Skiing was something my husband grew up doing (he has been skiing since age 4) but I never had. Eventually, as a young, childless couple, he convinced me to go along and try my first ski holiday. We traveled to Soldeu in Andorra. We went on to have many more great holidays before the baby making days kicked in. Eventually, when our youngest was aged 4 we reckoned it was time to try a family ski holiday and bring the kids along. Even though I hadn’t skied in a decade and it was the kids’ first time, it was a great success and we went on to have another holiday less than a year later.
Late summer / early Autumn is a good time of year for thinking about booking a ski holiday if you intend to go. One of the biggest considerations when booking a ski holiday is which resort to choose. Picking a resort can make the difference between a good and an amazing experience. Here are some of our key factors for picking a ski resort.
Short transfer time from airport
A short transfer time from the nearest airport is very handy when you have just endured a flight with kids. The last thing you want is to face a 2-3 hour bus journey up the mountains. Many ski resorts are 2.5-3 hour transfers but there are some that are only 1-1.5 hours. These are the ones to watch out for. Our two holidays to date were to La Clusaz in France which is only one hour from Geneva airport and our second was to Isola 2000 only an hour and a half from Nice airport.
Level of skiers
Ski resorts will offer different types of slopes for varying ski ability. Going to a resort with lots of easy slopes will not suit or challenge a good skier and equally going to a large resort with difficult slopes will terrify beginners. When you go in a mixed level group you need to consider multiple levels. Given it was our kids’ first ski holiday we had to consider a resort with lots of easier runs. In Europe the ski runs are divided into four categories; green (very easy), blue (easy), red (difficult) and black (very difficult). Both resorts we have visited with the kids so far were more geared towards the easier end of things with only a handful of black runs which means that the kids can go on nearly all of the runs. That said at the pace of their development they will very soon be tackling the black runs!
Ski pass price
Smaller, more intimate resorts are great for beginners. For our kids’ first ski holiday we reckoned they would not exactly be using dozens of lifts so a smaller resort would work. To use the lifts in a ski resort, and therefore do any skiing, you need a lift pass. Smaller resorts with less lifts means a cheaper ski pass. Definitely no point paying extra money for a pass that won’t be well used. La Clusaz has 49 lifts which was plenty for our first experience as a family. Our second holiday in Isola 2000 had even fewer lifts but again worked fine for our requirements. The total bill for ski passes was much smaller than what you would pay in one of the bigger, linked resorts. If we go on further ski holidays we can gradually go to larger resorts where we can avail of a much bigger ski area and many more lifts but for the time being the smaller resorts with cheaper ski passes fit the bill perfectly.
A massive consideration for skiing is resort height. Resort height is particularly important if you intend to travel early or slightly later in the ski season. The higher the resort the better the chance of having good snow conditions. Our first holiday we probably didn’t give enough consideration to resort height. La Clusaz village is at 1000m above sea level and there was little snow in the village. Of course to ski you have to go up in the lifts and they will bring you higher so thankfully there was snow on higher ground but we could definitely feel the conditions worsen as you skied back down to the village. Nothing worse than trying to ski through slushy snow. Having learnt our lesson our second holiday was booked to Isola 2000 which, as the name suggests is at 2000m above sea level. Snow conditions were excellent and skiing right back down into the village really pleasant. Of course any resort at any height can have years of good or bad conditions, it’s one of the risks of booking a ski holiday but your risk of bad conditions is definitely lower the higher you go.
You will want to find a resort which ideally has plenty of accommodation around the centre of the resort; so near the lifts, as well as the shops, bars and restaurants. Very often resorts have accommodation a little far out that may require a shuttle bus. Not fun with kids. The ultimate is of course to be able to ski in and ski out of your accommodation while being in easy walking distance of all the other amenities. Location, location, location when it comes to ski holidays.
Time of year
Skiing is a winter pursuit and if you intend to ski in the Northern hemisphere you are mostly looking at the Winter months for possible ski holidays. For us, with three school kids the school holidays play a massive part in determining when to go. If you are not tied to school holidays avoid them like the plague. Ski resorts are at their busiest in particular at mid-term break, usually around mid February. Christmas and New Year and during the Christmas school holidays are also busy. For our first ski holiday, Easter was early and so we booked to go on 21st March which is pretty late in the season, especially as we booked a slightly lower resort.
Our second ski holiday we bit the bullet and went during February mid-term as they had a full week off school. The conditions were definitely better but there are many years our schools only give two days and so it is not possible to go then. If you get the resort right in terms of height and there is a good snow season the Easter holidays, if early, are a good bet.
It’s all very well having great slopes but sometimes you might want to take some time off and do something different. Some resorts have great non ski and apres ski activities. The availability of activities such as sledging, tobogganing, ice-skating, bowling, shopping, swimming, spa treatments and a great range of bars and restaurants should be considered when looking at a resort. Our first holiday in La Clusaz we enjoyed an afternoon of ice-skating and while we didn’t go (despite my desire to) there was a public swimming pool which had an outdoor element. Swimming outdoors in the mountains surrounded by snow grabbed me but my ski crazy family didn’t want to leave the slopes. Isola 2000 was a little lacking in other non ski activities though there was a tobogganing zone.
As with any holiday reading up on reviews of resorts can give an great insight into what to expect provided you take them with a pinch of salt. It is my usual strategy to eliminate the very best and the very worst. We had read great reviews of both resorts we visited so we headed off with quiet confidence on both occasions.