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Family Skiing Holidays – My Top Tips

I’ve been fortunate enough to have experienced family skiing holidays since I was just 7 years old. With an annual trip to the Austrian Alps as a child, I soon caught the bug for all that skiing brings. Fresh air, snow, speed and later on the apres ski! With holidays from all across the European resorts and as far as Whistler in Canada, I’ve stayed in budget chalets, travelled on coaches for 24 hours and stayed in 5 star hotels. Holidaying with friends and family I’ve notched up quite a lot of experiences, good and bad,  along the way.

Black and white skiing Belinda Grant Photography

Now with 2 young children of my own, who I hope will also catch the skiing bug, I feel I’m well prepared each year for what a family skiing holiday brings. Here, I share my top 10 tips for making sure you  and your family enjoy plenty of hassle free family skiing holidays.

1. Do your prep work: Money, insurance and passports.

So you’ve booked your holiday…..yippee! But this isn’t like a summer holiday when you can just fling some sun cream and a bikini into a case and off you go. No. To get the most out of your holiday, there is plenty you can do before you go. Firstly, this is not a cheap holiday. Be prepared for lots of expenses whilst you’re out there and the prices are usually much higher than you’d expect. You might expect that you can get a caesar salad up the mountain at 2,500m at lunchtime and yes you can, but you’ll pay significantly more than you would in your local gastropub at home.

Everything is expensive so start creating that skiing fund as soon as possible. Ensure your bank cards will all work abroad. For this you may need to contact your bank and take your money with you. You may be charged a hefty fee for accessing funds whilst you’re out there.  Make sure all your passports are in date and that you have insurance which covers you all for winter sports. Please do check your passports are valid for the duration of your holiday. You don’t want to be ready to check-in and be left behind!

Essentials for your holiday

 

The insurance is particularly important as I discovered when my niece broke her leg on the mountain on the last ski run of the day and the blood wagon was called. Once she was whisked down the mountain, the ambulance that was waiting to take her to the Austrian krankenhaus (hospital!) insisted on seeing her insurance before they would put her in the ambulance. Since then, I always photocopy a copy of the insurance documents for everyone in the family so that a folded copy can be put in each family members ski jacket pocket.

2. Take a dictionary……you’ll thank me!

A really useful item to pop in your suitcase is a dictionary for the country you’re going to. Not only can you give your children a little bit of a French lesson whilst you’re away, as well as brush up on your own French, but it can be a life saver.

The first skiing holiday I took my children on, nearly put me off ever doing it again. We were all sharing a family room in a hotel in the beautiful Austrian Alps and both children had diarrohoea and vomiting for 5 days. Not only did I miss all but one afternoon of skiing, but the children were so unwell we had to take them to the nearest doctor. Well, thankfully, I was on holiday with my mother who ALWAYS takes a dictionary with her. So when I was in the waiting room at the GPs I had to brush up on what the German was for diarrhoea and vomiting! You should never assume that the universal language of English goes beyond anything other than discussing the weather and asking where the nearest loo is.

This wasn’t the only time I’ve needed medical help whilst on a family skiing holiday, the previous time was when my now husband had a chest infection and with no dictionary in my pocket, I ended up having to mime very badly (acting was never my strongest talent) in a French chemist in front of a very bemused group of elderly French!

3. Getting There.

There are plenty of ways to get your resort. I’ve gone by train, plane, and car and I can honestly say that there is no one way of getting there that is better or worse. You really have to consider what works best for your family and this may vary depending on the ages of your children. This is a time when you may indulge your children in using their screens. I’m not suggesting that they have their heads down and headphones on for the entire journey. I think you should show them where you’re going and give them a sense of the journey. But I’ve found that you can use the screen time to your advantage at various points of the journey. No one likes waiting 2 hours to take off or queuing for check-in, so just use the screens wisely and you’ll arrive at your destination less frazzled.

Screen time

Flying: Flying is probably the most obvious and is often included in the holiday you’ve booked. I’ve found the best time to fly is to get the first flight out of the UK and also on the return. Why? Children never mind being woken up to go on an exciting journey. However, if your children are anything like mine, they crash out and get grumpy as the afternoon progresses and the last place you want to be is in an airport abroad at 5pm with a toddler having a tantrum. No amount of breadsticks or Haribos will help you as you’re struggling to find your taxi to transfer you to the resort. I find it hugely benefits the whole family if we get to the resort by lunch time. Everyone has a chance to settle in, even have a snooze and get ski equipment all picked up ready for next day.

Flying early will also help you avoid the crowds and delays that occur at airports during the busy season. There will be plenty of other people off on their family skiing holiday and I’ve experienced small airports, such as Geneva, which are rammed during the skiing season. It’s not a place you want to be with your family.

Us at Stansted waiting for the first flight to Geneva.

Airport. Belinda Grant Photography

Your other consideration with flying is how much ‘stuff’ you can take. If you’re brilliant at packing this won’t be a problem, but family skiing holidays bring added extras which can seriously increase your baggage. Read on to see my tips on what to pack!

Driving: For my most recent couple of skiing holidays, my husband and I decided to drive with our 2 young children to France. What I loved about this was that we could pack whatever would fit in the car and had no deadlines except for our tunnel time through the channel tunnel. Yes, it took 24 hours with an overnight stay, but we all arrived in the resort feeling relaxed and the European motorways you cannot even compare with those in the UK. They never seem to be congested. If you drive you can buy yourself a tag for the car that you register before you go (a bit like having an account for the Dartford tunnel) and as you reach the barrier at the tolls for the motorways, it register that you’re there and just bills your account. No rummaging between the crisp packets for your euros!

What you must remember if you drive is that you’ll need several things in your car including high viz jackets, breathalisers and snow chains. You can buy a Euro travel kit from Amazon:

AA Euro Travel Kit

For a full list of what you need for each country, as it can vary, go to the AA for a list.: https://www.theaa.com/european-breakdown-cover/driving-in-europe/driving-in-france

As for snow chains, if you think you’re going to drive for your family skiing holidays, it may be worth investing in some snow chains. You’ll need to check which ones will fit your car. Popping into your nearest Halfords is a good place to start: https://www.halfords.com/motoring/travel-accessories/snow-chains-socks or I found a really helpful website where you can hire snow chains and they can give great advice: https://www.snowchains.com/hire-snow-chains.

Train: My favourite! I remember my mother had a fear of flying when I was growing up. So getting to the Austrian Alps was a bit of an adventure. This was the eighties, and back then you could travel by train all the way from Paris to various ski resorts across Europe. I used to love this. I have amazing memories of these family trips when as a family of 5 we’d board the train, and with our toothbrushes and a picnic, find our compartment and get settled in for the journey. As each compartment slept 6 people we always wondered who would be joining us and when. I’d feel slightly sorry for them as I knew that joining a family would possible not be their preferred option.

Once aboard, my parents would relax and open a bottle of wine and get the holiday started! There’s was nothing for them to worry about so they could let their hair down safe in the knowledge that when they woke up we’d be seeing snow outside the train window. Having done this journey for several years with my family, I’ve plenty of stories to tell…..but that’s for another blog!

4. Medical Kit

medical kit for holidays

Yes, you are going to need to take some. Don’t get stuck in a foreign country without your own medicines that you’re family may need. Not least of all because medicines in Europe will have different names, dosages and instructions. Along with the usual thermometer and Nurofen, I always take antiseptic spray and a small bottle of Dettol. Useful in plenty of ways particularly if you find someone has a dodgy stomach whilst you’re on holiday. so what’s in my kit? Here’s my list:

Thermometer, plasters, antiseptic spray, antiseptic cream, Dettol, blister plasters, micropore tape, menolin patches, cold pack, hot pack, deep heat,  nail scissors, tweezers, Sudacrem, arnicer cream, Nurofen, paracetamol, Piriton, Calpol, Dioralyte, Strepsils, laxatives and Imodium.

Also remember that you’ll need sun screen and lip balm. I usually take a very high factor cream that will last the whole day with just a top up at lunch time. So we take a large family bottle to keep in the chalet and then we each have a small tube and a lib balm for the mountain. The sun is super strong on family skiing holidays and its all too easy to burn. There’s plenty of really good sun screens on the market so there’s no excuse.

I remember in the eighties when we weren’t quite as educated about the dangers of the sun and to have a tan was glamorous (hooray for the spray tan!) and we met a lady skiing who had beautiful brown skin. At lunch time on the slopes, she’d bring out this small bottle  of orange carrot oil and massage it into her face. No sun protection at all. The following year, someone very close to me who I won’t mention (not me!) decided to do the same. To say that she burnt is an understatement. She was in severe pain and was unable to ski or be out in the sun for several days.  Sunburn is dangerous, looks shocking in photos and clashes with your ski wear! WEAR SUN SCREEN.

This may seem a lot and I hope that most of it doesn’t see the light of day, but I know that I’ve got what I need just in case.

5. Ski School

Please, please, please, get this booked well in advance of your arrival in the resort. During peak season, ski schools become really busy and may not have availability when you get there. I’ve made this mistake and my children, who were aged just 5 and 6, could only go in the afternoons last year. This meant that we were slow in the mornings to get going and they were skiing from 2-5pm every day. By 5pm they were exhausted and it was getting dark and cold. I’d pick up 2 very tired children that had no energy for enjoying any downtime in the chalet and only just managed to get some supper before nodding off.

Boy in red jacket skiing Belinda Grant Photography

Most ski schools now have an online booking system, so as soon as you’ve booked your holiday you, or your holiday operator, can make the booking. Check out the prices with the company you booked with as they may get a discount that you can take advantage of.  Also check where and when the ski school starts. Different ski schools start on different days and the meet up points can vary across the resort so make sure you don’t miss your class.

Toby excited about ski school and carrying his own kit!

ski school Belinda Grant Photography

Yes, adults do need to go to ski school too! Now I admit, I stopped ski school in my teens but that wasn’t until I had ticked off attending all the class levels and now it’s paid off. You may hate the idea of going ‘back to school’ as a grown up, but you’ll be very grateful that you did, particularly when you’re children start to literally overtake you on the slopes! You’ll find your family skiing holidays very limited if you’ve not put the ground work in. If we’re not prepared to go to ski school to learn properly, I don’t think we should be expecting our children to go. I spent many a miserable week in a class of German children who didn’t understand me but I knew that the rest of my family, including my parents, were also putting themselves through this. Or so they told me!

ski school

ski school

ski school

Over the years, I also noticed that when you’re socialising at home and the question ‘Can you Ski?’ comes up, this can be interpreted in so many ways and people will NEVER hold back on letting you know how great they are on the slopes! Despite this, sometimes when I actually get to see them click into their skis and watch them as they make their way down the first red run of the holiday, my expectations are not met and my heart sinks as I watch them just about get down the mountain with speed and no grace and narrowly missing several children’s ski classes snaking down the mountain. All the gear (and chat) no idea springs to mind!

And for those of you who don’t need to go to ski school, if you’re going to a new resort, it’s a great idea to get a ski guide for a day. They’ll help you find your way safely around the mountain so you can make the most of the resort and keep safe. They may even show you some off piste trails with staggering views that make it worth that extra expense.

6. What to pack.

Don’t forget your sunnies!

sunglasses Belinda Grant Photography

If you’re like me, I used to find it a nightmare packing for family skiing holidays. Aside from obviously needing ski clothes which I’ll list later, I used to worry about the ‘home clothes’. What I’ve taken with me has varied over the years, dependent on time of year and what type of accommodation I’ve been staying in. So when I’ve stayed in a  5 star hotel with my parents where there is a sit down dinner every evening, I’ve needed to take smarter clothes but when we’ve done self-catering with the children, I’ve managed to get away with my most comfy hoody and joggers.

What I do recommend though is that you take clothes that you’re comfortable in. Despite this being a skiing holiday, when you hope to spend most of your day in your ski clothes, you’ll still need a comfy pair of jeans (not just the pair you travelled in)  and your favourite jumper to go out for meals and for when you go into the town or just have  a day off the slopes. Forget your big chunky knits. They take up far too much space in your suitcase and in most resorts, they keep accommodation and restaurants toasty warm.

When I’m packing, I usually double things up. So I take 2 of most things with a few exceptions. I’ve found this is a good start to seeing how much you’ll need. My children usually spend the whole week in their ski clothes either on the slopes and then when they get back to the chalet, running around in their thermals. So here’s what’s in my family case:

Each person:

  • Ski clothes – Ski jacket, ski trousers, hat, goggles, sunglasses, snood and 2 of the following:  ski socks, underlayers, middle layers,  gloves, balaclava.
  • Home clothes: – pair of jeans, 2 tops, 2 jumpers, 3 pairs of socks, 10 pairs of pants. Yes 10…if your’re children has an accident.
  • Shoes – Apres ski boots, Crocs and the shoes/boots you normally wear with your jeans at the weekend.

Here’s Hannah aged just 2 fully kitted out for the slopes – such attitude!

 

Extras for all the family you may not have thought of:

  • Small back pack which I use as my hand luggage and then I wear whilst I’m skiing. I find this much better than stuffing my jacket pockets with all that the family may need up the mountain. My children also each have a small back pack that they use as hand luggage. I tell them that they can put any toys in it they’d like to take and they have to carry them on the journey.

family skiing holidays belinda Grant photography

  • Multipack of pocket tissues. Everyone gets a runny nose up the mountain.
  • Haribos – just buy one of the party bags which has lots of smaller packets. The children will need these for their snack up the mountain when they’re in ski school.
  • Pack of playing cards and a couple of your favourite DVDs. It’s a great time to watch that box set you’ve been meaning to!
  • Chargers and European adaptors. Make sure you’ve got them for your phones and tablets etc
  • Take your passwords!! On occasion I’ve had to re-sign into a web page or e-mail account (although I’m not meant to be working on holiday) so make sure you’ve packed them so you don’t get caught out.
  • For young children, paper, pens and their favourite book is really helpful when they need occupying without a screen.
  • Camera…..of course! I take my Sony Alpha 6300 with 30mm 1.4 Sigma lens and ND filter for photography and filming. We also take our Apeman (like a GoPro) to get footage on the slopes.
  • Swimming clothes and towels if you’re lucky enough to get to a pool.
  • Stickers. These are to stick onto hired ski equipment so you can identify your own kit.
  • Salt and pepper if you’re self catering.
  • Washing powder
  • several bars of your favourite chocolate for up the mountain.
  • Make sure you make a note of all your individual weights. You’ll need this info when you’re hiring your skis.

 

If you’re on your first family skiing holiday, you may want to borrow your ski clothes from a friend. Ski clothes can be very expensive. If you think that you only wear them for 1 or 2 weeks in the year and your children will grow each year, the cost can really mount up. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll have a friend who has children of ages near to yours and you can either swap the clothes or take them off their hands each year. That way, they get something back for them and you get nearly new ski wear at a fraction of the price. If you are considering buying new ski clothes for your family and you have both boys and girls, try to find colours that will suit them all so they can be handed down.

Family skiing

7. Meals

The food available is usually pretty good if somewhat expensive. Expect prices to be similar to eating out in the UK so you can end up spending a lot more than your normal weekly shopping budget.

If you’re self catering, you’ll need to find a supermarket. Most resorts will have a Spar or similar, which will have what you need but it will be pricey. When you’re nearing your arrival to your resort, it’s a good idea to look out for the nearest hypermarket. They are much cheaper than the supermarkets in the ski resorts and have a better selection so if you’re driving, it’s worth stopping off to get a few essentials before you get to your accommodation. During the day you’ll be needing lunch and snack stops. Again, this can be expensive. If you’ve had a good breakfast, you can get away with just a sandwich for lunch which not all mountain restaurants will have. What we’ve done is either make sandwiches in the chalet and pop them in the back pack, or just had a big bowl of chips for lunch. After a couple of days around the mountain, you’ll get to know where the more affordable places are to eat.

Hannah aged 2 tucking into spaghetti!

spaghetti face Belinda Grant Photography

You’ll use a lot of energy skiing so not only will you be tired at the end of the day but the whole family will be hungry. For ease, we’ve tended to eat pasta or just something easy. I know one mum who chooses to drive for her family skiing holidays, always packs a slow cooker in the car so before the family all whizz up the mountain, she puts everything in the slow cooker and its ready when they get back…genius!! The benefits of self-catering are that you can eat when you want and what you want which is great with a family. I know it means I have to cook, but I’d rather cook than have a scratchy 5 year old asking me when the next meal is in a hotel.

If you’ve chosen to stay in a hotel then you can relax a little more about food. The down side though is that food and drinks are not always available when you want them. What is really nice though is if you can a few supplies in your room. My parents used to always have a bottle of Cinzano keeping cool on their balcony and a bag of pretzels in their room. As a family we’d sit in their room for a family drink and some nibbles before going to the hotel dining room. It was a lovely time of day when we could relax and just be a family.

Also, to go back to when my children were ill, when they needed just some plain food it was really difficult to get this in a hotel. I found my best option was to visit the supermarket for what I needed. If I was to ask for some plain boiled potatoes (in my best German!) the hotel would happily provide it but it would come with melted butter and parsley all over it. Not what I wanted to give to a toddler getting over a bad stomach.

As I’ve said, eating out is expensive. But you are on holiday so you should have a break from the cooking! Even if it’s just a pizza and a glass of wine, if someone else has got it ready, I’m happy. Check the opening times of the restaurants. Don’t assume that they’ll all be serving food from 6pm. We’ve been caught out when we’ve taken our young children out for a meal only to discover that the restaurants didn’t open til 7pm by which time my children would be needing bed. Also, if you’re going to a resort in peak season, the restaurants will be busy. So make sure you book so you’re not disappointed when you get there.

It can be difficult on a family ski holiday to make everyone happy at 6pm. Particularly when you’ve got children of various ages. Youngsters just want to eat and get to bed, the adults want a pre-dinner drink and the teenagers just want to eat and run to the nearest drinking hole! It can be hard to find one place that suits all. But don’t sweat about it. My advice is to make sure the youngest are happy and then the others will fall in place. In a resort we visit in France, we’ve found a restaurant called ‘Le Pub’! which was brilliant. Despite its naff name, we loved what they had to offer. The children could all get their pizza and the adults got their cocktails and prosecco. So by the time the children were fed and ready for bed, we would make our way back to the chalet to put the children to bed and have a grown up supper. Perfect.

8. Ski Equipment and Ski Pass

 

children with ski pole Belinda Grant Photography

Usually your tour operator can help you with this. Giving you advice and slight discounts from the prices in the resort. If not, again like the ski school, you can usually book this on-line making it much easier when you arrive in the resort.

Ski boots. Belinda Grant Photography

However, you must try your ski boots on when you collect them. They all fit really differently a bit like trying on a pair of shoes in a shoe shop. Remember you’ll need to give the staff in the ski hire shop your weight.  Yes, I know its not nice but you can whisper it to them! Seriously, this is important. The fitters will alter your the bindings on your skis according to your weight to make sure that if you fall, and you will, that your boot is released from the ski to avoid injury including a broken leg.

On a happier note, if your children are old enough, teach them, or get the ski hire shop how to carry their own skis. Otherwise you end up like a mule carrying their kit around and they get used to it very quickly. Part of family skiing holidays is learning to carry your own equipment.

ski hire. Belinda Grant Photography

When you’ve got your equipment, make sure you make a note of the number to identify them. Just take a picture with your phone. What we also do, is put bright stickers on the kit, a different one for each member of the family so it’s obvious who the kit belongs to. I’ve had several incidents of returning to my skis after lunch at a mountain restaurant only to find that my skis have been taken because someone has mistaken them for their own. Apart from this being a pain, its also dangerous as the bindings are set just right for you and your ski boots. Also, unless you have adequate insurance, you’ll be buying the ski hire shop a new pair. In my experience, they’re not very understanding when this happens and are quick to get you to pay.

Helmets. The most important piece of kit. These have now become compulsory in some resorts and certainly advisable every where. It’s almost unthinkable that we never wore them whilst I was growing up. They were only for the professionals. Like not wearing any sun screen, it’s really only vanity that stops anyone being sensible enough to wear a helmet. The ski hire shop will have plenty but if you know that you’re going to have further family skiing holidays in the future, then its a great thing to invest in. Not only are they much more comfortable, but there are some pretty slick looking ones out there. I’d rather look slick in my helmet than have a head injury.

ski helmet belinda grant photography

Ski passes. This is fairly straight forward. Although you might want to take a few minutes with a ski map just to check the area of the resort that you plan to ski. Some resorts, such as Flaine, are part of a larger skiing area. You can choose which area you have a pass for. So if you know that you’re only going to ski in a smaller area, then just buy this one for the week. Just remember that buying individual days ski passes and increasing your options can cost you more. Your ski operator can also help you out with these along with your ski school and equipment so that when you arrive in your resort they are ready for you to collect.

The weather

Of course you’re hoping for the perfect conditions for all of your family skiing holidays. You expect colder weather in the January and February and then it becomes warmer towards the end of March and April when spring is more than on its way.

Gargellen Austria Belinda Grant Photography

However, be warned and be prepared. The skiing conditions can be just as variable as a British summer. I’ve being skiing in February in glorious sunshine and perfect powder snow and then 5 days of non-stop snow in April meaning we were skiing knee deep in fresh powder snow with very limited visibility.

Skiing in the Snow

 

So my advise is just to be prepared to be flexible. Not only with the number of layers that you’ll need but also with where and when you can ski in the resort. With high temperatures meaning your day can be short as the snow becomes slushy and runs become closed and colder snowy days with poor visibility leading to possible avalanches, closed runs and icy snow. This is when it’s really great to be with a ski instructor. They truly know the mountain and can help you make the most of even the worst conditions. Mind you, poor skiing conditions have always given me a great excuse to start the apres ski early!

10. Stick with what you Love

 

Love skiing Belinda Grant Photography

Over the years I’ve skied in lots of resorts, mainly in Europe but also in Canada. My parents have been returning to the same resort for 40 years and even book the same room before they leave each time! During my teens and early twenties I was keen to see what other resorts had to offer and started experiencing lots of different resorts with varied skiing.

Each time I’ve been to a new resort, besides the excitement of finding out how it would differ from previous destinations, there’s the challenge of having discover some essentials for your family skiing holiday. This includes not only the basics of where your accommodation is in relations to the supermarket and lifts, but also where the ski school office, where they meet in the mornings, where the ski hire shop is etc, etc. The list is quite extensive.

Skiing with competent skiers and grown up children who can ski makes finding these differences out fairly easy but isn’t without its hiccups. What I’ve found since I’ve had my own children, is that once you’ve found a resort that works for you and you’re familiar with, there are huge benefits to returning. Family skiing holidays are fast paced and you need to be organised. Knowing where and when ski school starts, where the bank is, what time the lift pass office opens can all give you peace of mind and make the holiday just that bit easier.

Aside from this, it’s lovely to return to your favourite mountain restaurant or knowing where you can get the best vin chaud and hot chocolate! There’s something hugely reassuring when you know the runs in a resort and can plan your ski day knowing how long it may take you to get down the mountain for the end of your childrens ski school day. It also can bring some reassurance when the visibility is poor if you know your way around the ski trails. There’s nothing worse than being in the freezing fog and wind at the top of a ski lift and having to get the ski map out. I’ve had many a mountain domestic dispute, a bit like following a map into the west country, on which route to take to get us down without getting lost.

ski map Belinda Grant Photography

Another wonderful thing about returning to a resort is that if you’re a competent skier, you can start to venture a little more off piste. Although I recommend that you have a private instructor for your first venture into unpisted territory as it can be dangerous going off the recommended ski runs.

off piste skiing

A finally note:

Just relax! Yes family skiing holidays are hard work and expensive. From the prep work back at home to trying to squeeze all your stuff back into your suitcase on the last day of the holiday but it’s the best holiday you’ll ever have and it’s something that you can take at your own pace.

family relaxing on holiday

I’ve skied with expert skiers who start at 8am and only stop for a quick bite at lunch time and then they’re off til 4pm. And I’ve skied with the more relaxed friend who’s idea of skiing is skiing from one hut to another to sit in the sun with a drink in their hand! From babies to grandparents, if you’ve found the right resort, family skiing holidays have something for everyone.

With these top 10 tips for successful family skiing holidays I think I’ve only really touched the surface of sharing my experiences with you. Over the forty years of skiing I’ve done, I’ve got 40 years of stories to tell but some are only to be shared over a vin chaud up the mountain!!

If you’d like to share any tips for family skiing holidays, just drop me an e-mail, I’d love to hear from you. https://www.belindagrantphotography.co.uk/blog/

Family Skiing Holidays Belinda Grant Photography

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