Filled with trepidation at the thought of a first family ski trip? One mother has some hard-won tips to curb the meltdowns.
We had heard the horror stories, of course. Meltdowns in the middle of a piste, frazzled parents struggling with the logistics of dressing and transporting multiple children and their equipment to ski school on time. This couldn’t happen to us. Uncomfortable with the idea of dumping our kids in childcare while we swanned off to the slopes, we had waited ten long years to take our offspring — now five, seven and nine — skiing. Meltdowns were not an option. They had to love skiing as much as we did, or the ski drought would continue.
I was taking no risks. I spent months researching the best resort (Alpbach in Austria ticked all our boxes), trawled the internet for tips (dress kids in “more layers than an onion” was as helpful as it got) and fretted over finding the right ski class (would they cope with full days or be freaked out by a foreign teacher?).
Our children did fall in love with skiing but most of the lessons we learnt were hard-earned in sweat and tears once we got there. Google and the guidebooks may give you the basics but here is what you really need to know.
Pick the right resort
It comes down to three simple ingredients: a short transfer; a short commute to the slopes; and size. We plumped for an impossibly pretty Tyrolean village less than an hour from Innsbruck. It was perfect — small enough to offer quiet slopes and bags of charm, but big enough to link with more challenging terrain for my husband and me. The warm, friendly atmosphere and absence of lift queues made for a gentle introduction to family skiing. As well as the bonus of being able to book all the extras in advance, you need someone on hand to answer daft questions, help with logistics and generally act as a third parent. Our Crystal Ski Holidays rep was worth her weight in gold.
Factor in the faff
It is hard enough to get yourself dressed, organised and out of the door, but when you have small people to organise too . . . well, the school run is a doddle compared with the ski-school run. Get strict from the first day about everyone having their own space to hang gloves (clipped together), goggles, helmet and outerwear, and lay out everything else the night before. Insist on a toilet visit before you leave and build in a ten-minute faff buffer.
Rent a locker
If you do not have the luxury of doorstep skiing, this should be your priority. Our first day’s busy bus ride, clutching skis, boards, helmets and little hands while trying to stay upright on hairpin bends, was hellish. Once we lightened the load by dumping equipment at the gondola base each day, the journey was a breeze.
Leaving your child on a foreign mountain with a group of strangers feels like a big deal, especially when you see how laid-back ski-school handover and collection can be. For peace of mind make a laminated card with important contact details before you go, stuff it in a zip pocket and tell your child not to use that pocket for anything else all week. Keep their lift pass safe in the same “untouchable” pocket and you should avoid costly catastrophes too.
Invest in the little things
Borrow outerwear if you need to, head to Aldi for thermals if you want, but some things are worth investing in. For kids that means quality socks — cold, wet feet can ruin a ski day — and a neckwarmer. We chose Icebreaker’s merino ski socks (£10.50, icebreaker.com) and neckwarmers from Buff (buffwear.co.uk).
Be wary of snowboarding
On skis, balance comes quickly and kids can get down almost anything once they learn a basic snowplough. On a snowboard, it is frustratingly easy to catch an edge. So think hard if your child is very young, gives up easily, or is a perfectionist used to getting things right first time (like our nine-year-old, who nearly gave up). Thankfully our daughter stuck at it and everything clicked the next morning, when she started tracing beautiful S’s down the mountain. We didn’t let the younger two learn snowboarding because they didn’t have the strength or stamina for it.
Have snacks at the ready
Packets of raisins, nuts, Haribo — fill your pockets. Low blood sugar and dehydration can mean that your child’s mood drops like a stone.
Know when to stop
When they tell you that their legs are like jelly, listen. We persuaded our daughter she almost had it and, despite her exhaustion, one last run would help. It didn’t. Instead it led to the infamous family tale of the Day Three Meltdown.
Pack a picnic
Once the chaos of the first day is over, get organised with a packed lunch. Ski-school lessons all finish at the same time and, if your children are signed up for afternoon lessons too, you will get only an hour for lunch. It gets chaotic with everyone piling into the same cafés.
Prepare them mentally
Our trip was in German half-term and the kids were in different classes, alone in a sea of foreign voices — but they were prepared. Talk them through what to expect in lessons (a dry-slope lesson before you go gives them a heads-up) and arm them with basic words that they might hear if there is no English teacher. Our five-year-old was fluent in German ski-speak by the end of the week.
Has fear taken hold at the top of your child’s first steep run? Don’t tell them that there is nothing to be afraid of. Instead, acknowledge their fear and let them know that every skier feels this way at some point. When I shared my stories of freezing with fear on my first red run, my daughter started laughing and it helped her to understand that her feelings were entirely normal.
Reboot with breathing
When your patience is wearing thin as you coax your kids down the mountain and they are getting red-faced, frustrated and stressed, take a step back. Move to the side of the piste and get your child to “reboot” with deep breaths. Just a minute of breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth is enough to trigger a relaxation response.
After a day on the slopes the simple pleasure of coming back to freshly baked cake and a hearty meal should not be underestimated.
Don’t assume après-ski is for adults only
Just because you have little ones it doesn’t mean that you have to skip the après-ski. Some of our most memorable moments were when we tumbled off the bus and into the cosy Postalm bar to dissect the day over hot chocolates and Weissbier. The cosy, après atmosphere is one of the highlights of a ski holiday, sharing stories from the day and downloading data about lifts ridden and kilometres covered.
Need to know
Cathy Struthers was a guest of Crystal Ski Holidays (020 8939 0726, crystalski.co.uk). A week’s half-board at the four-star Hotel Alphof in Alpbach in late February costs from £561pp, including flights from Gatwick to Innsbruck and transfers.