1. La Plagne
On the face of it, La Plagne doesn’t seem like a suitable destination for families. It’s a big and busy resort, but its assets are persuasive. It is essentially traffic-free; the nursery slopes are good, and in each village there is a free beginners’ lift. And grown-ups who want to do some serious skiing have the run of a ski area that is among the biggest in the world. There is always a lot going on, from bobsleigh rides to film shows.
Ski Famille.co.uk offers seven nights’ half-board chalet accommodation in La Plagne from £895 per adult, £745 per child, including flights and transfers plus five days’ childcare in the chalet.
US research has revealed that the average ski-resort guest spends less than half the day on the slopes. The phenomenon of the low mileage skier has led UK tour operators to broaden their ‘snow holidays’ with a selection of winter activities. Scandinavia, where dogsledding and snowmobile rides have long been on offer, has benefitted; and this season ski tour operator Crystal has added three Norwegian resorts to its brochure.
Norway’s Beitostølen is excellent for families with small children, thanks to the snow activities, the traditional cabin accommodation and – this season – Crystal’s offer of kids’ free ski tuition for novices during some off-peak weeks.
Crystal Ski offers seven nights’ self-catering accommodation at Beitostølen from £369 per person (based on six sharing), including flights and transfers.
3. St. Anton
Its image as a place where the rowdy après-ski scene gets going even before the lifts have closed obscures the fact that St. Anton is an excellent family destination. The slopes are extensive and varied; the lift system is efficient; the ski schools are good; and the snow-sure late season means skiing in late Spring sunshine – guaranteed to please young and old – is always a possibility.
The slightly out-of-town Nasserein lift-base is quiet during the day, so its nursery slopes are ideal for novices; that is where Esprit Ski, the leading UK family-ski company, runs a superb operation, taking charge of kids for almost 12 hours per day, if their parents so wish.
Packages to St. Anton with Esprit Ski cost from £399 per person (based on a family of two adults and two children under 12), including seven nights’ half-board chalet accommodation, flights and transfers but excluding childcare.
4. Sella Ronda
The Sella Ronda is a route, not a resort. The 40km loop of linked lifts and descents encircles a huge plug of rock in the Dolomites and connects the ski areas of several different mountain villages.
For young skiers, no longer challenged by easy intermediate slopes, the journey through one of Europe’s most beautiful ski landscapes is a memorable adventure. The loop can be skied clockwise and anti-clockwise, and usually takes about four hours. Along the loop, there is a system of signs offering directions and warnings.
Packages to the Sella Ronda village of Selva with Esprit Ski cost from £399 per person (based on a family of two adults and two children under 12), including seven nights’ half-board chalet accommodation, flights and transfers, but excluding childcare.
The term ‘family skiing’ covers a lot of ground. Each family is different, and what the parents of two teenage boys think about a resort is usually irrelevant to those with five-year-old twin girls.
However, thanks to investment and redevelopment, Flaine has developed a reputation as a good resort for all sorts of families.
The village is compact, and calm at night; it is set in a high-altitude bowl with good snow on the slopes and nursery slopes (where the lifts are free); the ski school gets good reports; and beyond the snow-bowl – whose lip affords an epic panorama of Mont Blanc and its surrounding peaks – adventurous skiers can head off into the extensive Grand Massif area. Last but not least, Flaine is the closest major resort to Geneva airport.
Neilson offers sevennight holidays, full board, at the Hotel MMV Le Flaine from £455 per person (based on two adults and two children aged 2-11 years occupying a family room), including flights and transfers but not the in-hotel childcare facilities.
In Austria, winter sports are virtually a cradle-to-the-grave activity. Hospitality is an extended-family affair, too. While French ski accommodation is mainly operated by Paris-based corporations, the characteristic ski-resort hotel in Austria is still owned and run by a local family.
Little Niederau, about an hour from Innsbruck, has good skiing for beginners, a child-friendly ski school and a variety of other snow activities such as tubing and sleigh rides. The valley bus permits trips to places such as the Kellerwirt restaurant (in a converted 12th-century monastery) and the farmers’ produce shop, both in Oberau.
Thomson Ski offers seven-night, half-board packages to Hotel Schneeberger in Niederau at £492 per person (based on two adults and two children under 12), including flights and transfers, plus free ski passes for children up to six years old.
The first requirement of a family-friendly resort, tour operators say, is a short transfer from the airport. The ride from Geneva by train and bus to Saas-Fee, though pleasant, takes more than three hours; but a first glimpse of the village, with its ancient wooden barns, tells you Saas-Fee is worth the effort.
Electric trucks are the only vehicles allowed on its lanes, so the village is quiet and safeand the high altitude ensures unfailing snow.
All the ski schools are highly rated, and there is a wide apron of beginner slopes by the lift base to choose from.
Saas-Fee has some fine hotels including Hotel Alphubel, which is included in Crystal’s portfolio of 70 family friendly places to stay.
Crystal offers seven-night packages to Hotel Alphubel from £749 per person, including flights and transfers, plus a free activity programme, lunch and early dinner for non skiing children.
Historically one of the first ski resorts to welcome package-holiday skiers from the UK, Wengen remains something of a British stronghold.
What draws us to the place is the sensational scenery (the famous Mönch, Jungfrau and Eiger mountains are all nearby), the relaxed, old-school ski village with its traditional hotels, and the charm of the rattly mountain railway, which carries guests up from the valley and onwards to Wengen’s higher slopes. For families, the particular attractions are the almost total exclusion of road traffic, the nursery slopes at the centre of the village and the amount of easy intermediate skiing in the area.
Avoriaz ticks all the family ski resort boxes – it’s a short journey from Geneva airport, a traffic-free village (apart from the occasional horse-drawn sleigh) and has great snow and ski-in/ski-out accommodation virtually everywhere. And, recently, it acquired a new asset, a mostly-indoor water park called Aquariaz.
For children growing weary of skiing and the cold, Aquariaz offers a wide range of distractions including forest vegetation, a tube slide, a ‘splashdown’ climbing wall and heated outdoor pool. New this season at Avoriaz is the spa facility at the chic and family-friendly L’Amara apartments.
Self-catering ski holidays at L’Amara cost from £524 per person with Inghams, including flights, transfers and seven nights’ accommodation.
10. St. Luc
Have you ever considered what your ideal family ski resort would be like, and conjured up a charming little alpine village with a proper ski area (never crowded), whose small ski school would take your children in hand? Your village would probably have a beautiful old familyrun hotel, with a casual and unpretentious restaurant serving excellent food. Happily, there is such place: it is St Luc, in the Val d’Anniviers, about 30km east of Verbier along the Rhone valley. Its remarkable hotel is the Bella Tola. The area is too small to interest UK package-tour operators, and although the Bella Tola’s style is a kind of rarified shabby chic, St Luc is certainly no budget destination. But a trip to the resort is unforgettable.