The best time for a family ski holiday has a lot to do with the makeup of the family itself.
Regardless of the age of your children, you might prefer to take in the added benefits of travel during a special holiday or season, but for those with very young children, you will have a few added options.
If your children are young enough to take them during term time, then you might be able to take advantage of better deals. Providers will get better prices from resorts and travel services and can pass those savings on to you.
As a bonus, lines for lifts will be shorter, more rooms available, and fewer people on the slopes means more space for your little ones to learn the basics without worrying about ski traffic. It’s a great time to take advantage of that freedom before school starts to make demands on your calendar.
In that regard, we all know the answer parents of school-age children have pre-loaded for this question: When is the best time for a ski holiday? Term breaks.
Mid-term or between-term days off are the only time available, as pulling children from classes to go on holiday is not only frowned upon, but can result in legal trouble and simply isn’t practical for all parents. So we’ll call that a given: It has to be during a scheduled break from school.
Since we’re talking about ski holidays, we also need to go when there is adequate snow on the slopes. This will vary depending on where you go, but there are generalities that hold true within skiing regions, and we’ll cover the outliers a little later.
Even with these as foregone conclusions, there are still options open to you. These affect the conditions of your trip as well as the cost of it, and can have a serious impact on the enjoyment of your holiday.
Let’s take a look at a few of these factors, and then at what time of year might get you the best combination of what’s important to you.
Factors to Consider:
Some people prefer as few people around as possible when on holiday, and others enjoy the thrill and bustle of a busy, dynamic resort. Children tend to want lots of other children around to ski or play with when family time takes a break. If you choose a bustling, busy time or place, then the haven of your chalet becomes even more important.
Sometimes certain events and services are only available during a resort’s boom time, and if that is the case, it’s worth braving the throngs to get what you want from the holiday in other ways. On the other hand, going at less popular times might mean shorter lines at the lifts.
Perhaps luckily, the restriction of going during school beaks means that nearly every resort is going to have a healthy number of people in attendance, ensuring there will be lots going on in each resort to keep all ages entertained.
The Ski Season
Most European ski resorts open in late November and close by the end of April – sometimes earlier. In the more northern European countries it can begin earlier and finish later.
Since getaways usually need to coincide with time off school and work though, let’s look at some of the most popular travel dates.
Ah, spring skiing. If you plan it right and have a little luck thrown in for good measure, you may find yourself sweeping down the slopes on good snow, with the sun shining on your face, and a happy, comfortable family darting back and forth alongside and, as they get older (and you do), in front of you down a beautiful shining slope.
It’s the best of both worlds.
The full season of snow has built up beneath you, packed and repacked with fresh layers as the months have passed. The cold weather has broken, but not so much to melt the new powder laid down through the cold nights. Ever wish you had more hours in a day? Wish granted. Spring skiing will give you more daylight to spend doing what you love.
There is a danger to that increase in daylight though. If you wait too long – and no one knows how long that is – you may hit the steep downward slope of spring thaw. Wet snow or ice. Slush. Pebbles and other debris, gathering as the snow-pack thins and shrinks. No one wants that.
To reduce your risk of poor conditions while maintaining that late-spring schedule, try a resort that’s at a higher altitude. Places like Livigno in Italy are southern but high enough to provide skiing longer into the year. Tignes and Val Thorens in France are similar, as is the ever-reliable Zermatt, if you prefer a Swiss holiday. Obergugl, Austria, is a fine resort and is also high enough to suit. You can even venture father north to the resorts of Riksgransen or Are in Sweden, where spring weather stretches even further most years.
If you’re interested in a resort not listed here (and there are many suitable ones), just check its altitude against these examples and you’ll quickly know if it is high enough to add that extra insurance against early thaw. Your tour provider can also help with great advice.
An extra bonus of spring skiing is that you can self-drive to the resort if you choose. This can reduce the cost of your package deal, and give you a spectacular scenic experience on the way to your resort. If handling the wheel yourself is your preference, then it’s just another reason to move spring skiing up the list of options.
Special Events During Easter
There are far fewer special activities over Easter than there are over Christmas, but that doesn’t mean an Easter ski holiday is less attractive. People are crawling out of their cosy dens at the close of a string of winter months, and bright smiles and cheery attitudes are plentiful. Coats are frequently replaced by jackets or t-shirts – even on the slopes – and the weather can be mild enough to take a meal al fresco, surrounded by the scenery and positive springtime vibe. Nearly every activity is a special event once spring begins to break. Even so, there are some particular events that go on and are worth going to.
La Plagne holds an annual Subli’Cimes festival over the first two weeks of April. Entertainment suitable to each age group is available, including events tailored for the whole family to experience together.
All of the major ski resorts have communities around them, and these communities hold church services, concerts, and other events to celebrate the religious significance of the holiday.
Likewise, local businesses break out in a wide array of Easter-Bunny-themed toys and treats that will entice any member of the family. The finest chocolate, moulded into eggs and rabbits and other delights, will put a smile on any child’s face… lots of adults, too.
Spring skiing is many people’s ideal mountain experience, and if you have the planning and luck to make it happen, we can’t recommend it enough. Your tour provider is the best one to provide the planning and reduce the luck needed to make the spring skiing dream a reality.
A common hesitation with a Christmas ski holiday is that it means missing out on social and family obligations that many people have back at home. If that’s a deal-breaker for you, then it might be worth squeezing it in before or after the big day, or it might simply be off the table to make room for the goose, the ham, and the dozen relatives bustling around with good cheer and Christmas wishes.
If it’s not a deal-breaker though, there are some advantages to going during this particular time.
For one thing, the slopes will be less crowded, because so many people will opt to stay home for traditional celebrations and family gatherings. For another, most resorts will put on special Christmas-themed events, shows, meals and deals to entice people to the slopes and chalets that see a drop in attendance through the twenties of December.
The downside is that many people travel home for Christmas, and so flights and accommodations tend to be higher in price than at other times of the year – even other holiday times.
This doesn’t hold true for just the days following school letting out or just before it goes back in, either. Many families have to stay around home while work or other obligations are finished up too, and then they leave to visit relatives in other places. The result is that during almost any day of the Christmas break, you will be paying more for travel and lodgings than you normally would – sometimes quite a bit more. A package deal is a great way to reduce these costs as providers purchase in advance, and they have a lot of buying power to ensure better deals.
Special Events During Christmas
Christmas cheer and ambience doesn’t stay home when you ski over Christmas. In fact, the majestic mountains, snowy peaks and slopes, and special attention paid by resort staff make sure you’ll be steeped in all that you enjoy about the season. Alpine style and tradition mix with tasteful holiday decoration to make sure the day out is a pleasure. Your chalet might have a real Christmas tree in it, a crackling log fire… and when was the last time you had Christmas dinner provided by a professional chef? It is well worth experiencing.
The addition of coloured lights reflecting off the snow makes the setting look as if Father Christmas and his workshop might be just around the corner. In fact, at Lets Gets they are. The resort has a grotto in which children can see Father Christmas himself. All through Christmas week, visitors can tour his home and workshop, where he and the elves make toys all year long, in preparation for the big day. They won’t have far to carry the gifts for you and your family this year! Your child might even get the special treat of having Father Christmas deliver a special gift in person.
La Plagne puts on several Christmas concerts, and there is always music being played around the town, especially around the festive markets. Have some Vin Chaud, celebrate with some fireworks, or visit the church for Christmas Mass if you like. The lifts are open on Christmas Day too, so you can mix the presents and visiting – and eating – with some exercise and fresh air on the slopes.
In the Three Valleys, the season laden with children’s shows and entertainment, decorated trees, and a variety of activities for everyone in your family. There is a torch-lit descent each Christmas Eve, and the night is made even more magical by a visit from Father Christmas. Fireworks pop and explode over the backdrop of snowy mountain peaks, and it’s just possible that the excitement and activities of the day will overcome the anticipation of Christmas Morning, just long enough to let the little ones drift off to sleep in preparation for the day.
A Christmas ski holiday can make for a highly enjoyable family memory. To ensure the best experience, at the best price, see what deals are on offer from an experienced specialist.
Non-Traditional Holiday Times
It follows that, if people tend to stay home more, closer to the actual days of Christmas and Easter, that they tend to go away more on the other breaks, the ones that aren’t tied to a traditional holiday – the simple between-term or mid-term break.
These generally start just after mid-February and last for a couple of weeks, so depending on how closely your child’s school conforms to this, you might be able to sneak a tiny shoulder-season trip in, and beat the rush without missing out on attractions once you’re there.
Caution though, despite the lower numbers of UK residents travelling abroad in February than in the months preceding and following it, the prices at ski resorts spike in February. The skiing conditions at most resorts hit that balance between the milder weather of spring skiing and the danger of inadequate or poor-quality snow later in the year. It’s the safest time in that respect, and therefore in highest demand.
If you want to avoid that higher cost, consider travel dates closer to Easter, but choose a resort that is at a higher altitude – its best conditions will stretch longer into the spring.
So what is the best time of year for your family?
Well, it depends on your family.
If your children are young enough, you can choose the location you like and go for the date that is the best combination of conditions, events, and economy. If the cost is no issue, you can book ahead and hit the Alpine slopes in the midst of peak February demand. If you trust your luck and long for the thrill of sun-soaked spring skiing, then an Easter trip to a high-elevation resort might be the ticket. If you like the idea of Christmas cheer and traditional decorations on and off the slopes, then Yuletide it is.
Whichever time you choose will be time well spent.