might find they can ski quite well and can be quite a liability on the piste.
“They do not appreciate extreme hazards just yards from where they’re skiing, so you need to keep a really tight rein on even six and seven-year-olds who can ski quite fast,” advises Mr Bell. “The biggest hazard beyond that is other skiers crashing into your children.”
Don’t forget they fatigue very quickly at altitude and you are all on holiday to have fun!
Older children and teenagers
Richard Mansfield is founder and director of Chamonix-based Mountain Adventure Guides and has years of experience guiding teenagers and families around the mountains — and answering questions from worried parents.
“It’s really important that parents understand skiing is a dangerous sport and accidents can happen,” he says. “The first thing to ensure is that you have the correct insurance cover — are you covered on and off-piste? On a glacier? Using a rope with a guide? Policies can have exclusions so read the small print.”
If your kids are becoming faster, better skiers than you, it can be frustrating and worrying. If this is happening in your family, Richard suggests hiring a ski instructor or guide to ski with teenagers — preferably a private lesson rather than kids joining a mixed ability group with an instructor who speaks sketchy English and asks them to “bend ze knees” one after the other.
“A good guide will coach your kids to bring their skiing on really quickly and make it fun. A half day in the morning can be a good option – tire them out so you can ski together as a family in the afternoon.”
If your children / teenagers want to ski alone, this requires a great deal of thought, says Richard. Look at what the weather is forecast to do, whether they can become lost or stranded by taking the wrong lift. Make sure they know the skiing code, such as always looking over their shoulder before skiing off, never stopping in the middle of the piste, on a bend or under the brow of a hill.
“I would suggest beginning with one or two runs and meet again at a particular spot.”
If they want to progress to the fun park, check your insurance and take it slowly. Many resorts offer instruction on parks now, too.
If skiing off-piste, everyone in the party MUST have an avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe and know how to use them says Richard — and this applies to skiing beside the piste.
“The majority of avalanche accidents and fatalities occur within a ski area and close to pistes. If you are skiing off-piste I strongly advise hiring a guide or instructor.”
AUTHOR: Abigail Butcher is a freelance journalist and editor with 18 years of national media experience, specialising in health and fitness, skiing, travel and lifestyle. Website: www.abibutcher.com Twitter: @abi_butcher Instagram: abijbutcher