We took our first family ski trip this year and what an experience it was! If you’re pondering over the logistics, the cost, the right destination, whether your kids are old enough, then I am hoping that this post might assist you in unravelling all of that and encourage you to give it a go….
Skiing is something that I had never tried until my 40th birthday – I persuaded the OH to whisk me away on a long weekend to a beautiful town called Megeve, in the French Alps. He wasn’t all that keen on the notion of skiing, but agreed to ‘give it a go’ in order to satisfy my (probably mid-life crisis induced) need to try something new before I was too old and decrepit! The kids were a little disappointed that we were going without them but being firm believers in nurturing our marriage by nabbing the odd weekend away alone (the horrendous cost involved obviously didn’t come into it at all!), we vowed to take them all the following year, assuming we enjoyed it. And loved it we did!
As all good parents would, we kept our promise and booked our first family ski trip to Les Arcs, France. The first decision we made was to go with another family. Having 3 children (12, 11 and 8) they are all very different: Tween 1 throws herself into everything with great gusto, Tween 2 is cautious and inclined to display anxiety in new situations and The Boy is pretty laid back most of the time but still needs a little help in getting organised. With this in mind, we decided that going with another family would ease the pressure and the intensity of the situation. It really was the best decision! Said family also have 3 children, all exactly the same age as ours, which helped enormously. We were therefore booking as a party of 10.
When booking your first family ski trip, it really is a minefield of overwhelming choices. There are so many decisions to make but here is my advice:
1. Transfer time. The travel agent said our transfer would be 3 hours. With the snow and traffic, it turned out to be 4 hours +. If you’re going for a week and have children with you, I would suggest looking for somewhere no further than 2 hours from the airport.
2. Age of children. Consider their personalities, your patience level and their level of self-sufficiency. Taking all of this into account, I probably wouldn’t take a child under the age of 6 but that is probably due to a low patience threshold on my part!
3. Altitude and time of year. If you opt to go in December or late in the season (Easter), it is well worth considering a high resort to make sure that there will be snow. Les Arcs is situated at 2000 metres but anywhere around 1600+ metres would probably be safe.
4. Accommodation. The choices are endless – self-catering chalet, hotel, B&B, catered chalet. As this was our first experience of skiing as a family, we decided that making things as simple as possible would be the way to go. We chose a catered chalet which sleeps 10. This is obviously a fairly costly option but when you factor in the time and money spent on buying food then cooking or eating out (ski resorts can be expensive), it was well worth it. Breakfast, high tea and an evening meal is provided every day so all you’ve got to worry about is getting out for ski school by 9am!
5. Ski school. If you can, book your kids in to ski school every morning (I think the youngest age they cater for is 3 years old). It’s best to start the day with a routine and it frees you up to have a couple of hours of free skiing. Taking 6 children (all at different levels) skiing in the afternoon, was stressful at times!
6. Location. Do your research and find a resort which has some activities other than skiing. Skiing is exhausting so doing something different every now and again is a good idea. Many places offer ice skating rinks, sledging runs, bowling, cinema and swimming. Choosing a chalet or hotel which is near amenities is also a good idea and if you can – ski in and ski out properties make for a hassle-free morning and less moaning about carrying skis and walking in those awful boots!
7. Hiring equipment. The first mistake we made was to not research the location of the rental shop. If you book in advance, you will get a significant discount on the cost of hiring equipment and any way of saving money is a definite plus! Make sure that the shop is near to the place where you are staying (this makes it so much easier when collecting and returning equipment at the end of your holiday). Please also rent helmets, it is not compulsory (yet) but sensible.
8. Footwear. My advice here is to not bother with any footwear other than snow boots – everyone wears these, all day long (when not skiing obviously!). Definitely don’t take any alternative footwear for kids and in my experience, apres-ski is enjoyed in the warmth of the chalet, supping a class of mulled wine before the evening meal – no footwear required!
9. Clothing. I had numerous meltdowns over this. How many layers are needed? Certainly not as many as we took! You can get away with 2 sets of thermals, a couple of long-sleeved base layers and 2 fleeces. Take 4/5 pairs of thick ski socks and for skiing that is all you will need. Obviously a ski jacket, salopettes, goggles (would always opt for these rather than glasses when actually skiing), hat and a neck warmer will also come in handy!
And one more tip: buy some chocolate bars and pack them in your case before leaving England. These will be invaluable when you’re up a moutain somewhere, exhausted and in need of a little boost!