Best Value Family Ski Holiday • How much does a ski holiday cost?
My husband Rich grew up with family ski holidays. Annual trips to Europe and his favourite resort, Whistler in Canada. He has some brilliant stories from "boys trips" with his cousin, brother, uncle and dad, where the self catering element left a lot to be desired. Rotisserie chickens kept warm in bath towels and a lot of oven chips... you get the picture!
It's a skill that stays with you for life, once you've cracked it. A bit like learning to ride a bike. You may be a little wobbly to begin with but then something clicks. He's had periods through our marriage where ski holidays have been replaced with summer sun holidays with friends, a wedding in Cancun, a wedding in America, visits to my brother in New Jersey, and mass family travels to the Caribbean and Spain - thanks to generous in laws who have let us take over their holiday homes.
We've attempted 2 ski holidays in the past, driving up the mountain each morning to the Spanish resort Granada, and they were, well quite honestly, a disaster from my point of view. (I was lonely, frustrated and there were several moments where the mountain air turned blue with my rage at being taught to ski by my accomplished snow boarding husband.)
We'd never experienced a chalet hotel on the slopes and the luxury that goes with it. And never the Mark Warner holidays experience. Afternoon tea, with slices of cake as big as your hand, a top quality a la carte evening menu prepared by a talented English chef and a slope outside the front door. I guess it's a little like foods. I don't enjoy olives and I've never wanted to pass this onto the boys, so we buy them, I leave them on the table with other bowls of nibbles and one dips in, munching them 2 at a time and the other just happens to not like the taste of them like me. I knew that when the boys both got to school age Rich would want to introduce them to skiing. And I knew I'd have to swallow my nerves and show them that a winter activity holiday could be just as fun as playing on a beach in the sunshine.
I'd always perceived a ski holiday as expensive. Or rather more expensive than a summer holiday. All that money to feel exhausted at the end of a week and in need of a holiday! I have to admit we'd never really researched a family ski holiday fully, never thought about a package deal where you are collected from the airport, have ski school organised for you and childcare available for the children. We'd put it in a "a bit too expensive" bracket in our minds.
As part of the Mark Warner extended team over the last year we've had the pleasure of being able to compare their summer packages and visited the Lakitira resort last July and in December we headed on our first family ski trip for a pre Christmas adventure to Méribel.
For me being an ambassador isn't just about glossy photos and listing the facilities, you can read that on their website, it's about telling our story, of our real holiday. The difference between a hotel and a chalet hotel. The size of the childcare rooms, the cleanliness of the toys, the variety of the food over the week, the cost of the drinks at the bar. The little things you don't get to read in a brochure. And ultimately whether it's worth all the pennies.
The flight times vary but ours was rather early. Living in the South West was a choice between an airport hotel and a stupid o'clock drive up to Gatwick when we should be sleeping. We made the decision that we'd all start the holiday on the right note if we had more than a couple of hours sleep and the boys would be less grumpy getting up at 4.30am than spending 3 hours overnight like nodding dogs in the back of the car. We booked a family room at The Hilton at Gatwick and couldn't recommend it more. There's a choice of restaurants depending on the age of your children, we ate dinner in the more family friendly (think bright lights, buffet and excited children, squealing over cruise ship style desserts) and left the dimly light cocktail bar and restaurant to the grown ups in tuxedos and sparkly dresses, heading to their corporate Christmas parties.
What I spent on ski wear
We showered before bed and it meant that when the alarm went off we'd had a decent amount of sleep and could whizz on our clothes and walk straight through the lobby into the terminal. Marvellous! We dug out our ski clothes from the back of the loft but bought the boys ski wear from Boden in their festive season sale. I spent around £100 on each of them and bought ski trousers, jackets (both a size up so they will last for next year) ski boots so they could walk in the snow (an invaluable purchase as they went out with the childcare staff several times as well as with us). We bought the boy's gloves from John Lewis, but the boys found the fingered ski gloves a complete faff and we would definitely recommend mittens! Much easier to slip on and off when you are trying to juggle 4 sets of skis and your poles!
We bought ours from Amazon, replacing the slightly nibbled pairs from the loft that a mouse had got to before we did. I wished we had bought two pairs. When they headed back to Mini Club at lunchtimes the staff would pop them on a radiator to dry but would often head out for a play in the snow and a second set would have given the others a proper amount of time to dry. Cold wet kids = misery.
Our experience clothes to pack:
- 1 ski coat and 1 winter jacket. Not just for emergencies (like me whose zip broke on her ski coat) but when you've been hot and bothered hoiking skis around and shopping down the mountain you want to wear something different to pop out in the evening or on a late afternoon jaunt to the village for hot chocolate.
- 1 pair of waterproof ski trousers.
- Helmet & goggles.
- Winter hat - you won't need one under your helmet but you'll want it for trips to town, evening strolls. But you don't need lots of new matching sets. Don't get carried away like me, and end up bringing unworn new fancy hats home!
- 2 pairs of ski gloves and 1 pair of warm knitted gloves for adults 2 pairs of waterproof mittens for the children. I took a pair of woollen gloves and wished I hadn't. They want to touch the snow the second they see it and woollen gloves get wet!
- Layers! Skiing is hard going, for the fittest of them all, it's physically demanding and it shows. You bring home a suitcase of stinky socks and mountains of washing. But it's so worth having a new under layer for each day. The boys had fleecy tops and bottoms from the Radley Ski range that I found in TK Maxx and we popped a new t-shirt underneath the top each day. They wore a hoodie on top and then their ski coat. We had mild weather during December, and by lunchtime we were desperate to take off one layer. So t-shirt, jumper and jacket was perfect, as opposed to a thermal layer. So check your forecast!
- I like a new pair of socks each day. Second day socks - no thank you!
- We bought neck gaiters - like scarves stitched at the ends that are fairly snug around your neck. So much easier to sort in the morning for the boys and if the wind does pick up or you find yourself in snow you can pull the ,aerial up and over your nose and mouth to protect your face.
- Backpack. A small bag is essential to keep your camera, phone, bottle of water, purse etc. One that goes on your back, not an across the waist handbag, it will swing, knock you off balance and get in the way!
- Suncream - buy a mini pouch or lipstick type applicator to keep in a pocket or your backpack.
- Leave the hand warmers at home. I bought several cute sets and realised only after you can only use them once before resetting them with a bit of faff.
I bought all in one suits which are perfect for travelling and slipped them over their pyjamas. A 4.30am start needs to be about speed over style! And it meant they felt cosy for the 1 and a half hour coach journey to the resort and drifted off to sleep for most of the ride.
Travelling to the airport/Transfers
We were on the earlier flight of the day, for some this meant hitting the slopes as soon as we arrived at the resort but for us we would have quite happily gone on the mid morning flight. It would still have meant staying overnight at the hotel but would have given us a couple of extra hours in the morning. So depending on whether you are seasoned skiers with your own equipment or not, it's worth comparing flight times and seeing what's most suitable for you.
I was surprised by the complete mix of customers on the plane. Less of the 2.4 family make up on the summer holiday and more groups of adults, an engineering group, a few single parents with older children and big family groups with sets of cousins racing up and down the aisle to talk to each other. There were just a handful of younger children and everyone was on their way to different Mark Warner resorts.
The airport is relatively small but there's a good selection of cafes to get a sandwich in when you return to England. We packed some crisps and snacks in our hand luggage just in case the boys got peckish on the journey and between dozing, looking excitedly out of the windows, a little time on the iPad (the mountain drive is windy so we didn't want them to feel queasy looking at a screen for too long) they happily munched their way through our supplies.
The one and a half hour journey to the resort is everything you imagine, a steady ride saying goodbye to the town landscape and hello to wooded mountains and a spattering of snow that starts to turn the views white. We were lucky that Méribel had seen a good dump of snow the week before we arrived as none was forecast for the next fortnight or so and we couldn't contain the boys excitement as they woke up some of the snoozing passengers in front of them exclaiming "Look Mama! I can see snow", 4 seconds later "Look Dada, I can see snow!" And repeated those phrases at 4 second intervals for the rest of the journey!
You arrive at the bottom of a short road up to the Chalet Hotel. The army of red shirts and tanned arms that we were met with in Greece was replaced by fresh faces, in crisp white t-shirts ready for their first guests of the season. For some of the staff this was their first ever job as a seasonaire, for some they were longer serving members of the Mark Warner team and they rushed to carry our suitcases up the icy road, for them to be left outside our doors.
The Chalet Hotel
To be honest I hadn't really appreciated there was a difference between a hotel and a Chalet hotel, with the later being smaller and more functional. But at the same time we felt the atmosphere was more relaxed, more of a homely environment where the children could walk around in socks, where the staff off duty and guests could mingle together in the lounge in front of a roaring open fire. The Hotel Tarentaise lounge opened at 4.30pm and people would wander in armed with books, magazines and iPads. Lots of legs up on sofas, watching films, early glasses of beer, and a games of cards with the friendly bar manager.
The decor is less french more subtle family friendly. Bar the impressive grand piano in the reception area. One night we were getting ready to head down for dinner and this glorious music flooded the hotel. A member of staff can play beautifully and it makes you stop in your tracks. As we walked down the stairs (which are decorated for robustness - think snowy winter boots treading up and down) we passed another family and everyone just couldn't help but smile to each other. It was heartwarming. A group of us stood in the reception which has a couple of chairs to pop the kids onto in the morning whilst fill out their menu choice for lunch. (If you are early birds and unlike us who were running late every time and headed straight from the boot room to the bus to take them to ski school, then raced back up to reception to scribble on the clipboard after you've waved them off!) and all burst into rapturous applause when the melody ended. All I could think about was how lovely it was going to be for the guests the following week and had visions of carols around the piano. There was a table with some literature about the resort and outside the front door are piles of logs for the fire. The reception is small but has everything you need.
Our rooms were perfect for our family set up. Interconnecting doors to the boy's twin room which had room for a large bedside table between them, a wardrobe and desk area. Their en-suite was a little more dated than ours but immaculately clean and they found the concertina door so much fun! Our bathroom had a separate toilet which for a family of boys was ideal and meant I actually was able to shower every day without the door opening and closing for small ones who seem to always need a wee when I am in there!
The rooms were comfortable, not the glamour of a log cabin you see in the movies, but exactly what you want with children. Chairs and a little sofa to dump all your discarded layers on after a day skiing, lots of hooks to hang coats on, simple lamps and nothing breakable for small children who want to bounce off beds and round the room. It felt more of a home from home and whilst we were out skiing in the mornings fairies would come and tidy everything away, fold clothes into piles, make the beds and lay out your bottles all nicely on the side of the sink. I loved it!
I felt like we had taken double the amount of clothes we really needed, but we wore them all, bar a few evening outfits. I learnt from our summer holiday that the children would go straight from their day clothes to pyjamas for movie night, so didn't need a second set of clothes for them each day. The dress code for the evenings was much more relaxed than in Greece and I think that can be said for the majority of ski holidays. In Kos I put on a dress each evening and we stood for the obligatory "off out for dinner photos" in front of the white painted walls or a pretty bush in the gardens but on this ski trip it was more about meeting in the bar, in whatever you felt most relaxed in, discussing the snow, the slope conditions and congratulating each other on ski school achievements. After the first night it didn't feel like you were in a small hotel of strangers.
Groups would sit up at the bar on the bar stools all playing cards, we met the parents of the two other little girls in childcare for the week and the manager would walk around, catching up with everyone, casually asking for any feedback. I could hear everyone saying the same things, glowing compliments about the food, which far exceeded our expectations and moaning about the wifi that made you log in and out each time you used a different device! It was good to know in a way, this was out of Mark Warner's control and was standard practise in France for monitoring laws.
Then slowly the lounge would empty as we wandered next door, past the steps down to the childcare rooms, boot room and spa into dinner. The hotel wasn't at full capacity so it wasn't essential to book a table, but I can imagine that in absolute peak season you'd want to book in your preferred time. With the boys in movie club at 7.30pm, some nights we ate straight away and picked them up earlier, and other nights we had a happy hour cocktail in the lounge and headed in around 8.30pm with another couple and took a table for 4 instead.
I quite liked that one older retired couple had the same table every night, tucked in a corner, but generally everyone moved around, and during breakfast and afternoon tea that was open from 4pm, people would stop for a chat at your table, see how your day had been as they headed up to get a slab of cake or steaming bowl of soup.
What food is included in your holiday package?
We might have just got lucky at this resort but we were absolutely overwhelmed by the quality of the food that the chef and his team produce every single day. Nothing was repeated, all of it was top restaurant quality. I liked that it wasn't a mad scramble at breakfast in the morning, no huge conveyor belt like a cruse ship dining hall. French toast and bacon made to order, lip smackingly good syrup poured over the top and a full range of dishes to complete your custom english breakfast. The boys loved helping themselves to hash browns, sausages and beans and in the afternoons the under 12s high tea overlapped with afternoon tea.
Lucky we were all skiing so much because the cakes were absolutely unavoidable! Imagine cakes like your granny used to make. Big fluffy Victoria sandwiches, profiteroles bursting with cream and chocolate sauce that makes you suck every last drop your sticky fingers. It was like a feast at 4pm. Almost like a first dinner, with salads, antipasti, soups, breads and jam on offer as well as 3 different homemade biscuit and pastry options. We ate the ginger cookies 3 at a time, barely pausing long enough to lick the icing sugar from the corners of your mouth.
Dinner was a 3 course menu with 3 choices for each. Fancy but not too fussy. Beautifully presented and proper portions. Wine was included during dinner and as Rich is more of a beer man I would ask for a glass of white or rosé, only to find the rest of the bottle would be left on the table! Good solid wines, not the paint stripper type we've had before when drinks are listed as included!
Whilst the children's lunch is included in your holiday price, the restaurant is not open in the day time to adults. We ate lunch each day up the mountain or at one of the pizzeria type cafe restaurants at the bottom of the lifts. They are all as good as each other and similarly priced. Expect to pay around £12-16 a main course for a good sized pizza or burger. There was a great range of pasta dishes, more traditional main courses, which were too much for us at lunchtimes and there were a few creperies if you wanted something lighter.
Drinks are reasonably comparable to UK prices and you can add drinks onto your room bill which you settle at the end of the week on the Friday. You pay cash on Saturday ready for your departure on the Sunday morning.
One day we ate in the stunning La Folie Douce half way up the mountain with incredible views and a serve yourself buffet style canteen restaurant next to the formal table service area. We had a lasagne and a pizza both around £13 but they would easily serve 2 less hungry parents or 2 peckish younger children. We skipped the magnum of Champagne and instead had a glass of wine at around £4 and Rich had a beer at the same, plus some soft drinks.
On Thursday evening, when the hotel restaurant is closed, we headed into the small village of Mottaret, walking down the few thousand metal steps from the hotel to the selection of restaurants at the bottom of the central lift area. It was very quiet being the start of the season and didn't have the more buzzy atmosphere at lunchtimes, with people skiing past and stopping to bask in the sun over a drink. But there were a good number of restaurants to choose from, some more modern pizza places and then a couple of more traditional French establishments.
We chose the more traditional (as did a few others from the hotel who wandered in half an hour after us) and sat with our new friends, whilst our four little ones were in the Mini Club movie night. It's the only night you are allowed to leave the hotel if your children are in childcare. So we made the most of the local menu and hospitality. Expect the average starter to cost around £7-10 and main course £15-25 depending on your choices.
There are a few bars and a couple of nightclubs but we all had to be back to pick the children up by 11pm. Not that my tired legs could have coped with any dancing! But good to know if you have older children, late teens like a few of the guests in the hotel.
Equipment / Ski school / Lift passes
As it was a fairly quiet week, we didn't have to wait for a time slot for the equipment hire shop based next to the boot room. We were fortunate to have our ski hire and lessons for the boys and me included as part of our ambassadorship and arrangement with the ski school and ski store. We don't have any equipment of our own apart from goggles and helmets for Rich and I so we hired boots, skis, poles and helmets for the boys. The fitting service is well managed, the staff are experienced and knowledgable and got the boys really excited about their first ski experience. Rich swapped his skis in halfway through the week and we made sure we had noted down it's opening times as it's not open all through the week.
Expect to pay around £120 per person for your equipment hire and around £150 per person for ski school.
You keep your skies and gubbins in wooden lockers in the boot room, with a heated rack provided for your boots. The boot room is a compact space and we found that heading down around 8.30am was after most had left for the day, which meant we could battle with the boys and their boots without a big crowd! If you missed my first post you won't know that part of the Mark Warner package is that the childcare nannies accompany your children to ski school. You drop them at the mini bus outside the hotel entrance, they pop the Mark Warner high vis vests over their heads, we helped strap them in, kissed them goodbye and off they went. The staff carry their skis and make sure they are happy with their instructor before they head up the mountain. They then meet them at the same point under the large ski school signs to take them back to the hotel for lunch.
Ski school is totally worth the money. I have paid on previous holidays for ski school and being taught in a group is a fantastic way not to feel lonely or like all the pressure is on you! I loved the camaraderie of my group and the boys were in a small group of just 3 of them. Magic take children from the age of 4 and on two days we joined them for an hour or so to be a fly on the wall.
There's too much to say about the ski lessons themselves in this post so I will blog that separately. Sammy has a super cute video interview to share with you, al about what he thought of ski school!
You are spoilt for choice when it comes to the pistes being in the 3 Valleys Resort and I have wanted to share this page of the local Méribel magazine. It give you a full breakdown of what you can expect to pay for lift passes.
Unless you were a complete beginner, and even then I think in a week you would want to spread your wings, I would recommend the 3 Valleys Lift Pass.
Childcare & your holiday
I've said it before and I will say it again, the childcare with a Mark Warner holiday is one of the main reasons we rave about them. British nannies who know British children. A home from home environment.
Favourite books, much loved Orchard Toys games stacked on brightly coloured book shelves. Pots of pens and paint brushes. Our boys LOVED it. They plastered the walls with artistic creations, had tea parties and felt a real affinity for their key worker.
Childcare is available from 4 months - 12 years. Full details of all the options and process can be found here. The level of care and attention as well as the range of activities is a winning formula. They have outdoor time but not too long that they get cold, they have dancing, singing, crafts and I snuck in to see them one lunchtime and they were all sat nicely around a table in the corner of the restaurant all chatting about their mornings, eating with knives and forks and being so well behaved. Phew!
It is worth every penny and evening childcare from 7.30pm - 10.30pm is free. Ours adored the movie night and fell asleep next to their friends every night bar one when Sammy was still up at around 9pm when we went to pick them up.
During the week, they go on a hot chocolate trip to the village so you need to give them 3-5 Euros to take with them. You also want to pack them off each day with a snack. I would recommend taking a few boxes of cereal bars in your suitcase, as opposed to wrapping a croissant in a napkin at breakfast - much less messy in coat pockets!
Fruit pouches/smoothies would be a good idea too, if your ski school don't provide water like ours did.
The rooms are clean and bright but homely. It feels like rooms they you can make a mess in. The 4 of them emptied toy drawers, made dens, generally covered the entire floor with every car, piece of plastic fruit and puzzle!
At no point did we feel anything other than completely trusting of the staff and their commitment to not only look after our children but to give them the most wonderful time. And they do this week in week out. They are a testament to the Mark Warner ethos you read in brochures and online.
If you are tempted to try out your first ski season or want to relive your last adventure on the slopes and see all this for yourself with a Mark Warner holiday check out their last minute details here.
Yet again we were so impressed with the Mark Warner way and the magic goes from sun to snow! We will definitely be booking again!
Now if you are a blogger reading this, thinking ooh my children would love this then head over and apply for the 2016/17 ambassador programme! We are completely converted to the mark Warner way and Rich even said last night, after a 3 day trade show for the tea business, "I've sold my distributor on MW! He took their 2 girls away last month and it was awful - told him all about our ski trip and said it was fantastic!"
We saw the opportunity to be part of the wider Mark Warner team as a way to introduce our boys to skiing and collaborate with a brand we feel a great affinity with. So if you think you'd make the perfect ambassador for the brand this year check out all the ways you can enter.
Being a family blogger can be so much more than just writing about... well family! And this year Mark Warner want to see how your recipe posts could be inspired by their holidays, what craft ideas do you make on a wet sunday to remind you of your times on a sunny beach?! How does family travel fit with your blog? Show them how you understand what kind of content their customers would like to read. Do what you do best - be creative!
6 bloggers will be chosen to go on a ski and sun holiday. They've been very open about the partnership and what is included, as well the process for the winners to be selected. The competition closes on 19th February and full details can be found here. Good luck!