Image credit: Perisher
Skiing with Kids
Great Australian, New Zealand and Canadian Ski Resorts
With the quality of facilities now available in ski resorts there is no longer a reason to put skiing on hold until the kids are older.
There are many resorts with care available for babies and toddlers plus great kids' clubs and ski lessons. Some of our favourite resorts in Australia and New Zealand include:
NSW; Perisher, Thredbo, Selwyn Snowfields and Charlotte Pass.
Victoria; Hotham, Falls Creek, Mt Baw Baw, Mt Buller, Dinner Plain, Mt Stirling and Lake Mountain.
New Zealand: Cardona, The Remarkables, Mt Hutt and Treble Cone
Canada: Big White, Silver Star, Sun Peaks and Fernie
Something for the whole family
Unlike other holidays where activities are divided squarely into those for the kids and those for the adults, skiing is one of the few sports you can do together as a family regardless of age. Natalee Ward has this rundown on ski resorts in Australia and New Zealand, while Marc Llewellyn takes a look at what Canada has to offer.
In recent years, mountain resorts in Australia, New Zealand and Canada have turned their focus to families. The result is an outbreak of quality ski schools, crèches for children and alternative snow activities for those who don’t ski. Package holidays offer deals where kids ski, and sometimes even stay and eat, free of charge.
The key to a successful, happy and safe family ski holiday is lessons. Ski schools (or “snowsport facilities” as many are now called) generally split children into groups of 3-5yrs and 6-14yrs. The lessons are a mix of child-minding and an introduction to the snow for young children, or snowboarding and advanced skills for older kids. While some children shun the idea of being in a structured environment, most enjoy the group activities and the chance to ski and have hot chocolates with children their own age.
As the head of Perisher’s ski school and father of two children who ski and snowboard, Don McInnes knows the importance of leaving teaching to a professional.
Image credit: Silver Star
“It’s all about everyone having an enjoyable holiday,” Don says.
“When you try to teach your own child anything – how to swing a golf club or swim – it usually doesn’t go smoothly. It is always better to let a third party teach them how to ski, and most kids prefer it.”
While the schools teach children skiing fundamentals such as snow plough and weight transferral, it is always done on kids’ terms. The instructors at Perisher, for example, are selected primarily because they have childcare or teaching qualifications.
Don McInnes says children younger than 3yrs usually don’t have the strength to ski, but most 3-4yrs can learn to ski on beginner runs within about four days, depending on the child. He says most 5-6yrs can ski down a slope unassisted by the second day, but progress is best measured over a week. Children from about 8-14yrs can usually pick up the basic skills within the first or second lesson. Snowboarding is offered to children 6yrs and older, but Don says it is often better to wait until the child is 7-8yrs and has stronger legs.
The southern hemisphere ski season opens in June and usually runs until the end of the school holidays in October. But if you can’t get enough of family fun in the snow, then the Canadian season gets going in November and lasts through to Easter. Canada is a sensational family destination for a white Christmas.
Choosing a mountain
New South Wales
Selwyn Snowfields: Australia’s favorite family winter playground, with so much more to do. You can choose from alpine, cross country skiing, two new Fun Parks for snowriders, snowboarding, snowtubing on either of the two adrenaline pumping tube parks, snowbiking, snowshoeing and tobogganing on the only resort toboggan run left in NSW. Selwyn Snowfields are well known as family favourites with exceptionally low prices.
Perisher: Perisher has seven mountain peaks and includes the villages of Perisher Valley, Smiggin Holes, Guthega and Blue Cow Terminal. The resort has a super pipe and a mini pipe, four terrain parks for freestyle skiing, 100 km of cross country trails, night skiing and a snow tube park – tobogganing for the new millennium where kids and adults slide down the hill on inflatable tyres. The resort’s ski and snowboard school divides children into two groups, four to six years (ski only) and six to 14yrs (ski and snowboard). The overlap at six years means “mature” six-year-olds, especially those who have started school, can join the older group, while less experienced six-year-olds can learn at a slightly slower pace.
Charlotte Pass: One of NSW’s smaller ski resorts, Charlotte Pass has a beginners’ area with snow tube park and children’s activities during the day and evening. The resort has a slope with a rope tow, which is free for children. Group lessons are available for children five years and older, and younger children can take private lessons.
Thredbo: For families, Thredbo offers a great range of activities, including an indoor 50 metre heated pool with waterslide, perfect for when the weather turns inclement. Thredbo has the youngest snowboarding school, offering group lessons for children four to six years. Skiing lessons are available for three to six years while seven to 14 years can ski or board. Thredboland is a kids’ only area with entertainment and a terrain park.
Image credit: Selwyn Snowfields
Mt Buller: The closest of the big ski resorts to Melbourne, Mt Buller has a plethora of restaurants and pubs, as well as a cinema and alpine spa retreat, 7000 beds on the mountain and the state’s largest network of trails, with 25 lifts, a half pipe and rail park. It is a great place to start for families, with excellent snowsports facilities for children three to five years (skiers only) and six to 14 years (skiers and boarders). Mt Buller has a specific area for the younger group, plus a good mix of terrain and extra activities for kids including a snow tube park and tobogganing.
Falls Creek: Given a perfect 10 rating for its child-friendly facilities, Falls Creek has an excellent Kids Snowsports school with numerous magic carpets in a separate terrain area. The resort has 450 hectares of skiable terrain and a good mix of beginner runs, 65 kilometres of cross country trails, snow bikes and night snow activities under lights. Wombat Ramble is the longest and easiest ski slope, which is great for kids but can become hectic as skiers of all levels make their way down this narrow trail. The snow tubing park is the best in the country, with a magic carpet ride back to the top.
Mt Buffalo: Perfect for beginner skiers, with gentle slopes and fewer people on five ski lifts. On the down side, it can be difficult to find help if you are completely new to the world of skiing, and the ski hire facilities are limited. There are two accommodation facilities, the luxurious Mt Buffalo Chalet and the Mt Buffalo Wilderness Lodge, as well as a tobogganing area, cross-country skiing and snowshoe tours.
Lake Mountain: This is a great resort for snow-play families. Lake Mountain is an easy 120 kilometre drive east from Melbourne and has seven toboggan runs, great snowman making areas, snowshoe tours, sled rides and Nordic walking. But it is also one of the world’s busiest cross-country ski resorts with 37 km of cross-country trails through 2400 hectares of alpine snow gum forest. A new visitor centre includes a bistro, café, theatrette, shop and ski hire. Gate entry costs $27 per car and use of the slopes is free.
Mt Hotham: Mt Hotham staff do not proclaim themselves as child friendly; however Hotham does have more intermediate and advanced skiing than other Victorian mountains, and kids’ facilities are plentiful. The Milo Kids Snowzone is the teaching facility and takes skiers three to six years and skiers and boarders from seven to 14 years. Other resort attractions include a half pipe, terrain park, free cross country skiing on 35 kilometres of trails, nights skiing and a childcare centre.
Image credit: Falls Creek
Cardrona: Arguably the best resort for kids in the country, Cardrona has a crèche for babies from three months of age, a separate purpose-built area for those aged three to five years and another area for five to 12 years. Ski areas are isolated just for children and the slopes offer great learning areas and challenges for the whole family. The resort even has a noodle bar on the second story of the ski school which means adults can enjoy a coffee and a bowl of noodles while watching their young ones learn to ski, but the children can’t see their parents so won’t be distracted. Cardrona is in the south of the South Island, between Queenstown and the picturesque town of Wanaka, and is close to the ski resort Treble Cone. This resort boasts some of the best advanced skiing in the country and is more suited to families who have mastered the skills.
The Remarkables: Another South Island resort, The Remarkables ski area is 25 kilometres from Queenstown high in the Remarkables mountain range and has three north-facing sunny bowls offering sheltered trails, expansive terrain parks and backcountry chutes. The resort has a crèche and children-only tow. Kids under 10 years ski free, while teenagers enjoy the Xbox Terrain Park with its cool music filling the sky. This year, new terrain park territory includes beginner and intermediate features, while the snow tube park provides fun for those taking a break from skiing.
Image credit: Cardrona
Big White: Big White offers a huge amounts of light and fluffy “champagne powder snow” averaging more than 750 centimetres. The resort was rated one of the top five kids’ ski centres in the world by the UK’s Daily Mail. It features a mini-snow-mobiling track and a purpose-built skiing and snowboarding fantasyland called TELUS Terrain Park. The kids will also love sleigh rides through the snow.
Silver Star: Silver Star Resort is highly rated for family skiing. It features streets full of colourful wooden buildings and boasts two distinct ski areas, with 110 runs, ranging from sweeps of powder to double black diamonds. It also offers truck-size tubes to sled down the mountain, a SnowCross course and a frozen lake for ice skating. Children under six years can enjoy the Star Kids Daycare Centre, which offers a “magic carpet” and ski lessons.
Sun Peaks: Sun Peaks Resort is an impressive European-style village with some superb learning trails, and a gentle eight kilometre top-to-bottom green run suitable for those with a few hours of skiing experience. It also offers a Kids' Winter Bonfire and Twilight Toboggan, a Family Casino Night and a Mid-Mountain Dinner and Torchlight Descent.