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Family ski holiday advice

Two years ago we took our daughter on a ski trip to Morzine. She had just taken her first steps so we knew that it would be a very different kind of holiday. What neither of us were fully prepared for was just how much thought needed to go into organising a ‘family’ trip. Soon it will be that time of year again and I am fortunate enough to have Tess from Little Skiers join me in this post to offer us all some advise on taking young children on ski holidays.

Do children feel the cold more, less or the same as their parents? Should they be dressed with more, less or the same layers for skiing as their parents?

Generally they do feel about the same as parents so if you are layering up because it is very cold, you should do the same for your child. But you also have to take into account what level ski school they are attending. Very little ones in their first year or two do spend a lot of time hanging around waiting for their turn to gently ski down small slopes so they don’t generate the same amount of heat as a 9 year old who is skiing long pistes and working hard practicing turns lots. A hot and sweaty older child can quickly become chilled on a windy chairlift so by bulking up with non-breathable layers you can actually cause them to become colder. Breathable layers are so important, thermals, micro fleece and a good quality ski jacket will let any heat wick through the layers and out and the clothing will not become damp. Neckwarmers are great to pull up over chins and noses on cold chairlifts. So for little first timers consider thermal and microfleece top & bottoms and then the ski suit and neck warmer early to mid season when cold and mid to late season just thermals and the ski suit should be fine unless very high up in resort. Once your children are off around the pistes and skiing hard, layer them as you would according to the weather that day but ensure they are breathable layers.
What kind of SPF sun screen protection should be used for skiing? Is skiing the same as being on a beach in terms of sunburns?

Yes, it is the same as in the higher the better and a good quality beach sun screen should be fine. Use the same SPF as you would normally use if not higher as the rays do reflect off the snow and the altitude does make a difference too, so use even if it looks cloudy. Snow reflects 90% of the rays so ensure you cover ears, nose and under chins. Stay clear of cheap, watery sun creams, which we have heard tales that they can “freeze” on the skin and cause irritations similar to prickly heat. Ideally you want a sweat proof cream too as late season can get very hot! We recommend ProSport sun cream, the sun cream formulated for sports (including snowsports). It is an eight hour protection cream that is waterproof and so will last a whole day skiing. They also provide a barrier against the biting winds so it is a good idea to put cream on whatever the forecast. The main difference is many ski ones come in little tubes just to fit in pockets or hang around the neck and can have an integrated lip salve too as you mustn’t forget to protect the lips too.

Don’t forget it is essential to protect the eyes too, wrap around sunglasses or goggles with a full spectrum UV protection. Buy as good a brand as you can afford, as this is one area where budget isn’t best.

Is there anything that should be taken into consideration when choosing a ski school.

I would check exactly what facilities are at the ski school; they vary greatly from resort to resort and between the different schools. Les Marmottons in Tignes takes children from 2.5 yrs and has excellent training equipment in a walled garden and they start to learn to ski whereas another resort it could just be a very basic area at the bottom of the slope. When starting to learn there could be travelators, which help little legs and roundabouts that help with skiing position. It is really very individual what type of ski school you look for, some children are better just in more playful environment until at least school age when they can listen and take instruction better. The less pressure is often the best way and going out to play with Mum & Dad, they pick up so much while having fun. Other older children are better in smaller group lessons maybe with an independent ski school whereas others thrive in the busy, bigger groups like ESF. You know your child best and a bit of research will quickly reveal which ski school is best for your child.

Other things to check:

  • hours of lesson, some morning or afternoon & some spread over lunch
  • where it is located in relation to your hotel as school starts early
  • numbers of children in the class on average, especially in peak season
  • English speaking? often big ski schools put young instructors on the beginners classes who’s English is not the easiest to understand.

What should parents look for when choosing a resort? Can you recommend any good resorts for young children

  • transfer times (as short as possible!)
  • higher altitude resorts if skiing spring time
  • good ski school in resort
  • good selection of blue piste runs with easy access back to hotel

The Ski Club of Great Britain is a good source of information in regards to specific resort information.
What is the best age to learn skiing and is it the same age for snowboarding?

According to a ski instructor, it really depends on the child, they need to understand instructions and relate that to what they are doing. Four years old is a good minimum guideline with many parents waiting until they have started school. A really good test is to sign up for a couple of lessons at a Snowdome in the UK. When children are placed in an environment they are not used to for the first time, it can be very overwhelming so a few taster lessons beforehand will help a great deal.

Snowboarding is completely different to skiing and the physical demands on a child are greater so it is usually introduced later on after they are confident with skiing.

What advice do you have for keeping your children safe on the slopes?

Phone number & name and hotel address in jacket, easily identifiable piece of clothing so you can spot them on the busy slopes when they whizz off! Ski training leashes like the NipperGrip are great for controlling speed and direction when you are first out skiing with them or if they are tackling steeper slopes.

Any tips for nappy changes, lunch and snacking on the mountain?

Every ski school is different, varying even between resorts as to ski school breaks. Children get worked very hard in ski school and often get thirsty and hungry mid morning. Sometimes they will actually have a break in a chalet but often it is 5 minutes on the side of a piste! Boxes of raisins, yoghurt raisins, cereal bars, mini chocolate sweets or anything easy to eat quickly are great for an instant energy boost. Small drinks bottles that fit into jacket pockets are useful, as many resorts do not allow rucksacks on chair lifts, even small hydration bladder backpacks.

Children just potty trained are best put into training pull-ups during ski school. I have seen instructors struggling with small children needing the toilet but not being able to leave the class and take them. I helped out once by taking a small boy as I happened to pass the lesson and checked on my own little boy and it made me think differently from then on. If you are worried about older children not being quite able to hold on, liners like “Dry Like Me” are great for containing small accidents. Very few ski schools stop for toilet breaks. As for babies, many toilets in restaurants do not have changing facilities and are very small so I would definitely recommend taking portable changing mat, plenty of wipes and nappy bags in your own rucksack – one piece snow suits with a full body zip are very handy!

Little skiers logoThanks again to Tess from Little Skiers for taking the time to answer our questions. If you would like to find out more about what Tess is up to, visit the Little Skiers website where they specialise in ski wear and accessories for children, from babies through to teenagers. The website also has some great information to help plan your next trip.

Of course, if you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you and you can comment directly in this post below.