Dave Watts, Chris Gill, The Daily Telegraph, September 30, 2013
Sun Peaks ( sunpeaksresort.com )
Where is it? British Columbia, Canada
Why go? Attractive village, quiet ski area
Slopes 1200m to 2080m
Pistes 3678 acres
Six-day lift pass C$450
Free lift pass five and under
Sun Peaks has come a long way since it was developed in the 1990s. It has a friendly, attractive small village with a traffic-free main street and a fair amount of varied terrain, which makes it appealing for family holidays.
Until 20 years ago Sun Peaks was simply Tod Mountain, a local hill for the residents of nearby Kamloops. Since then, a purpose-built village with ski-in/ski-out accommodation has changed things considerably. In addition, the ski area has been expanded extensively. Low-rise, pastel-coloured buildings have a vaguely Tirolean feel about them, and the family-friendly village is a pleasant place to stroll around. The main street is lined with lodgings, restaurants and shops, including a smart art gallery, a chocolate shop and a few coffee bars.
The Sundance Kids Centre takes non-skiing children from 18 months to five years, while the Sun Tots and sun Kids programmes provide lessons and comprehensive childcare for three to 12 year olds.
With almost 3700 acres of terrain over three linked mountains, Sun Peaks is the second biggest ski area in British Columbia after Whistler – but it’s not big by alpine standards, and you are never far from the village itself. Weekdays are usually very quiet and queues quite rare. It’s only on peak weekends that you might find yourself waiting for a lift.
Free guided tours of the area run twice a day, and you can also tour for free with Nancy Greene (former Olympic ski champion and Canada’s Female Athlete of the 20th Century) when she’s in town.
There are nursery slopes right in the village centre, and two of the three mountains (Mount Tod and Sundance) can be reached by high-speed quad chairs from the centre.
Mount Tod offers mainly black runs, but there are easier pistes too. These include a great top-to-bottom green called 5 Mile (though it probably isn’t anything like that long). Many of Mount Tod’s steepest runs are served only by the slow Burfield quad chair, which takes over 20 minutes to get to the top. However, there is a mid-station from which you can access the lower runs only, if you can’t face the wait.
The Sundance area is mainly blue and green cruising runs, but there are a few short blacks too. Both Sundance and Tod have great gladed tree areas to play in. These are marked on the trail map, and some are easy enough to be tackled by intermediates looking for an extra challenge.
The third mountain, Mount Morrisey, is reached by a long green run from the top of Sundance. It has a delightful network of easy blue runs with trees left uncut in the trails, effectively making them groomed glade runs that even intermediates can try. However, some of the blacks on Mount Morrisey, such as Static Cling, have steep mogul sections to be aware of. From Morrisey you can head back to the resort centre or off the back on a blue run away from all the lifts, which takes you down to the Burfield quad.
Village may be too small and quiet for some tastes; ski area modest by alpine standards.
Avoriaz ( avoriaz.com )
Where is it? Haute Savoie, France
Why go? Traffic-free village in the middle of a vast area of slopes
Slopes 950m to 2275m
Six-day lift pass €237.5
Free lift pass four and under
Of the French purpose-built resorts created in the 1960s, Avoriaz is one of the more sympathetically designed. Compact and car free, its buildings are wood clad with snowy paths and pistes between them. You and your luggage are transported to the largely ski-in/ski-out accommodation by snowcat or horse-drawn sleigh. Many families love Avoriaz for its safety and convenience. It also has the highest and most snowsure slopes in the Portes du Soleil ski area.
Avoriaz has a lot to offer families. One key attraction has long been the childcare provided in the Village des Enfants, right in the centre of the village and run by ex-downhill champ Annie Famose. Its facilities are excellent – a chalet full of activities and special children’s slopes. The new Aquariaz is the largest water park ever to be built in the mountains. As well as indoor and outdoor pools and a décor featuring lush vegetation and rocks, there are fun extras such as a river with a gentle variable current, a sidewinder (an aquatic halfpipe) and lots more to appeal to all ages.
Set at 1800m, Avoriaz is the highest part of the huge Portes du Soleil ski area that spans the French-Swiss border and has 650km of pistes. The local slopes around Avoriaz normally get some of the best snow. The majority of the rest of the Portes du Soleil slopes are lower and snow quality can suffer, especially on the sunny Swiss side of the circuit. When the snow is good throughout, there is a huge amount of cruising available on generally well-groomed pistes. You can do a cross-border circuit in clockwise and anti-clockwise directions, and there’s also the French Morzine-Les Gets area to explore, easily reached by catching a gondola from Avoriaz down to Morzine.
Avoriaz was one of the pioneers of snowboarding in France, and the country’s first terrain park was built here in 1993. It now has five permanent parks, a boardercross and a superpipe. One of the parks, Lil’Stash, a mini version of another park, The Stash, is specially designed for younger kids. Both parks are built in the forest and consist entirely of wooden and natural elements. The main park is a pro-park, often used for high profile contests. It has an airbag for practising moves with a soft landing.
The Portes du Soleil in general is low for France, with the risk of poor snow on the lower slopes; can get crowded at weekends; few hotels or chalets – mostly no-frills, cramped apartments, although there are some fairly new luxury options.
Ste Foy ( saintefoy.net )
Where is it? Savoie, France
Why go? Small village, varied slopes
Slopes 1550m to 2620m
Six-day lift pass €156.5
Free lift pass six and under
Ste Foy is an attractive, great value and unpretentious resort built in the last 10 years at the foot of what started life as a cult, off-piste mountain. It remains excellent for experts but is now very good for families too.
Ste Foy is like a complete resort in miniature, with a limited choice of bars and restaurants, a newsagent and a small supermarket. These are surrounded by a cluster of chalets and chalet-style apartment blocks, all built in the traditional Savoyard style of wood and stone.
The resort is popular with British and Dutch families, many of whom have bought properties here. There is an excellent fenced-off nursery slope right next to the village, with moving carpet lifts that are free to use. Beginners can progress from here on to a long, easy green run served by a slow quad chair from the village.
There are great childcare facilities in Ste Foy – Les P’tits Trappeurs nursery takes children from age three to 11. UK tour operator Première Neige also runs a nursery, the Cub Club, and lays on party nights, such as kids’ discos for four to 12-year-olds from 6pm to 9pm.
As well as the long green, the chair from the village also accesses a red and a blue run. Two further successive slow chairs take you to the top of the mountain, from where you can choose a fairly short black or a longer red. A newer, faster six-man chair to one side of the resort accesses another couple of runs.
The pistes are very limited compared with nearby big resorts, and the main attraction of the slopes for experts is the excellent off piste, including special zones that are avalanche controlled. There is also lots more out of the way off piste to be explored with a guide. This includes runs from the top of the lifts down through deserted villages, either to the main road to nearby Val d’Isère, from where you return by bus, or back to the resort via the deserted hamlet of Le Monal. Other adventures involve short hikes to start, and the ESF runs off-piste group trips with transport back to Ste Foy.
Keen intermediates will cover all 32km of Ste Foy’s pistes in a day or less, and one delight of the area is that you will very rarely encounter a lift queue. If you want more variety and have a car, it’s easy to visit other nearby resorts such as Val d’Isère-Tignes, Les Arcs, La Rosière (linked to La Thuile in Italy) and La Plagne. The first three of these are all less than a 20-minute drive away, and La Plagne takes about an hour.
All have excellent and varied slopes and make good day trips – and with a six-day Ste Foy lift pass, you can buy day passes at each of them at reduced rates. Some UK tour operators arrange trips to other resorts too.
Very limited area of pistes; mainly slow chairlifts; not much après and few restaurants.
Obergurgl ( obergurgl.com )
Where is it? Tirol, Austria
Why go? Snowsure with jolly, traditional atmosphere
Slopes 1795m to 3080m
Six-day lift pass €246
Free lift pass nine and under
Glacier resorts apart, this is one of the most snowsure areas in the Alps and the highest parish in Austria. Combine that with no through-traffic, easy slopes and traditional-style buildings, and you can see why a loyal band of families go back time and time again, often booking a year in advance.
Children from age three can join the resort’s Bobo Mini Club for outdoor activities or the Bobo kindergarten for indoor fun. Many hotels also offer childcare of one sort or another. Esprit Ski, a family specialist UK tour operator, has two chalet-hotels here, providing comprehensive childcare facilities. The resort is set in a remote spot at the head of a valley and has few day visitors. In practice this means the village is quiet with very few cars – it’s mainly traffic free.
The village is set at almost 2000m and its slopes reach over 3000m, which is exceptionally high for a traditional Austrian resort. This means that there is reliable snow for a long season that lasts from mid-November to early May, and it’s a great place to be in the strong spring sunshine of March and April.
You can pay a little extra when you buy a six-day lift pass to cover a day in the nearby resort of Sölden, which offers two glaciers, plus a further 150km of pistes to explore. A free bus service takes guests there and back.
The slopes are generally gentle and well-groomed and suit beginners and intermediates best – keen piste bashers may find the extent and variety somewhat limited. The area is well served by modern, high-speed chairlifts and gondolas that whisk you around and make queuing a rarity.
There are lots of comfortable four-star hotels, most of which have their own pools and spas, and a couple of UK operators run chalets.
The Nederhütte, a popular bar and restaurant near the bottom of the Hohe Mut Bahn gondola, is the place to be when the lifts close. Many people get there at 2pm or earlier to bag a table and enjoy the family-friendly live music and dancing (often on the tables) till late. The bars at the foot of the slopes get crowded as the lifts close too. Things are quieter after dinner, but once a week there’s a popular display by the ski instructors, night skiing, and a family-friendly party up the mountain.
Limited area of slopes with no tough pistes and no terrain park; exposed setting that can be bleak in bad weather; little to do outside the hotels; village lacks a real centre.
Wengen ( wengen.ch )
Where is it? Bernese Oberland, Switzerland
Why go? Charming traffic-free village, wonderful scenery
Jungfrau region slopes 945m to 2970m
Six-day lift pass CHF323
Free lift pass five and under
Given the charm of its village, the friendliness of its locals and the drama of its scenery, it’s easy to see why so many people love Wengen, including a large number of Brits who have been going for decades.
Part of the Jungfrau region that includes the slopes of Grindelwald and nearby Mürren, both covered by the lift pass, Wengen is great for people looking for a relaxing break, for those who don’t take their slope time too seriously, for families and for mixed groups of skiers and non-skiers.
Wengen is set on a shelf high above the Lauterbrunnen valley, and is reached only by a cog railway, which continues on up the mountain as the main lift. The village is not exactly chocolate-box pretty, but it is charming and relaxed and almost traffic free. The only exceptions are electric hotel vehicles and private taxis. There’s a good nursery slope right in the centre of the village and two kindergartens which are used to looking after British children – one takes them from as young as six months. The village centre is home to a good ice rink, with curling as well as skating, and there is a cinema that frequently shows films in English.
The views from resort level across the valley are stunning. But when you get up the slopes, the close-up vistas of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains next to each other take your breath away. There are few more dramatic settings for exploring the slopes. The cog railway goes right up through a tunnel in the mountains to emerge at Jungfraujoch, which at 3450m is the highest railway station in Europe. From there, the views of the Aletsch glacier, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are amazing.
Although Wengen is famous for the fearsome Lauberhorn downhill course, the longest and one of the toughest on the World Cup circuit, its slopes are best suited to early intermediates, as are those of Grindelwald over the top of the ski area. The majority of runs are gentle blues and reds, ideal for cruising. The steeper slopes of Mürren are reached by catching the cog train to Lauterbrunnen, then a cable car and another cog train.
The local slopes of Wengen are sunny and relatively low (lots of pistes are below 2000m), and snow used to be hit and miss. But a massive effort has been put into snowmaking in the last 10 years, and now some 60 per cent of the local Kleine Scheidegg-Männlichen slopes are covered – so even in a bad snow year you can be sure pistes will be in good condition, providing it’s cold enough to make snow. The lifts have been improved in recent years too, with fast chairlifts replacing most of the slow, old chairs and t-bars.
Limited terrain for experts and adventurous intermediates; train to the slopes is slow, although there’s a cable car alternative; subdued in the evenings.
Tremblant ( tremblant.ca )
Where is it? Quebec, Canada
Why go? Cute resort, French-Canadian ambience
Slopes 230m to 875m
Pistes 654 acres
Six-day lift pass C$456
Free lift pass two and under
Tremblant is a delightful, traffic-free village in the French-speaking part of Canada. The ski school is highly rated for children’s lessons and good childcare facilities are available. The village is purpose-built in the style of old Québec, with buildings in vibrant colours lining cobbled streets. A heated gondola takes you to the top of the mountain, from where you can drop over the back into the slopes of the North Side.
There’s terrain to suit all, including a large beginner area. Off the slopes, the resort pool resembles a woodland lake.
But… Can be perishingly cold; very small ski area
Beaver Creak ( beavercreek.com )
Where is it? Colorado, USA
Why go? Pampered luxury, quiet, crowd-free trails
Slopes 2255m to 3845m
Pistes 1815 acres
Six-day lift pass $570
Free pass four and under
Beaver Creek is under the same ownership as Vail, which is 16km down the road. It’s unashamedly exclusive, with a tiny village consisting of a handful of luxury hotels and apartment buildings and an escalator to take you up to the slopes. However, if expense is no issue, it makes a great base for a family holiday.
The Small World Play School looks after non-skiing kids from two months to six years, and the ski school takes children all day. The ski area suits all abilities and the trails are often deserted
Disappointing mountain restaurants; not much going on at night.
Alpbach ( alpbachtal.at )
Where is it? Tirol, Austria
Why go? Traditional, charming village, friendly atmosphere
Slopes 670m to 2025m
Six-day lift pass €205
Free lift pass five and under
This pretty village has long been a favourite with British families. They are attracted by the picturesque resort and its small, friendly local ski area. Alpbach is what you imagine an Austrian mountain village to look like, with its traditional wooden chalets set around a church. It’s ideal for children as the nursery slopes are right in the village and there are good ski kindergartens.
The main slopes are an efficient shuttle-bus ride away and are linked to the Wildschönau ski area in the next valley.
Few steep pistes to interest experts; lower slopes can suffer from poor snow.
Snowmass ( aspensnowmass.com )
Where is it? Colorado, USA
Why go? easy cruising, convenient resort near Aspen
All four mountains' slopes 2400m to 3815m
Pistes 5305 acres
Six-day lift pass $504
Free pass 6 and under
Snowmass is a purpose-built, modern resort, where most lodging is ski-in/ski-out on to the slopes of Aspen’s biggest ski area. Its gentle, easy cruising slopes and highly regarded ski school appeal to families, and it has terrain to suit experts too. Plus there are Aspen’s three other mountains to explore too. The Treehouse Kids’ Adventure Center takes children from two months, with ski and board lessons for those aged two and a half and over. There are also kids’ trails, a children’s race arena and a beginner terrain park.
It’s a bus journey to Aspen town and the other mountains; limited dining and nightlife in Snowmass.
Where is it? Aosta Valley, Italy
Why go? Compact, traffic-free resort with varied ski area
Slopes 1550m to 2750m
Six-day lift pass €199
Free pass 7 and under
Pila is little known outside Italy, but offers a worthwhile surprise to those who visit. A small area of well-groomed, snowsure slopes suited to intermediates rises around a car-free, purpose-built resort. Great for families with small children, it has a splendid nursery slope, play area and gentle tubing hill all located near the centre. There’s also a Miniclub that caters for kids up to age 12. It’s not exactly charming, but the resort is a functional mix of chalet-style buildings and large apartment blocks with direct access to the slopes on one side.
Lots of British school parties on the mountain; few shops or restaurants and quiet après.
Lech ( lech-zuers.at )
Where is it? Vorarlberg, Austria
Why go? Exceptionally snowy slopes, comfortable hotels
Arlberg region - slopes 1075m to 2650m
Six-day lift pass €235
Free pass 8 and under
Oberlech is a small, traffic-free group of four-star hotels set 250m above the resort of Lech proper. It offers comfort, doorstep slopes and Kinderland Oberlech, which looks after skiing and non-skiing kids from age two. The Goldener Berg hotel also has its own kindergarten. The slopes of Lech and its linked neighbour Zürs suit all abilities and are extremely snowy. From 2013/14 they will be linked to even snowier Warth and Schröcken by a gondola which, along with the nearby expert slopes of St Anton, will be covered by the lift pass.
Pricey, especially by Austrian standards; nearly all slopes are exposed and are unpleasant in bad weather.
Flaine (flaine.com )
Where is it? Haute Savoie, France
Why go? High, snowsure, excellent beginner slopes
Grand Massif - slopes 700m to 2480m
Six-day lift pass €199
Free pass 4 and under
Flaine’s concrete architecture dates from the 1960s and isn’t to everyone’s taste. However, some newer chalet-style accommodation has been added more recently. The resort is built for convenience – at its heart is a traffic-free square which opens on to the slopes on one side. There are good childcare facilities and family lift pass offers. The snowsure slopes are part of the large Grand Massif ski area, which has good terrain for all levels – a variety of blue and red runs, as well as genuinely steep black pistes and extensive off piste. The nursery slopes are also right by the village.
Austere buildings; limited activities off the slopes.
La Rosiere ( larosiere.net )
Where is it? Savoie, France
Why go? Sunny slopes; linked with Italy
Espace San Bernado - slopes 1175 to 2610m
Six-day lift pass €194
La Rosière is smaller, quieter and cheaper than the nearby mega-resorts of Les Arcs, Val d’Isère-Tignes and La Plagne. It best suits families and mixed ability groups wanting a relaxed time, and tour operators Esprit and Crystal both have their own childcare facilities. The ski area is sunny but gets a lot of snow, and there are splendid panoramic views over the valley to the Les Arcs ski area. The slopes suit intermediates and beginners best and are linked over the top ridge to the snowsure, north-facing pistes of La Thuile in Italy.
Mainly slow, old lifts; local pistes rather limited and lacking variety.
La Tania ( latania.com )
Where is it? Savoie, France
Why go? Good value, access to big ski area
Trois Vallées - slopes 1230m to 3230m
Six-day lift pass €219 Free pass 4 and under
Traffic-free La Tania was purpose-built for the 1992 Winter Olympics, and it sits in a pretty woodland setting at the foot of the slopes. It’s a family-friendly base from which to explore the swankier, pricier neighbours of Courchevel and Méribel, and the vast, varied Trois Vallées ski area. Le Ski runs its own nursery in La Tania, and Chez Nanours kindergarten takes kids from age three. The beginner area is right by the village, and the rest of the Trois Vallées ski area is easily reached. Babysitters can be found through the tourist office.
Village relatively low and snowmaking vital; diversions are limited in the village.
Puy St Vincent ( paysdesecrins.com )
Resort 1400m to 1800m
Slopes 1250m to 2700m
Six-day lift pass €150
Free pass 5 and under
Puy St Vincent is little-known on the international market, but for a family with young children it’s well worth a look. Its small ski area can’t compete with bigger names in terms of extent, but low prices and a convenient, traffic-free village make it popular with many British families. Of the resort’s three separate sectors, best for families is 1600, which consists of purpose-built ski-in/ski-out apartments and a parade of restaurants and shops. Tour operator Snowbizz runs its own creche here, and is involved in the large International ski school, which has a big children’s section.
Small ski area; little to do off the slopes.