While Australia’s slopes are closer to home, we can’t deny the longing to hop on a plane and head across the globe to where the snowfall is a little more consistent.
The European ski season is approaching, and the pressure is on to keep the the whole family satisfied. France, Austria and Italy boast some of Europe’s most spectacular snow. Not to mention, mouth-watering food and cosmopolitan culture.
To take the hassle out of bringing the little snow devils on your big trip – here’s a list of the best European resorts for families.
1. Avoriaz, France
Avoriaz is nestled in the heart of the French Alps, and has the highest and most snow-sure pistes in Europe. Snowcats and horse-drawn sleighs make getting to your ski-in/ski-out accommodation just as fun as the slopes. It has to be our number one.
Set at 1800m on 470 skiable acres, the resort boasts panoramic views of the French countryside and alps. Head to the top, on any of the 196 lifts well-groomed pistes, great snow and a smooth morning cruise. Half of the 51 runs are intermediate, allowing the kids to take it easy while you push yourself to the limits – or the other way around.
The resort, spans the French-Swiss border and has a lot to offer for kids off-piste as well. The adults can alternate doing fast runs while the kids enjoy the children’s slopes, the Aquariaz waterpark or do lessons at the ski school. Parents of little ones can also book childcare at Village des Enfants.
Little shredders will head straight to the freestyle snowparks. Riglet Park, Lil’stash or Kids Parkway are exclusively designed for the youngins to get some air. Avoriaz offers a family skiing experience that appeals to all abilities and ages.
Accessibility: 90 min shuttle from Geneva, from $42/pers Runs: 51 Longest run: 6km Pistes: 75km Pricing: Day pass: $52 (kids), $68 (adults), 6 day pass: $307 (kids), $409 (adults) Skiing ability: 12% beginner, 49% intermediate, 27% advanced and 12% expert Terrain parks: 5
2. SkiWelt, Austria
Heated chairlifts, skiing roundabouts and whipped cream hot chocolates – what more could a family of Ski bum’s want?
SkiWelt is Austria’s largest interconnected ski area. It hosts 22 professional ski schools for kids aged 2 and up. The resort has 122 km of intermediate slopes, most of them wide and great for beginners, as well as a range of more advanced slopes for those who are after something more testing. Of the resorts 284km of pistes, the longest slope covers 7.3km.
Every SkiWelt village includes an “exercise meadow” (kids slope), equipped with magic carpets – some are even free. Kinder Kaiserland ski school stresses the importance of all-types of snow play. They teach the kids snowball fights, sledding and more in an enclosed nursery area. If your kids are under four and less fond of the cold, you can drop them at the Snow Pirates Kids Club.
The resort has three snow parks for different levels. See if you can spot the professional competitors what ski past daily and thrill the kids with their skills.
The village has excellent restaurants and bars with affordable apres menus. Check out the ice exhibition after a long day of skiing, or head to Wilder Kaiser for a moon lit toboggan run.
There’s a reason why so many skiers keen coming back to Sainte-Foy. This charming resort is lined with clusters of quaint chalets and great off-piste terrain. It is an ideal Winter getaway for families who prefer a more unpretentious ski holiday.
Sainte-Foy has 41km of pistes spread over 247 acres. Its smaller sizes means you are less likely to lose the kids and you’re more likely to get on a lift without lining up.
What it lacks in size, it makes up for in quality. The Aiguille and Marquise chairlifts access higher alpine areas where wood trails full of fresh powder lay untouched. Intermediate slopes cover half of the central mountain. Two beginner lifts begin in the base area with more gentle and sheltered skiing below. Whilst there are runs for beginners, they are limited in size and quantity, and best for only young first time skiers.
Val d’Isere, Les Arcs and La Rosiere are all less than 20 minutes by car for those looking for some alternate terrain.
Sainte-Foy’s excellent Les P’tits Trappeurs nursery takes children from three to 11. It’s fenced and has free magic carpets. The Snow Cub Creche includes hands on activities such as painting and storytelling.
Accessibility: One of the harder resorts to get to by bus, but worth the mission. Three hour shuttle from Geneva, (from $150/pers return or $126/pers with a group) Runs: 24 Longest run: 6km Pistes: 41km Pricing: Day pass: $37 (kids), $49 (adults), 6 day pass: $208 (kids), $269 (adults) Skiing ability: 8% beginner, 29% intermediate, 46% advanced and 17 % expert
4. Obergurgl, Tirol, Austria
Obergurgl is known for fluffy powder snow and traditional buildings. Here you will find an authentic and cheerful atmosphere. The 2000m village is the highest parish in Austria – but don’t let this sway you. The snow is reliable and the slopes are well groomed and gentle, perfect for intermediates and beginners. Kids under 9 ski for free.
Unfortunately more advanced skiers may find the variety limited, but the efficient chairlifts challenge the younger speed demons to overlap their slow older siblings.
Children aged 3 and up can learn to ski away from the crowds at Bobo’s Skiclub, learning to ski away from the crowds. Esprit Ski, a UK operated family chalet specialist, provides comprehensive childcare facilities, and when the little ones are ready they can head to the magic carpet to conquer their first slopes.
The Zauberwald Wild Animal Safari is a popular attraction with those who need a day to rest, and Winter hikes through snowy pine forests in Tirol may offer a welcome change from the slopes.
The resort is equipped with modern chair lifts, limiting queuing times. The village is hidden high in the Austrian Alps, day trip traffic is a rarity. The resort is connected to the ski in/ski out Hochgurgl by the 10 minute Top Express gondola if the advanced riders want to check out the 8km Wurmkogl run.
Accessibility: Airport transfers from Innsbruck from $299 for a family of four ($75/pers) Runs: 48 Longest run: 8km Pistes: 109km Pricing: Day pass: $52 (kids), $89 (adults), 6 day pass: $248 (kids), $452 (adults) Skiing ability: 28% beginner, 27% intermediate, 28% advanced, 17% expert Terrain parks: 2
5. Pila, Italy
This pleasant little Alpine ski-resort is nestled in the Aosta Valley region of Northern Italy, wedged between France and Switzerland. Speedy cable cars, gondolas and chairlifts connect its well-maintained runs.
Pila has plenty of ski-in ski-out accommodation for families so you won’t have to lug your gear up and down the hill. Families will enjoy the functional mix of safety and convenience that comes with smaller car free resorts. The ski area is compact, but not short of fun. The Chacard fun park and family snow tubing provide endless hours of entertainment for the little ones.
Nearly three-quarters of the runs are advanced, so the resort has a great range of slopes for families of similar abilities to ski together.
Pila hosts a varied ski area for kids and under sevens get free lift passes. They will love the nursery slope, play area and smooth tubing hill. Kids under seven get free lift passes. The resort is sheltered from the wind, avoiding chilly little toes. Pila has a range of value accommodation from traditional chalets to modern apartments. And of course – Italian gastronomy doesn’t disappoint.
Accessibility: 90 minute bus from Turin to Aosta at $11/pers comes hourly. Gondola from Aosta to Pila takes 20 minutes at $8/pers. Runs: 37 Longest run: 5km Pistes: 70km Pricing: Day pass: $16 (kids age 0-8), $63 (adults), 6 day pass: $82 (kids age 0-8), $327 (adults) Skiing ability: 16% intermediate, 72% advanced, 12% expert Terrain parks: 1
6. Lech, Austria
Lech’s premier slopes encourage endless snowball fights and family ski contests. It also has the best hot chips in the world, (according to most eight year olds).
Austria’s third largest ski resort is 305km of diverse slopes and Austrian bistros, nestled in the heart of the Arlberg. It caters for intermediate, advanced and expert skiers.
This family-friendly winter playground is home to many Olympic champions for a reason. Alpine trails and moguled pistes present the ultimate challenge: who can spray dad with the most powder?. For the less brave, Lech also has a vast range of gentle terrain.
Lech’s slopes are now linked to Warth, Schröcken and Saint Anton. With the Arlberg lift pass you can ski them all. Hotels such as The Burg offer free child-care in their kids club, and Kinderland Oberlech looks after kids that do and don’t ski. If you manage to catch the snow at its best in February, the youngins get free homemade donuts at the Kids Carnival Party.
Accessibility: Shuttle transfer from Zurich from $77/pers Runs: 141 Longest run: 9km Pistes: 305km Pricing: One day: $50 (kids), $84 (adults), 6 day pass: $265 (kids), $446 (adults) Skiing ability: 43% intermediate, 40% advanced, 17% expert Terrain parks: 2
7. Alpe d’Huez, France
Slip! Slop! Slap! Alpe d’Huez’ reputation for the most days of sunshine on the slopes means less layers, and more importantly; less grumbling from the kids. Perhaps, if you’re feeling brave, hot chocolate stops could even be swapped for milkshakes. Alpe d’Huez is known for tough climbs in the Tour de France. In winter this place transforms into the ultimate powder snow paradise. It also has the longest run in Europe.
Accessible from Grenoble, the 3330m peaked resort sprawls over 583 acres of the Central French Western Alps. It has has some of Europe’s best powder snow.
Alpe d’Huez’s high altitude slopes and snowy bowls suit every level of skier and snowboarders. Beginner and intermediate runs are scattered at the foot of the resort, while the higher peaks get the more adventurous hearts pumping. The 16km ‘Sarenne’ is the longest piste in Europe. It’s wide and relatively consistent for the advanced and confident intermediates.
The Piou Piou club has experienced ski school instructors, rope tows and magic carpets and a games area. Classes and private lessons are available in the morning, afternoon or all day, and teens can take freeride and freestyle classes, or check out the terrain park.
If your littlies are between six months and four years, Les Intrepides Nursery have English-speaking staff.
Still not tired after a full ski day? The X Fly adventure park, close to the town centre, has a vertical maze and airbag ski jump. Ice skating, sledging and ice laser can be found at the Palais des Sports.
Accessibility: 3 hours from Geneva or 90 minute shuttle from Grenoble from $45/pers Runs: 111 Longest run: 16km ‘Sarenne’ is the longest piste in Europe. Viable for confident intermediates. Pistes: 251km Pricing: Day pass: $68 (kids), $83 (adults), 6 day pass: $332 (kids), $420 (adults) Skiing ability: 31% beginner, 28% intermediate, 25% advanced, 16% expert Terrain parks: 2