Travel writer, Sean Newsom, finds the best family ski resorts in the world, From Andorra to Zermatt, Whistler to Aspen, for newbies or ski bunnies alike and for all budgets. Take a look.
Best family ski resorts for absolute beginners
Galtür, Austria: Alpine skiing as good as you imagine
Galtür is Alpine skiing, just as you imagined it would be. This friendly little village is set beneath soaring pyramid peaks, with plenty of cold, squeaky snow on its uncrowded pistes. Big, bustling Ischgl is only six miles down the road. But up here, at the far end of the Paznaun valley, the pace is a little slower.
There is, however, more than enough to suit a family of first-timers, including a dedicated beginner’s area and some long, gentle intermediate slopes on which to progress. Given Galtür’s low profile, some of its prices are surprisingly high – £200 per child for five mornings of group ski lessons with the highly rated Skischule Silvretta Galtür is similar to an A-list French resort, . But it’s a price worth paying for a such a spectacular skiing environment.
The only real drawback is that the ski area is a 1.6km away from the village. There are a few hotels right on the slopes – notably Panorama Hotel Almhof, where the cheese comes from the owners’ own farm. But staying at the Alpenhotel Tirol in the village gives you instant access to Galtür’s climbing wall, indoor pool, bowling alley and floodlit tobogganing.
Ylläs, Finland: one of the best family ski resorts for Northern Lights
Ylläs in Finland, 40km south of the Arctic Circle, is one of the best family ski resorts to give your brood a much wider taste of winter – it even has the added bonus of the Northern Lights, if conditions are right. Plus, the resort sits close to the holiday village of Äkäslompolo, and hums with winter fun. Fat-biking, dog-sledding, snow-mobiling, ice-fishing, skating, tobogganing: you can try them all here.
But let’s not lose sight of your holiday’s main purpose. By the standards of a mileage-hungry intermediate skier, the Yllästunturi fell – on which all the gravity-driving activities take place – is a mere pimple. But that’s a bonus when you’re a beginner, because Ylläs’s low profile keeps the slopes quiet and stress-free.
Book a self-catering family apartment at Lapland Hotels Saaga, on the fell’s southern face, and you’ll be close to the beginner slopes, as well as having access to hotel’s swimming pool and restaurant. Who knows, after five morning lessons – and a little practising in between – you may find yourself able to ski one of the easier top-to-bottom runs by the end of the trip. It’ll be the crowning achievement of a very busy break.
La Rosière, France: perfect all-inclusive family ski breaks for beginners
A first family ski holiday can often be bewildering, and it takes practice to familiarise yourself with the clothing and ski kit, book lessons, buy lift passes and even ride the lifts.Step forward, Club Med. Its package holidays include just about everything from kids’ clubs and lift passes to ski instruction, accommodation, meals, UK flights and transfers, leaving you to focus on your snowplough.
What’s more, if you book into one of the vast resort-hotels Club Med is currently building across the French Alps, you get family-friendly rooms, good food, an indoor pool and spa, childcare and equipment rentals. Plus the ski instructors come to you rather than vice-versa, so all you have to do is step out the door to meet them.
This winter’s opening is at La Rosière. This is the snowiest ski resort in the mighty Tarentaise valley, with a good mix of first-time slopes and easy intermediate pistes on the doorstep. Plus, it has lots of extra-curricular activities including sledging, and a thrilling, rail-mounted luge.
Obertilliach, Austria: the best family ski resorts don’t have to be big
You don’t need a big ski resort for your first winter holiday. So why not pick somewhere eye-wateringly pretty instead?
Obertilliach is hidden in Austria’s underrated Osttirol, just over two hours’ drive from airports at either Innsbruck or Bolzano. The town is a jumble of larch farmhouses gathered around a church and life here does not revolve exclusively around tourism. Tractors take their place alongside the 4x4s in the streets, and on some days you might prefer to forgo skiing and just sit on a bench in the sunshine soaking up the local atmosphere.
For beginners, most skiing is done on a broad, easy slope and lessons from just £100 for five half-days take place in front of the Almfamilyhotel Scherer. With a spa, indoor pool, kids’ clubs and climbing wall, this modern ski-in, ski-out hotel is ideal for families. Don’t miss at least one afternoon of tobogganing on the Obertilliach 7km toboggan run which drops from the top of Golzentipp, – the local mountain – all the way down to the village.
Find budget skiing breaks in Europe this season
Val Cenis, France: save with a self-drive family ski break
Ski holidays are cheaper if you drive yourself to the mountains. And if you travel down to Val Cenis in the upper Maurienne Valley in the heart of the French Alps, there’s another significant benefit: the chance to try your first-ever ski safari.
The six-day Haute Maurienne Vanoise lift pass makes a ski-safari possible by offering a day’s skiing in each of four neighbouring downhill resorts, as well as the cross-country ski hub of Bessans. If you and your brood have a sense of adventure, and are happy on intermediate-level pistes, it’s a mouth-watering prospect.
You’ll need to warm up your ski legs first, and a couple of days on Val Cenis’s own slopes should be just the ticket. They’re home not only to L’Escargot – the longest beginners’ piste in France – but also a broad range of north-facing slopes that hold snow well and include some exciting straight-down-the-mountain descents.
Base yourself in one of the new apartments at Les Balcons Platinium Val Cenis, and you’ll be near one of the key lifts as well the ski-school meeting point. The residence has its own indoor pool, too.
Once you’re settled, it’ll be time to venture out for some day-tripping. Bonneval-sur-Arc is the most obvious target. Wind your way up to this medieval village at the far end of the valley where a handful of lifts serve just 32km of pistes and fresh powder lies untracked for hours after a storm, and you’ll think you’ve discovered a secret kingdom of snow. Was this what skiing was like in the 1930s, just as the world woke up to the wonder of winter sports? After a day spent cruising serene and unhurried slopes of Val Cenis, you’ll wish you had a time machine, so you could find out.
Soldeu, Andorra: one of the best family ski resorts for budget half-term breaks
This February half-term, family ski holiday packages in Andorra are about the same price as they are in its great budget-skiing rival, Bulgaria. That’s a surprise, because if you book into one of Andorra’s Grandvalira resorts you not only get a bigger ski area for your money, but also better mountain restaurants and more spectacular scenery.
But what seals the deal for a family on its second or third ski holiday is the quality of pistes. Most of the skiing here is on the gentle pastures beneath them. As a result, the broad, steady pistes are tailor-made for early intermediates who need to settle into a rhythm and build their confidence. Book five three-hour kids’ lessons over half-term for £130pp at the local ski school – a snip compared to a top-end Alpine resort.
Meanwhile, a short gondola ride away, lies the quiet and convenient base of Soldeu. Here the no-nonsense Hotel Soldeu Maistre is only two minutes from the lifts, and five minutes from the ski school. It doesn’t have its own pool, but you can catch a local bus to the Ice Palace at Canillo for skating and swimming. Alternatively, Andorra La Vella is just 30 minutes away if you want to spend an afternoon at Caldea for its giant indoor pool, spa and aquapark.
Alba di Canazei, Italy: world class skiing at a discount
Book into Alba, just east of Canazei in the Italian Dolomites, for world-class skiing at a discount. Alba isn’t a resort in its own right, but since the 2015 opening of its second cable car, this tiny village has been one of the best-connected spots in the Dolomiti Superski lift system. To the south, lies Ciampac-Buffaure with long nursery slopes and a cracking black-rated piste. And to the north of Alba, you have direct access to intermediate skiing on the celebrated Sella Ronda ski circuit.
Prices are low for an area with 1,200km of pistes and such stunning scenery. Book a week in the cute B & B Cesa Rotic, including flights and transfers, for the price of a bog-standard apartment in France. Be sure to hire a ski locker at the Ski Paolo rental centre by the lifts, so you don’t have to lug your boots and skis up each morning.
Les Menuires, France: one of the best family ski resorts to cut costs
Try Les Menuires as an easy way to cut the cost of your family ski trip, without compromising on quality of slopes. Les Menuires might spread out from an eyesore 1960s centre and have the kind of apartment blocks you’d expect from a city suburb rather than a mountain valley, but keen skiers shouldn’t give two hoots.
All those functional self-catering apartment blocks are as cheap as chips in Alpine terms. Plus, they offer doorstep access to some of the best pistes in the vast Three Valleys area. A family pass for all 600km of pistes lets parents to ski for the same price as kids. And for straight-down-the-mountain skiing, the home runs back to Les Menuires, are hard to beat.
In addition, the resort has two pools, a soft-play area, a 4km toboggan run and a rail-mounted Alpine coaster and all are served by free shuttle buses – for best access base yourself near La Croisette or Les Bruyères.
The world’s best family ski resorts for a new adventure
Val d’Isère, France: one of the best family ski resorts for kids
Val d’Isère is the queen of full-blooded French resorts and looks after families very well. Especially since it upgraded its facilities at the top of Solaise, the dome-shaped peak that towers over the resort’s eastern end. It’s now served by a quick gondola and offers both nursery slopes and intermediate runs, has its own £35 beginner lift pass, and even has a free-to-use indoor picnic centre by the top of the lift.
Meanwhile, down in the village, Val d’Isère has a big indoor pool, as well as an indoor climbing wall, snowmobiles and a skating rink. British-run Chalet Hotel Les Ducs de Savoie is a comfortable base, near the lifts and the pool.
So less confident skiers have plenty to do and the gung-ho can let rip on Val d’Isère’s famously steep black-rated pistes. Despite the resort’s fearsome reputation, some of its celebrated off-piste runs are actually quite easy but, because of avalanche risks, should never be attempted without a qualified guide.
Zermatt, Switzerland: the high end resort which still delivers high adventure
Yes, its pedestrianised streets are packed with luxury chalets and five-star hotels and if you want rickety mountain huts that double as proper gastronomic restaurants, Zermatt has no equal. But however high-end it has become, this is still one of the best family ski resorts to test yourself and discover new types of terrain.
Older kids who’re chafing at the limits of Mum and Dad’s skiing can check into the Cool Teens Camp, run by the mountain guides at Zermatters. This three day course starts with steep pistes, pushes on into the terrain park and then leads young adventurers into the powder for some first-time off-piste.
Meanwhile oldies might prefer joining a guided ascent of the Breithorn on touring skis. It’s a relatively short and easy climb, except for the head-spinning, thin air at 4000m, please don’t try this until you’ve acclimatised.
Whatever you plan to do, the snaggle-toothed spike of the Matterhorn will be a constant source of wonder and inspiration at Zermatt, it towers over every view and sets the resort’s adventurous tone. A lot of the biggest days out here take place at top of the ski area, near the Italian border. On at least one day you’ll want to ski over into the next resort of Cervinia too, so book a hotel such as Boutique Hotel Albana Real which is closer to the Matterhorn Express gondola than the railway station.
Gressoney, Italy: premier league resort for guided off-piste skiing
Is everyone skiing well? Happy on blacks and beginning to venture off-piste? Then it’s time for promotion to the Premier League of skiing, courtesy of the Monte Rosa lift system in Italy.
Spread beneath one of the mightiest Alpine massifs, Monte Rosa is a place of narrow, steep-sided valleys, small ski villages and incredible scenery. Here, the mountains top out on the summit of the Dufourspitze which, at a staggering 4,634m, is the second-highest peak in western Europe.
On-piste skiing isn’t the main attraction here, although there are several cracking upper-intermediate runs. What you’re really paying for is lift-assisted access to area’s incomparable off-piste. But whether it’s on relatively easy and open slopes or heart-stopping chutes like Gran Couloir Stolemberg above Alagna, all off-piste should be skied in the company of qualified mountain guides.
If conditions are right your budget stretches, you can try heli-skiing. It doesn’t have to be terrain as tough as Stolemberg as guides will know easier slopes and assess your group’s ability and fitness on a trial run, before your flight. One heli-skiing session for four people costs from £240pp.
For access to the best mix of on and off-piste skiing, Gressoney-La-Trinité in the middle of the ski area is the perfect base. Here, three-star Hotel Dufour is a quiet and contemplative stay and the ideal place to look through your photographs and videos at the end of the day and think to yourself, “never, in my wildest dreams, did I think I’d be having adventures like this with my kids”.
Whistler Blackcomb, Canada: the biggest big mountain experience in North America
Whistler Blackcomb is in Canada, about an hour’s drive from Vancouver. But a couple of days of disorienting jet lag shouldn’t put you off if you’re a family that loves skiing in all its forms.
It’s the biggest North American ski resort and one of the world’s all-round best family ski resorts. It’s also a bustling and exhilarating place that’s very cosmopolitan, so don’t come here expecting a Call of the Wild experience.
Whether you want to race down a Winter Olympic course, plunge through powder, take flight in a terrain park or simply cruise a well-groomed intermediate piste, Whistler and Blackcomb – the resort’s two mountains – will oblige. In a single, delirious, top-to-bottom descent they serve up every kind of slope imaginable.
Meanwhile in charming Whistler Village, Delta Hotels by Marriott Whistler Village Suites offers roomy self-catering accommodation as well as quick access to lots of restaurants and a shuttle bus to the slopes.
Mürren, Switzerland: home of the annual Inferno Ski Race
Even the journey to Mürren in Switzerland is an adventure. The trip to this car-free resort combines trains, trams and cable cars, as well as planes from the UK to either Zürich or Geneva airport.
Once you make it to Interlaken – the nearest significant town to Mürren – you will change onto a tram that takes you up the base of the Lauterbrunnen valley. This is a magical journey, but it’s by no means the end of the expedition. After the 30-minute tram ride excited visitors then embark on an equally thrilling jaunt on a gondola, climbing up a sheer mountainside that will have your kids glued to the windows.
At this point, you might feel as though you have journeyed on enough modes of transport for the day, but the final leg takes you on a narrow-gauge train that winds across the cliff tops, straight into the heart of the village itself. It’s like being in your very own model railway and another winner with kids.
Once you are safely in Mürren, prepare to be taken aback by stunning, mountain-top surroundings. The compact village can be traversed from one end to the other in just 10 minutes, and looks out over the same valley you have just risen from, towards the 4,158m Jungfrau peak and the larger ski resort of Wengen.
There’s every type of accommodation option in Mürren, including private houses on Airbnb. The smartest hotel is four-star Eiger Mürren Swiss Quality Hotel that comes with quite a few trappings. However, as almost all the hotels share the same spectacular views, we rate the comfortable and less expensive three-star Hotel Alpenruh which perches right on a cliff edge.
Mürren is best-known as the setting of the Bond baddie’s lair in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – the one with George Lazenby as Bond. Today that lair is a revolving restaurant called Piz Gloria. It’s a must-do for the ‘007 Breakfast’ or for a family lunch which includes the kids’ favourite, ‘007 Burger’. It’s also a great trip for non-skiers to experience an Alpine high, plus there is a Bond World, a museum underneath the restaurant that’s packed full of fascinating 007 memorabilia. The run down from the top is a tricky black piste, so go easy on the mimosas at breakfast. Yet if
you hit it right, you can imagine yourself as Bond being pursued by villains with machine guns before you release the Union Jack parachute – OK, this is from The Spy Who Loved Me, but it still fits.
It would be a mistake to pigeonhole Mürren as simply beautiful views. Once a year the resort hosts Inferno, perhaps the most famous amateur ski race in the world. Founded by some nutty Brits in 1928, it sees 1,850 people hurtle down an exhausting 14.7 km course, presenting the longest downhill race in the world, either amateur or professional. And you need technical expertise, stamina and a strong propensity for risk to take part.
Best family ski resorts in the world for non-skiers
Val Thorens, France: the highest ski station in Europe is top for non-skiing fun
Val Thorens is one of the best family ski resorts in France for single-minded skiers. Set at the head-spinning altitude of 2,300m, with lifts that rise to an even dizzier 3,000m, it’s a place that sacrifices prettiness for efficiency and a cast-iron guarantee of good snow. You’re as likely to meet a non-skier here as a Yeti in the Maldives.
Or at least, that’s how Europe’s highest ski station seems, the first time you clap eyes on it. But look a little closer, and Val Thorens will defy your expectations.
The ziplines here are the most eye-catching features. The Tyrolienne came first – a mind-boggling 1,300m flight, at a maximum height of 250m, at the very top of the ski area. But even better is the more recent ‘La Bee’. This chain of three double-ziplines lets two people zip side-by-side, in three stages, right into the heart of the resort. It’s 1,800m long, and will have you laughing uncontrollably for half-an-hour after you land.
It you don’t have a head for heights, jump on the space-age Cosmojet toboggan run instead – it’s over 6km long.
Other activities include a brand-new laser-tag combat course, ice-karting and dog-sledding. A four-hour ice-climbing course is the ultimate smash-and-grab adventure and if you’ve ever enjoyed jumping on frozen puddles, then hacking your way up a frozen waterfall, with an ice-axe in each hand, is the last word in catharsis.
Babies and toddlers tend to struggle with Val Thorens’ thinner air, so we wouldn’t recommend the resort for young families. It’s also not ideal for anyone hoping to commune with Mother Nature in a spirit of quiet contemplation. This is a place that requires a different kind mindfulness. Wait until your kids are a little older, 12 to 14 is best, then they can start flying on the ziplines and non-skiers will probably be so fired up, they’ll want to try their luck skiing. Pistes immediately above the resort are brilliant for beginners.
The other great strength of Val Thorens is the range of accommodation. Out of several lovely hotels, ski-in-ski-out five-star Altapura is among the best. But there are plenty of more affordable options too. Try Village Montana, near both the nursery slopes and the main ski lifts, the apartments here aren’t luxurious, but as you’re going to be outdoors all day, every day you’ll still sleep like logs.
Aspen, Colorado: the celebrity resort which lives up to its lux reputation
If you’re not all about the great outdoors – and you have a Transatlantic-sized budget – whisk the family off to Aspen this winter. Over the past 50 years Aspen has drawn generations of celebrities and as a result, its restaurant and social scene is second to none. Here you can luxury shop around wild west-flavoured streets and have supper at the local branch of Sushi Nakazawa. That’s not to say this former mining town lacks either a spirit of adventure or exciting slopes. In fact, Aspen’s four separate mountains are brilliant places to ski, especially if you’re an intermediate.
Skiers also like the frigid climate and dry, high-altitude air which means pistes are fast and grippy. What’s more, the valley’s two middle mountains, Highlands and Buttermilk, are usually empty even in high season. Just be aware if you’re travelling with single-vaccinated 12 to 18 year olds this winter, some Aspen restaurants and hotels won’t admit them. But that isn’t an issue at the well-equipped Aspen St. Regis Resort, minutes’ walk from the centre of town.
Seefeld, Austria: a wonderland of kid friendly winter sports
When everyone is keen to try other winter sports as well as skiing, Seefeld is the place. Set on a forested plateau, just 40 minutes by train from Innsbruck, this pretty village is packed full of spa hotels, cross-country trails, toboggan runs and ice rinks.
One of the loveliest ways to spend an afternoon is playing Bavarian curling on the ice, in the shadow of the onion-domed Seekirchl chapel. This is the decidedly un-Olympic version of the sport, with so few rules you can start a match in minutes and with ice-skaters twirling nearby, and the village dressed in a fresh duvet of snow, it’s Alpine magic.
The skiing meanwhile is split into three sectors, all aimed at beginners or intermediates. First-timers will enjoy the low-key nursery slopes right beside the village, under the Geigenbühel lift. More confident skiers can perfect their parallel turns on the Gschwandtkopf, before moving onto the steeper slopes on the Rosse Hütte. There isn’t a great variety of skiing, but you don’t book Seefeld for all-day, insatiable piste action. Think of the resort as more of a giant winter layer-cake. The bigger your bite, the more delicious it becomes, especially if you’re staying in a hotel such as the Kaltschmid, which has its own pool and is close to the curling sheets.