A great family ski holiday can leave you with life long memories and in still a passion for winter snow sports for life. That said, creating such a holiday does take some thoughtful planning, research and honest self reflection as to our own skills and goals. Exposing children to temperature extremes, physically tiring days and the use of specialized equipment can make it a stressful experience for all family members – and that is before factoring in any tiredness from the travel itself. With so many choices out there when it comes to skiing`s best countries, mountain ranges, resorts and service options – it can all feel rather overwhelming trying to piece together the perfect holiday from behind the computer screen. With that in mind, here are 5 things that it is important to consider when planning a family ski holiday.
1. Check the cancellation policy
Needless to say in this time of Covid19 and a the resulting travel standstill, that an airtight cancellation policy and/or refund guarantee is paramount. With so many uncertainties, including the prospect that operators themselves may go out of business, it is more important than ever that you read the small print and make sure that you are able to cancel should travel not suitable by the time of your trip. Ideally, operators would take bookings but hold off taking payments until much closer to the winter season, as this will give peace of mind whilst through booking.
2. Choose the right region
It is really important to check that the region you are considering is suitable for the traveller`s ages, interests and ability levels. For example, Japan`s island of Hokkaido has attracted global attention for its wonderfully consistent snowfall, which is brought by extremely cold temperatures and weather patterns that set in for weeks at a time during the winter months. While this is not a problem, and indeed great fun for avid powder and backcountry skiers, very cold, windy and snowy weather is not what your average 5 year will enjoy while trying to get to grips with skiing. The surplus snow can also make learning on resort more challenging for beginner adults and kids, and chilly extremities does little to make it easier. Unless you are maximising on the powder skiing, most people would probably take warmer temperatures, sunnier skies and all round more favourable conditions. So – even if a region is the latest hot spot on the ski resort bucket list and popping up all over social media and travel blogs, do be sure to research it properly before booking and make sure that the weather and typical conditions align with your trip needs and preferences. In short – not everywhere is suitable for everyone.
3. Research the resort
Narrowing down from the region to the resort/village/mountain that you choose to stay in, once again it is really important to do your research and make choices according to the needs and interests of those travelling. A big deciding factor should be what ski slopes are close by and what type of skier they are suitable for. Some resorts are clearly better suited to advanced skiers looking to be challenged, while others are more naturally suited for beginners and/or families and as a result these resorts often focus more on catering to that demographic. Every mountain and ski slope on the planet is different, so no matter how effective a resort’s marketing strategy is, always do you own research to check that the mountains in the resort you are considering are in fact the best choice for your family.
4. Consider your accommodation preference
It is difficult to envision how you will feel after a day on the slopes (though to say you may be tired is a fairly safe assumption) and therefore it is hard to judge what type of lodging your would want to focus on. Hotels have the advantage of having facilities at your finger tips, having a breakfast prepared for you and hopefully easy access to a restaurant. That said, sharing a hotel with other members of the public is for some not the mountain retreat or ski lodge escape that they envision when thinking about a ski trip. Many of the higher end options are self contained lodges that are very well appointed, equipped and will even come with a vehicle and/or concierge. You can also hire private chefs to cater these lodges if eating out doesn’t appeal, while others will be well located close to restaurants and shops if that is your preferences. Once you have decided on which type of accommodation best suits you, spend a few minutes thinking about the location and what you may or may not like to do in the evenings. Are you in interested in exploring shops and restaurants, or are you after peace, quiet and immersion in nature? And, If you have small children, is it easy to access the mountain you are heading to, without having to schlepp around the valley caring your kid`s skis? Location is key when it comes to family skiing.
5. Choose the right operator
A good ski school, guiding company, tour company or day care can make or break your holiday. Before booking any activity and service providers, do thorough research to check that they are reputable, insured, resort approved and legitimate. So many `instructors` and `guides` operate illegally without any of the above, and could leave you in a very sticky situation if things things did not go as planned. And if you need another incentive, your insurance often won’t cover you if the operator is not qualified, and though it may initially be a cheaper option (no overheads, taxes, insurances etc…) than booking through a legitimate company, the quality and value for money will be far lower – not to mention the serious safety issues associated. Unfortunately it can be difficult to tell how people are operating, so don’t be afraid to ask these questions; a professional will understand that you are doing your due diligence and will be happy to answer. And as always – do you research prior to booking and check with many different sources/platforms. Make sure that your hard earned money is put the best, most enjoyable and effective use.
Nadine Robb is Owner and Instructor at Hakuba Ski Concierge. Hakuba Ski Concierge is a boutique ski school in Hakuba, Japan.