One of the best parts about living in Switzerland was our easy access to the best skiing in Europe. And yes, I do think it’s worth the time and expense to travel across an ocean for a family ski holiday. Ski experiences vary greatly from country to country and just like any travel adventure, the fun is in understanding and appreciating a different approach to this beloved winter sport.
Dreaming about a ski trip to Europe this season? It’s not too late! Here’s what you need to know:
Wide open ski terrain with views to die for in Zermatt
Scour the web for the best fares that get to into the main European hubs. Geneva and Zurich are both excellent hubs for skiing in Europe. You don’t have to ski in Switzerland to make use of these cities from a flight perspective. Swiss Rail is amazing and can get you easily to Austria, Germany, France, and Italy, or you can take a smaller connecting flight for the final leg of the trip. Europe has many low-cost carriers. The trick is to find the best fare for long leg and then using local resources at competitive rates.
Dramatic mountain scenery paired with epic Italian food and wine in the Dolomites
All the main ski resorts in Europe have programs of some kind for children. Some are better than others and this is where the research comes into play. To avoid being overwhelmed by all the options, choose the country you want to experience and then worry about where to ski.
Given the logistics involved in skiing, focus is essential. If you only have one week, choose one country. If you have two weeks, you can add a second country and so on.
Surreal alpine vistas in St. Moritz
Package holidays are popular for skiing for good reason as a ski trip can be logistically challenging. Moreover, packages can be a good value once you add in transportation, lodging, dining, lessons, and lift tickets.
My issue with packages is that many are not tailored for families, particularly those with young children who are too young to ski or need a childcare/ski lesson combination. There are a few UK-based operators that offer family specific programming including Scott Dunn and Mark Warner. Although I haven’t had personal experience with these agencies, they have an excellent reputation.
We selected Ski Famille for our trip to the French Alps over Christmas two years ago and had a tremendous experience. They offer upscale catered ski chalets outfitted just for families with full childcare and meals included. Talk about stress free skiing with kids! I highly recommend Ski Famille. Read my review of Ski Famille’s family ski holidays for full details.
Packages offer a fixed number of options to specific ski resorts and this may drive where you decide to ski. Otherwise, if you are booking an independent holiday you still have to decide where to go. Or, someone in the family may have a ski dream to an iconic ski destination like Zermatt or Chamonix in mind.
Note, there are many small and medium sized resorts in Europe that you may not have heard of but are still fantastic with and without children. Don’t judge quality based on name recognition.
That said, the really large areas have brand names you are likely to recognize. These resorts offer extensive services. The tradeoff is that they can be intimidating to navigate given language barriers and the sheer size of the mountain terrain. It’s not uncommon to have a single ski resort where you drive (or shuttle) between “mountains” — Davos and Chamonix are both like this.
For me, the size doesn’t make these resorts any less kid-friendly, it just takes more time and effort to get around; this is why if we opt for a larger resort, we usually choose to stay in a full-service hotel with the staff and services that make getting around a breeze. For this reason, we recommend an array of amazing kid-friendly ski hotels and resorts on Ciao Bambino that work perfectly for independent travel outside of a ski package. Top big name destinations where we recommend family-friendly accommodations include Zermatt, Chamonix, Mürren, Davos, Alta Badia (Dolomites), and Val Thorens (France).
Excellent ski instruction in English courtesy of Altitude Ski School in Verbier
Ski lessons run very differently in Europe than they do in the US. Some resorts offer only week-long options and no standalone weekend lessons. It’s critical to ensure you understand the ski lesson set up in your target area before booking your trip!
It’s also common for a single resort area to offer a long list of lesson providers. Some may be the “official” country ski school and others may be privately owned. We’ve tried both with success. In Verbier we loved our season-long experience with Altitude Ski School and in Zermatt we had a terrific weekend experience with Summit Ski School.
The main thing to think about is the infrastructure you need for the age and ability of your kids. For example, larger resorts like Davos have very developed family-focused features including dedicated play zones for young kids. Resorts that specifically cater to families like Crans-Montana, differentiate runs based on age and ability; Crans-Montana also has an incredible standalone beginner zone away from all those scary fast skiers.
Skiing is truly a family activity in Europe and the choices are endless. It takes some work to narrow down what you want, but it’s well worth it in the end!
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This is a challenging time for our clients given the uncertainty around the spread of coronavirus, particularly for those with near-term travel plans in impacted areas. We’re working with our suppliers on being flexible with their booking conditions, and enabling families to postpone travel to a later date without a penalty, when possible. Likewise, given the unpredictability around destinations that may be impacted in the future, we’re helping clients planning new trips and understand ways that they can protect themselves until the situation improves. We are ready to help our clients work through questions and concerns.