Five-star holidays

12th October 2009, by Chris Gill

The Gill ladies (c) C Gill

The Gill ladies (c) C Gill

First published in WTSS2010

To be honest, we can’t remember how it came about. But when we produced the first edition of Where to Ski and Snowboard, an astonishing 15 years ago, we settled on a set of resort star ratings that did not include ‘suitability for families’. The best explanation we can come up with is that we thought such a rating would be an oversimplification of a complex, many-faceted thing. Sounds plausible, eh? The more likely explanation is that because suitability for families undoubtedly is a many-faceted thing, we just couldn’t summon up the energy to tackle the issue.

Well, 15 years on, we’ve recognised the error of our early ways. In the major resort chapters in the book where we have sufficient space, this year we’ve expanded the ratings from 12 to 18 in number, and have included a Families rating. Here online, you’ll find a Families rating for many more resorts.

So now choosing a resort for your family hols is a doddle – you just focus on the resorts that get four or five stars (there are over 20 major ones flagged in the book). Or is it? Not really. We know from personal experience that you can have very satisfactory family holidays in resorts that rate two stars, and maybe even one – we’ve done so in Chamonix, for heaven’s sake. The point about high-rated resorts is that they improve your chances of success. And what constitutes a high rated resort? Read on.


WHAT WE LOOKED FOR

Families differ. Children differ, parents differ, and the requirements of children and parents change over time, as the children get older and more competent at skiing. So it’s obvious that there is no perfect family resort. But to suit the widest range of needs ...

  • The resort should be easy to get to, without protracted ascents on winding roads, whether you are driving to the place or transferring from an airport. Transfers of more than two or three hours will present problems for many young children.

  • The village should be easy to get around – compact, with your lodgings close to the slopes and close to the ski school meeting point or other institutions that your week will revolve around. It should be without intrusive traffic or other obstacles to safe, relaxed progress from A to B.

  • The resort should offer things to do other than skiing, and in particular should make it possible for kids to play safely on the snow. Even kids who enjoy skiing will also get a lot out of other activities such as tobogganing and tubing, and the holiday will be more successful as a result.

  • There should be one or more jolly, convenient and safe dedicated kids’ nursery slopes (or ‘snow gardens’). The main nursery slopes should be gentle, and free of through-traffic. There should be plenty of longer easy runs to progress to. All of these runs should get sun even in midwinter, without getting so much sun that snow conditions are routinely rubbish.

  • The ski school or kindergarten should be well run and highly regarded, with English widely and well spoken. Large numbers of fellow English-speaking pupils is a great help.


USING OUR RATINGS

We suggest you view our ratings as nothing more than a starting point in your search for a suitable resort. Very often, the key to success lies in the details of your holiday arrangements – exactly where your lodgings are, in particular. We’ve noted in the introduction that it is perfectly possible to have good family holidays in resorts that we rate only two stars. We have had reports from families who have had satisfactory holidays even in Kitzbühel, the one major resort to get only one star (a distinction it owes to a combination of poor beginner amenities, inconvenient layout and traffic).

There is an obvious reservation to be born in mind about the North American resorts that get high ratings: impressive though they are in the way they deal with kids, they have clear general drawbacks – not only the cost, time and hassle involved in getting there from Britain but also the high cost of childcare or full-time tuition, if that’s what you have in mind. And one further reservation about Breckenridge, in particular: the altitude. Don’t go there from the UK without a couple of nights at an intermediate altitude on the way (eg Denver).

We fully expect – no, we actively want – a lot of vigorous feedback from readers on the initial selection of resorts that we rate above average for families.


THE BEE’S KNEES?
The only major resort to get five stars is Lech, in Austria’s Vorarlberg. Lech itself it not a bad spot for a family holiday, but our rating is actually based on staying up at Oberlech, an entirely car-free satellite mini-resort, where the hotels are grouped around a gentle snowy slope. The idea is that you get there from Lech by cable car, and your bags get relayed to your hotel through a system of tunnels under the slope. The place is busy during the day – not surprisingly, it’s a popular place to have lunch – but once the lifts close it’s the preserve of residents and a few après-skiers. A toboggan run down to Lech starting here is a key ingredient in the family formula. Residents get free use of the local snow garden.

Drawbacks? Well, clearly, there are easier places to get to, where you don’t have to ascend by cable car. And it’s a limited little place, with nothing to do outside the closed world of your hotel unless you ride the cable car down to the bright lights of Lech (yes, it does run in the evening). But probably the main negative is that it’s not cheap: the hotels here know they are in a prime spot, and don’t fail to make the most of it.

 



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