Ski resorts know that the family market is key to their success and most put a lot of effort in to providing a family-friendly-environment.
But it's quite common for family ski resorts to throw the bulk of that effort in to the under-5s market, or at best the under-10s. While others try harder – they look to provide facilities and activities for teenagers as well as the youngest children, in fact they have the whole family covered, dawn-til-dark.
So here are our recommendations for 10 full-on family ski resorts where you can be confident to take all your children, whatever their ages, and know there'll be plenty to keep them entertained.
LES 2 ALPES, France
Les 2 Alpes is one of the world's biggest resorts – in the top 20 for vertical drop and one of the most snow-sure thanks to its high altitude glacier slopes (open in summer too). It also goes the extra mile for families. From the age of 1, children can experience sliding on snow with the 'Baby Snow' device invented by one of the resort's instructors. At the other end of the child age spectrum, older kids can try a risk-free ski jump with the Big Air Snowbag, experience a simulated avalanche in the Robocoaster, ride a winter Segway or help open the slopes with the ski patrol team. The resort organises a special family week right at the end of the season when most other ski centres have closed (Junior Foliz 22 - 26 April, 2013) and have a website dedicated to families.
Galtür is a part of the giant Silvretta ski area which stretches across The Austrian – Swiss area between Ischgl and Samnuan, just down the valley – altogether there are nearly 240 kilometres of piste. Galtür itself has a family-sized 40 kilometres of local slopes, named the Silvapark and specially designed to be family-friendly with separate sectors for different ability levels and snow sports styles.
While children from as young as 2 are looked after in the guest kindergarten and from 3 in ski school, older children have a full week of activities including lessons on the right way to do the perfect ski/boarding jump; a treasure hunt (with stamp collectors card) around the resort; night skiing sessions; an introduction to avalanche awareness; an off-piste ski safari after a piste basher ride up; speed skiing and sessions on snowblades (extra short skis) and twin-tips. Every Friday there’s a mini Winter Olympics. Everything is in place, with electronic timing, musically accompanied award ceremonies, medals and winner's cups.
Family fun in Galtur, Austria. Credit Galtur Tourism.
Northern Finland has a reputation in the UK as a place to take toddlers to meet Santa and indeed it's great for that, but there's also a lesser known thriving market in full-on family activities that suit older children and teens better – dog sledding, reindeer safaris and snowmobiling for example. The slopes are not as extensive as in the Alps but that's not a problem for creating excellent terrain parks, again very popular with youngsters and, because it's often very cold, large hotel complexes incorporating lots of indoor activities. For example the Levitunturi's 17 themed swimming pools complete with light and music displays are a safe environment where older children can disappear for hours. And anyone worried that their teenagers are getting too interested in alcohol can fear not in Finland – it's too heavily taxed for teens to afford it.
TREMBLANT, Quebec, Canada
“For a full family friendly ski resort I would recommend Mont Tremblant ,” says Jane Bolton Managing Director or Erna Low Holidays who this season celebrate 80 years of organising ski holidays, so have quite a lot of experience.
“Owned by Intrawest, like Whistler and Arc 1950, it has some great ski-in ski-out accommodation, larger condo sized apartments too and the all-important English speaking instructors. Plus the flight from London to Montreal is only five hours so not as bad for jet lag as heading to the West Coast.”
Along with being easy to reach, pedestrianised and family-friendly on and off the slopes with a great range of restaurants; there are lots of activities offered for all age groups. Aquaclub La Source is a particularly good indoor/outdoor water theme park and there’s also dog sledding, tubing, ice climbing, snowmobiling, a high ropes course – the list goes on . . .
Sweden’s most popular resort puts the Scandinavian’s common sense, practical attitude to all things family at its forefront, with special family-zones on the slopes, discounted lift tickets (children go free until age 8), lots of family-friendly accommodation and restaurants and plenty to do besides ski. The mile-long toboggan run is particularly famous and has been operating for more than century. Sweden's Prince Wilhelm was one of the first to try it, in 1910.
Learning to ski in Are, Sweden. Credit Are Tourism.
MADONNA DI CAMPIGLIO, Italy
Madonna di Campiglio, which recently established a lift-link to nearby Pinzolo, thus creating a ‘new’ ski area with 100 miles of piste, is a long established resort that has recently peaked in popularity with families.
“We’ve noticed a distinct preference in Italy, Madonna di Campiglio in particular, from customers with children of school age, especially when they have graduated out of the childcare options in France,” says Cathryn Healey of Ski Solutions. “There are several reasons we believe that Italy hits the spot for many families: it works out good value compared to other destinations, most importantly it’s generally sunnier and with more popular dining options keeps all the family happy and moans to the minimum!”
Engelberg, with its 2,000-metre vertical and runs up to 12 kilometres long, is a classic ski area but it also offers more for families than most Swiss resorts with a big onus on on-slope fun. On Titlis, the main ski area, The Starterland and Sliding Park incorporate a tubing run and an additional sliding slope for testing out hi tech sledges like the Zipfel’ Bob and Snake-Gliss. There’s also a 120-metre-long carpet lift to get back you up – no staggering up dragging the sledge here! The snowXpark up at Lake Trübsee offers another kind of adrenaline kick with snowXbikes and electric powered snowXmobiles for children aged 10 and older. That’s just the start, and Engelberg is high value too with children paying only a third of the adult ticket price right up to age 16.
CAIRNGORM MOUTAIN, Scotland
We do not have to go too far to find an all-round family ski area. CairnGorm Mountain is the UK’s most popular ski area, located in Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands. Aviemore is the country’s second most popular destination year round after Edinburgh. With snow cover sometimes unpredictable, it has long since developed a very long list of off-snow alternatives. The Rothiemurchus Estate has a vast list of adventure activities on land and on water including a high ropes course, Segway or quad bike safaris, pony trekking, archery and dozens more. Aviemore itself has a great range of family-friendly restaurants and several of the large hotel complexes have excellent facilities including the Hilton Coylumbridge with a multi-storey soft play complex and indoor pool. If the snow is good then hit CairnGorm’s seven green runs, six blue, eight red and one black or take the kids dog sledding, ski joring or on a reindeer safari.
A family of freeskiers at CairnGorm, Scotland. Credit CairnGorm Mtn.
Avoriaz has always had a strong draw for families. It is the only truly pedestrianised ski resort in France and its central nursery and ski school has won many awards over the years. But for 2012-13 the resort has moved up another notch thanks to a partnership with Center Parcs, now part of the same company that owns Avoriaz and more than a dozen other leading French resorts. Aquariaz is a sub-tropical water park built within a huge glass dome at the top of a mountain. The facility includes some high-adrenalin water slides for adults and older children. So you can now holiday in Avoriaz without needing to actually go outside – a very surreal family holiday. But with 650km of lift linked pistes just outside your door and the option to ski over the border in to Switzerland, that would be a wasted opportunity.
SMUGGLERS NOTCH, Vermont, USA
Despite ‘family-friendly’ efforts of some of the biggest and best-known ski resorts in North America, none have won more awards or topped more skier polls than ‘Smuggs’. It’s hard to pin down any one thing the ski resort does right, it just has a family-first ethos in its veins and thinks of absolutely everything to make a family ski holiday successful. You could say it’s all in the details but there are a lot of fixed assets to enjoy off the slopes including an ice rink, indoor and outdoor heated pools, and the resort organises a full programme of family activities.