Parallel Trails is all about family ski holidays and skiing as a family. We are passionate about skiing and families who love to ski. This ski travel website aims to help you enjoy the perfect family ski holiday. It includes tips and advice so families can enjoy skiing holidays in parallel with their children - the team behind Parallel Trails love to ski as a family so we know how good it feels to go skiing with your children. Parallel Trails is an independent ski travel site for the family ski market, offering practical and honest articles on family ski holidays and family skiing. Why don't you join us on our online family snow & mountain adventure. Happy family skiing! © Parallel Trails 2017
WHAT AGE TO START
Every parent will know their child best. Some children will be more active younger than others and the more adventurous youngsters may enjoy a trip to the mountains sooner than others.
But as a guide it is probably not worth starting your child until they are five years old. In my experience at this age they have stamina to cope with being on the mountain, can handle getting to and from resort (whether you fly or self-drive) and can adapt and settle in the learning environment of ski school more easily because they have had at least a term of primary school. We took our eldest son on his first ski holiday aged four and while he experienced being on skis, only limited skiing was actually done. But a year later he easily went into morning ski school and hasn't looked back since.
Flying may sound the obvious answer, particularly if you go for a tour operator package deal. Going on a plane is a great experience for young children, part of the adventure of going away. But not all young flyers take to travelling easyjet easily. Airport queues and ears popping can make the start of your holiday stressful. Be prepared with water, snacks and a surprise toy or magazine to distract and delight onboard. And think carefully about where you land and how long the coach transfer is into resort. A two-hour flight, followed by a three-hour transfer can leave everyone's nerves a little frayed.
Alternatively go for the self-drive option. It can be cost-effective taking the peage to the Alps, especially for families who already have a lot of their own ski gear and don't fancy the additional airline baggage charges. It also gives you options when you arrive - if there's poor snow where you are, you can easily drive to a nearby resort with better conditions. If you are renting your own accommodation and self-catering, then driving is a great option as you can take some essentials with you to avoid the high mountain supermarket prices. Driving to the mountains can also be an integral part of the family experience. You will be looking at nine hours at least from Calais, so why not break the journey up with an overnight hotel stay - Novotel have some good deals on family rooms.
WHERE TO STAY
This comes down to personal choice. Booking a package ski deal at a catered chalet takes the hassle out of the whole experience. But you can lose a degree of control. Meal times will be set and these might not fit perfectly with your child's routine at home. Fussy eaters may also suffer. And you take pot luck with who else you end up sharing the chalet with. But the operator can help line up rental and lift passes before you arrive, so your costs are simpler to manage.
Booking your own self-catering accommodation however gives you more freedom and flexibility. You are in charge and meal time and bed time routines can remain the same as at home. Skiing is a physical activity for young children to adapt to and there is a lot to be said for having a bedtime routine that ensures they get sufficient rest. Yes you will end up cooking on your holiday, which for many people defeats the object of going away. We've been away with friends before - five families in one self-catering chalet - and it is easy to run a meal rota so you're not cooking every evening.
PREPARE BEFORE YOU GO
It is worth the investment in a trip or two to one of the UK's indoor snow centres. Getting your children used to the equipment they will be using in the mountains in advance ensures less stress on the slopes. Getting ski boots on and clicking them into skis can prove a challenge for many young, first-time skiers. So why not practice it before you go. An indoor slope also gets them used to cold temperatures and the sensation of sliding on snow. And of course it allows them to fall over safely - a vital part of learning to ski.
KITTING OUT THE KIDS
You may be fanatical ski fans, but you have no idea if your son or daughter is going to take to skiing in the same way. So it is more sensible to see if you can borrow ski clothing from friends, or seek out some cheap deals. Aldi has launched a ski clothing range at family-friendly prices, while Sports Direct has increased its ski offering this winter (they have some particularly good value thermal tops and leggings).
But it is worth spending a bit of money on a good helmet and pair of gloves. You want their head well protected and being up a mountain with a child with cold or wet hands is no fun at all. If you know you are set to ski one winter, get yourself organised and buy some clothing in the summer - the discounts are at their biggest at this time.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A RESORT
Initially avoid the mega, linked resorts as you'll never ski everything they have to offer with young children and you will end up paying for lift passes you will never need. As a rule of thumb, Austria is generally good value for families, France closer but more expensive and Switzerland pricier still. Find somewhere compact, with a resort centre that you can stroll around easily and one that has accommodation close to the slopes and lifts.
A good starting point would be one of these:
Les Gets, France - compact resort centre, pretty tree-lined pistes, dedicated Indian Village children's zone, easy to drive to and close to Geneva airport, lots of English spoken.
Flaine, France - not the prettiest but good range of accommodation close to slopes, excellent snow coverage, also close to Geneva, good wide beginner slopes.
Obergurgl, Austria – traditional-Tyrolean ski resort, easy slopes ideal for children, high altitude so snowsure through to late Easter holidays.
However good a skier you are (or you think you are) don't try and teach your children to ski. Trust the professionals and get them booked into ski school. The next question you'll ask yourself is local instructors or an English ski school based in resort?
Once again you will know your child best, however bear this in mind - a family skiing holiday should be a cultural experience as much as it is a physical activity. I am a big supporter of local ski schools for this very reason. I have two boys, they have both completed their gold badges with the French ski school ESF. They have gone into morning ski school with ESF since the age of five and they and their skiing have flourished. Being exposed to a teacher with a funny accent, as they put it, has been a very positive learning experience. You will find that most of the instructors allocated to teach children speak good English now and if you are skiing during the British school holidays then you will also probably find a large percentage of the groups will be English children. That said, there are some exceptional English ski schools but I think it's a missed opportunity if you don't at least try the local instructors first.
The other benefit of ski school is that while your children are having fun with other children, you can indulge in a few hours adult skiing. Then when you are back together you can encourage your children to show what they've been doing in their class - most children love showing off their new skills to mum and dad.
The most important tip to remember with a family skiing holiday is be organised. Looking after the little details can make a massive difference to a successful family skiing holiday. So ensure you have a family winter sports insurance policy in place, take your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) with you (just in case you need state healthcare), pack a first aid kit (plasters are a must in case hire boots rub), work out a system so your children can earn Euros pocket money (maybe they have to organise their helmet, gloves and goggles each night before bed), have a stash of mini chocolates so you can put a packet in the jacket pocket of your children's ski jacket each morning as an emergency energy boost on the slopes, and take sun cream and lip salve with you (it's almost always more expensive in resort).