I made a solemn promise to myself as I manhandled three screaming children in the direction of ski school on a cold January morning that I would never bring my children skiing before the age of 12. Working for an upmarket chalet company in the French Alps for two seasons in my early 20s had taught me one important lesson – skiing with young children is torture for everybody involved.
Fast forward 15 years and I am sitting on a flight to Munich with my hyperactive three-year-old and three-month-old wondering if I have lost the plot altogether. I’ve decided to break the vow with myself in a bid to get my little boy on skis early and have a much-needed break with my husband.
Thankfully I had learned something from my days in the mountains – chalet holidays are not compatible with young children. You need a solution where everything is offered under one roof to minimise stress. With strict criteria in tow and a lot of research, I was confident I had found a utopia for worn-out parents who want to ski.
At first glance the Kinderhotels website (which features 32 family-friendly hotels in Austria) looks a little garish, advertising the type of family-friendly holiday that would have made husband and me baulk pre-children. However, more than 80 hours of childcare per week and skiing on-site made for a compelling argument, so I decided to dig a little deeper. And I am glad that I did.
I opted to book the four-star Kinderhotel Almhof in the small hamlet of Gmund, just outside Gerlos in Austria, for a number of reasons. First, it’s an easy 2.5-hour drive from Munich airport which has regular flights from Dublin. Second, it is located a 10-minute bus ride from the Zillertal Ski Arena which offers 544km of piste with 180 lifts. And third, the facilities on offer to adults and children seemed ridiculously good, almost too good to be true.
Kinderhotel Almhof boasts a kids’ club that runs for more than 80 hours per week, ski lessons on site, an extensive children’s buffet, high-quality adult meals, a 2,500m² wellness area (that’s a pool and spa to you and me) for children and adults, a trampoline park, Lego room and soft play. They also provide all of the baby equipment you could need, from snow-friendly prams and buggies to room monitors, cots and bouncer chairs. Despite the abundance of facilities and activities on offer, the hotel can accommodate just 63 families meaning that it still maintains its cosy Austrian charm, with a warm welcome from the moment you cross the threshold.
The facilities in the hotel far exceeded expectations. They were so good, we didn’t leave the hotel for the first three days. We fell into a comfortable routine of a little skiing or tobogganing with our three-year-old in the garden of the hotel before we dropped the children into the kids’ club for three hours. We then popped on a robe and headed for the four-floor adults-only spa where we gazed out at the snowy mountains, snoozed, and had the odd sauna and soak in the gigantic outdoor hot tub. It was exactly what we needed after a long Christmas plagued with flu and other illnesses.
[ Return of the travel agents: The package holiday is making a comeback ]
[ Top Holiday Destinations for Families in 2023 ]
We then picked up the children and brought them to the family pool area where my son expended every remaining ounce of his energy as he delightedly ran between the toddler play area, the main pool, outdoor pool, outdoor hot tub and water slides. While it’s hard not to envisage some kind of Butlins-style set-up, the reality is anything but. Despite the aforementioned facilities, this place manages to maintain the feel of an upmarket spa with parents lazing on comfortable loungers as the children have a blast.
Mealtimes were a point of amusement for my husband and me. We were blown away by how well behaved the German, French and Austrian children are. I don’t recall seeing a tantrum in the diningroom. Immaculately dressed children sat quietly and ate without any protest. At one point, we witnessed a smartly dressed two-year-old devour a plate of sashimi.
It is family orientated so do not expect the usual Austrian-style après ski vibe up the mountain
For any children needing additional entertainment to keep them from causing a ruckus, discreet black blackboards have been incorporated into the decor and provide a backdrop for the tables. That leaves time for the parents to enjoy a glass of wine and some food. ur dining experience didn’t quite match that of our companions. Freddy, barely clothed, preferred to alternate bites of food with a lap of the diningroom pretending to be a racing car. Thankfully nobody seemed to bat an eyelid at our feral child and smiled warmly as he zoomed past them.
The food itself was excellent. A large breakfast buffet was followed by a lunch buffet, afternoon snacks and a dinner buffet for children. Adults were treated to a more sophisticated five-course meal. There were lots of healthy options on offer with an emphasis on local and organic produce where possible.
By the fourth day of the holiday, we were feeling slightly more energetic, so we decided to venture further afield and give the skiing a go. And we were glad we did. The Zillertal Ski Arena is perfect for all levels of skier and offers a big enough area that a fairly experienced skier could spend a week here and not tire of the place. It is family orientated so do not expect the usual Austrian-style après ski vibe up the mountain, but there are a few cosy mountain huts offering up warm glühwein and cold beers to quench your thirst.
As our week drew to a close, we had just one regret – we should have booked a longer stay
With a three-hourly feeding schedule for my baby, I managed to leave some pumped milk with a nanny and grab two mornings on the slopes, which seemed like a triumph. Parents with older children,however, assured me that they found it quite easy to hit the slopes every day. This is due to the fact that all of the ski lessons start from the hotel no matter what age your children are or their ability. The smaller children (two to five year olds) are confined to the gardens of the hotel while the older children are brought up to the main ski area by their ski instructor. The instructors will then drop them back to the kids’ club where they are given lunch and entertained with a series of activities until you return from the slopes – brilliant.
If, like us, you fancy taking on the role of ski instructor for your children, there are a number of great spots to bring them that are baby friendly too. Getting a three-year old on skis can be a little hit and miss and for us it required some pretty extensive bribery, but it was worth it. Within about 20 minutes, Freddy was up and going, albeit for about 20 metres at a time, but we considered it a victory.
Eager to show Freddy the mountain, we ventured up in the cable car towards the end of the week. Gerlostein Bahn is a 10-minute drive from the hotel. For just €14, you can travel by foot to the top to the cable car, which is an adventure in itself. My son couldn’t contain his excitement as we glided up and over the snow-covered trees, high into the mountains. Once at the top we were treated to well-groomed nursery slopes (which were completely empty) and a tubing track for no additional charge. It was the perfect combination to keep a toddler entertained for the guts of two hours.
As our week drew to a close, we had just one regret – we should have booked a longer stay. While one week is usually just the right amount of time for a ski holiday, you could easily spend two weeks at Kinderhotel Almhof as there is so much to do. Despite my reservations about skiing with young children, I was delighted we took the plunge as, overall, it proved to be the perfect combination of relaxation and high-octane fun.
Heather Snelgar is editor of outsider.ie. Her family flew Dublin to Munich direct with Lufthansa. The hotel cost €3,200 for a family of four in a junior suite. The room was 41m², had a good sized bathroom, lots of storage, a balcony and a small bunk room to accommodate two children
Five Family Friendly Ski Holidays:
Club Med, La Rosiere, France
Located just 2 hours and 45 minutes from Lyons airport (which offers regular flights from Dublin), La Rosiere is a great resort for families. Bordering France and Italy, you can enjoy a croissant for breakfast followed by an authentic Italian pizza for lunch – yum! The resort itself is pretty quiet and offers 160km of piste, which is mainly geared toward beginner and intermediate skiers.
The hotel itself is a five-minute shuttle ride (shuttles run all day) from the ski area and offers childcare for children aged four months and above (for an extra charge), ski school, kids’ club for age four and above, swimming pool and a 650m² wellness area for the adults.
Prices for the 2023 season start at €9448 for two adults and two children under 12 for an all-inclusive stay, including direct flights from Dublin.
Famlienhotel Furgler, Serfaus, Austria
Serfaus is somewhat of a hidden gem that hasn’t landed on the radar of British or Irish skiers (yet!). Linked to the neighbouring resorts of Fiss and Ladis, the pretty town offers great skiing for beginners and intermediates with 200km of pisted slopes and bends over backwards to make young families welcome. The village itself is traffic-free and served by an underground railway which takes you to and from the gondolas.
The hotel itself offers all-inclusive packages and is equipped with a luxurious adult-only spa, an extensive family wellness area with watersides, soft play, 80+ hours of childcare from 6 months, high-quality food for adults and children, a bowling alley and direct access to the village’s underground system.
Prices start at €3,500 for two adults and two children sharing for seven nights on an all-inclusive basis.
Amiamo, Zell am See, Austria
This family-run hotel is ski-in, ski-out (meaning you can ski to and from your hotel door), making it ideal for those wanting to maximise their time on the slopes. The hotel provides extensive childcare, baby equipment, ski lessons on site, children’s and adults’ meals, an indoor and outdoor pool, wellness area, and a full programme of activities to entertain the entire family over the course of your stay.
Located on the Areit Bahn cable car, the hotel is situated a 20-minute walk or quick bus ride from the centre of the village. It is also well situated on the shores of the lake which offers gorgeous walks for non-skiers.
Zell am See offers 408km of pisted slopes and an array of lively bars and upmarket restaurants on and off the slopes.
Prices start at €3,500 for a family of four for seven nights on an all-inclusive basis.