By Tess Swallow, t4 Nanny
Taking your kids on a winter holiday can seem a daunting task. Will they like skiing? Can they cope with the cold? Will I be able to get enough time on the slopes myself?
But with the right planning, and a bit of insider knowledge, it can be the most rewarding holiday you’ll ever have. Let me share some of the secrets I’ve learned in 10 years of being a ski instructor, nanny business owner and parent in the Tarentaise…
When to start children skiing
Children can get on skis as soon as they’re steady enough to stand and walk, though most ski schools only take children in group lessons from age 3. Until then try to resist skiing your child between your legs – I’ve seen too many children with broken bones after a parent has fallen on them! Ouch.
Choosing the right resort
Skiing can be an expensive business so it’s worth trying a less high profile resort for better value – Sainte Foy, La Rosiere, Peisey-Vallandry, Villaroger. You won’t find the same buzzing nightlife, but the villages are charming and everything is on your doorstep.
If you’re trying to please less keen skiers, lots of resorts offer exciting alternative activities. Children love trying new things and husky sledging or snowshoeing together can create some magical holiday memories.
Finding the right accommodation
Cutting costs doesn’t always give the best value – going self-catered can feel like you’re grappling with the same household chores just in a more challenging environment! A catered chalet holiday will make sure everyone feels pampered. If you’d rather not chance sharing a chalet with people you don’t know, get a couple of families together and share the cost of the chalet and childcare. Big parties can often get discounts on everything from the chalet and ski lessons to childcare and eating out.
Consider staying within easy walking distance of the lifts – trudging with tired children in one arm, their gear and yours in the other, is no fun.
The best times of year to book
If your school breaks up early then a sneaky holiday the week before Christmas can often deliver unbelievable conditions and empty slopes. Easter is often dismissed as too late in the season, but even when it falls late in April there’s lots of great snow cover in the higher resorts, and guaranteed if you choose one with a glacier like Tignes or Val d’Isere.
The right questions to ask before booking your child into lessons
- Do the instructors speak English?
- How big are the group sizes? A maximum of 8 is essential.
- Does the school offer a lunch club, or will you need to return from your ski tour to provide sandwiches?
- Do we need to buy them a ski pass? Many resorts offer free ski passes to children under a certain age or offer free lifts for beginners so there’s no need to buy a pass until day 2 or 3.
- Do they run any adult courses at the same time? Take the opportunity to learn while your kids do.
What your child needs with them at ski school
It’s really important children have the right kit – helmet, goggles, thermals, fleece, salopettes, ski jacket, snood, ski gloves, ski socks.
Each morning your child will need a snack, money for a drink, sun cream and a note with your name and mobile number on it.
Getting the best deal on your family’s lift passes
Often the best way is to book in advance online from the official resort websites. When buying or picking up a family pass you will need your passports to prove you are a family and the ages of your children.
If you ski more than once a year, many resorts now offer great loyalty cards. Tignes has launched the Tignes pass and InfiniTignes, which are both rechargeable online and can save you a lot of money. Visit skipass-tignes.com.
Evening childcare while you apres
Some tour operators offer a private nanny service or a crèche – this will not give you as much flexibility as a nanny, but is great value for money.
The cost of a private nanny can be reduced if you share it between two families, as you pay per nanny rather than per child.
Whatever you do, just be prepared for the fact that whatever age your child, by the end of your holiday they will likely be whizzing past you on the slopes!
Kids activities and offers
Tignes: New beginner’s rider park at the Marmottons children’s ski area, with mini obstacles and magic rope for teaching snowboarding. Ages from 2½, prices from €5. Free Le Lagon and ice rink sessions with some lift passes. Free child’s pass with an adult 6-day pass in January.
Val d’Isere: Children’s zone with sledge races, snowman making and games. Free sledging area on the left of the Savonette lift. Free Snake Glisse and Airboard after lifts close.
La Rosiere : Free lift passes for under 5s. Beginner’s area with 4 free lifts and children’s covered ‘magic carpet’. Spring Break week is 11-18 April, with family entertainment and free child passes available.
Sainte Foy : Children under 7 go free. Yoga snowshoe walks for mums, teatime in an igloo and the Piou Piou Mini Club with synchronised kids and adult courses are offered by various companies – check with tourist information.
Les Arcs: New Aquafun Centre, lit toboggan experience, forest discovery piste and enclosed children’s area with igloos and obstacles. All ages ski at kid’s prices from 7-13 February.
La Plagne: Find bouncy castles, candy cabins, a polar village and a beach at the top of the resort’s mountains from 5-16 April. Get a child’s ski pass free with a family all-inclusive package from the resort.