Skiers with school age children - how do you deal with price/availability issues?

(28 Posts)
juneau Fri 08-Feb-13 13:08:12

This has only just become an issue for us as DS1 started school in Sept. This year we're pulling him out for a week to go skiing, but I'm just wondering how other families cope with the high prices, lack of availability, and crowds of peak weeks. So:

- Do you book really early - like a year or more in advance?
- Do you always go back to the same place, thereby getting first dibs on peak weeks?
- Do you go at Christmas, which has availability, but isn't ideal with small DC due to gifts and grandparents, etc.
- Do you think 'Sod it' and pull them out of school for a week?

I'm driving myself crazy trying to work out what we should do in 2014. The peak weeks of new year and Feb half-term are already booked up for places that take early bookings and I'm a bit scared to book SC in case we can't get childcare (which we need for six days for DC2).

trixymalixy Fri 08-Feb-13 14:12:27

We're taking DS out of school this year, but we're booking for next year as soon as we get back. There was pretty much no choice because of childcare restrictions when we booked for February because we'd left it very late.

HormonalHousewife Fri 08-Feb-13 14:19:46

yes, we book almost as soon as we come back grin

we have been going to the same place each year for a while but last year decided to try somewhere new and would never go back to meribel due to some fecker scartching 5 panels on the hire car

dont fancy christmas nor pulling them out of school.

Skiing is very expensive, have you thought about driving, train and self catering ?

harrassedswlondonmum Fri 08-Feb-13 14:24:00

We book early, and drive, at half term. This year and last we have stayed in a very large sc chalet with friends which is in the Portes du Soleil region in France but in a village. Then we drive somewhere different to ski every day. This works now as our children are experienced enough not to need lessons. The ski hire is much cheaper in a small village as well - about half what we paid in centre of resort! Last year's holiday with skiing on first and last Saturdays so 8 days skiing cost us just under £600 per head in half term week - all in, including food, travel, overnight stops and spending money etc (but no lessons).

I wouldn't be put off sc because of childcare though - we have used a resort English nanny service previously which worked fine for us, and it was independent of any ski company (Cheeky Monkeys, in Morzine but I'm sure other resorts have similar).

We pulled our daughter out the first time we went but we have 4 school age kids now so not really an option!

Rooble Switzerland Fri 08-Feb-13 14:30:01

We went at Christmas to a tiny resort, drove there, did s/c, had a baby with us but 4 adults present so we shared the childcare rather than put her in a crèche.
We went with another family and agreed a set number of presents for each child (think it was one big present from parents, one present from the other family, plus a stocking which we'd coordinated the contents of) - other presents were opened after the holiday.
This is the best and most wholesome Christmas I've ever had. We skied 6 hours every day (except Christmas Day, just did morning which wax fab, really quiet).
I can't bring myself to pay half term prices, but we have also done 1st week of Easter hols which has always been fine. Both places (Engelberg and Les Gets) you needed a telecabine to get out of the village, but there was plenty of snow higher up.

juneau Fri 08-Feb-13 16:14:05

This is great - thank you all for sharing your strategies.

have you thought about driving, train and self catering?
Yes, I'm considering everything. I've actually got a spreadsheet with all the different info on because all my bits of paper were becoming too confusing.

harrassed I'm really impressed that you managed to do half-term for £600 a head! That's amazing. It sounds like your DC are older than mine though and I'm finding that childcare can really add up. Once my boys are skiing with us every day (or with each other - I'm sure we'll be too slow for them!), our costs will go down considerably.

LemonEmmaP Fri 08-Feb-13 16:28:23

We've tried all sorts. First time, we booked up just four weeks before travelling at February half term, and ended up driving, SC, and booking DS2 into a nursery for most of the week. However, we crashed the car shock so what was supposed to be a cheap holiday wound up being very stressful and expensive! We were unlucky though, and although I don't think we'll drive ourselves skiing again, all other aspects of that holiday worked really well.

For our second attempt, we went the week before half term to cut down costs, and (marginally) cut down the queues. The kids were still young (7 and 4) so school was only an issue for the older one anyway, but I did still feel guilty. There was a group of us, with several children, all of skiing age by now, so we skiied in the morning while they went to ski school, and then some of us would stay with the younger ones in the afternoon while others skied on.

Last year we went away for Christmas, which was actually really nice. Again, we went as a group which helped with the afternoons after ski school finished. We agreed that no-one would take too many presents, and focused on small things we could take easily. We then caught up with grandparents when we got back. It made for a slightly hectic Christmas period, but we enjoyed it.

This year, we are taking a two week trip (leaving tomorrow grin) so will be taking the boys out of school for one week, and the other coincides with half term. We're going to Austria which has longer ski school days, so there should be less of an issue with childcare after ski school as I imagine most of us will be ready to wrap up around that time anyway.

juneau Fri 08-Feb-13 17:03:18

However, we crashed the car

Oh dear. That's not what you need on holiday sad

But I'm very envy of your two-week trip to Austria.

nomazeena Fri 08-Feb-13 23:53:53

My kids are 13, 10 and 9 and I am taking them for the first time this year. The 13 year old was conceived in Megeve and it has taken this long for us to be able to afford to go again!
We are going on the Friday so 1 day off school- easyjet flights Bristol to innsbruck £130 each, guesthouse £700 suite with extra bed for the 5 of us. £200 private taxi transfer. So so far its just over £300 each. we will have lift passes and ski school on top but thats about the same price whenever you go. Austria ski school is 4 hours per day so we wont need extra childcare. Its expensive but we are so excited at this point that its been worth it already!
As for the crowds we'll have to wait and see!
Have fun.

UniS Sat 09-Feb-13 23:04:07

sod it, pull him out of school.

IwishIwasmoreorganised Sun 10-Feb-13 22:37:33

We take ours out of school for a week.

They're still in primary ATM. Haven't thought about when they're in secondary yet!

Doshusallie Fri 08-Mar-13 11:20:00

Have always pulled them out of school before (including this week!) but have booked for next year already in feb half term.

We are lucky - we have a small house in the southern Alps, (20 mins from Les Orres, 35 mins from Risoul) that we go to every year. It is in the valley and so you need a car, but there are loads of different options for skiing (big places and teeny, cheap places). My DB went last year with 3 DCs, and he reckoned it cost him about £1200 for the week including ski hire, passes, driving, ferry and £350 for me. I think the DIY option is the cheapest, but it doesn't work for everyone.

When DSs were younger we used the Halte Guarderie - French nursery - they were always surprisingly flexible. But doubt that would be the case during half term when I am sure they are chocca bloc.

TwoBoiledEggs Wed 13-Mar-13 07:01:22

I would never take them out of school. I either plan in advance (a year ahead) or have also gone very last minute before with a bargain.

Options are to go for a less "touristy" place - go skiing where the local Austrians, Italians go, etc even if you've never heard of it and you are the only Brit there! The children then tend to learn to ski in much cheaper local ski schools.

So either DIY or a last minute package.

IWishICouldThinkOfAFabName Mon 18-Mar-13 20:20:54

If your children are still quite young then I would just take them out of school. The schools will discourage it as it affects their OFSTED but under the age of 8 (so upto year 3) they really won't miss much. We always took ours out of school when they were little ( normally first week of Jan as it was 3 days rather than a whole week) but DS is now at senior school so we are tied to school hols.
I can highly recommend Family Friendly sking in La Tania (3 Vallees) - they have nannies in the chalet. You arrange your own transport ( drive, fly or train ) but they can provide transfers. When your kids are little having child care makes a huge difference to a ski holiday. Also look at Ski Magic which is also in La Tania and provides a similar service They offer free child places for some off season weeks.

Once you are tied to school hols it is expensive and the only way to keep the costs down is to drive and stay in either less well known resorts or slightly down the mountain from the world class resorts.
We have now bought an apartment in Brides les Bains which is in the 3 Vallees but not ski in /out - however, so much cheaper than staying Meribel or Courcheval. We still ski the same slopes but either take the gondola to Meribel or drive up to Meribel and park there ( underground parking is about €8 per day). If you stay further down the mountain then everything tends to cheaper - ski hire, food shopping, restaurants etc. We just need to factor 20 mins travelling time to get to Meribel / ski school ( a bit like a short commute to work !).
With young children needing child care then I would definately go for a catered chalet with in house nannies but once they are old enough to ski for most of the day ( age 6 upwards) then self catering works well.
We are renting our apartment out so if anyone is interested please contact me. Next season, we will probably go at Christmas so half term and New Year will be available.
Easter is late next year which may put more pressure on Half term and the xmas/New Year hols.

IWishICouldThinkOfAFabName Thu 02-May-13 13:40:30

Further to my mesage above, I thought I would post how we got on in BLB, self catering and with a private nanny. It all worked really well. We drove so took out some frozen meals from COOK to make life easy.
The nanny arrived at 8.15am to look after our youngest and take her to ski school for 11.30am. We jumped in the car ( parked in the underground carpark) and drove 20 minutes to Meribel and parked in an underground car park directly under the ski school meeting point and lift area. So literally one short flight of stairs with ski boots and skis. We could have parked in a free car park abit further away but with 3 kids the €8 approx we paid a day was a good investment! Plus the ski hire in BLB was so much cheaper than in Meribel that we easily covered the parking costs just on that element of the holiday.
DS aged 12 skied with us, DS age 8 and ski lessons 9.15am to 1.30pm and DD aged 5 was 11.30 to 1.30pm. We used an alternative ski school to ESF so classes were small and the instructor spoke perfect English.
The nanny took DD to ski school ( via the Gondola from BLB which took 20 mins), we had a couple of days where the nanny picked up both children from ski school so we could ski all day and one afternoon when all 3 went back to the apartment with her as swimming was considered more exciting than skiing.
We are going again at xmas and have already booked a private nanny for 5 afternoons to do ski school collection.
We managed to do the drive from BLB to Calais in 8 hours and got back to our house in the UK by 9pm. All very civilised.
If your budget allows then a quality catered chalet with childcare is lovely. Having a ski in ski out location is also great but you pay a premium and quite often find that beginners can't actually ski in / out anyway as the piste is too difficult for them.
If like us you find the prices too high ( especially in school hols) then there are good alternatives. There are several other resorts in France that are similar to Brides where you can find good value self catered accomodation but with easy access to a top class ski resort.

juneau Wed 26-Jun-13 16:18:22

Thanks for all that info IWish. I worked in Courchevel for a season many years ago, so I know Brides and the gondola - at least by sight.

We eventually found a reasonable deal to go at New Year to a small resort in Austria with a family specialist who do hotels with in-house childcare. It's been more than 10 years since I skied in Austria and back then thing were rather different (St Anton, no kids, as much partying as skiing!), so we'll see how Austria with kids works out.

We've done catered chalets the past two years and while I like the childcare in that setting, socially it's very hit and miss and DH and I find spending five nights chatting to the same group of strangers every night a bit of a strain. DS2 will be skiing in another couple of years, so I think we'll try SC then. Until then, we really need the ease of in-house care.

jo164 Thu 27-Jun-13 22:20:08

Another good option is Scandinavia at Easter. We are heading back to Finland for a second time with our children next April. Snow sure until at least May! Small resorts, but plenty to do for a week, ski school great and good child care if you need it. Very pretty resort (Levi), plenty of other activities if you want as well, such as reindeer/husky sledding, cross country skiing, visiting ice hotel, horse riding, Northern lights, lovely spa hotel to visit. Lots of apartments to choose from or hotels, we manage to do a week at Easter with flights and accommodation (s/c) for under £2000 for 4 of us. Lessons, food on top of that. Not bad for their peak season. Ski slopes stay open until 7pm as well!

juneau Fri 28-Jun-13 10:19:15

Oooh I like the sound of Finland! How do you find your accommodation and who do you fly with? Is ski school available in English? Is English widely spoken, as in other parts of Scandinavia? I know Finnish is a tricky language, so while I love to have a go at any language, I can't see my kids having the same sort of enthusiasm.

HintofBream Fri 28-Jun-13 16:14:08

Take them out of school. We did this twice with the DGCs, and my DH is a head teacher himself(different county). Can't do it next year because of SATS. Make the most of this window of opportunity.

jo164 Fri 28-Jun-13 19:39:46

Yes ski school is in English - my 4 year old coped fine this year - their English is extremely good everywhere! We fly with Finnair from Heathrow to Kittila via Helsinki. We went at Christmas last year to do the whole Father Christmas bit - which was great, but it can get extremely cold (and dark!) Having said that, a lot of the ski slopes have flood lighting and its quite an experience skiing in the dark! The slopes were almost empty - never queue for a lift.
We book our accommodation through this website. Lots of apartments to choose from, and if you look in Levi centre everywhere is an easy walk to slopes/shops etc.
www.levi.fi
You can translate the website into English which helps!
We stayed in the Snow White Best Western Apartments at Christmas which were lovely (and cheap at that time) - but at Easter it worked out much more expensive so we have chosen another (5*) apartment which worked out at about £1000 for the week. Last year we booked some trips through the tourist information before we went - which was really easy, as again they do it all in English - and booked the ski school in the same way. The children's ski area is nice as well - 3 slopes and a special sledging slope with free sledges to use, a lovely childcare centre which we used a couple of times and a 'koti' hut - which has an open fire in the middle to warm up by and cook sausages over when you get too cold outside.
We felt that it was a great place to go whilst the children were young - ours are 4 and 6 - as we could mix the skiing up with other activities as there was more on offer than in the traditional southern European resorts.

cluttered Sat 29-Jun-13 00:57:56

Hi Jo we will also be in Levi Easter 2014! This will be our third time to Levi. In 2012 we went for February half term and this year we went at Easter and I definitely preferred Easter for skiing, not bitterly cold and longer days with lots of sun (but not much chance to see the Northern Lights compared with February because it doesn't get really dark until very late).

We only learnt to ski in 2012 and the DC are better than DP and I, especially DS1 who skied the World Cup Black Run with only 2 weeks of total skiing experience! I really like knowing where everything is in Levi and what the runs are like until I become more confident although this year we are branching out a bit and going to Yllas as well for a few days. I have had a problem this year booking Helsinki to Kittila flights that will connect with the flights from Heathrow, I don't know if they have changed their timetables?

I agree that there is loads of other stuff for kids to do in Levi if they don't want to ski all day every day and also there are no lift queues!! In February 2012 British half term didn't coincide with Finnish school holidays so I was expecting it to be much busier at Easter this year but it was really fine, you could walk straight on to any lift and from what I have read the passes are reasonably priced compared to other European resorts?

burberryqueen Sat 29-Jun-13 01:02:37

we went to Poland in a Feb half term once.....it was great, just booked accom and ski school online and travelled down there ourselves....

jo164 Sat 29-Jun-13 09:49:57

Hi Cluttered, I noticed the flights changed as well. Luckily our school breaks up quite early so we head out on March 29th. We looked at later dates but in order to get connecting flights we would have had to fly on Tues come home following Wed, which is doable there, as all accommodation seems to be very flexible with regards to booking. I love it there and I've skied for years! I'm looking forward to skiing all the runs next year as at Christmas only the floodlit are open. Great place with children.

78bunion Sat 29-Jun-13 10:32:26

We always go in school holidays (Christmas). It is very expensive. Price you pay for being a responsible parent who never takes children out of school in term time as a matter of principle.

burberryqueen Sat 29-Jun-13 10:41:09

good for you oh great rich and smug one

hatsybatsy Tue 02-Jul-13 13:46:45

what a smug and unhelpful post 78bunion! lucky you being able to afford school holiday prices!

we've always shopped around, there are some early booking deals to be had.

our problem is that we ski with friends who have virtually unlimited budgets. I have booked Mark Warner this year (taking kids out of school for 2.5 days before Easter) - am hoping they will join us. But if they don't, it will be because they wanted to spend more, which we really cannot afford to.....

newgirl Tue 02-Jul-13 14:49:17

We find Easter better value than Feb but you have to go to high resorts - found it very quiet every year no queues, and great snow.

Beware self catering as it's easy to spend fortune on lunches just be mindful as resort supermarkets not cheap.

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