5 things to consider when choosing your family ski destination this winter

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With COVID-19 limiting options for travellers last winter (and in all likelihood this one too), many are being kept away from their resorts of choice and forced to consider alternate destinations this winter. As thrilling as a new location and experience can be, with kids in tow it is always important to know exactly what to expect from a ski trip – especially with so many variables at play in this type of holiday. Location and proximity to slopes and services is key when we trade in the beach towel and flip flops for multiples sets of skis, boots, poles, helmets and mittens, and the environment can be far more demanding when the temperatures are consistently below zero. With that in mind, and for anyone exploring new options for their ski holiday this winter, here are 5 things to consider when choosing the perfect family ski destination.

1. Accommodation – location, location, location

Nothing revolutionary in those words, but not to be underestimated when it comes to ski holidays with children. For the average small child covering the shortest distance in ski boots is a mammoth challenge, one that will exert them quickly and may well throw them into a grumpy mood. What they can easily handle in regular shoes, they will struggle with in ski boots – especially if you have no free hands to help them because you’re schlepping their gear as well as your own. Mittens have a great knack of detaching from the hands at the most inconvenient moments – especially with toddlers – and goggles fog up quickly when the heart rate gets going.

In short, you want to your kids walking in ski gear to an absolute minimum, and the way to do this is to know the resort layout and the distances between the places that you will be going. Commonly, those would be between your accommodation, the rental shop and the ski slopes. Shuttle buses or private transpiration may be provided by the resort or accommodation if the distances are more than 100 meters, but equally – they may not. Know the layout, distances, and how you will move between them.

2. Are the slopes suitable?

While all resorts do their best to cover every base in their marketing strategy, some resorts are simply better suited to different types of skiers than others. To attract the masses or not be put off the radar for potential visitors, they will all boast “a wide variety of terrain for every ability level”, but that does not mean that there will be plenty of every level. Some resorts are simply built on steeper mountains, and others on flatter ones. The colour grading used to indicate slope difficulty differs between countries, meaning that there is no universal rule, and some countries have no fixed criteria as to how a slope is graded. This means that within the same country, what may be labelled an intermediate run on one mountain, may be marked as a beginner one on another.

Almost every resort on the planet will mark one or two beginner runs on its terrain map, but that does not mean that it is the best place for a beginner to learn. Reading independent customer reviews and write ups is a good way to get an accurate picture of the reality of a resort, whereas official material provided by the resort itself or its partners may appear more balanced than it actually is. Do some digging first to check that the place you have in mind really does have plenty of suitable terrain for your family’s needs.

3. Nail the timing

As an industry built on the increasingly unpredictable whims of the weather, timing your ski trip is crucial. If you are sold on the vision of a white Christmas in a winter wonderland, then do check that snow at Christmas is normal for your intended destination (not all resorts can boast a white Christmas). If spring turns in an idyllic alpine setting is how you envision your Easter holidays, then make sure that previous years have had plenty of snow at Easter and that the average regional temperatures are supportive of the conditions that you’d like to ski in.

While ski resorts and surrounding services are motivated to sell their low season, the reality is that they are not responsible for there being snow at the time of your visit. That responsibility is yours, and you’ll be unlikely to ever stumble upon a resort promoting the fact that certain times are hit and miss. Mountainous regions across countries and continents vary enormously, and while weather is unpredictable, some destinations are more of a “sure thing” a certain times than others.

4. Know the snowfall and temperatures

And while we’re talking about snow and weather patterns, make sure that the expected temperatures and snowfall align with your trip goals. Again, effective marketers do not discriminate, so it is up to you to know what conditions are best suited for your family, and to check that your intended destination sees them regularly. Variations in temperature, snowfall, snowpack and anticipated weather patterns play a huge role in determining whether a particular resort is the right choice for any one family, so it is important to know the anticipated conditions for the time of your trip.

A ski resort with frequent and heavy snowfall may look great on social media, but are the minus twenty degree temperatures that go with it or daily snowstorms the best thing for you three year old? By contrast, if you’re ready to get into deep, dry powder snow on your holiday, are sunny skies and mild temperatures conducive towards that? With such extreme regional differences between these variables, knowing what to expect from your destination is paramount.

5. Supportive services

Lastly, it is important to know that the infrastructure and services there support your needs and wants. For example, the lesser know, more exploratory destinations may not yet have reached a stage in their own evolution where they are able to meet your needs as a family. It is important to remember that ski resorts are not universal – one size fits all – and so what may be an abundance in one could be noticeably absent in another. For example, if you need ski lessons, are you able to find lessons in English with a well established school? If you need a babysitter, is there a company that provides that?

If you have specific dietary requirements, can you communicate them, and can they be catered for? It is an easy assumption that all resorts come with a basic level of English and standard level of services, but that is not the case. Before you book anything, do check that your intended resort can accommodate all of your needs, and most of your wants.

These are surely odd times that we find ourselves in, yet to be given a reason to discover a new favourite place to ski is surely a silver lining. If you’re travelling as a family especially, do be sure to address the above five points before committing to a new destination.

Nadine Robb is Owner and Instructor at Hakuba Ski Concierge. Hakuba Ski Concierge is a boutique ski school in Hakuba, Japan.

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