A family that skis together, stays together!
Whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned skier, skiing is one of those holidays where it pays to be over-prepared. There’s a lot of gear to factor in plus you have to deal with changing weather conditions and your party’s different skiing abilities and energy levels.
Having said that, holiday planning is my forte and I've always gone solo with two kids in tow! So here are my tips to help you plan for a family ski trip or snow holiday.
If you're a teacher planning a school ski trip (lucky you!) then check out Inspireski's guide to school ski trip tips for teachers.
Best places to ski and enjoy snow play in Melbourne and surrounds
1. Drive up when it’s light
Even the most practised driver can be caught out in dark, foggy or snowy conditions.
To the extent possible try to finish your drive up the mountain before it gets dark. Most mountain passes will be a combination of steep, windy and narrow and none will have street lights to light your way. For instance, the windy South Face Road approach to Mt Baw Baw is unsealed for approximately 25km, though it is wide.
For everyone’s peace of mind (and to prevent motion sickness) know when the time for sunset and plan your leaving time accordingly.
2. Check the weather. Again and again.
In the week leading up to your ski trip check the daily weather and snow forecast.
On our visit to Mt Baw Baw it is forecast to be relatively mild with no natural snow on the ground. So I know we can all wear just one thermal layer (merino wool top) under our ski jackets and not bring too much clothing. Also we do not need sunglasses or goggles.
The law requires all vehicles to carry snow chains during the winter season. However, when we visit Mt Baw Baw there was no snow on the ground so the signage said snow chains were not required.
If there had been heavy snowfall forecast I would have considered parking at the closest town and to take a bus or private transfer up the mountain. I do not want to be dealing with snow chains on my own with two kids.
3. Save money by pre-purchasing
To the extent possible book everything in advance as they’ll be cheaper than on-mountain.
Most common expenses will be the car pass for resort entry, lift tickets, equipment hire and lessons.
For those who live near Yarraville I use Melly’s Inner West Melbourne Snow Hire. The prices are cheap and the range is large. For instance, I hire 2 toboggans at $10 each vs $18 each on-mountain and 3 pairs of snow boots at $8 each vs $20 each on-mountain. Check out the price list.
On a separate note – hire snow boots. When I’m downhill skiing I usually find gumboots are ok because I’m just walking around the village when I’m not in ski boots. But for tobogganing and snow play you really need purpose-made snow boots that are insulated and won’t trap snow and ice as easily inside.
The only thing I don’t hire in advance are snow chains, because I am not certain that I need them. Turns out I do need to carry them on the day but fortunately don’t need to actually fit them! Melly’s Inner West Melbourne Snow Hire hires them for $20.
4. Bring more food than you think you’ll need
Bring more food than you think you’ll need! I find that skiing and the snow makes everyone really hungry and thirsty, all the time.
Even if you are planning to eat out every meal, with kids it may not happen. Everyone is just too knackered at the end of the day to bother leaving the warm lodge again.
Have some self-catered meal options up your sleeve, just in case. Check whether your accommodation provides any basics but assume that you will need to bring everything. Also, generally the on-mountain stores will stock basics but not any large variety of ingredients.
For on mountain I carry a muesli bar in my ski jacket and zip one up for each child as well. Chocolate and lollies might also help if you need to bribe them to walk or ski just a few more metres to home!
5. What to Wear For Skiing or Snow Play
Borrow or invest in some merino wool layers – you can buy them from outdoor specialists like The North Face, Timberland or sometimes even Aldi. They are expensive relative to cotton but they will keep you warm, wick away sweat, not smell and dry quickly. Once cotton is wet it stays wet, making for an uncomfortable experience.
When I ski I wear a light Icebreaker merino wool long sleeve top and a pair of synthetic footless tights (because my legs get too warm with merino wool tights).
On your hands – have good waterproof gloves for everyone so you can play and ski without cold freezing hands.
On your feet – have spare socks in your luggage as there’s nothing worse than getting snow in your socks and moving around with icy, cold feet, and socks tend to take longer to dry overnight. I wear ski socks but the kids wear Kathmandu thick hiking socks. Gumboots are adequate for walking around but for tobogganing and snow play you really need purpose-made snow boots that are insulated and won’t trap snow and ice as easily inside.
Other accessories include a scarf (or better still, a snood so it doesn’t get tangled) and a beanie (even under a helmet).
You can buy waterproof ski jackets and pants at specialist stores like The North Face, Timberland and the famous annual Aldi sale. Better still, borrow from friends/family or hire off-mountain from places such as Melly’s Inner West Melbourne Snow Hire. I recommend you organise your clothing off-mountain so you can wear it as soon as you get out of the car!
6. Hire equipment on the mountain
It is generally cheaper to hire gear off-mountain…but I think it’s a false economy because then you have to carry all the equipment up the mountain in your car (or the bus) then walk it to your accommodation.
If you’re hiring gear, allow at least 20 minutes to get fitted for boots and skis. Everyone will be wanting to hire or return the gear at the same time so if you have somewhere specific to be eg ski school then make sure you allow enough time.
If you’re just skiing for the day then find out where the lockers are so you have a home base to put all your shoes, snacks etc.
7. Invest in ski lessons
I don’t think skiing is a sport that you can learn on your own. It uses specialist equipment and takes skill, practice and persistence. You’re guaranteed to fall over, at least some of the time!
If it’s your first time skiing then I highly recommend private ski lessons over group lessons. You’ll learn a lot faster and not feel embarrassed at your lack of ability.
This is particularly true for children learning to ski. Private ski lessons normally go for 1-2 hours but group lessons are often 3+ hours, which is a tiring time to be out in the snow if you’re little.
Once you’re feeling a bit more confident then ski lessons are still a good idea if it’s the beginning of the ski season and it’s been a while since you last skied.
8. Remember that skiing is an individual sport
Even though you may visit the slopes as a family or a group, remember that skiing is an individual activity, not a team sport. A person only enjoys it when they are skiing at a level for which they feel comfortable.
I have also witnessed many relationships under pressure when one person is trying to teach their loved one to ski or one person being forced to ski at a level that’s too easy/hard for them in order to keep up!
If you’re skiing the same run as your kids then let them go first. That way if they lose their poles or skis you don’t have to hike up the mountain to get them!
9. Decide on home base
I first started skiing before the advent of mobile phones (gasp) so the only way to meet other people, especially when you got separated on the mountain, was to decide on home base before you set off.
If your kids are not old enough to have their own mobile phones then the same rule applies – you should decide on a location to meet if you get separated.
Write your mobile number on their arm or tagged inside their clothing.
10. Expect to ski for only a few hours or half the day
Pre-kids I would commonly be out with the first runs and finish at last light.
This is not feasible with kids so you need to set your expectations and curb your frustrations now!
I think little kids can manage a stint of 1.5-2 hours maximum before needing a break. Depending on their skill, weather and enthusiasm they may be up for another 1.5-2 hour stint in the afternoon, or they may prefer to stay in or build snowmen for the rest of the day.
Pushing kids to ski for longer not only leads to tears and tantrums but the more tired you are the more likely you are to make mistakes. A ski instructor told me once to always ignore the push to do ‘one last run’ – that’s when injuries will occur.
The final word – a snow holiday or ski trip is not an easy holiday compared to other options. It takes patience, practice and perseverance.
The reward? Lifelong skills, a shared family hobby and many years of memories.
Click here for my tips on visiting Lake Mountain with kids, Mt Buller with kids and Mt Baw Baw with kids
Click here for the best places to ski, skate and snow play in Melbourne & surrounds
Click here for the Top 5 Places to go Ice Skating in Melbourne with Family and Friends