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FeaturesHead for the Hills

Head for the Hills

The summer may not quite be over but keen skiers will be looking forward to the start of the winter season and if you haven’t already booked your next trip now’s the time to make plans.

Skiing is a family-friendly activity but taking the kids for the first time can be a slightly daunting prospect. Don’t be put off; there are dozens of easy-access resorts that cater for skiers of all ages and abilities.

Holidaying in the mountains is a unique experience that provides a fantastic counterpoint to island life. There is a sense of space and freedom on the slopes that is hard to beat, plus of course fresh air, exercise, hearty food and warming boozy tipples to enjoy at the end of the day. What’s not to love?

Young children usually take to skiing quickly, older children and teenagers who are confident can enjoy a heady freedom on the slopes and there are some very child-friendly resorts to choose from.

Like any family holiday, picking a resort with the right facilities and within easy reach of the airport is essential. The main ski airports of Zurich, Chambéry and Geneva are the gateway to a host of great resorts all within a few hours’ drive and Austria and Italy also have some brilliant destinations for families.

For anyone travelling with younger children childcare will be a consideration. There are lots of options and there are pros and cons for each. For really young children and babies who are not old enough to enjoy the snow, then staying in a chalet and hiring a local nanny or au pair who comes to look after the kids is a really good idea. They will often bring a selection of toys so you don’t have to travel with too much and you may also be able to hire prams, baby baths and stair gates too. This is a stress-free option that works well if you are joining up with another family with kids of a similar age.

If you prefer to have your children in a more social setting then many resorts have nurseries that take visiting children. Do check if they have sufficient staff who speak English and look for recommendations or reviews from other families. It’s also worth checking where the nursery is in the resort because a long walk in ski boots with young children, a nappy bag and your skis will not be a good start to the ski day. Most nurseries will want a named bag for your child’s bottles, nappies and clothes and you’ll need a snowsuit. A papoose or front baby carrier is great for small babies as you can do away with prams and keep your hands free for carrying your own gear.

A lot of resorts will have a good mini ski school – with a snow play area where young children can enjoy outside games. There are also more and more family-friendly hotels that boast an on-site crèche with soft play areas and good facilities. Chains like the Kinder Hotels, predominately found in Austria, are excellent and make the whole holiday stress free. Like Mark Warner, the Kinder Hotels have early dining options and lots of distractions for younger family members.

Chambéry airport offers a number of excellent ski resorts all within around one and a half hour’s drive. Megève is one of the closest and is a picturesque village with pretty chalets and cobbled streets. Near to Mont Blanc, the skiing is good and there is also ice-skating, sleigh rides and chic shops for yummy mummies to enjoy when not on the slopes.

La Plagne has lots to do and promotes itself as being very family friendly. There is a day nursery, snowy kindergarten and several ski schools. La Tania is one of the lower resorts in the Courchevel area of Les Trois Vallées; it’s less expensive than the higher resorts and easier to access. Proficient skiers will love the expanse of ski runs that the resort links into but there are also a lot of easier slopes for children and beginners. Crystal Ski offers a variety of accommodation all within easy reach of the slopes.

Further up, Courchevel 1650 should be a little less crowded and less ‘bling’ than 1850 and the vast Trois Vallées are on your doorstep. La Manali hotel has a kids club, spa, swimming pool, family suites and a nursery. There are two nurseries in the village as well as the usual ski school so there are a few good childcare options for anyone opting to stay in a chalet.

Anyone flying into Geneva will be spoilt for choice. It’s an ideal airport if you particularly want a short transfer into your resort. Les Gets is one of the closest and has plenty of Savoyard charm. Try Ski Famille for their family chalets with on-site childcare. Older kids will love the boardercross and snow parks and the tree-lined slopes are well suited to beginners and intermediate skiers, while the more adventurous can access the massive Portes du Soleil area.

Further up the valley is Morzine, a larger village with lots to do and a wide variety of accommodation. From here it’s easy to access the high altitude resort of Avoriaz, which is car-free and offers ski-in, ski-out accommodation. Both resorts have a wide range of childcare options and there is a children’s village in Avoriaz that is very popular.

Zurich is another easy-access airport and Flumserberg, Switzerland’s largest winter sport resort, is less than 90 minutes’ drive. There are two children’s parks, good childcare options, dozens of runs and activities like sledging and snow shoe hiking. Family-friendly hotels in the resort include Cristal, Mittenwald, Siesta and Tannenboden – they all have children’s play rooms and easy options for feeding the kids.

Laax is Switzerland’s snowboarding hub. The Snowboard Freestyle Academy ensures that there are plenty of pro freestyle events to watch, which will go down very well with older kids who will also love the resort’s four snow parks, one of which boasts a super pipe. For younger ones there is a Snow Wonderland and keen skiers and boarders will be more than satisfied with the 235 km pistes spread across five valleys.

Whatever your destination, the mountains, with their panoramic views, fun-filled days and cosy evenings, make for an unforgettable family holiday.

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