Do you prefer fries or pommes frites, a condo or a chalet? Is it worth travelling further afield to the USA or Canada, or do you prefer to stick closer to home?
For those of us who live in the UK we know we have to travel for hard-core snow-time. We are prepared to travel one or two hours on a plane to the Alps but how many of us are prepared to fly a minimum of seven hours and possibly upto eleven hours? According to The World Snowboard Guide the top spot to snowboard in North America is Whistler/ Blackcomb, Canada. So what have resorts the other side of the ‘Pond’ got to tempt us to travel, particularly with kids in tow?
Good things about North America
Quiet slopes & orderly queues: there is generally more space and queuing systems operate which mean there is no free-for-all that exists in Europe. Those who misbehave ‘state-side’ can have their lift pass confiscated. Quiet slopes and orderly queues can make it easier with kids and parental stress levels will be lower. This last season I saw a young teenage boy almost faint in an Italian cable car queue, and I was pleased my daughter was not with us.
English-speaking and good service as standard: as anyone who has visited France knows the French love a ‘Gallic-shrug’ when you try the local lingo, but if you have not experienced your Franglais being ignored chances are you will have suffered a scowl as your lunch was thrown at you! Fortunately in North America service standards are high and you can send the kids off to order drinks and food without fear of them returning with the unexpected. Plus snowboarding and skiing lessons are easier as there is no heavily accented instructor to interpret.
Better value food on and off the slopes: the cost of food in Europe can make your purse or wallet shudder, but in North America costs are more reasonable. The downside is you are more likely to find fast-food as the staple fare. You may not be too happy about the hamburgers and chips, yet again, but the kids will probably love ‘em!
Lots of extra-curricular activities: with little ‘uns in tow it can be good to have other activities on offer to keep interest high. Resorts such as Smugglers Notch, Tremblant and Big White have indoor play areas, ice rinks, tubing, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and programmes of activities suitable for the entire family. This is a big advantage when trying to keep the kids (and parents) occupied off the slopes.
Of interest to the adults: we should not forget the grown-ups and one of the main factors which draws Europeans to North America is the propensity for tonnes of powder snow. This coupled with more accessible heli-boarding, which is limited in Europe, makes for a powerful attraction.
Good things about Europe
Close to home: faced with the prospect of a two hour plane journey or one of at least seven hours most of us will take the former, particularly with children. Travel to European destinations means there is no jetlag to contend with either; who needs kids who will not go to bed even after a hard day’s skiing because body clocks need to adjust?
Cute villages at lower altitude: let’s face it a Tyrolean village wins hands down when you conjure up the ‘chocolate box’ image of a snow resort. For eye-pleasing architecture head to Europe but avoid the 1960’s concrete monstrosities of Tignes and Flaine. This is unlikely to be an important element of a holiday with kids but the elevation of a resort will be. Some North American resorts are at high enough altitude to cause problems such as breathlessness, nausea, dizziness and inability to sleep. Breckenridge in Colorado is nearly 3000 meters whilst the highest resort in Europe is Val Thorens at 2300 meters. Many European resorts are considerably lower.
Extensive areas to ski: Europe has some vast ski terrain such as the Portes du Soleil which straddles the Swiss/ French border (650km), Les Trois Vallées in France (600km) and the Sella Ronda in the Dolomites (420km). Whistler, Canada and Vail, Colorado are 252km and 222km respectively but are the larger resorts in North America. This may not be of such importance with younger children but for those with ‘mile hungry’ intermediate teenagers it is worth considering.
Walk to the lifts with no car needed: many resorts in North America are located away from accommodation. It is expected that you drive to the slopes which is an added complication with kids. At least in European resorts you can walk to the lifts albeit as a packhorse carrying all the little ones’ equipment.
Of interest to the adults: Aprés may not be as important with kids in tow, but if you are looking for a cheeky schnapps or two Europe is the place to be. The Europeans practically invented après particularly in Austria! And if you are a foodie then dining in a mountain restaurant is de rigueur.
For child-friendly resorts checkout a previous post, but whatever you decide to do make sure you do your research and consider your own needs as well as those of the kids. You want to make sure everyone is happy whether you stick to Europe or stray further afield.
“Take it easy dude” or should I say “Au revoir”