Once upon a time, the downside to many of the smaller resorts was the long trek required to reach slopes of any significance, but nowadays there are plenty that are connected
to Europe’s giant interlinked systems. Haute Nendaz, for example, home
of Ted Bentley Chalet Holidays, is joined to Verbier, while La Rosière, featured by small specialist operator Morealps, connects to La Thuile in Italy. The Massif des Aravis in the French Alps is only an hour’s drive from Geneva airport and has four charming chalet-only villages.
Le Grand Bornand is particularly family-friendly with a range of crèches, ski schools and non-ski activities, like ice skating, sledging, farm visits and walks in the stunning forests of the region. La Tania, also in France, is two lifts away from the famous Trois Vallées, and Le Gets, home of the Ski Famille chalets, is connected to the Portes du Soleil.
Some of the most popular off-the-beaten-track resorts, include Zauchensee and Serfaus (Austria); Vaujany, Samoëns and La Tania (France); Arinsal (Andorra); Champoluc (Italy); Saas-Fee (Switzerland); and, further afield, Big White in Canada and Stowe on the east coast of the US, where the pound still goes a long way.
Reflecting this increased popularity and interest in great value destinations, family ski expert Neilson has introduced the cosmopolitan resort of Kranjska Gora in Slovenia with the promise of uncrowded slopes and professional English-speaking ski schools to entice families to the magnificent Slovenian Julian Alps.
Neilson’s other hot tip for the future is Formigal in Spain – not the first country which springs to mind for skiing, but investment in Formigal’s 130-kilometre ski area and resort infrastructure has certainly put Spain on the map as far as winter sports are concerned.
Another unlikely family ski destination is Bulgaria; somewhere that once evoked images of a rather primitive ski experience, but now offers adventure and activity both on and off the slopes. The Adventure Company is offering a great family holiday this winter in Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains. As well as skiing and snowboarding, families will have time to visit a local observatory for a tour of the night sky or take in the phenomena of The Miracle Bridges – two beautiful marble bridges formed naturally over thousands of years by the rocks.
Lesser-known resorts are becoming more popular in long-haul ski destinations, too. In Canada, try Humber Valley in the Appalachian Mountains in western Newfoundland, the most easterly province, that’s only a five-and-a-half hour flight from the UK and so much easier on the jet lag than the Rockies. The snowy peaks rival Lapland during the winter and the activities for families include skiing, snowboarding, Atlantic salmon fishing and whale-watching.
The Humber Valley Resort provides wonderful accommodation and facilities within the peace and seclusion of a Canadian forest retreat. Stay either in a chalet surrounded by forest, set high on the mountainside with glorious views of the valley, or directly on the shores of Deer Lake.
The emphasis for a family ski holiday used to be on luxury, but now it’s good children’s facilities that take priority. With older children who can ski, you can get away with a child-friendly chalet and a decent ski school, but with babies and toddlers, choose an operator who provides full-on childcare – if you want to ski yourself – as well as children’s meals and family rooms.
Mark Warner has a really good range of clubs for different age groups: baby clubs for those as young as four months; toddlers from one to two; and a mini-club for three- to five-year-olds.
The baby club is available at all the company’s top French resorts, from
Val d’Isère to Courchevel, La Plagne and Meribel. Esprit also offers childcare from four months upwards and is able to care for children with special needs, too. It also features a wide range of family-friendly resorts in Austria, France, Italy and Switzerland.
Powder Byrne offer luxury family holidays to an exclusive selection of resorts in Switzerland, Italy, Austria and France, specialising in family holidays with childcare programmes to suit all ages. Their crèches have qualified English-speaking nannies and accept babies from six months. They also run ski clubs for children aged three to 16 so they can improve their ski skills year on year.
Crystal Holidays has added a brand new service called Snuggle Club to its vast range of family services, in which children from six months to four years will be cared for and entertained while parents enjoy dinner; what’s more, the service is free to families using Crystal’s daytime childcare. Also new from Crystal this year is Baby Bundles – a pre-ordering service for nappies, wipes and Hipp organic baby food, which should cut down your baggage significantly.
Many companies now offer a private nanny service, but luxury operator VIP and sister company, Snowline, understand that not everyone has the same routine on holiday, so they have introduced a flexi service. Nannies look after children from the age of six months to 12 years and work five-and-a-half days a week. They are available from 8.30am–7.30pm, so all you need to do is choose eight consecutive hours a day that you would like them to work. Extremely useful, whether you’re an early-bird skier or prefer a later start in the mornings. And you can still ski even if you have a very young baby, thanks to the company’s new baby specialist in Val d’Isère who has six years of babycare experience and looks after babies from as young as three months.
Most companies charge for childcare, but family specialist Ski Famille includes five days a week for children of all ages in its holiday price. Because it is included, parents can use the service as little or as often as they wish, which is invaluable if you need to change your plans while you are away.
The company has run ski holidays for families with young children for more than 15 years. The childcare service is based in individual chalets, so children don’t have to be taken to a central crèche. Instead, they are cared for in an environment which they will quickly regard as a second home and most chalets are close to the slopes allowing parents to pop in and out throughout the day.
In Les Gets, where Ski Famille
is based, there are a huge variety of ski school options for children aged three upwards and childcare staff are also willing to take children to and from lessons. The resort is part of the vast Portes du Soleil ski area – 12 linked resorts in France and Switzerland, providing 650 kilometres of piste just over an hour from Geneva airport.
Childcare may be an integral part of the family ski offerings, but luxury is not in short supply. Many chalets can accommodate an au pair or a nanny can be booked on your behalf,.
The top end of the ski market continues to grow rapidly. Ski Verbier offers tailor-made chalet and hotel holidays in the famous Swiss resort, with a Wii and DVD player in every chalet, tea in bed, staff who will drive you to the slopes every morning and many of the chalets have luxurious outdoor hot tubs.
Descent International, possibly the smartest of all the ski operators, has added new, heavenly chalets in
Val d’Isère, Sainte Foy, Zermatt and Verbier, where attentive staff are at your beck and call to run baths, chill the champagne, light the open log fires and prepare delicious five-star gourmet meals for all the family.