Like dancing down a double black diamond, planning a big family ski trip is a daunting prospect.
Faced with kids bombing the slopes in all directions or – worse still – the reality of how out of practice you are on your own skis, there are a lot of moving parts to worry about. It's enough to give anyone cold feet. However, with the need to look a little closer to home this year for a winter trip with the whānau, you could do a lot worse than heading for the hills.
Anyone who has spent time with the extended family will know that finding a shared activity for a group of mixed ages, interests and abilities is a rare thing. A ski holiday is ideal in this respect as it offers everyone carte blanche to follow their own direction. The activities span as far as the snow line. Even further, if you count the local hot pools.
New Zealand is blessed with the best skiing in the southern hemisphere. With snowboarding, tobogganing or even snowshoe trekking, everyone's sure to find their thing.
Here are our tips to not only surviving but enjoying a multi-generational ski trip with something for all the family.
The hardest question of any skiing holiday is: how much time should you spend on the mountain? Ski passes across New Zealand's 13 or so public ski-fields come in so many varieties, shapes and flavours, it's often hard to find your best option.
It helps to work out early if you're going "all in" on a full week of skiing and booking passes for the week, or planning an "easy day" or two in between. Although not all resorts offer senior skier or student discounts, most sell cheaper afternoon-only passes. This is perfect if you want a later start, when the slopes have de-iced or would rather wait to see how the weather plays out.
Otherwise, for those wanting to minimise time queuing for passes and maximise runs, picking up passes with rental equipment the night before will give you a clear run at the lift turnstyles in the morning.
Where to start?
Depending on the operator, most passes will work on a number of different resorts. This is great if you want to mix things up and progress on to bigger slopes throughout the week. However, it helps to have an idea of the character and what's on offer at each.
On Ruapehu, ski lessons are run at Whakapapa, but child and adult passes will also work at Turoa on the more challenging south side. In Queenstown, the beginner slopes of the Remarkables share ski passes with the larger Coronet Peak ski field.
Meanwhile, the lift passes to the generous pistes on Cardrona will also work at Treble Cone, though the latter offers some more challenging slopes for skiers who want to push themselves.
School's in session
Organised ski-lessons and snow schools are a great introduction to snow sports at any age. On a big family holiday, they also help ease grandparents' suspicion that their invitation was as convenient childcare. Booking kids in for a day of snow school frees up some time to explore the mountain. However, there's a lot to be said for booking adult lessons, particularly after a long break.
The other option to group lessons is private instruction. A private instructor will help you graduate on to tougher terrain and is "the ultimate in tuition", advises Tim Douglass, ski area manager of Roundhill near Tekapo. "It's not unusual for us to have three generations from the same family out on the slopes."
If you're a large group there can be little difference from the cost of group lessons. However, think very carefully about the range of skiing levels in your group. There's only one thing worse than having your group's plan derailed by someone who's overestimated their abilities, and that's realising you're the slowest on the slope.
Skiing with children
Rachel Milner, Snow Sport School manager for Cardrona and Treble Cone, answers your questions
When's the right age to get children on their own skis?
I would say any age is the right age. If you are going with young kids or are local to the slopes there is merit to getting experience on the snow early. We start our Ski Kindy lessons from 5 years but from 8 and up they're a lot more on board with the idea of school and making friends on the slopes.
How should we balance time together vs time on the slopes?
Our advice is to split up during the day. Have lessons independently and – if you're ready – come together for a bit of time on the snow in the afternoon.
Lessons to take away
- Take your cue from the kids – if they are happier in lessons consider putting them back into the school for the afternoon.
- Ask the instructor "where did they get to?" in the morning lessons, and what to focus on. They'll have a good idea of where they are with their confidence.