June 2021 – I write to you: the Alpine rookie familyman/woman. The man or woman who has the insane aspirations to bring his or her children into the beautiful slopes of Germany, Switzerland, Austria, France, Italy, Slovenia, or even Liechtenstein. You are the Clark Griswold of snow vacations and you deserve to be well-informed…because nothing can prepare you for booking a ski lesson and suddenly realizing that the lesson starts in 10 minutes, and the meeting point is on the other side of the mountain.
This little piece is for one thing only…to let you know what-to-do and what-not-to-do when you decide to venture into Alpine territory with your brood in-tow.
Tip 1: Have snow chains and check the weather. Weather forecasts are chaotic at best during Alpine winters…but at least try to develop an idea for the temperatures, snowfall, and avalanche conditions of the places you plan to visit. Also…keep snow chains in your vehicle and fully understand how to use them. Road conditions can change pretty quick so having traction in snow can really save you in the Alps.
Tip 2: Wherever it is you’re staying, look around for lift tickets ahead of time. There are times when booking ahead of time at the lift company or inquiring at your lodging can save you a few bucks.
Tip 3: You really need to do your research when it comes to parking (if you’re driving in). Europeans don’t fuck around when it comes to rising early, getting to the parkplatz, killing beers, then getting on the lifts. If you know that there are parking lots close to the lifts, you need to fight your biggest urge to sleep in and get out there earlier. You’ll be happy you did.
Tip 4: On the topic of ski schools for kids…there really could be an entire post about this subject. There are a few things that are good for you to keep in mind. In the majority of slope areas, ski schools are broken up into morning and afternoon blocks typically lasting for 2 or 3 hours. This is to give the kids a break and to also give the parents lunch with their kids…depending on what type of parent you are this could be wonderful or awful. At some places, you can pay extra to have the instructors take your kids to lunch so you don’t have to break up your slope time.
If your kids have enough skill to go down actual slopes via the chairlift, you’ll have to buy a lift ticket in addition to the ski school cost. This could be at the same place you book your ski school lessons or it could be at a different location. Always look online to shorten your panic time on the slopes prior to their lessons. Also never lie about your kids’ ages like I did.
Sidenote: if you want your child to be in a snowboard lesson, usually the acceptable age for group lessons is around 8-years old. Otherwise you have to pay for private lessons.
Most slope areas have ski schools directly on the pistes, but there are usually other options in the villages around the slopes. I’ve never personally booked those types of schools…but it’s worth looking into for convenience, cost, and time.
Lastly on the subject of ski schools: leave plenty of time to get ready! There’s nothing like one of your kids yelling that they need to poop right when you’ve gotten them fully dressed or when you’re about to drop them off.
Tip 5: Find alternatives to ski schools in the area. Whether this is a trampoline park nearby or even a daycare/kindergarten center, you need to have a backup plan just in case your kids decide that you totally wasted your money on their ski lessons and that they’ve had enough.
Tip 6: Know what to expect when it comes to your wallet and what you’ll be paying for: particularly with food and drink. Switzerland and Liechtenstein, naturally, will cost you if you eat and drink on the slopes. Having said that, other Alpine nations will feel pretty reasonable. Grabbing a schnitzel with fries and a half liter beer won’t even cost you 15 Euro in Austria (from what I’ve seen).
Tip 7: Per some of my FB friends at one of Facebook’s largest Snowboarding groups as well as the Patch Ski Club, if you DON’T choose to put your kids into lessons, have plenty of snacks on your body or in a pack to help them recharge as the day moves along. However, it’s good to note that everyone recommends paying for lessons rather than trying to teach your own. It can make or break an entire day on a mountain.
Tip 8: In the Autumn, look for gear swap-meets around you. They’re pretty popular and are an incredibly cost-efficient way to provide decent gear for your kids (and you).
Tip 9: Fellow Facebooker Andrei Sandulache made a good point to me: Your lift tickets are oftentimes a keycard. Most of the time, these cards come with a Pfand; meaning you receive a small refund back if you turn them back in. For a family of 4, sometimes this could mean getting 10-20 Euro back. I make mention of this in another post. Don’t forget to ask!
Tip 10: This seems obvious, but you’ll want to research what the Apres Ski (after ski) and nightlife situation is like in a town before you decide to go there. There are often not really a lot of family-oriented things to do post slope time since most of the events involve tons of Euro-Techno music and alcohol (sometimes giant laser robots)…so just do some reading beforehand. Don’t forget to scope out what’s around the lodging you plan on staying at either. Our first trip to Sölden we stayed in an awesome lodging…however there was a strip club directly across from us. No further comment needed!
Since I know I’m missing some useful bits of shared knowledge, send me a message if you can think of something you wish you would’ve known during your first Alpine visit but didn’t! I’ll happily edit and elaborate! Or drop a comment below! I’ll get back to you!
Bis zum näschtes mal!the snowboard dad in europe