1st November 2015
If the whole family is new to skiing, and want to dip their toes for the first time, go to Beitostølen – especially now the Krone has lost a quarter of its value against the pound. It’s a pocket-sized area with good nursery slopes, sympathetic instructors, and just enough intermediate skiing to make things interesting if anyone masters their parallel turns. Just as important, however, are all the other things you can try. Dog- sledding, cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing are all on offer. Fairly standard for Scandinavia, but not so one final activity: the airboard – aka flying down the mountain on a glorified lilo once the lifts have closed. After the rigours of ski school, it’s the perfect way to blow off steam.
Best for: Families who want to sample the whole of winter, not just the pistes
Tucked up against the Italian border, at the far end of the high and hoary Ötztal valley, Obergurgl-Hochgurgl is as snowsure as an Alpine resort can get without having its own glacier. Like Tignes, it’s a canny choice for an Easter ski break, and on a sunny day the scenery is breathtaking: never more so than from the circular balcony of the Top Mountain Star restaurant, which balances on knife-edged ridge at 3,080m. The ski area isn’t as extensive as Tignes, its great rival for the late-season family market. But by way of compensation, you get a collection of beautifully run hotels at the bottom of the lifts (the Austrians and their German-speaking cousins in the South Tyrol are generally the best hoteliers in the Alps). Featuring heavily in SNO’s family ski hotels range, many have their own pools and nurseries, and most are only a few steps away from the nursery slopes of the Brit-friendly ski school.
Best for: Families with slightly older kids (six and above), who won’t mind the fact that ski lessons run both before and after lunch. For four- and five-year- olds, a whole day of ski school can be a daunting prospect
Longer days, and the sense that summer is just around the corner, make Easter a bright and energetic time for a ski holiday. But you must aim high to be sure of good snow. Tignes, in the Espace Killy ski area, will do the job nicely. With accommodation at 2,100m, and skiing up to 3,400m on the Grande Motte glacier, it’ll withstand even the steamiest spring thaw, and serves up scenery so beautiful that sometimes you just have to stand and gawp. Tignes-le-Lac is the best of the villages. Not only is it home to a couple of excellent chalet hotels, run by family-skiing specialists Mark Warner and Esprit. It’s also where you’ll find the Lagon pool and its enormous three-lane slide: perfect for an hour or two of family dunking in the slack time before supper.
Best for: Energetic families who have the legs to ski Tignes’ signature sequence of pistes – all the way from the top of the glacier back down to Tignes Val Claret
Got some first-timers in your brood? Then the little cocoon of ski chalets in the Les Menuires suburb of Reberty 2000 should be your target. Almost everything you need is on the doorstep. English-speaking childcare comes courtesy of two companies, Ski Famille and Family Ski Company, which run most of the chalets. Meanwhile, the beginners’ nursery slope is three minutes’ walk across the snow, and there’s even a friendly restaurant next door where everyone can reassemble at lunchtime to discuss triumphs and pratfalls. For the grown-ups, an easy blue piste plugs into the vast Three Valleys network of pistes, while two separate pools can be reached by free shuttle buses for après-ski splashing.
Best for: Anyone who wants to get stuck into a big ski area, but who also has children who haven’t skied before
Sure, there’s a Mark Warner chalet-hotel in town, which means top-notch English-speaking childcare, and platoons of playmates. But did you also know Courmayeur is one of Heston Blumenthal’s favourite ski resorts? The mountain is peppered with sensational restaurants, several of which look straight onto the mighty Mont Blanc. So while the young’uns are at ski school, you can flit about on Courmayeur’s compact but fun ski area, sampling such treats as spaghetti alla bottarga (made with cod’s roe) at Maison Vieille, and spit-roast suckling pig at the Petit Mont Blanc.
Best for: Foodies, photographers and shoppers – Courmayeur’s Via Roma is absolutely charming
A sure way to limit the cost of a family ski trip is to book a self- catering apartment, and there are few more convenient places to stay than Arc 1950. Set at the eastern edge of the big, multi-faceted Paradiski area, it’s a purpose-built village, which provides a wraparound environment of apartments, shops and restaurants – complete with a little sanctuary of snow in the middle. There’s a multilingual nursery if you need it, a great little ski school called Spirit, and a nightly programme of events offering everything from snowman-building contests to night skiing. In fact, the only time you’re likely to leave Arc 1950’s comforting embrace is when you click into your skis each morning.
Best for: Families who don’t mind cooking after a day on the pistes
Alpbach recently joined forces with Auffach, on the other side of the mountain, to create the enlarged Ski Juwel area. It’s fairly low by modern standards, so best skied between Christmas and the end of February. But when the snow’s good, intermediates wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Best of all, however, is the fact it’s home to the Galtenberg; one of the most child-friendly hotels in the Alps. Big family rooms, 70 hours of free childcare, a splashy pool for toddlers, a spa for kids and grown-ups, private ski school and 1,000m2 soft-play area: they’re all here.
Best for: Anyone who prefers The Sound Of Music to The Eiger Sanction
Few skiers have heard of little Puy-St-Vincent, south-east of Grenoble. But it’s become a favourite with British families, thanks to tour operator Snowbizz, which has made the resort its home. Guests stay in ski-in, ski-out apartments, and have to cook for themselves. But beyond that, everything is taken care of – including English-speaking nurseries, kids’ clubs, and Snowbizz’s own ski school. Admittedly, the slopes here will never rival titans like the Three Valleys. But there’s lots of variety packed into their modest extent.
Best for: Anyone who wants the supportive set-up of a British-run chalet-hotel, but at a lower price.