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Winter sports: Europe for families

Abigail Butcher scopes out European skiing hotspots for families


To ski as a family is a wonderful, fulfilling experience — and one that doesn’t have to break the bank. All the dry and indoor snow slopes in the UK now offer private lessons where families can learn to ski or snowboard together, and get the basic skills they need in place before heading out to the mountains — many having linked with ski areas in the Alps, for example Hemel Hempstead with the Valais in Switzerland, to offer good-value ‘club’ type holidays for regulars.

Neil Lodge, Inghams product manager for Austria says: “There are families who want to spend quality time together, while others want to ensure their children are learning in a safe lesson environment, while the adults get some time together.”

Obergurgl in Austria is very popular among families, given its high altitude, short airport transfer and ski to/close to door in most hotels, which offer high-standard hospitality with family rooms.

“There’s also a great local ski school in Obergurgl. Generally, the resort has everything it needs to make it very easy for families to enjoy,” he explains. “In other resorts, hotels which have a swimming pool are often very popular.”

There’s a big shift among the family market towards the Easter holidays instead of February half-term. And with uncertain exchange rates leading to increasingly squeezed wallets, families and beginners are seeking out smaller, less well-known resorts that offer better value for money.

Action Outdoors, which partners the UCPA (a French non-profit organisation that provides excellent-value accommodation for younger people, families and individuals up to the age of 55) recently expanded its Easter family programme from one week to three — Les Contamines on 24 March, Serre Chevalier on 31 March and La Plagne on 7 April. “Since we introduced our family ski programme at the UCPA centres three years ago, we’ve seen a real growth in interest for Easter weeks,” says Action Outdoors general manager Tina Gale. “Two of our family resorts — Les Contamines and Serre Chevalier — might not be that well known to the UK market, but they’re more traditional and offer great value for money.”

Because this winter Christmas and New Year fall on a Monday and Sunday, some tour operators are offering shorter breaks — Esprit and Ski Total, for example, are selling five-day holidays this winter that are proving popular with families.

“This December, all holidays to Austria and France will depart on Tuesdays. As a result, the departure on Tuesday 2 January is for five nights, to Sunday 7 January,” says Hotelplan head of marketing Louise Newton. She added: “Despite the poor recent snow record, there’s also been a surge of interest in New Year bookings, showing that people believe the Alps are a fabulous place to spend the holidays.”

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