Before you book your next family ski holiday, find out which resorts have great ski schools for kids.
Standards at ski schools have constantly improved over the years, and the healthy competition between more-recently founded schools at many resorts has helped this. Classes are usually smaller than they used to be (although we do still come across some that are way too large) and most schools have plenty of good English-speaking instructors. A big growth area has been the development of programmes for children.
Some British ski travel operators run their own schools. Esprit Ski is one of the major players here, with schools for children at a dozen resorts across the Alps, and has achieved a considerable reputation for the quality of teaching.Spritelets is for three- and four-year-olds, and is geared towards fun and play with a gentle introduction to skiing. Sprite Beginners is for five- to nine-year-old novices, and Sprite Improvers for more-experienced six-to 10-year-olds. The firm offers a range of courses for older children.
Resorts covered include Gressoney in Italy, La Rosière, Courchevel 1850, Belle Plagne, Les Gets and Val d’Isère in France, and St Anton and Obergurgl in Austria. La Rosière also has one of the best branches of the Ecole du Ski Français (ESF) we have come across, run by a Brit, astonishingly, and with an English-language section. The chalet holiday firm Mountain Heaven has an excellent selection of catered chalets and self-catered apartments in La Rosière, yards from the slopes.
In the attractive little resort of Puy-Saint-Vincent in the southern French Alps, British firm Snow Bizz has its own ski school staffed entirely by English-speaking ESF instructors. A massively loyal British clientele returns year after year, and now former pupils are coming back with their own children to learn with the same highly praised school.
One of the prettiest villages in Austria, Alpbach, in the Tirol, has a great ski school that has had exceptionally close connections with generations of British skiers. Under the guidance of director Sepp Margreiter, many aspiring racers have honed their technique here – and every level and age group is catered for.
Also in the Tirol, there's a great ski school in Obergurgl that has long been highly regarded, with excellent English spoken by instructors, and classes kept small. The little Tirolean village of Scheffau, part of the extensive interlinked SkiWelt area, also has a very well-organised children’s section in its school, with little ones as young as two having the chance to enjoy the sensation of sliding on the snow.
In Canada, we’ve been impressed by the school at the British Columbia resort of Big White. The children’s centre is ski-in, ski-out, with a huge range of courses tailored for every age and ability level – and there is even an innovative programme for the whole family in which parents are given a grounding on how they can help their children improve.
Powder Byrne, operating in 13 resorts, is another firm that runs its own special ski programme for youngsters. The Yeti scheme takes children from three to nine in an all-day programme that combines ski lessons with apres-ski activities. Powder Byrne also has various courses for older children, including instruction from British Downhill Olympian Martin Bell.