The complete guide to family skiing

From toddlers who need looking after while you are on the slopes, through to teenagers who have left you behind, there are ski schools and family-friendly resorts for everyone, writes Belinda Archer

Age 0-1

It's all about nannies and nurseries at this age, giving you somewhere to leave your precious bundle while you head to the slopes. Première Neige (0870 383 1000;, a luxury chalet company operating in the quiet French resort of Sainte Foy, offers nanny and babysitting services while the resort has one of the best-equipped, licensed and centrally located crèches in the Alps. The nannies are fully qualified and first-aid trained too. Prices start from £900 for a week's half-board catered accommodation, not including flights or transfers, with children under three getting a £300 discount, three to six-year-olds £100 off, and seven-12 years £50 off.

Ski Famille (0845 644 3764; also caters specifically for really little ones. They have a choice of catered chalets in Les Gets, in France's Portes du Soleil ski area, with five days of in-chalet childcare included in all infant prices. Each property is equipped with baby essentials (from push chairs to high chairs, cots, baby food and nappies). Childcare staff are all employed in the UK and have also undergone Criminal Records Bureau and reference checks, as well as first-aid training. Children up to the age of two cost £395 in all chalets on all dates. Adults start from £455, with prices including transfers and catering but not flights to Geneva.

Age 2-3

They are still a bit young to go skiing at this age, but you will want somewhere with great outdoor and indoor play areas. Inghams (020 8780 4447; has an excellent Babes in Snow package in Serfaus, Austria. The resort is attempting to brand itself as Europe's leading destination for family skiing, with a huge range of attractions on and off the snow - from the Murmli the Marmot trail (a piste with different activities dotted along the way), to the Fisser Flieger, a cross between a hang-glider and death slide that zooms above the slopes at up to 50mph (minimum height 1.3m). There are also mini-skidoos for kids, trekking on two-wheeled Segway transporters, the giant Skyswing, and the 'Kinderschneealm', a kids-only giant play area that has its own merry-go-round, bouncy castle, igloo and even cable car.

The three-star Hotel Garni offers free kindergarten, a babysitting service and early evening meals, with prices starting from £658 on a B&B basis including transfers and flights; children under two cost just £32 all-in, while two- to 12-year-olds get a 15-25 per cent discount off the adult price, depending on the time of season.

Aspen Snowmass in Colorado also has an unbeatable new play area for toddlers - a $17m Tree House kids' adventure centre, which is setting a high standard for in-resort childcare. It sits at the new base village in Snowmass and comes complete with climbing room, bear den and museum-like playground. Ski Dream (0845 277 3333; has seven nights from £959 per adult and £599 per child aged two-11 in the four-star Crestwood Condominiums, just yards from the Tree House, including flights and transfers.

Age 4-5

Now they are ready to really get stuck into the skiing. Family experts Esprit (01252 618300;, who specialise in under-12s, have great 'introduction to ski' classes for four-year-olds. Children are put in proper boots and skis and helped with their very first tentative steps on the snow. La Rosière in the French Alps is recommended, where the nursery slopes for the little ones are right outside the Esprit chalets. A week's catered chalet accommodation costs from £429 per adult, including flights and transfers. It is free for two to fours and £322 for ages five to 10.

The pretty village of Neustift in Austria wins on short airport transfers (about 30 minutes from Innsbruck), but has the disadvantage of a 25-minute bus ride each morning from the village to the main ski area at the Stubai glacier. However it's worth it when you get there - high on the glacier is the B-Big ski club (until this winter known as the Mickey Mouse Ski Club), one of the best places in Europe for children to learn to ski.

In a large children-only area of the mountain, there are 'magic carpet' conveyor belt lifts, protected from the wind, to take the little ones up, several different runs and slalom courses, warming-up chalets with hot chocolate on tap and merry-go-rounds for when skiing gets boring.

Better still, while most nursery slopes are the lowest in the resort, leading to slushy, icy conditions, this is at 2,620m, ensuring fabulous snow throughout the long season. The parents can enjoy the awesome skiing on the surrounding glacier. Five days instruction for children, from 10am to 3pm, including lunch, costs €200 (00 43 5226 2540; The tourist office (00 43 501 8810; offers some great family packages: from €1,870 per week for two adults and two kids under 10, including half board at a three-star hotel, lift passes and five days at B-Big.

Age 6-7

Having found their ski legs they will now want somewhere with lots of easy cruising runs. Few places can rival the Trois Vallées in France for its expanse of blue runs, and St Martin de Belleville is arguably the nicest place in the mega-ski area for families to stay. The Alpine Club (00 33 6 3022 6215;, which runs three chalets in the resort, offers a particularly good bespoke service for young ones. Each chalet has its own kids' TV den stuffed full of games and DVDs, babysitters and instructors can all be arranged, plus St Martin has the Club Piou Piou for children aged two to six, which offers a range of ski courses as well as games, walks and nature discovery. Chalet prices from £479, including luxury half-board (£100 discount for two- to four-year-olds; £50 for five- to 12-year-olds).

Those who prefer to leave the crowds behind should choose the 'other' three valleys - Italy's Monterosa area. Champoluc, a pretty village where children will be treated like royalty is the best base, and specialist British operator to the area, Ski2 (01962 713330;, runs its own ski school and nursery. A week during the Easter 2009 school holidays, including seven nights' half-board, lift-passes, lunches on the mountain, free equipment for kids, and transfers but not flights, costs from £827 per adult, £299 per child under 11.

Age 8-11

At this age they can usually ski pretty fearlessly and they might also want to check out snowboarding (many resorts won't teach boarding until kids are at least seven). The southern French Alps resort of Serre Chevalier offers excellent snowboard lessons for eight-year-olds and up. The resort gets 300 days of sunshine per year, making the painful learning experience slightly more enjoyable, plus it has dedicated areas reserved solely for beginner boarders. It also has all sorts of fun activities for older children, such as igloo building, animal tracking and even mountain photography workshops. Holidays to Serre Chevalier start from £517 for a flat sleeping four at Residence l'Alpaga with Erna Low (0845 863 0525; including return Eurotunnel crossings.

Crystal Family (0871 230 8146; recommends Flaine in France for eight-11s, for its good range of intermediate skiing and extras such as dog sledding and hot air balloon rides. Crystal's Whizz Kids Club, for children up to 11, will take your offspring to and from ski school, bridge the lunchtime gap, and also supervise them at the end of the day. Free or reduced-price places for children aged up to 11 when sharing a room with two adults. Price per adult from £505 including flights, transfers, and seven nights' half-board.

Age 12-15

They tend to be bored by ski school at this age, so why not push them that bit further and go on an off-piste adventure together? The Ski Club of Great Britain's Freshtracks holiday division (0845 458 0784; runs off-piste weeks for families with children aged 13 and over, all of whom must have a little off-piste experience. Ski powder with qualified instructors/guides in the famous royal destination of Klosters in Switzerland at February half term, from £1,295, staying at the comfy three-star Hotel Cresta including half-board accommodation, flights, transfers and instructors.

The Cavallino Bianco hotel (00 39 0471 783 333;, in the popular South Tyrol resort of Ortisei in Val Gardena, also runs an exclusive five-day adventure course for those aged 11 and over with good technical experience, teaching them how to carve, snowboard and use snowblades. The hotel is run just for families and is a member of the family-friendly Austrian Kinderhotels group. The course costs around £194, with prices for a family room from £105 per person per night, all-inclusive. Flights/transfers not included.

Age 16-18

For many teens, skiing is all about freestyle, and all they want to do is hit the park. In some resorts, schools offer ski and snowboard lessons that focus around teaching tricks in the park. For example, Summit Ski School in Zermatt, Switzerland (00 41 2 7967 0001; runs an 'Expression Session' for intermediate and advanced snowborders every Wednesday morning, where they can learn and practise their tricks on boxes, rails, kickers and the pipe (9am-noon, £41). Thomson Ski (0871 971 0577; offers seven nights' self-catering at the Residence Patricia apartments in Zermatt from £449 (free and reduced prices for children aged two-11 but over-11s pay full price), including flights and transfers.

For skiers keen to brush up on their freestyle, Mountain Masters in Val d'Isère, France, (00 33 4 7906 0514; offers a range of private and group lessons where they can improve their technique in the park under the watchful eye of a freestyle instructor (afternoon lesson from £180 for a group of up to three). Crystal Ski (0871 231 2256; offers seven nights' self-catering at the Jardin de la Balme flats in Val d'Isère from £315 (free and reduced prices for children age two-11 years but over-11s pay full price), including flights and transfers.

La Clusaz (00 33 4 5032 3833; in France's Haute-Savoie is also ideal for inspiring teenagers, famous as it is for being the birthplace of many freestyle champions. Check out the freestyle weekend from 13-15 March: a great chance for them to watch the pros in action, and then have a go on the giant playground of jumps, rails and kickers - all combined with a fab party atmosphere. That should keep them happy. Prices from £1,060 for a central self-catering flat for a family of four including ski passes, ski hire, and lessons for the 16- to 18-year-olds, but not flights.

Is it ever too young to learn to ski?

We asked Colin Iseard, director of coaching, Snowtrax ski centre, Christchurch, for his expert advice.

So what is the ideal age to start?

Obviously it varies with each child, but by the age of three most children are capable of learning to ski. By 'ski' what I mean is playing on snow with skis on - as soon as a child is old enough to walk and play, they are old enough to walk and play on skis. They are too young to grasp technique at this age, but informal lessons in a kindergarten group, where they step around cones and slide through hoops, is a great way to introduce them to the sport.

What about children's developing bones, is it dangerous?

When they are simply sliding around on the flat there is very little impact on a child's legs, and because of their low weight and centre of gravity they can have spills and falls without any real injury - often they think a tumble is just funny.

What about the elements?

With very young children it is important to remember that, because of their small body mass, they can suffer severe heat loss, over heating and dehydration very quickly, much quicker than an adult. So make sure they wear sufficient layers and have lots of fluids before their lesson. Nursery slopes and kindergarten areas are always located near restaurants if a child needs to warm up.

Should parents stand on the sidelines?

Generally children get distracted if their parents are watching. So if they're comfortable without you being there it is best to leave them to it. Arrive 10 or so minutes before the end of the session so they can show you everything they've learnt.

Is a group lesson best, or a one-on-one?

Most young children benefit more from being in a group; at this early stage, when the emphasis is on play, it makes sense that they are around other children with whom they can interact.

At what age can they begin to learn technique?

By the age of about five, most children can understand simple directions and learning through play develops into learning through instruction. They can spend longer on runs at this age and are capable of using drag and chair lifts, so lessons will be focused around teaching them the snowplough so that they can move from the nursery slopes to gentle green and blue runs.


Belinda Archer

The GuardianTramp

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