Conquer your aversions and treat your family to their first holiday in the snow, writes Anna Murray
I never went to the snow when I was a kid.
My dairy farmer parents always said the all-consuming task of calving cows through the colder months meant there was never any time to venture to the slopes, although I later learned it was really because my father couldn't bear the thought of trudging through snow with a pile of kids in tow.
Many years later, it appears I share my dad's aversion to the snow. I've resisted my own children's pleas for a proper winter adventure for some time now, but given I don't have the convenient excuse of getting a herd of cows through calving season, I've decided to throw caution to the wind and finally book the family in for a visit to the mountains.
But where to go? What to do? And what to pack? I spoke to a few brave parents who often hit the slopes with their kids and condensed all their advice into this handy snow-for-newbies crash course.
Get the right gear
My kids complain loudly if their socks aren't on their feet exactly right, so when someone tells me that having the right clothing for a day in the snow is key to everyone's enjoyment, I believe them.
Dress in layers, so they can be removed (and put back on) as the day progresses. Merino or polypropylene are best for underlayers, while you want something waterproof for over the top - and make sure those waterproof pants and jackets are baggy enough to fit the required layers underneath.
If you can't beg, borrow, or steal ski pants and jackets that fit properly, rent them instead. You'll be able to rent clothing from the ski field you're visiting, but the clever parents I spoke to advised renting from somewhere in the nearest town or village instead, saving yourselves a potentially long wait on the mountain, especially during the school holidays.
Be sure to add neck and face warmers to your packing list, as well as long, thick woollen socks (and include extra pairs for any small feet that manage to get wet on the mountain). Waterproof boots with a bit of tread are also essential for tackling slippery ice and snow, so think about renting these too, if you don't already have them.
Every parent I spoke to also emphasised the importance of waterproof gloves, particularly ones that are long enough to go over jacket cuffs. Because kids really, really want to touch snow. And snow is really, really cold and wet.
Be sun smart
You might be visiting the snow, but rookies like me need to remember the sun is a major factor on the slopes, too. Slather faces in sunscreen and have SPF lip balm at the ready. Goggles (or sunglasses with high UV protection at the very least) are also important for protecting eyes from the UV rays reflecting off the snow.
Stuff those pockets
Ski fields have plenty of options for families to grab a bite to eat or warm up with a hot chocolate on the mountain, but we all know kids don't last long anywhere without a snack. So be sure to fill pockets with plenty of muesli bars and other quick snacks to avoid the dreaded hangry meltdown. While you're stuffing your jacket pockets, also shove in a few tissues for those cold noses, as well as a cloth for wiping goggles.
Spend the money on a lesson
If you want to do a little more than tobogganing or making snow angels on the play slopes, spend the money on a skiing or snowboarding lesson for your kids (and book this online ahead of time). Children famously don't listen to their parents, but will likely pay attention to an instructor, and I'm assured they can learn to ski quickly if taught correctly.
Check the snow reports
Your first family visit to the slopes is going to be much more successful if the weather is good, so check the local snow and weather reports before venturing out.
Finally, keep those expectations realistic
Going to the snow for the first time can be an overwhelming experience for all parties, so don't put too many expectations on that initial visit.
Allow yourselves plenty of time to get organised and take your cues from your kids – they will get tired and hungry pretty quickly (especially if they do wind up skiing or snowboarding), so be prepared to take lots of breaks.
Some parents said having snowball fights wound up being their children's favourite part of the whole experience, so keep it simple and the magical snow holiday memories could literally be at your fingertips.
But if it does all still turn to custard? Well, just console yourself with the prospect of a little apres-ski activity once you're off the mountain again.
FAMILY FUN AT THE SKI FIELDS
Most of the country's ski fields cater for families wanting a little fun in the snow. As with anything on the mountains, many of these activities are weather dependent – and if you can book any of them online in advance, do.
Kids can learn to ski at Ruapehu's famous beginners' facility, Happy Valley. Sledding is also available at both Whakapapa (in Happy Valley) and Tūroa (at Yeti's Sliding Zone). Both areas are groomed for sledding, with families able to slide to the bottom of a carpet lift before riding back up. One-hour sledding passes (including sled hire) are available. There are limited spots though, so do book them early (through Guest Services at Tūroa and Happy Valley Rentals at Whakapapa). Weather permitting, the Sky Waka Gondola is also a way of getting in a little winter sightseeing. Your family can also enjoy snow play within a designated area. mtruapehu.com
If you've previously dabbled with snow holidays with the kids and think you're ready to take a bigger leap, several parents I spoke to rated Cardrona's multi-day programmes for kids. Skiwees (for skiers aged 5-14) and Lowriders (snowboarders aged 7-14) are four-day programmes, which include lessons with the same instructor and the same group of children. One mum said her kids loved the familiarity of the same group each day, made new friends, and really improved their skiing and snowboarding skills. cardrona.com
Coronet Peak offers lessons for kids aged 5-17, but there's also plenty for families not keen to get on the skis for their first visit. A dedicated snow play area is available for making snow angels, snowmen, and snowballs. Single and double toboggans can be hired on the mountain, while the Peak Gondola can also take non-skiers to Coronet Peak's summit for winter wonderland views. coronetpeak.co.nz
Lessons are available for children aged 4-17. Families can also play in the snow and slide down the Remarkables on a toboggan – either bring your own or hire one for your visit. theremarkables.co.nz
Lessons are available for children aged 5-17, while the whole family can also play in Mt Hutt's dedicated snow play area. Either BYO toboggan or hire one from the Snow Shop. There's also a chairlift ride to check out views of the Canterbury Plains (although this is limited to family members who are at least 80cm tall). mthutt.co.nz
For more travel inspiration, go to newzealand.com/nz.
Check traffic light settings and Ministry of Health advice before travel at covid19.govt.nz