Joanna Laforge has skied since she was a teenager and has worked at Ski France for over 20 years. A season in Courchevel confirmed her love of the French Alps and the 3 Valleys in particular.
She says: “The annual family ski holiday is a major feature for me and a high point for my two boys aged 13 and 15, who started skiing at the age of four and then moved onto snowboarding about five years ago. However it’s not a cheap holiday and, as we’re after a good resort, it means higher lift pass prices too.
“As a working mum, I like a hotel holiday to really relax and not to have worry about the food and cooking whilst out skiing. We also prefer to drive out to a resort, and really appreciate the flexibility of Sunday to Sunday or Sunday to Friday trips so that we can spend more time skiing and not sitting in heavy traffic on the school holiday weekends”.
Getting teenagers out of bed in the morning and keeping their attention firmly on the pistes, bearing in mind those lift passes for which you have paid a large chunk of money, is the trickiest part of a family holiday with older children.
They will probably have outgrown ski school, but may not want to spend all day skiing or snowboarding with mum and dad. For a start, they might well be better skiers or snowboarders than their parents – or certainly faster – yet they’ll still need advice on technique and snow safety from a professional before going off on their own or with their friends.
In North America, ski courses for teens have been around for years. Some European ski schools have now recognised the problem and offer special teen-only classes. New Generation run Pro Rider groups for 13 to 17 year olds in over a dozen resorts including Courchevel, Meribel, Tignes, Val d’Isere and Val Thorens. Oxygene also have Pro Rider lessons for ages 12+ in resorts including Meribel, Courchevel, La Tania and La Plagne.
Most teens will welcome a day’s tuition in a park and pipe class, which some ski schools offer and where they can learn tricks to try in terrain parks. Ski school wise, we generally work with the ESF in the resorts, as the instructors usually have superb local knowledge and are keen to share this with their clients.
Safety on the Slopes
If there’s one thing that unites all parents of teenagers it’s worrying about their safety.
Ski schools leave it to the discretion of parents, but ask that children under 16 wear helmets in their classes. Similarly, we recommend than anyone thinking of going into a terrain park, tackling a half-pipe, or attempting any sort of jump should not only wear a helmet but also a spine protector. Other body armour available includes wrist protectors and impact shorts (both of these are particularly useful for snowboarders), along with knee and elbow pads.
Specialised equipment – such as an avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe – are essential when going off-piste and a growing number of skiers are also investing in avalanche air bags. These are eye-wateringly expensive items, but can be rented in some ski shops in major resorts. Ski guides running off-piste days will always provide transceivers and sometimes air bags as well.
As soon as the lifts close for the day, apres-ski takes on an high level of importance for older teenagers, and that’s the other parental worry: their children’s safety if going out in the evening, drinking too much, then returning in sub-zero temperatures.
Thirteen year olds won’t be looking for nightlife, but a 17 year old will be. It’s a good idea for parents and children to check out local laws on alcohol. The age limit for drinking in a bar or disco is 18 in France, Italy, Austria, and Switzerland. Some countries, including Austria and Switzerland, allow 16 year olds to buy beer. The interpretation and enforcement of these rules varies enormously and is dependent on the views of the bar owner and the local police chief.
But what if you want to keep them out of bars? The answer is to tire them out during the day and stay in the sort of accommodation where the nightlife is in-house, along with the chance of mixing with other teens in your hotel.
A hotel offers plenty of space and social areas for all the family, and the kids often make friends with others. We go to Hotel Le Mottaret in Meribel or Hotel Ibiza in Les Deux Alpes, where having free accommodation and meals for the boys halves our hotel cost. The advantage of this offer for children up to 18 is excellent, as mine are no longer young enough for that frequent ‘under 12 years’ cut-off age you generally see.
If They Haven’t Been Before
Teenagers are likely to have less fear about trying something new than the average older skier, but you should still try to organise a taster lesson or a course at an indoor ski slope before you set off for the snow. Just one session will probably be enough for your kids to see just how much fun skiing is and it’s a great way of introducing them to the sport for the first time.
Keep Their Energy Up
Make sure your teenager has a big breakfast before setting off skiing and it’s always a good idea for everyone to bring a backpack in which they can carry a bottle of water, a bar of chocolate or cereal bar, and even a sandwich or baguette in case they need to refuel with a mid-morning snack.
Choosing the Right Resort
Try to resist being bulldozed into booking the same resort as their friends go to. Teenagers want to be able to tell their mates – in person and on social media – that they went to a cool resort with amazing skiing and apres-ski, not a quiet little village no one has ever heard of. At any rate it’s important to pick a suitable resort with a decent variety of runs, a good atmosphere off the slopes, plenty of alternative activities, a modern lift system so you don’t have to queue, and reliable snow. Here are a few of the ski resorts that teenagers are likely to enjoy:
There are 600km of piste and 200 lifts in the giant 3 Valleys ski area, with Meribel right in the centre of it. Good piste skiers with lots of energy will enjoy this area the most, using Meribel as a base for reaching Courchevel, Val Thorens, Les Menuires and St Martin de Belleville. Hotel Le Mottaret has a kids-go-free offer for up to 18 years of age.
Apres-ski: plenty of on-slope apres here, at Le Rond-Point and La Folie Douce, which both have live music. Another good bar is Jack’s, which has live music and features comedians. Hotel Mottaret has an in-house bar/lounge, as well as unlimited food and drinks from 10am until 10pm daily, a terrace cafe with a DJ and heaters.
Other activities: there’s a sports centre offering gym, fitness classes, climbing, and yoga. There’s also paragliding, ice-skating, ice-climbing, and geocaching (the game of outdoor, worldwide hide and seek). In the resort there’s a cinema, bowling, and a Deep Nature Spa with saunas, steam rooms, and indoor swimming-pools. Hotel Mottaret has an outdoor Jacuzzi and a pool table.
Les Deux Alpes
The ski terrain in Les Deux Alpes is mainly intermediate, with snow-sure skiing up on the glacier and some very challenging off-piste skiing too. The recently renovated Hotel Ibiza is 300m from the lifts and there’s a free shuttle bus. Kids go free here up to the age of 18. There’s a good choice of rooms, ranging from twin or doubles to family suites sleeping up to four people and duplex family suites sleeping up to five. And how about trying a freestyle lesson in the snow park with First Trax, in a maximum class size of four?
Apres-ski: Lots of nightlife in the resort, including the funky Motown Café, K.re Shooterloungebar, Polar Bear Pub, and the beer specialist CO-Coon Bar. Hotel Ibiza has an in-house bar and lounge.
Other activities: paragliding, snowshoeing, horse-drawn sleigh rides, ice-glider (ice bumper cars), dog-sledding, ice-skating, ice-walking on frozen rivers, bowling alley, Espace 1800 Fitness & Wellbeing with swimming, spa and squash courts. Hotel Ibiza has an indoor swimming-pool, steam room and Jacuzzi, and a games room with table tennis, table football, and pool table.
The mountains here are amazing, with apres-ski to match. The pedestrian area is full of shops, cafes, and traditional hotels. For lessons try a half-day Off-Piste Technique Booster with Piste to Powder, which is ideal for those who can do short turns on steep red runs. New Generation offers Explorer Guiding with Tips as well as Pro Rider teen groups.
Apres-ski: Skiers and snowboarders head for the Mooserwirt on the final descent to the resort. The Krazy Kanguruh, set just above, is similarly heaving with people to a background of euro-pop music.
Other activities: floodlit 4km-long tobogganing course, snowshoeing, indoor tennis and squash, paragliding, bowling, sleigh rides, a sports centre containing tennis and squash courts, and a Wellness Centre with indoor swimming-pool, fitness classes and a multi-level ‘sauna world’.
The gorgeous town of Zermatt attracts everyone from celebrities to backpackers and the skiing suits good intermediates, but there are more challenging slopes to be found here too. A day trip over the mountain to Cervinia is well worthwhile, with prices for lunch lower than in Switzerland. Summit Ski School runs New Schoolers classes for 13 to 16 year olds.
Apres-ski: The sophisticated nightlife certainly isn’t cheap here, but the younger crowd head for The Post Hotel complex, which houses five apres venues including Brown Cow pub, Pink for live music, and Le Broken disco. Papperla and Vernissage are cool venues.
Other activities: ice-skating, ice-hockey, trampoline bungee jump, climbing wall, dog-sledding, ice-climbing, paragliding, swimming-pools, and a cinema.
Val Thorens lies at what used to be the less fashionable and still is the most snow-sure end of the 3 Valleys. It benefits from being in the huge 3 Valley ski area with its varied runs and wide choice of mountain restaurants. However, the ambience that’s changed in recent years: lush new hotels have been added, whilst at the same time it’s a favourite venue for uni ski trips. New Generation and Oxygene both run Pro Rider teen groups here.
Apres-ski: due to the young clientele here, there’s a large selection of nightlife on offer. Finish off the skiing day at La Folie Douce, then there’s Malaysia, which is one of the largest nightclubs in the Alps and has played host to some world-famous DJs.
Other activities: Bowling de Val Thorens has eight lanes, as well as American pool, snooker and a sports bar. Zip-wiring between Val Thorens and the resort of Orelle. The resort is also home to Europe’s highest cinema: Cinéma Du Lac Blanc, which has two daily screenings and an extra screening on bad weather days.
A vertical drop of 1900m, 80 lifts, and snow-sure skiing are a recipe that few resorts can match. Val is cool but it doesn’t come cheap – to pay a little less on accommodation and eating out you’d have to stay over the mountain in Tignes. The Development Centre offers private lessons for teenagers or will put your teen(s) together with others in a shared lesson. Oxygene and New Gen both run teenage clinics, and Progression Ski organises teenage groups of differing levels.
Apres-ski: On the mountain there’s the original Folie Douce with its live music and dancing, at the base is Cocorico, and then later on there’s the legendary Dick’s Tea Bar.
Other activities: an ice-driving circuit, swimming and gym at the Centre Aquasportif, dog-sledding, paragliding, ice-skating, ice-diving under the lake at Tignes, a cinema showing English-language films, a bowling alley, and lots of places to play pool. You can also have dinner in a yurt – it’s located between Tignes and Val, but they’ll pick you up and drop you back afterwards.
The home of steep and deep terrain, Verbier is also one of the most popular destinations for gap year seasonnaires. The piste skiing is less inspiring and it’s not the ideal place for complete beginners or nervous skiers. Teens can join a powder clinic with Powder Extreme, a mogul course at Warren Smith Ski Academy or a weekend camp with Element – none of these are specifically for teenagers, but are suited to good skiers with plenty of energy.
Apres-ski: The nightlife is legendary, starting with Le Rouge at the foot of the piste, and including Le Farinet and the new Vie Montagne bar serving craft beers.
Other activities: paragliding, a cinema, snowshoeing, dog-sledding, ice-climbing, several venue for fitness and yoga classes, a sports hall containing a climbing wall, indoor tennis, two squash courts and a multi-sport pitch for basketball, volleyball and badminton.
If you have any of your own tips for taking teenagers skiing, including favourite resorts or activities, please add them in our comments box below.