Skiing is a fun way to unite all the family. Whether the parents are long-time fans of the sport and wish to train up their little ones, or the youngsters themselves are keen on taking up the snowy slopes and the parents looking for a spot of out-of-the-box leisure, a few days in the mountains promise tons of adventure.
Apart from skiing, there’s an ever more creative and inclusive host of activities for non-skiing crew members; not to mention tasty meals and hot chocolates, the chance to appreciate some mountain wildlife and scenery, and plenty of new friends to be made.
Increasingly, ski resorts around the world are catering for families with kids of all ages and tastes and creating special packages for the skiing family who wants to hit the slopes without drying up its holiday fund for one or several seasons. In this guide for the 2016/17 season, we bring you the best locations scattered around Europe, the UK, the US – and even Canada! – where your family will be made to feel at home, at no compromise to either child or adult.
Alpe d’Huez, France
Alpe d’Huez is what you’d expect from a classic medium-range French ski resort, except that it’s amassed an iron-solid reputation for how it carves up a huge chunk of its extensive variety to serve to eager skiing families. It’s the perfect destination for mixed ability groups due to its amazing diversity, and family units certainly fit the bill.
Expert parents can tackle exciting black runs while toddlers find their feet on the gentle nursery slopes, all within reachable distance of one another. Due to the resort’s experience with this special kind of skiing cohort, ski instructors and caregivers at Alpe d’Huez will be nothing short of fully competent and versed in the art of making skiing a magical experience for kids.
Amongst the special facilities for children are the wave run, adventure course, magic carpet, playground, and a ski kindergarten, nursery and toilets for when Mum and Dad want to kick loose and partake in a little après-ski. Kids will feel right at home here, and parents will still be able to feel like they’ve gotten away.
Surprisingly, Norway remains very much under the radar in comparison with ski destinations in the Alps, despite boasting a rich and old skiing heritage and dedicated catering for families. Trysil is the largest resort in the country and offers the wide range of terrain necessary for a family ski holiday to flourish.
The beauty of this resort is the 360˚ skiing experience, provided by the volcano-shaped eponymous Trysilfjellet that commands the slopes. You can switch from one side of the mountain to the other in pursuit of the sun’s trajectory across the sky, and the vast majority of the hotels at base altitude are ski-in, ski-out. This, coupled with the excellent service aimed at keeping children entertained and the friendliness of the impeccably spoken ski instructors make Trysil an unmissable family ski destination.
Active season is also exceptionally long at this northerly resort, generally commencing in November and sometimes stretching on until early May, which makes for all the space in the world and no queues or crowds while spending quality time with your most precious ones.
A scenic haven for beginners and intermediates, Obergurgl holds Austria’s top snow record, in terms of both reliability and longevity. This instantly makes it highly competitive, but it’s the brilliance of the ski school for infants that earns it this spot on our list. Children make drastic improvements in a matter of hours and this is a major attraction for parents.
Besides, this traditionally charming Austrian village can’t get more Alpine than it is. Children will love waking up to the ‘moos’ and baahs’ echoing off of the mountain walls, followed by sunny sessions of slope fun. For the mature components of the family, the tranquillity and quaint charm of the resort will please in volumes.
Eating at Obergurgl is a welcome difference to overpriced mountain resorts of little substance; the plentiful dining terraces each have something to offer, and kids will be delighted at the typical Tyrolean cuisine centred around flavourful sausages and Wiener Schnitzel.
Levi is for the more adventurous family seeking thrills along runs less travelled. This resort is situated firmly within the confines of the Arctic Circle and presents a whole new world to those used to the usual Alpine fanfare. Moose and reindeer pull visitors from one end of the mountain basin to another on sledges and no part of the body can be left exposed to the extreme temperatures, save for the eyes; so it’s not for the faint-hearted, yet well worth it if you and the kids are prepared to adjust to true winter wonderland.
Activities for the little ones happen outdoors and indoors and cater to all tastes at Leevilandia, a specially designed ski area for children with sledge races, treasure hunts, play days, its very own mascot called Leevi and the Olympics competitions named after him. Children will therefore be happily occupied at all times while the parents take advantage of the quiet slopes to appreciate the wondrous Finnish surroundings and next-level powder.
The weekly programme of events for children runs throughout the entire ski season and kids will be delighted to meet Santa himself during the Christmas period – although this is the darkest time of the year for Levi, which basically receives no sunlight at the two-month peak of winter.
Madonna di Campiglio, Italy
Madonna di Campiglio beats other family resorts through the sheer appeal of its jaw-dropping setting in the Dolomites, its low tourist numbers and the exquisite offerings of Trentino cuisine it serves up for eager skiers. The ski school is populated with a well-curated and large selection of instructors who know their stuff and are equally as apt at passing it on, whether the learner is adult or infant.
The atmosphere at the resort is friendly and relaxed, which makes for a fantastic family getaway. Kids can happily try paragliding, snowshoeing, dog sledding or even ice climbing on frozen waterfalls if they’re not too young. In winter, Lake Conca Verde freezes and becomes an outdoor ice rink, as well as a prime spot for admiring the forested slopes of the surrounding pink-hued mountains.
Children and adults alike will appreciate a night-time trip up to a mountain restaurant on a snowcat. With discounts and special rates and programmes for kids, Madonna di Campiglio remains one of the best ski resorts for the family to holiday in with success.
Relatively little known to this day, Engelberg is nonetheless touted as Switzerland’s go-to family ski resort. For starters, there’s a children’s playground and a toboggan run for the little non-skiers in the family. At the base, Klostermatte offers a perfect space for beginners, with two lifts, a magic carpet, figures, tabletop soccer and a ski school.
Kids will enjoy Globis Winterland, a ski area specially designed for youngsters. Globis is the highly popular toucan mascot keeping the kids light-heartedly entertained as they follow him around the resort. Globis Winterland also offers sledding and some serious winter wandering in the fairytale landscapes, a ski carousel and various other attractions. Snowli is a purpose-built child ski village catering to everything that children could dream of, and birthday parties can be hosted there.
The grownups will enjoy the history and culture of the town, where cheese and beer are produced as a local delicacy and off-piste skiing and après-ski are thrilling and vibrant respectively.
Having at least somewhat abandoned its former reputation as a ‘St Tropez de Neige’, the Avoriaz of late seems to have settled into life as a family-focused high-altitude resort at the heart of the key Portes du Soleil ski area. Indeed, it was the 2013 winner of the Best Family Resort title at the World Snow Awards in London, which means its efforts in meeting the needs of the whole skiing family are top-notch.
For starters, the entire resort has been designated a ‘100% ski-in, ski-out’ area which provides free ski passes for all children under five years old. In addition, the ‘Village des Enfants’ established by Annie Famose – the former Olympic skiing champion – has been welcoming young children into its ranks since 1975. The school adopts an innovative and deeply supportive method of teaching the sport to infant beginners, based on play and amusement, much to the kids’ and parents’ delight.
There’s an ice skating rink and an aquatic park with playhouses, pools, climbing walls and a toasty open-air spa for all. The family festivities at Avoriaz are always forthcoming with special events populating the ski season in numbers, which makes the resort a prime choice for a family holiday.
Moving over to the other side of the Atlantic, Sun Peaks in Canada is the second largest Canadian ski resort and by and large, the most accommodating and exciting for families. The huge ski area has great snow cover throughout the season, exceeding European resort levels most of the time. Ice skating and horse-drawn sleigh rides are offered alongside guided ice fishing – a novelty for European skiers.
Kids can also enjoy snowbiking, snowmobiling, winter Segway tours and an extensive tube park, with activities pocketed in for the adults to keep everyone happy. Modelled on traditional Alpine-style ski villages, gastronomy and après-ski are high on the list here too. Although much meeker than its neighbouring Whistler Blackcomb, Sun Peaks has a wide and ever-changing menu of events curated to make the most out of the three gorgeous mountains flanking its borders.
The cherry on the cake is that it’s affordable too, and greatly so by British Columbian ski resort standards. Parents will appreciate the strategic convenience of the ski village, designed in such a way that all slopes lead to it so kids can’t get lost. The well laid out runs and superb ski-in, ski-out accommodation makes for a charming entry into Canadian winter life when the toddlers are tagging along.
Smugglers’ Notch, Cambridge
Yet another award-winning resort, this time in the US region of Vermont, Smuggler’s Notch is not a fancy destination, but what it lacks in style, it makes up for in solid skiing facilities and a heavily family-oriented ambience. This resort’s focus is on providing stimulating activities round the clock so there’s never a moment of idleness or boredom, and it nails it.
A typical day at Smuggler’s Notch starts off with a hot chocolate warm-up with the resort mascots before the whole family takes to the runs. Winter welcome bonfires, creative sock puppet crafts, scavenger hunts, bingo, storytelling, pool games and broomball all feature on a weekly basis. There’s little room for doubt as to how and why this winter playground is a haven for kids, and adults will themselves feel like children again taking part in these delightfully animated programmes.
SKI Magazine’s readers ranked Smuggs (as it’s affectionately known and called by fans) the ‘#1 Kid-Friendly Resort in the East’, and with torchlight parades and fireworks finishing off the skiing day, it’s easy to see why. The popular FunZone Family Entertainment Center is currently being redeveloped into a 2.0 version, so a visit to the completed facility is in order when the area is reopened.
CairnGorm Mountain, Scotland
The only UK entry on our list is the obvious choice for British families who want their ski holiday to remain local. Nestled within the Cairngorms range in Aviemore, the kids will immediately appreciate the long funicular ride up the mountain offering jaw-dropping views of the northeastern portion of the Scottish Highlands.
With snowfall being unpredictable throughout the season, Aviemore has diversified its offerings and is now a town that puts families first among its plethora of annual visitors. The Rothiemurchus Estate is situated outside the centre of the town and has a full list of outdoor activities, including archery, pony trekking, clay target shooting, quad bike treks, rafting and canoeing. Aviemore’s restaurants have all been designed with the whole family in mind, so play areas and kids’ menus abound.
The resort itself organises dog sledding, skijoring and reindeer safaris when the runs are not productive, and the wintry Scottish countryside remains the major attraction for families nationwide.