How to Plan a Family Ski/Snowboarding Vacation (Beginner’s Guide)

Planning a personal skiing or snowboarding trip is a daunting task, not to mention if you’re going out with your family for a winter vacation, especially when you’ve got kids in the group. In my experience, you can easily spend twice much time planning a family ski trip compared to a personal one.

As a snowboarding instructor, I don’t have a kid yet 🙂 But I often take my family members (my mother, sisters, nephews) out for a vacation during winter snow season. My favorite ski resorts are mostly in Japan, while I’m also a fan of many destinations in Europe. Meanwhile, I’ve also accompanied my students who take their families or significant others to learn snowboarding while having fun in the snow season.

In in this guide, I’m going to share some of the most important tips that hopefully will make your next family ski or snowboarding vacation a perfect one. Let’s get started.

1. Where to Go?

Always try to pick a ski or snowboarding resort that is family-friendly, here are some factors to determine whether a ski resort is family friendly or not.

Pick one with kids ski school or nursery services.

I get that you may be a very good skier or snowboarder and you can teach them by yourselves, but then honestly you are going for a ski “HOLIDAY”!! It’s always good to have someone to look after your kids for a while so you can enjoy some good time with your friends and other grown-up family members.

Tips: Always make sure that resort offers kids ski school or nursery services conducted in your kids’ language. Once my friend booked a place with kids school only in Japanese and at the end of the day he paid the school fees, and yet he had to spend his whole week in the mountain on a magic carpet with his 4 years old boy.

Pick a Hotel with lots of facilities (preferable with day care services).

Game rooms, swimming pool, indoor theme park, drawing room, cinema, kids friendly activities… you name it. In my experience, over 95% of the kids love skiing or snowboarding, but what if your kids fall into that 5% who are just not that enjoying this amazing sports? Or simply encounter a bad weather day so all of you got stuck in the hotel?

A resort with loads to play would solve your problem. Once I was teaching in Rusutsu Resort in Hokkaido, I had several students who didn’t like snowboarding that much when they were really young but they loved the indoor park in the hotel and they asked their parents to bring them back after two years…then they started loving snowboarding again.

Check ski resorts for kids or elderly discount or even free ticket!

There are some ski resorts offering free ski lift tickets for children under age 12 or they offer more discount for the elderly. Think about how much you can save when there is no need to pay for their lift tickets! Also, most of the ski resorts offering kids or elderly discounts may contain more kids or elderly friendly facilities, which would help you a lot to keep everybody entertained.

Try to pick a hotel or serviced apartment with built-in kitchen or find a hotel that provides free sneaks and food.

Trust me, kids who finish taking ski lessons are just like a black hole. I found that most of the time kids get hungry all the time and they need to eat a lot.

In order to help you save some dining expense, I’d suggest you book a room/service apartment with a kitchen so you can cook for your family. It’s shocking that the money you would save on food could be as much as a business class air ticket to Bali!

Another great thing about having a built-in kitchen is that you can control what food is given to your kids, so there is less chance for them to have a food allergy. Cannot book accommodation with a kitchen? Try to pick a hotel providing free snacks and food all the time, you would save a lot!!! But then just… sometimes… your kids may find that they don’t like the food though. For example, club med is a very good example, once a friend of mine went to Club Med in the Maldives and his two sons just kept complaining to me “I don’t like the food here…”

Tips: What if you can’t find the two options mentioned above? It’s ok, just give the hotel a call before you make the reservation and make sure there is a supermarket or convenience store nearby. So you can always get some snacks and drinks ready in your room for them.

Find a hotel with long meals serving hours.

It is always a good idea to pick accommodation with long meals serving hours because that would make your trip so much easier. Long meals serving hours means you will be offered with more flexibility to plan your day. Based on my experience, I found the dining experience in a hotel restaurant with a longer meal service would always be better than one with a shorter meal serving time because it’s usually less busy though.

Pick a ski in ski out hotel, or else, book a car.

If it’s a family ski holiday, it is very likely you are going with kids, i.e. they get tired easily. So pick a ski in ski out hotel so they can go back to hotel room for a nap whenever they want, plus you will be suffering from less pressure to make it on time for their ski lessons!

In general, a ski in ski out hotel would be very close to the ski school. Remember, you have much more to prepare on a ski day morning. For example, putting on base layers, jackets, pants, gloves, boots, helmet… etc, have breakfast, and most likely you are the only carrying your kids’ skis or snowboards to the school… staying at somewhere as close as possible to the ski resort is always a good idea!

Do try to drive a car if you have some young kids and cannot book a ski in ski out accommodation. Coz you are very likely the only one who is going to carry everything!!! 2 or even 3 sets of skis/ snowboards, helmets, goggles, gloves… plus ur kids!! A car would have saved your ski holiday.

Pick a ski resort with lots of shops.

It’s better you find a ski resort that’s close to supermarkets, restaurants, pharmacy, ski rentals, ski shops. I realized that it is very often for families to forget something for their ski holidays and they always need to go buy something! From body cream, panadol, to socks and gloves…I am sure it’s always the best if you can bring everything but then staying at somewhere convenient is always a not too bad idea. And yeah, it’s nice to leave the hotel and go for a walk, checking out different shops during your free time right?

Make sure medical care is nearby.

Honestly, this is not just for family ski trips but it’s particularly important if you are going with your family. It is my usual practice to find all the hospitals and medical care locations once I arrived at a ski resort I’ve never been. Just in case I get sick or injured so I know where to go.

But then with your kids or elderly it’s particularly important because you don’t want to get panic when your family members are not feeling well, right? And once you are sure that your kids will be treated well when they are sick would bring you peace in mind.

2. Book, Book, Book!

Book the flights, tickets to resorts, hotels, insurance, etc. Make sure to address the needs of a family especially when you’ve got elderly people or kids in the group.

Avoid a resort that’s too far and avoid long distance drive.

It is hard for the elderly and kids if they have to sit in a car or plane for a long period of time, therefore, I would recommend going to somewhere with driving distance less than 2 hours. If you are flying to somewhere for skiing or snowboarding, best to pick somewhere with less than 5 hours flying distance.

For example, Niseko in Hokkaido is a ski resort that I always go, It takes around 4 hours for us to fly from Hong Kong to Sapporo, then around 2 hours to get to Hirafu Welcome Centre in Niseko. I would say this is probably the optimum time you would like to spend on traveling with your family in one day though.

As direct as possible. Try to pick a resort that you can reach by door-to-door transportation (like a direct bus from the airport to the hotel). 5 minutes from the bus stop to the hotel is already a nightmare when you have lots of luggage and have kids and elderly in the group.

Book longer leg room.

Book a longer leg room seat is always a good idea because your kids or elderly would be able to sit more comfortably. They would be given more room to move around when they want. I saw quite a lot of kids and mums tended to sleep on the floor, I am not so sure that it’s just my experience but then obviously you can only do it when you are sitting in a longer legroom seat!

Check luggage allowance.

Going for a ski trip means there would be around 10 to 12 kg extra added to your luggage, snowboarding trip is better but you are still looking at something like 7 to 10 kg extra. A family ski trip? Definitely even more especially if you are planning to go sightseeing after your ski holiday.

It is always a good idea to pack your luggage first and estimate how much weight you will need for your ski holidays. And check with the airline for the possibility to purchase more luggage allowance.

Purchase Travel Insurance.

Make sure you purchase travel insurance for the whole group before you fly out for your holiday! That way you will be protected and compensated for all the losses caused by any delays, accidents or you just simply caught the flu during your trip. Also, ensure the insurance plan you bought covers skiing and snowboarding. Do remember to check for a family discount, some would offer group/family discounts so take advantage of that.

3. What to Pack?

Member to make a list of things and items to prepare before leaving. Focus on the part that all the family members need. I am going to write an article about what to pack for a snowboarding/ski trip later. So here I am going to focus on talking about what to pack for a family trip.

Extra waterproof gloves

I saw quite some kids were crying “my hands are cold” on the slope. Because they tend to touch the snow with their bare hands and put on the gloves when their hands are cold and wet. For sure their gloves get wet too, after a while the kids will start feeling uncomfortable and cold. Hence it is very important for parents to pick more than one set of extra waterproof gloves into their luggage.

Tips: “Wet gloves” is a common problem for beginner skiers/ snowboarders, now I always bring along a pair of surgical gloves with me when I head out so my hands are always dry.

Sunscreen and UV protected lip balm suitable for kids

It is very important to make sure your kids’ skin and lips are protected from the strong UV lights. Try to get something that’s 20+ UV protection (preferably 50) for your kids, let them try it on and make sure there is no allergy before you guys fly off to the mountain.

GPS Locator

It is a good idea for you to place a GPS locator (see Amazon) on your kids, although most of the time they are going to stay with you or going to the ski school but then placing a GPS locator on your kids could offer you extra peace in mind because you are sure that it’s easy to locate them if anything unexpected happens.

Waterproof Power Bank

You do want to stay connected to your other family members at all time because it is very likely you guys will be heading to different parts of the mountain. Kids will go skiing school, the better skier/snowboarder will head for black runs, the beginners will probably stay at the magic carpet or family runs. You want your phone work and stay online all the time. But then because of the extreme cold weather, your phone may be dead very soon.

A high-quality waterproof power bank like this would save your day! If suitable for extreme weather it’s even better. Once it was really cold and my friend’s phone died, he was very proud to tell me that he had prepared a power bank. Well, what happened was… the power bank was not working too, he had to put the ice cold metal power bank under his base layer to let his tummy warmed it up! It was so hilarious!!! Also, consider bringing more than one if you are using a wifi egg or mobile hotspot.

Hand Warmers

A hand warmer would save you and your family from wet hands! Because placing one close to your phones or music players would help a lot to keep them working. Normally I bring both a rechargeable and disposable hand warmers, just in case you may need more than one at the same time.

Sunglasses for everybody (and sunglasses retainer)

Yes, please do prepare a pair of sunglasses for your kids too because they will need it on a sunny day to protect their eyes from snow blindness. Sometimes the kids may not like to put on the goggles but at least they can wear a pair of sunglasses. Also with a sunglasses retainer (Amazon), you can make sure the sunglasses won’t be lost.

4. Transportation

Always check for the timetable of connection bus and flight before you book the trip, allow enough time for transit. For example, once I was going to Whistler, Canada, my flight landed by noon, what I did was I booked the bus to Whistler by 4 PM and yet I still checked for the hotels in Vancouver city, just to make sure I have a place to stay if my flight got delayed and I still get a place to stay.

Do also check with the ski resort accommodation and check if they could offer pick-up services from the bus station to the hotel. Most of the time they would offer such services if it’s not locating right next to the station. If you are driving to the resort, make sure you check with the car rental company to ensure the car you picked is fit for driving on the icy road to the snow resort.

Always leave a bigger buffer of petrol. Usually, I will head to the petrol station whenever I’ve used around 60% of the petrol. Although it rarely happens, then I just want to make sure there is enough petrol to keep my car running as usual when I got stuck in the traffic. Booking a car with ski racks is always a good idea as you have more space in your car and it’s more comfortable.

5. Ski/Snowboarding Day

The most important thing is to relax and keep calm. I know there’s a lot of pressure. Your kids don’t want to get up in the morning, you guys need to rush for the ski school and yet they still haven’t had their breakfast yet. But it’s ok, you are supposed to go and have a good time all together so don’t let these little accident destroy your quality time with your family.

It’s ok to be a bit late, he/she may have missed part of his lessons but honestly, the ski school will be able to arrange them into another group most of the time though. For sure it’s better you plan your day with the kids well though.

Put some chocolates, a pair of extra gloves, a disposable hand warmer, a GPS, a whistle and a name tag into your kids/elderly’s pocket. Teach them how to use these devices. For example, brief them to blow the whistle when they were lost on the slope.

Additional tips include pointing out the ski patrol and tell your kids to go look for them when they are lost, setting up a rule about where to go and what to do when you guys are lost, and giving all your family members a piece of paper with written names and phone numbers, plus the number of the hotels, ski resorts customer service, hospitals, ski school, and police station.

6. Sightseeing

It is always a good idea to include some sightseeing components for your family ski trip so the less energetic ones (kids and elderly), or those members who are not that into skiing can enjoy their holiday too.

For me, I would say pick somewhere that’s within one hour drive away from the ski resort as an ideal option for sightseeing when you are living in the ski resort, or else if you want to go for some sightseeing before or after your ski holiday, I would say it is better to do it before heading to the mountain. Just in case if any one of the family had an accident and hurt themselves a bit, they can at least enjoy the sightseeing part.

You’ll likely be carrying more than usual luggage with you so it’s best to check whether there is any way for you to courier your luggage and gears to the ski resort/airport so you can bring less during the sightseeing part.

7. Other Things

Always try to book in advance for the restaurants and ski lessons if you are going by a peak season like Christmas and school breaks.

Keep an eye on everybody to make sure they are not too tired. Skiing and snowboarding are activities you don’t want to push yourselves too much or else it is very likely to get hurt.

Avoid teaching your family members or friends by yourself unless you were trained to be a professional instructor. You may be a very good skier/snowboarder but teaching is a totally different thing. Honestly, I don’t want to teach my family or close friends unless I really can’t find a school for them to join. Because I realized it is kind of common for us to demand our friends or relatives more than just a walk-in student. Teaching someone how to ski or snowboard is not just about teaching them the skills, it’s about you want to make sure everybody is enjoying this sport.

For sure it’s not like I don’t teach them, but then for beginners, I will just send them for 3 days of ski lessons then I will bring them out by myself for the last 2 days. Just let the professionals deal with the most difficult part.

Try to explain and implement the Safety First concept for everyone in the family, the Alpine Responsibility Code is a very good start for you to begin with.

I found an article containing loads of information regarding family ski trips which I believe you may find this useful too though.

Final Words

Being able to go for a skiing/snowboarding holiday is always one of the best things in the world. Going with a family? It’s like a blessing from the GOD.

I may have written down a lot of points you should be paying attention to but those are just tips to make your trip better. It’s totally okay if you have missed or forgotten some of them. Just don’t be panic and don’t get too stressed.

The reason why you are going for a ski/snowboarding holiday with your family is that you want to have some quality time with them. Not because you want to bring them to ski schools, or fulfilling a travel plan on the white mountain. So if one of you couldn’t get up in the morning and maybe late for the ski class, just relax and don’t get too upset.

Remember, you are with your beloved ones and that’s the most important, isn’t it?

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