Snow and easy: How to do a DIY family ski holiday
Organising a trip to the Italian Alps for four adults and six kids turned out to be simple, fun and great value
Sarah Walsh (centre) with her husband Charles Dowd and their children, from left, Jonathan, William and Grace on their DIY ski holiday.
Arranging a ski holiday for a family (or two) can seem like a daunting task – deciding which country to visit, which resort to choose, what accommodation will work. Perhaps it’s best left to the package ski-holiday experts? A package holiday works best if you fit neatly into the pre-arranged packages. So going beyond the two adults and two kids format can make it difficult.
Most hotel rooms sleep 2 + 2 at best, so two adults and three kids require two rooms – more expensive, plus less family-friendly to split up the adults so that there is one in each room. The package trips are also likely to start and end on a Saturday, and sometimes that is too long or too short or just not the right day of the week on which to take your holiday. Putting the effort in to doing it yourself can get you the holiday that better fits your family and maybe at a better price too.
Our family of five – two adults, two teens and a 10-year old – has skied a number of times before, so we know what we want in a ski holiday. A resort with a good mix of runs, suitable for all levels, so that the teenage boys can push themselves to do more dangerous runs than we would like (and much too fast, too) and where the parents can ski with and without them, all in a resort small enough that they can safely go off without us. We also wanted good food, a pretty town if possible and suitable accommodation within walking distance of the slopes and restaurants.
We ended up in Ponte di Legno, in the beautiful Italian Alps. Not as well known outside of Italy as say Bormio or Livigno, Ponte di Legno is about two hours 40 minutes from Milan, and about two hours’ drive from Bergamo. It’s therefore a good option in terms of keeping flight costs down – we flew into Milan and out of Bergamo as flights were cheapest that way, and we also chose our holiday duration based on the best-value flights with either Aer Lingus or Ryanair (or as it worked out, a mix of both airlines) at the time. For a family of five, flexibility can save you hundreds of euro – enough to pay for some nice family dinners in the mountains.
We hired a car to drive to the resort, easily arranging pick-up and drop-off at different airports. The drives were fine – we had checked the route didn’t include any scary, cliff-edge parts and apart from a slow drive to the airport on the way home due to heavy snow (we had allowed extra time just in case), we had no problems. While the transfer is possible by public transport, it does take a few changes and takes a lot longer.
Much more fun
Making the trip much more fun, but the planning a bit more difficult, was the fact we had some close friends joining us on the holiday – another family of five.
We were all keen on Italy for its fabulous food, wine and reasonable prices
Choosing Ponte di Legno came down to finding suitable accommodation for both families which met all our criteria. We were all keen on Italy for its fabulous food, wine and reasonable prices. We had spent a previous holiday in Chamonix in the French Alps – a beautiful town and stunning scenery but with stunningly high prices for everything! We still talk about the €6 hot chocolate in a cute cafe.
Searching various accommodation sites is a good way to start. I often use Airbnb but find it is better for smaller accommodation suppliers (mostly single apartments, suitable for one family) than those that supply accommodation for a bigger group. Expedia works very well for us – it allows you to select two adults and three kids per room and only shows accommodation that actually sleeps that number in the hotel room or apartment. Some sites teasingly give you a large list of results, some of which then have a “sleeps four maximum” comment. I searched various ski towns in the Italian Alps and found a good development in Ponte di Legno – modern, pretty, with underground car-parking (vital in that weather!), walking distance to the town and slopes, at a reasonable price.
Once we initially booked on Expedia, we got a pleasant follow-up from the apartment managers, asking if we wanted apartments close to each other and offering contacts to choose the ski essentials we would need for the holiday (though they don’t do it for you). Again, the bespoke nature of the holiday was useful here – our friends did a six-night/five-day holiday, we did seven nights/six days. They were also mixed ability for skiing – one a very experienced skier, two beginners, two intermediate, so it was great to be able to select our exact requirements in terms of lessons, equipment etc.
Ponte di Legno is lovely – a typical Italian town in a valley, with mountains on all sides. There is a pretty town square, decorated for Christmas and with a stage and outdoor bars set up for the New Year celebrations. The main church was outlined in tasteful white lights for Christmas and the streets were narrow and winding, with shops that ranged from old-fashioned and local, to designer and expensive.
Restaurants were good
Restaurants were good, reasonably priced (the two younger kids often shared a €5 or €6 pizza for dinner) and interesting. Food in Lombardy is hearty in winter and we had horse, deer and good beef, often served with polenta. It being probably the busiest ski period in the year (we stayed from Thursday December 28th to Thursday January 4th), the town was busy with Italians coming up from Milan and other cities for the New Year, so restaurants had two sittings for dinner, with a two-hour allocation per table. With a table for 10 required, we soon learned to book in advance for the coming nights.
Ski equipment rental was easily arranged by email with one of the hire shops suggested by the apartment management – a few emails with our requirements and a request for prices got us a discount and a warm reception when we arrived (easy to spot the group of 10 Irish people in the busy ski rental shop – “are you Sarah and Tracey?”). They also had ski lockers right at the bottom of the slopes so we didn’t have to carry our skis far. They had recommended a ski-school, so private lessons were booked from Ireland for those who wanted them.
This was great for flexibility – the 10-year-old beginner had a private lesson on the first day and was comfortable skiing with the rest of our group thereafter – it worked better for him than being locked in to group ski lessons all week.
Ski passes were swiftly purchased on the first day at the office at the bottom of the slopes and covered a number of ski areas. Taking a 20-minute ride in a gondola lift from the town brings you up to the Passo del Tonale high mountain pass, where we did most of our skiing. Views are magnificent over several different ranges of the Alps. There are plenty of cafes for lunch up the mountain, and a black run down to the town, should you feel inclined (we didn’t!). We also skied directly from the town where the runs are mostly red, with a few blacks, allowing our two boys to do their first black run (“easy”, we were told!).
Considering our holiday was tailor-made for our requirements and taken during the busiest and therefore most expensive ski week of the year, our two-family DIY trip to Ponte di Legno worked very well, both in terms of value and enjoyment. Our next trip is already being discussed . . .
DIY skiing, Ponte di Legno, Italy: family of five ( two adults, two teens, one 10-year-old)
Accommodation: one-bed apartment, seven nights: €1,085
Flights: Ryanair to Bergamo: €760
Car hire: seven days to/from Bergamo airport: €230
Lift passes (six days, three full price, two junior): €1,011
Ski, boot, helmet rental: €376
Total DIY holiday for five: 3,462