Most ski teachers wouldn’t recommend starting skiing before the age of three or four at the earliest. The right age will vary from child to child, and depends upon the child’s strength, co-ordination and attitude. Most of the local ski schools offer ski lessons for kids and snowboarding lessons usually start at around age of five. It is strongly recommended to pre-book ski school for the busy New Year and February school holiday period. Classes are often fully booked many weeks in advance.
These days, most ski schools have a good number of instructors that speak if not fluent English, certainly sufficient to teach the class and explain what is expected. Particularly during the UK school holidays it is normal to find several English speaking children in each group. The French Ski School (ESF) take children from 5 to 13 (For younger children see information under "What are the Crèche...services available in Chamonix).
Remember - children lose heat faster than adults so dress according to the weather conditions and make provision for it changing - hats, waterproofs, gloves, UV sunglasses/goggles, and SPF30 suncream are essential. When it comes to children, ski helmets are absolutely the norm. It's a good idea to have a contact phone number and address in your child's pocket in case you become separated on the mountain and likewise, storing the local emergency numbers in your phone for the duration of your holiday is also well worth the effort. A final tip is to remember to bring lots of passport photos with you on holiday - you will need them for lift passes and also if your children are attending a kids club as photos are used on the ID badges for drop offs and pick ups.
Family Ski Areas and Lift Pass Options in Chamonix
If you are in town, the most easily accessible pistes for adult and child beginners alike are the Savoy and Les Planards, with the former being the sunnier of the two. For slightly older or more accomplished kids, the Brevent and Flegere ski area has several longer and more challenging green and blue runs. Another fantastic family friendly ski option, is the Domaine de Balme (Le Tour & Vallorcine) area which is perhaps the largest and best beginner’s ski area and has the added benefit of normally being warm and sunny which well worth bearing in mind when skiing with kids! Perhaps the best option is just down the valley in Les Houches where some of the only ski in ski out family accommodation in the valley is located.. With several nursery slopes, a snow garden, and plenty of great blue and red runs, Les Houches is an ideal ski area for families of differing ability levels who want to ski in the same place. More detail is available on our guide to the ski areas in the Chamonix valley.
A family ski pass called the Forfait Famille and is far cheaper than buying ski passes individually. For every two adults paying the public adult rate, the first child gets a 50% reduction and any subsequent children ski for free! As with the normal lift passes, you can choose a Forfait Famille for the Chamonix Le Pass, Mont Blanc Unlimited or Les Houches areas and they are available from 1 - 15 days. (For all children’s passes it is advisable to bring proof of date of birth to the pass office). Please see our page on Chamonix ski pass prices for all lift pass prices.
The lift pass company offers free passes for children under 4, and a reduction on the adult price for children between 12-15.
The après ski fun isn’t just confined to the adults. The Tourist Office organises a wealth of activities to keep children amused off the slopes; including street entertainments, games and torch lit descents. Check out our What's On calendar to find out what is scheduled for your visit.
Tobogganing is always a hit with the kids, and in Chamonix, there are several ski areas where luging (toboganning) is allowed, including Le Savoy (Chamonix town), Les Planards (Chamonix town), La Vormaine (Le Tour), La Poya (Vallorcine), and Le Tourchet (Les Houches). Most ski hire shops also rent toboggans for a minimal charge but make sure you keep off the main pistes!
Cross-country skiing is another excellent activity that is suitable for the whole family. There are two distinct skiing areas in the valley - Argentiere and Chamonix - which each have a number of picturesque circuits of varying levels of difficulty. The trails are regularly patrolled and you have to pay a small charge to use them. Adults cost €6.50 and children €4 for a full day (reduced rates are available with your Guest Card) and you can buy tickets at the cross-country ski lodges (at the beginning of the trails) in either Chamonix or Argentiere. Cross-country ski equipment can be hired from most ski hire shops. Or have a look at our Winter Activities page for more ideas.
ESF Childrens Ski School in Chamonix
Ecole du Ski Français (ESF) is the biggest and most well-known ski school in France; if you or your children have taken lessons in France before then it was most likely with them. Every ESF school offers special children’s’ lessons, aimed at kids aged from 3 years and up. The vast majority of ESF instructors speak good English (and most clubs offer instruction in a variety of international languages). Classes tend to be a mix of mostly French and English children, the ratio varying according to school holidays.
Club des Piou-Piou
Aimed at 3 to 6 year olds the Piou-Piou kids club gives little ones their first experience of skiing in the safety of the ‘Jardin de Neige’ snow garden. Here they will find magic carpets to take them gently up the slope and a number of obstacles to challenge them on their way back down. This is all carried out under the careful supervision of qualified and experienced ESF instructors. The half-day sessions are broken up with snack breaks and games to keep children entertained and make their first days on skis fun. Your child will be awarded one of 3 medals at the end of their stay.
Older Children’s Lessons
For children aged 7 years and over the lessons become more focussed; giving them greater challenges yet retaining the element of fun with games, races and competitions. At this stage the children will be split up according to age and ability and medals will be awarded according to what standard they have reached. When registering your child for lessons it is important to inform the ESF of any previous skiing experience your child has, so that they will be put into the most appropriate group.
The first 3 medals are gained in the snow garden and demonstrate that your child has mastered the basics of skiing on a nursery slope; this includes slowing down, stopping, small turns and using the magic carpet and the drag lift. To gain the Ourson and Flocon badges your child should first have passed the previous stages.
Piou-Piou: This badge is the first one and is awarded to all children who complete a week of ski school.
Ourson (Teddy Bear): (If your child is over the age of 7 they can go straight to this badge without needing to complete the Piou-Piou). Your child must be able to:
Recognise his/her ski equipment
Put on and take off his/her skis by him/herself
Has used some ski lifts already
Control his/her speed and complete snaking turns
Move around on skis in different ways over varied but almost flat terrain
Ski with skis parallel straight downhill and stop using a snowplough turn
Flocon (Snowflake): Your child must be able to:
Control his/her speed and cross the fall line using snowplough turns
Retain his/her balance while sliding faster with skis parallel both across and down the slope, on both skis or from one ski to the other, over smooth terrain on a gentle slope
Brake and stop and is starting to be able to sideslip
1ère Etoile (1st Star):
Can complete a series of elementary sideslip turns taking into account external factors (terrain profile, other users, snow quality, etc.)
Retains his/her balance when sliding across gentle to moderately steep slopes
Is starting to be able to sideslip (uphill swing, at an angle)
2ème Etoile (2nd Star):
Can complete a series of smooth elementary turns, crossing the fall line with skis parallel and can complete turns with an uphill swing taking into account external factors (terrain profile, other users, snow quality, etc.)
Can ski over hollows and bumps, across or down the slope, while retaining his/her balance
3ème Etoile (3rd Star):
Can complete a series of short- and medium-radius basic turns with skis parallel, taking into account and compensating for external factors (terrain, users, type of snow, etc.)
Can maintain his/her balance in a schuss over varied terrain (hollows and bumps)
Is improving his/her lateral balance using successions of sideslips interspersed with direct traversing lines (garlands)
Etoile de Bronze (Bronze Star):
Can complete smoother basic turns by reducing sideslip
Can ski using high-speed and broad turns taking into account and compensating for external factors (terrain, users, type of snow, etc.)
Can maintain his/her balance in a schuss when taking off from rounded bumps, on piste or in a specially prepared area such as a skiercross courses
Is getting used to skiing in all kinds of snow
Etoile d’Or (Gold Star):
Is gaining experience with all forms of alpine skiing
Can ski down pistes with a large vertical drop without stopping, on all types of snow, taking into account external factors and respecting the rules of conduct for skiers
Can ski in a specially prepared area: skiercross course, halfpipe
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