Photo: FS Stock/Shutterstock

How to Actually Have Fun on a Family Ski Vacation

Ski and Snow Family Travel
by Noelle Alejandra Salmi Jan 9, 2020

Going on a family ski vacation sounds like a lovely enough idea: being in the mountains, spending time away together, hanging out by the crackling fire at night. Yet the main point of a ski vacation is to ski, or snowboard, and that’s where things get complicated. Not everyone in your family may ski at the same level, and some of you may not ski at all. Suddenly your family vacation can seem like a logistical nightmare, trying to make sure everyone is having fun. Before you book that ski trip, follow these tips to ensure you get the vacation you’re looking for.

Set expectations

Photo: Eva Bocek/Shutterstock

Some hardcore skier friends of mine never schussed on anything other than green and a few blue runs during the years their kids were little. Some actually carried one tiny baby in a backpack while the other young child was on a leash in front.

Notwithstanding the fact that baby backpacks and leashes are dangerous, and not even allowed at many resorts, it’s hard to see the point of this. Who is having fun here? Not the kid on the leash, probably not the baby in the backpack, and definitely not the parent.

Before booking your ski trip, sit down with your partner (should you be traveling with one) and discuss what you both want from your ski vacation, and what you want for your kids. If you really want to get some good runs blasting through the moguls, decide the best ways you can manage to do that.

If you want your kids to learn to ski, there are better ways to do it than holding on to them as they slide, possibly terrified, on tiny skis in front of you — held back only by your own unyielding grip on their leash.

Divide and conquer

Photo: Eva Bocek/Shutterstock

It’s true that young kids ski free on many mountains and, by taking them on the hill with you, you get to enjoy the fresh mountain air, introduce them to one of your favorite sports, and save the babysitting money.

But a better way to do this might be for the parents to divide and conquer. Depending on what kind of ski pass you have, like the IKON and Epic passes that give you unlimited skiing at several resorts all season, it might make economic sense for one of you to ski in the morning and the other in the afternoon while the other one watches the kids. Or you may have to switch off by days.

If you do switch off in the middle of the day, you’ll be surprised how much earlier one of you gets out of the house, and how much later the other one skis, than you might otherwise on a ski vacay — and you both may actually get some good turns in.

Get a babysitter

Photo: Maria Sbytova/Shutterstock

Getting a babysitter in ski resorts is usually easier than you think. Most resorts have plenty of young people who need work, and you can usually tap into a well-established babysitting service. Babysitting Whistler has been providing excellent babysitters to needy parents for 14 years, the Lake Tahoe area is packed with babysitting services, and Babysitting in Vail has been around since 2002 — to name a few. Most of these services run background checks on the nannies they hire, and if you book in advance, you can ask for one of their more experienced sitters. A good babysitter will also know all the fun spots to take kids, from outdoor playgrounds to indoor jumpy houses.

Enroll the kids in ski school

Photo: Vladislav Gajic/Shutterstock

As soon as your kids are old enough, ski school is worth it. It may seem expensive now, but the more ski lessons your kids can have, the sooner they’ll actually be able to ski on the double black diamond runs you want to ski. The day they surprise you by showing you their favorite tree run on the mountain is when you’ll know the ski school paid off.

Good ski instructors know how to work with kids, and ski school days are structured to go at a kids’ pace — a pace that can seem agonizingly slow to parents who just want to get out there and carve some turns. Somehow, in between the timeouts for snowball fights and absurdly long lunch breaks, those instructors still find time to get the kids skiing, and you’ll be amazed how fast your kid progresses.

If you’re going for a longer ski vacation, try to find a ski school program that lasts a few days, so your child can see the same kids from one day to the next.

Pick the right resort

Photo: FamVeld/Shutterstock

If you have a choice of resorts, do your research beforehand. For one, not all ski schools are created equal. We’ve experienced fantastic ski schools in Whistler Blackcomb, and even in La Cerdanya, Spain, where three-year olds were given steering wheels to hold as they schussed and turned — on day one — down the barely angled slope. Can’t say we’ve seen anything cuter. But our kids haven’t loved all ski schools in the same way, and we’ve tried a few when visited new resorts for a weekend.

Different ski resorts have different starting ages for lessons. Call around as some offer lessons for kids as young as three. Others, meanwhile, have great day care programs for the under-threes or -fours. While one sibling goes to ski school, the younger one can go to “snow school,” which is usually a fun day hanging out with other toddlers.

Bigger resorts can also have more amenities for non-skiers, and more activities at the end of the ski day — from skating rinks to movie theaters. Also, if the parents will be switching off, it’s helpful to stay at a lodge or Airbnb that isn’t too far from the slope itself.

Enlist friends and grandparents

Photo: Muskoka Stock Photos/Shutterstock

Consider taking your ski vacations with another family or families. This will bring benefits on multiple levels. If the other family has kids your child’s age, then those little ones will have each other to play with, almost guaranteeing a more fun vacay for them. The parents can splurge on a babysitter together or enroll the kids together in ski school, so they can be in the same group.

If you have grandparents who live nearby, invite them along on your ski vacation. It’s usually a win-win for all parties, as the skiing adults can have a chance to ski on their own without feeling worried about the kids, nanna gets time with her grandchildren, and the kids also get spoiled by their grandparents.

Take care of a non-skiing partner

Photo: Maridav/Shutterstock

If one parent doesn’t ski — or is, say, pregnant or injured and is sitting this season out — the other parent shouldn’t assume that means a free pass to leave the house before the lifts open and return after apres with friends. They should find out what the other non-skiing parent wants from their time in the mountains and see how to accommodate that. The skier can head up to the mountain later so the non-skier can go to yoga in the morning, or take a couple of afternoons off so the non-skier can go snowshoeing or hit the spa.

Schedule time to ski together

Photo: Tomsickova Tatyana/Shutterstock

If your kids are old enough to be on skis, then plan ahead of time when you all will ski together and make that date clear to the kids. That way, the kids aren’t begging to get out of ski school or aren’t wondering why you all aren’t skiing together sooner. You’ll get your off-piste skiing thrills at the start of the trip, and then can enjoy seeing how your kids have progressed.

Do some non-ski activities

Photo: digitalskillet/Shutterstock

Not all kids love skiing the first, or even second, time they try it — but that doesn’t mean they won’t love their ski vacation. Take them sledding and ice-skating, make snowmen, and, if necessary, take them to the hotel or condo pool. (As miserable as this may seem to you, kids love swimming, even in the mountains, and this is your thank you to them for letting you ski the runs you want to ski.)

Don’t forget that nighttime is part of the ski vacation, as well, so bring cards or board games, or watch some fun movies together. Make sure that your ski trip feels like the full vacation that it should be.

Consider an all-inclusive resort

Photo: Paul Vinten/Shutterstock

There is a way to cut to the chase and make sure that the desires of even the youngest skiers are being met — and that’s through an all-inclusive ski vacation. Club Med, for example, has family-oriented ski resorts all over the Alps, and will be opening one in Canada next year.

All-inclusive resorts take all of the logistical jiggering out of your ski vacation by incorporating lodging, food, lift tickets, and a lot more into a single price. This can include ski lessons at whatever level you’re looking for, daycare for kids as young as four months (at least at Club Med ski locations in Europe), and a host of evening activities, as well. There are even activities for teens, so that families with kids of different ages can feel like every member is looked after.

The Club Med all-inclusive model is not for everyone, and it has some drawbacks — like the fact that every meal is served in the same place — but kids seem to love it.

Discover Matador