Are you thinking of taking the plunge this winter and taking the whole family on a ski holiday? Family ski holidays are a fantastic experience for all - but the planning and execution can be fraught with stress and anxiety.
Whether you're all absolute beginners, or an experienced parent wanting to introduce your children to wintersports, we hope the following tips will come in useful.
1. Choose a resort with off-snow activities too:
Whilst the prime object of the holiday is to ski, any experienced ski holidaymaker will tell you that by day three you will be a little less keen to get the first lift and ski until close of play. Adrenaline and excitement will carry you so far, but altitude and exercise will catch up in the end.
So it's important to make sure that neither you nor the kids overdo it, and that there's plenty of things to occupy the family if you decide to knock off a bit earlier once or twice during your stay.
Make sure your resort offers other activities - luckily most of them do. Swimming, ice-skating, bowling, sleigh rides and walking trails can be enjoyed by all the family.
Quite often tourist offices will put on special events, especially during school holiday weeks. Santa, for example, will be a guest in most ski resorts at Xmas, and will often make a personal appearance handing out small gifts or sweets. During special weeks there could be firework displays, free concerts, free shows put on by the ski school, and torchlight descents to either watch or participate in.
So when you're doing your research it's a good idea to check the tourist office websites to see what's on and what else is available.
Of course you might all be too shattered from the day's activities to think about doing anything else - but it's good to have a back up plan, just in case.
If the whole family are beginners then ski school is essential for all of you. If you're all going to be in ski school make sure you choose one where the timetables for adult and children's classes are in sync. Sounds obvious - but make sure before you book. Imagine having to leave your class half an hour earlier everyday because the children finish earlier.
Often ski schools provide excellent children's classes, with pick up and drop off services, specific courses aimed at teenagers, and ski kindergartens for pre-schoolers. You'll probably have an idea of how well your children will adapt to different circumstances, different languages etc, so keep this in mind.
For younger children, 5 and under, an extensive 2 or 3 hour period on snow each day might be too much - particularly early on in the season, when it's usually colder and less sunny on the nursery slopes. A good ski school will advise you on the right kind of tuition for youngsters, usually where snow time is diluted with both outdoor and indoor games and activities.
Another thing to check is the cut-off age for children and adult lessons. In many ski schools a 13 year old beginner will be classified as an adult - and so will be in an adult group. Make sure your 13 year old will be ok with this - preparing them for this in advance will help. Obviously if it's a school holiday week, it's likely that there will be a few more 13 year olds around for them to get friendly with.
As far as they can, ski schools will group beginners by ability - there will be stronger beginners and not so strong ones - but this difference in levels may not be evident immediately, and there may be shuffling around going on during the first day or two. It doesn't mean that your 6 year old is a lot worse than your 8 year old, or vice versa, just that one is learning at a different pace.
3. My boots hurt Mummy:
One of the best things to do to prepare your children for a ski holiday, and to give them a better chance of enjoying it when they're there, is to take them for preliminary lessons at your nearest ski centre at home.
Then they'll know how ski boots and skis feel before they get to a foreign ski hire shop after travelling for several hours, tired, fed up and perhaps a little less than co-operative.
It may seem expensive, but it's a real investment. It's quite possibly a long time since you put on ski boots for the first time - so you may have forgotten how unfamiliar and strange they can feel. If you're a beginner yourself then you will also benefit from having a go at home before taking the plunge abroad.
Let them have some lessons - you'll be able to gauge their enthusiasm. If they like it then you know that a family ski holiday will most likely be a success! And they'll progress faster when they get to resort.
4. When to go:
There isn't always much choice when you can take your family ski holiday if you have school age children.
Obviously during the ski season, if it's impossible or impractical to take them out of school, you're limited to Xmas holidays, February half term or Easter.
Easter may fall late, so you may not want to risk a mid to late April break - at least if it does fall late you'll have more time to watch snow conditions before you book.
February half term weeks are the busiest weeks of the season pretty much across the board. Not only do UK schools break up for a week, but of course the French, Swiss, Austrians, Italians, Dutch, Belgians all enjoy a week off during February. And of course all these nations have keen skiers. As you might expect half term prices double, along with the length of the lift queues.
Fortunately the Europeans tend to stagger their half term weeks - so not all areas will be off at the same time. This softens the blow - but resorts will still be busy for most of February.
There are however some advantages for going in February. Snow conditions are often as good as they'll ever be. The days are longer, the sun is higher, so it can be warmer and more pleasant for your little ones in ski school. And again, knowing that February is prime time, many resorts will organise special events to entertain you.
If you're looking for a Xmas holiday then you could find some bargains. Generally Xmas week in ski resorts is less busy and accommodation a bit cheaper than for the following New year week. Whilst there is still a Christmas atmosphere in ski resorts, Christmas Day and Boxing Day are normal working days for everyone - so ski school will go on as normal.
Christmas is of course quite early in the season - so snow may not be at it's best. But nonetheless you'll find plenty of Xmas cheer, lots of fun things being organised and you'll miss the normal post-Chrimmie dinner nap in front of the TV, and the rush to the sales on Boxing Day - so that can't be a bad thing!
5. Childcare - book in advance:
If you're going to need childcare on a ski holiday make sure you do as much research as possible in advance. Obviously there will be a limited number of places so it's best to always book in advance, especially if you are travelling during school holidays.
Most tourist office websites will be able to put you in touch with creches and kidergartens, and ask your holiday company too.
A family ski holiday can be one of the best things you all do together - and it's a great way for children to gain new experiences. Making snowmen, sledging, throwing snowballs - let's face it we all like to do that at any age!
Hopefully your first family ski holiday will be the first of many.
What do you think? Have you got any tips or advice for family skiing? We would especially love to hear from ski schools - if you've got any new, kid-specific ideas or courses let us know so that we can tell everyone else!