Where To Take The Family For Half-Term Skiing
The lure of the mountains can be hard to resist, especially when you’ve got children who are dying to get out there and play in the snow – either on skis or off. But the sheer variety of ski holidays in Europe can boggle the mind, and as the February half-term break is one of the busiest times of the year, you need to choose wisely. The best place to start is with resorts that go out of their way to welcome kids of all ages and offer endless ways to keep them entertained.
Mary Novakovich is an award-winning travel writer who specialises in France, Italy and Eastern Europe. She’s especially fond of hiking and skiing, and thinks a country’s food is as important as its landscapes.
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Portes du Soleil, France
This sprawling domain straddling the French and Swiss borders has a bewildering choice of resorts within its 600km of pistes. For ski-in-ski-out convenience, you can’t beat the highest resort in the domain – Avoriaz – which is celebrating its 50th birthday this season. While the resort’s futuristic architecture doesn’t suit everyone, families love the safe, traffic-free, snowy streets. Kids aged 3 and above can learn to ski in the Village des Enfants, and older ones can have a go at one of the five snowparks – two of which are for children aged 6 to 12. While there are a few catered chalets used by Inghams and Ski Total, almost all of the accommodation is in self-catering residences run by Pierre & Vacances, Erna Low, Ski Collection and Crystal.
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For something traditionally French and very much geared towards families, check out the intimate resort of Les Gets south-west of Avoriaz. It shares a large network of slopes with its bigger neighbour Morzine, and it should keep everyone in the family busy. Little ones can have fun in the Grand Cry ski area with its Native American Indian theme, and kids who prefer not to ski can join the outdoor and indoor activities on offer. Ski Famille, Esprit Ski and Firefly Collection have a wide selection of catered chalets in the centre of the resort.
Trois Vallées, France
Glitzy Courchevel usually hogs the attention in the world’s biggest ski domain, but less well-known Les Menuires is one of the most affordable corners of the Trois Vallées. Just don’t look too closely at its 1960s architecture and focus on the fantastic range of skiing and children’s villages. Style-wise, things have been changing in recent years in Les Menuires with the addition of attractive satellite villages including Reberty and Les Bruyères – the latter home to a new Aquafun and Wellness Centre. You’re also in a prime spot to ski over to the pretty village of St-Martin-de-Belleville or to the lofty slopes of Val Thorens, the highest in France. For accommodation, check out the catered chalets from Powder N Shine and Ski Amis.
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Stylish Méribel has been a favourite with visitors from the UK since British skier Peter Lindsay founded the resort in the late 1930s. Unlike many other purpose-built resorts, the architecture here is classically Savoyard and easy on the eye. There’s plenty to keep the kids entertained on the slopes – including an Inuit Village and Moon Wild nature trail – plus off-slope activities such as the Olympic Centre, with its swimming pool and spa. Méribel specialist operator Meriski has a dedicated crèche in the resort as well as a private nanny service in its catered chalets. Other operators include Alpine Action, Purple Ski and Ski Olympic.
The third of France’s mega-domains, Paradiski comprises Les Arcs, La Plagne and Peisey-Vallandry. Between them, they offer 425km of pistes and they’re connected by the double-decker Vanoise Express cable car. But where do you start? If you prefer classic Savoyard chalets to the giant modernist apartments which cover much of the domain, head to cute little Arc 1950. This car-free village has ski-in-ski-out convenience, some classy lodgings, including a superior residence run by Pierre & Vacances, and fabulous views of Mont Blanc.
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In La Plagne, rustic Montchavin has a good network of local slopes as well as links to the rest of the resort. Similarly, Montalbert offers village charm as well as family activities such as dog-sledding. Check out the Paradiski residences and chalets offered by Mountain Heaven and Peak Retreats.
When the snow is good, the small resorts in the Pyrenees make an excellent – and cheaper – alternative to the Alps. St-Lary-Soulan is one of the largest and most charming, with a generous ski area and the Sensoria Rio thermal spa complex. Pyrenees Collection and Lagrange have accommodation both within the village and in the higher St-Lary 1700 offshoot.
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Friendly little Peyragudes offers a warm welcome, sunny slopes and a great beginner area for young learners. It too has a thermal spa complex, Balnéa, with indoor and outdoor thermal pools. Undiscovered Pyrenees organises winter holidays in Peyragudes which includes everything from fat-biking to sledging. And if you’re flying into Toulouse, don’t miss the chance to explore one of France’s most appealing cities.
There’s a jolly atmosphere in this high-altitude resort in Austria’s Tirol region, especially when the teatime après-ski scene kicks in. But unlike some of Austria’s party resorts, Obergurgl has a relaxed ambience that’s perfect for families. You won’t find queues but you will find some very good ski schools for children aged four and up, and plenty of other activities if your kids prefer to stay off the skis.
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Snow park addicts will love the terrain here, and there’s a new family fun slope in neighbouring Hochgurgl. For accommodation, choose from the stylish selection of hotels or the catered chalets run by Esprit Ski and Ski Total.
This Swiss resort in Jungfrau region is small but packs a big punch – particularly in its glorious views of the Eiger, Jungfrau and Mönch peaks. The village itself is just as exquisite and is almost chocolate-box perfection. It’s the place to come for a relaxed family holiday, where everyone can use the pool and spa facilities in the sports centre for free.
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James Bond fans will want to take the cable car to Piz Gloria, the revolving restaurant that featured in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and now includes a Bond museum. But it’s the views that go as far as Mont Blanc that have the starring role. Both Inghams and Ski Solutions have packages to Mürren.