If you resent the holiday price-hikes and cower from the crowds of Europe’s mainstream ski resorts, then head off-piste. We pick 5 of the best family resorts in Europe that you’ve probably never heard of…
While mainstream resorts are often best equipped for families, there are plenty of off radar places to go – away from the Vals and the Verbiers – with great terrain for little legs and more bang for your buck. If €8 hot chocolates and 40 minute lift queues leave you feeling a little underwhelmed, how about looking further afield, where reindeer, husky rides, climbing parks and empty slopes await.
If you find most Swiss resorts overwhelmingly crowded and pricey, take a look at lovely Lenzerheide. Recently doubled in size with a new peak to peak gondola link to nearby Arosa. You’ll love the Swiss family feel of the resort while kids will be in heaven with the two giant kids’ areas designed by LEGO at the Valbella Inn (in which the Danish toy brand is a big investor).
Check them into the ski school kinderland, with all your gear sorted on-site in the ski shop. There are dedicated family slopes meaning no big burly teens on snowboards are going to wipe out Bambi, and Auarara Hinterland has a carousel, junior course, igloos and loads of other kids to befriend.
The best family rooms are in the newly opened Tgiasa Fastatsch building. Separate kids bedrooms, Rice crockery and simple, tasteful décor make this a good bolthole. Mercifully the food is great – healthy modern European fare with an Alpine twist. The Valbella also has a Powder Byrne Yeti Club for kids aged 4-9. On Wednesday it’s family day and on Friday it’s race day so the kids can show you what they have mastered: brace yourself for watching your offspring fly down a red run into the gates.
Find out more about Lenzerhiede here.
Ylläs, Finnish Lapland
Finnish Lapland covers an eerie 38,000-square-mile region of dense pine forests, lakes and bare mountain peaks. And while naked saunas, schnapps and ice-hole diving is no rumour, it comes with the Northern Lights, reindeers, lumberjacks and log cabins straight out of a fairytale.
Ylläs is home to the longest runs in Finland. With 63 slopes and 29 lifts it’s the largest resort in Lapland and has excellent snowpark areas, super-G slope and plenty of off-piste for parents and older kids to explore.
Ylläs is also one of the most popular places among telemark and off-piste skiers and a dream for snowboarders with fells full of virgin powder. While you explore the off-piste on open fells and in the forest, kids can take lessons or play at the YlläsPark and Mountain Dew Junior park.
It’s cold, yes, but tog up for husky racing, don some cross country ski’s and take your camera – the landscape is epic. Try winter windsurfing, ice-fishing and then cosy up in a log cabin and let the kids explore on shoe shoes, or sit by the fire watching reindeer saunter past the window. If they still believe in father Christmas, get here before it’s too late.
Åre is a go-to for Stockholm families heading for the snow, and yet not really on the radar for British travellers. Sweden’s most popular resort epitomises the practical Scandinavian attitude to family – not only are there special family zones on the slopes, but there’s discounted lift tickets and children go free until age 8. A brilliant, mile-long toboggan run and numerous family ski trails cut through the resort, many punctuated by wooden statues and characters along the route, which not only entertains kids but helps them find their way.
Bjornen has a very good family area with ski trails and activities for all age groups.
Little ones have a dedicated area at the bottom of the slopes and a lovely village so when they tire of skiing, they might want to try snow kiting or ice climbing. Don’t miss the Chocolate Factory and let older children ride the T-bar up to explore the winter wonderland and trail back through the trees with no nasty drop-offs to concern parents.
Find out more about Åre here.
Kronplatz, South Tyrol
You probably haven’t heard of Kronplatz or Plan de Corones. That’s sort of the point. But at only 2275m it’s easy to acclimatize, while the state-of-the-art lifts and guaranteed snow coverage makes this South Tyrol’s number one ski resort for families.
Along the 116 km of gentle, wide slopes you’ll never feel crowded and can often complete a run without a single other skier in your way – especially at the beginning or end of the season (late November orApril). There’s mixed terrain with plenty of blues and reds and just a couple of decent blacks sloping down into the valley in all directions, so this is not the place for fans of steep and deep though you can access the Sella Ronda route by shuttle bus for a little variety.
A lift is connected to the public transport system with a brand-new train station, and the spectacular plateau has 360° panoramic views of the Pustertal valley: the Dolomites to the south and the Austrian glaciers of the Zillertal Alps in the north. Kronplatz is part of the Dolomiti Superski network, a pool of resorts offering an extra 1200km of skiing within the Dolomites, and twice a week you can try night skiing if the mood takes you.
But you won’t need to venture far. After ski school is out, head to the peak of Mount Kronplatz where mini mountaineers (aged 5+) can try the rope course in the climbing park, using equipment from the nearby teepee village, a brilliant kids zone.
Find out more about Kronplatz here.
If you are determined to avoid inflated school holiday prices at the mainstream Alpine resorts, head north.
Norway’s largest resort, Trysil is perfect for families while mercifully free of crowds. Just two hours from Oslo airport, there are no charter ski companies here yet but, with the Scandinavian Mountain Airport due to open in December 2017 (just 40 minutes from the resort), it’ll become a whole lot more accessible.
For now, the slopes are snow-sure, prices reasonable and families exceptionally well catered for.
There are a couple of ski-in, ski-out hotels (the reliable, if unexciting, Radisson Blu has ten-pin bowling and American-style diner, soft play area and a multi-pool swimming area). It’s also bang next to the nursery slopes and here, kids ski classes are small and intimate, so far less intimidating (for you and them) than long line career along the Alpine paths of busy Swiss resorts.
There are four main ski areas, all with excellent nursery slopes, and an easy route down from all points so families can feel they are exploring the mountain, and the ski school also has a drop-in crèche – ideal if parents want to venture into the extensive Hogegga area and beat out some black runs or check out the new gladed trails through the woods.
Arguably the best time to be here is February onwards, and it’s a great late season snow-sure option for an Easter break: no colder than the alps and light until 5.30pm, by which time you’re ready to retire. Marvellously, you can feed the family for the cost of a slice of Swiss pizza, but you’ll make up for it with booze as alcohol is heavily taxed. But dog-sledding, horse sleigh rides and visits to Nordic Yurts as well as the chance to go on a 3-hour off-piste guided family adventure make a pricey beer worth the investment.
Find out more about Trysil here.
With thanks to Bella Butler, Sara Hagglof and Felix Milns.Lydia Gard is Mr Fox editor, an avid skier and a veteran travel writer. Follow her on Instagram @mrfoxmag