In most families, the level of enthusiasm and competence on the slopes varies. Often times, parents are forced to cut-short their time on the mountain to fit around children's needs or ski school times.
Stéphane Lerendu, director of Avoriaz tourist office, says, "When it comes to winter sports, perhaps more than for any other type of holiday, one member of the family has to sacrifice themselves more than the others."
A good family ski resort deals with this scenario and makes sure that everyone has a good holiday, from the expert skiers to the frankly not-at-all skiers. The key is to choose a resort that has the facilities to match your family profile. What suits teenagers will not likely be much use to the very young.
10 of the best family ski resorts in France:
16,800 beds and not a single car, only horse-drawn carriages. They boast of being the place where you can send the kids to fetch the croissants on their own. Given the car-free environment, right from the start the resort has aimed at the family market. For 32 years the Place central has played host to the ‘Village des enfants'. It is an unusual ski school for teens and youngsters from 3 to 16. Based on the idea of learning through play it has been used as a model in most of the alpine resorts. However the unusual factor is that it also serves as a sheltered spot to entertain the children in a blizzard when the weather is too bad for them to ski. The school is also a childminding centre and a leisure centre where the kids can spend the day and eat their lunch. Lessons are organised so that parents start their own lessons 15 minutes after the children to avoid the stress of trying to be in two places at the same time and give a bit of time to settle the children into their lessons. A real bonus is the new water park, l'Aquariaz, developed by Center Parks opening in July 2012 with all the latest aquatic bells and whistles.
Family ski resorts: Avoriaz - children in ski school. Courtesy of Avoriaz Tourism.
2. LA PLAGNE
11 resorts in one and so the ideal place for a big family with a big spread of ability and interests between the good skiers, the not so good and even the non-skiers. There is no room to recite all that goes on, but there really is something for everyone here including an artificial frozen waterfall to practice ice climbing. Amongst many other possibilities the Jean-Luc Crétier ski stadium is open for night time skiing as well as hosting international competitions. For the fearless France's only bobsleigh run is open to members of the public - under supervision. The different resorts are linked by free buses until midnight or in the case Belle Plagne by a cable car. The ski runs vary from the Mont Guerre, the longest ski run in the world to gentle easy green runs around the resorts for beginners.
3. LES KARELLIS
An ideal destination for families with very young children. The resort is car-free and the seven holiday villages are next to the ski lifts. Equipment for children is provided free, including cots, high chairs and baby baths. You can also hire a special sledge for babies and toddlers 'une luge-pousette' for getting around the resort. Children are accepted at the 'halte garderie' child minding centre and clubs without extra charge from the age of 3 months. There are special events for teenagers during the day and a disco every Thursday night . . . without parents. Children can start in ski school at age 4. If you are out on the slopes when your child's lesson comes to an end, a member of the staff will take your child to the ‘jardin des neiges' for you. If you want to stay together as a family, there is a snow play area open to parents and children in the centre of the resort. There are events and activities every night for parents and children throughout the school holidays.
Megève is one of the oldest and most beautiful resorts in the Alps and has managed to retain the attractiveness of the village at the same time as developing a ski resort that is modern and very fashionable. The medium altitude slopes are open from December to April with many excellent and varied runs for beginners and intermediates. It is a resort where ‘l'art de vivre' is at the heart of things, where nothing seems to disturb the calm of the fine wooden chalets and the après-ski is highly developed with some great restaurants. From a family point of view the resort is well known for the high standard of childcare. For better or for worse it has a MacDonalds - with which the French have a love-hate relationship. If you want a great historic family resort that has kept its character then this is the place for you.
Family ski resorts: Megeve - pretty cobbled centre. Courtesy of Martin Varsavsky.
5. SERRE CHEVALIER
The resort is an alliance of three villages: Chantemerle, Villeneuve la Salle and Monêtier les Bains. Together they make up a huge ski area with many tree-lined runs through the forest. On the boundary between the Northern and Southern Alps, it has a micro climate (honestly) with big snowfalls and 300 days of sunshine a year. There all sorts of facilities especially for children including the Club Piou-Piou, a snow garden at Monêtier and childminding facilities. There are a number of easy green slopes for child and adult beginners. The countryside in the Parc des Ecrins is magnificent. The resort is far enough south for the après-ski to have a flavour of the Midi.
6. ISOLA 2000
Isola was built on the frontier in a valley ceded by Italy to France at the end of the war. Because of the altitude Isola has the best snow conditions in the area, indeed in the whole of France in 2010-11. Not everybody loves the architecture but it has a fine and varied ski area with the possibility of alternating snow and beach at the end of the season. Nice and Menton are within two hours. Night skiing is possible twice a week during the French school holidays. There is a Club Piou-Piou, for 3-6 year olds as well as a Les Pichtouns, for children above 6. The resort is perhaps better for teens than very small children. For the disabled skier, it is possible to hire a ‘tandem ski' and ski with the rest of the family.
Valberg is perched in a mountain pass on a plateau surrounded by open alpine grazing and larch forests 1h30 from the Cote d'Azur. The ski lifts start from the main street in the village. The resort is consciously family orientated and is equipped accordingly. There is a child minding 'halte-garderie' for 14 months to 6 years as well as a special children's area the Parc des Ourson and children start to learn to ski from 3 years old. Despite being so far south, with its 308 snow canons, 85 percent of ski runs can be covered with artificial snow if necessary.
Family ski resorts: Font Romeu - ESF ski school. Courtesy of Xavier Blanc
8. FONT ROMEU
Font Romeu in the Pyrenees has put together a superb resort for children with a child minding service and perfect snow conditions for beginners. There is a wide range of activities with the nearby thermal springs, ski touring, snowshoeing, ice climbing, dog sledding, winter canyoning, and telemark skiing. In the village, there is a cinema, casino, bowling alley, squash, tennis, badminton, an ice rink, swimming pool and a gym.
9. ST LARY SOULAN
St Lary, also in the Pyrenees, is much appreciated for its big and varied snow fields but also for its superb open-air thermal water centre built in 2005, with saunas, waterfalls and caves. The village is entirely built in stone. The resort boasts 183 snow canons to make sure there is enough snow throughout the season. The slopes are designed to suit everyone with a mogul park, a snowpark with music and a halfpipe. At St Lary 1700 Pla d'Adet there is an area reserved for families with snow play areas, two toboggan runs and a Kidpark recreation area. Off the slopes there is dog sledding, snowshoeing, a disco, cinema, ice rink, a tree park and paragliding.
On the Massif du Sancy in the centre of France, Besse is inevitably a family resort far from the busy alpine slopes. There is a snow play area for children aged 4 and above with a toboggan run, l'Enclos de Tibou, and a child minding centre for children over three months. For children over 8 and 1.25m in height there is a tubing run generating speeds of up to 50km/h. The Besse mascot Tibou accompanies the children in all their activities. The resort organises a cinema, pony riding and skating, in addition to the usual play area and skiing lessons. A big effort has gone into improving facilities and in 2008, amazingly, the resort was the third biggest investor of all French resorts.
Certification of resorts
The ‘Familles Plus' label, which took over from ‘Petit Montagnard', lists 49 family resorts that have satisfied the requirements of the organisation France Montagnes. Even excellent family resorts such as Avoriaz don't have it. On the other hand you can still see on the internet that the association ‘Station Kids' grants approval to resorts that provide facilities to families. Slight problem, the Nord Pas de Calais Regional Tourist Board told Onthesnow that the association ‘closed its doors' three years ago. So as always do the homework yourself first before booking your holiday.
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