Here are some tips for skiing with kids in Switzerland based on our experience teaching two little kids how to ski here. No matter what you do, remember that skiing with friends is more fun!
Where to ski in Switzerland with kids
This depends on where you live and skill level of you and your kids. Switzerland has a large variety of ski resorts including:
- big, expensive, international destinations like Zermatt, Davos, Jungfrau Region, and St Moritz,
- big multi-mountain full-service resorts that most outside Switzerland haven’t heard of like Engelberg, Lenzerheide, Meiringen-Hasliberg, Flims/Laax and Flumserberg.
- smaller, more affordable resorts with only a couple chairs and a few T-bars but still great slopes, amazing views and more affordable prices, like Hoch Ybrig, Stoos, and Elm.
- relatively inexpensive, often cash only, local hills at lower elevations with maybe one chair, a couple of T-bars and often not much snow like Amden-Arvenbuel, Ibergeregg, and Brunni Alpthal.
Here is a map with Swiss ski resorts I’ve skied at or researched.
If you are teaching kids to ski yourself, I suggest one of the smaller, lower priced options since you won’t take advantage of the whole resort and probably will only stay a couple hours. If the kids are in ski school, pick a resort that appeals to the adults since you have a free day to ski on your own without the kids.
For weekend skiing with kids, I prefer smaller resorts that are close, less expensive and less crowded, which is what I’m focused on here. Most Zurichers end up at Flumserberg, as it is close and easy to access with public transportation. We have had our kids in ski school there many times and have been quite happy with it. We also like big resorts, like Lenzerheide and Flims/Laax, but that’s more for a treat or special occasion, due to the distance and higher prices.
Here are my reviews of some Swiss ski resorts:
For the February ski holidays, we tend to ski outside Switzerland, because it’s less expensive for everything: lift passes, ski school, food, and accommodations. We’ve enjoyed skiing in Samoens France, Cortina Italy, and St Anton am Arlberg Austria. Friends have highly recommended Solden and Montafon in Austria. Many families enjoy all-inclusive Kinderhotels, but I’ve never been. Let me know if you have one to recommend. Wherever you go, book months ahead. Many book in March for the following year.
– Little kids ski free. At most resorts, kids under 6 ski for free. You still have to get them a ski pass (usually a 5CHF refundable depot), so they can go through the turnstile. Most resorts require that the free child is always accompanied by a paying adult. Some resorts specify that the free child ride the T-bar between the legs of an adult (e.g. Atzmännig and Brunni-Alpthal). Some resorts let kids up to 8 ski free, like Saas Fee and Zermatt. Some resorts use birth year to determine if they ride for free, so even if your kid is already 6, they still might be free. Some require proof of birth date, like an ID card.
– Family Discounts. For older kids, look for family cards. Some resort offer family ski passes, where you pay for the first or two kids and all other kids (aged 6-15) are free. I’ve seen this offer at Niederhorn and Stoos. Brunni Alpthal has a family card for the beginner lift, where the whole family pays the child price.
– Single ride and point cards. Some resorts let you pay per ride (about 2 francs) or buy a “points card” that come with a certain number of points and each lift charges a few points each time you use it. This can be helpful for young, beginning skiers that may not last more than an hour or two on the slopes. I’ve done this at Atzmännig and Flumserberg with my 4 year old. He only had enough energy to do 4 or 5 runs and I was pretty much exhausted by that time too. I was happy that we hadn’t bought the day pass.
– Bring cash. I’ve been to a few ski hills that don’t take debit or credit cards, usually the ones where you pay at the little wood shack next to the T-bar (e.g. Amden-Arvenbüel and Ibergeregg). Sometimes the restaurants, especially the ones in the middle of the slope, don’t take cards. And worse, some of the towns are so small, they don’t have ATMS. It’s just better to be prepared with cash just in case.
– Ski half-day. Little kids often can’t last the whole day skiing. I find that my kids feel more successful and happier if I don’t push them to their physical and emotional limits. So we often ski half-day. A lot of resorts offer a variety of partial day passes, like 3 or 4 hour passes, afternoon passes that start at different times discounting further the later you show up, and even morning half-day passes, something I never saw in the US (maybe things have changed). My kids often have more energy in the morning, so this is a good option for us.
When to go
– Go early on sunny days or you might get shut out. It’s happened to us before, where all the parking lots were full and we had to park in a town farther down the mountain and take a bus to the resort. One time, even the overflow parking was full and we had to just leave and go somewhere else.
– Go on cloudy days. The Swiss seem to be fair-weather skiers. On a cloudy day, especially if it’s snowing, the slopes will be quite empty, even on the weekend. With little kids and beginning skiers, it’s much easier to ski when the slopes are not crowded. With short or no lift lines, the kids don’t lose momentum and waste energy like they would with a long wait. So I look forward to a forecast for cloudy weather.
– Wednesday afternoons. All kids have Wednesday afternoons off school. Many resorts are so close that you can quite easily get on the slopes by 14:00 and enjoy a nice couple hours skiing or sledding, perfect for beginners. We did this at Flumserberg for a couple years. Many resorts offer drop-in ski lessons on Wednesday afternoons, a good option if you want to your kids to get a jump start before the February ski holiday. Many communities offer ski clubs that take the kids skiing on these afternoons, check at your local community center.
– Relax. Unless it’s sunny, the Swiss tend to start late, take long lunches and leave early. I grew up getting to the ski resort at 8:30 to be the first on the lift, taking a quick sandwich break for lunch, and skiing until lifts closed. But in Switzerland, you can sometimes arrive as late at 10:00 and still park in the main lot. But by 10:30, it’s usually packed. The slopes get really quiet during lunch. Then around 14:30 people start leaving. I’ve been able to show up at 13:30 at Flumserberg and Brunni-Alpthal and get a good parking place. But no guarantees.
– Take breaks. This is difficult for me to do because I was raised to maximize my money and time. But I’ve slowly come around to the European ski mentality, which is more focused on enjoying the day than of maximizing value. So now we usually ski for about 90 mins, take a hot chocolate break in the restaurant, ski another couple hours, eat a leisurely lunch in the restaurant and warm up, then ski another couple hours and be done a little after 15:00. Perhaps this will change as my kids get older. But for now, this schedule keeps all of us happier and focuses on having a good time not getting the most for our money.
– At many resorts, you must ride cable cars to reach the resort, including Hoch Ybrig, Stoos, Meiringen-Hasliberg, Engelberg, and Elm to name a few. This is important to know if you are dropping your kids off for ski school and aren’t skiing yourself. At some resorts, you can buy a non-skiing ticket, which includes one trip up and back, which is much cheaper than a day ski pass. Flumserberg is one resort where you can drive and park directly in front of the ski school.
This can also cause a few logistical problems as you have to bring everything with you instead of being able to easily go back to the car for more supplies. It can really mess up your day if you have to spend 30 minutes each way, riding all the way down to your car to get dry mittens for a miserable kid with wet icy hands.
Some of these resorts provide coin-operated lockers, but they are few and far between. I always bring a small backpack with snacks, water and extra kids clothes like mittens and scarves. I simply leave the backpack near the main lift station, where lots of other people have stacked their backpacks. Sometimes there is a dressing room or picnic area with hooks on a wall where you can hang backpacks. In any case, keep all valuables on your person.
– Magic carpets. Many resorts have tiny beginner hills with a moving sidewalk that brings the skier back up the hill. These are perfect for little kids and absolute beginners. As a parent, you can lift your kid on the magic carpets, lift them off onto the slope, give them a little push, run down to collect them at the bottom and repeat. This was a great way to give my very little kids a feel for skiing before they started lessons, Most magic carpets are free to use, but some are located at the top of the gondola, which requires a ticket. Flumserberg has one that is next to the parking, so completely free to use.
– Drag lifts, aka Schlepplifte, are very common in Switzerland (a chair lift is called a Sesselbahn). Many small resorts have only drag lifts and almost all resorts still have a few drag lifts, especially on beginner slopes. Most are T-bars for two riders, some have a disc for a single rider, some just have a handle on a rope tow. Many are very long and steep. All forms can be difficult to use with children so be prepared.
It can be difficult riding next to a small child on a T-bar because the bar will be at your knee level instead of under your bottom. This is extremely uncomfortable for the adult and hard to balance. For very small children (3-4), I find it better to have the child ride between your legs, which is less complicated than it sounds. For older children (5-6) that know how to use a drag lift, it’s better to let the child go first and you follow.
Many T-bars are not attended by staff, so you have to grab the bar yourself and figure it out. I find this often difficult as an adult, but with small children it can be downright dangerous. My kids have been knocked over many times trying to get on and even knocked in the head by the bar. So plan on helping your kids get on the T-bar before getting on yourself. And prepare yourself to exit early if your kid falls off the T-bar mid-slope, which has happened to us a lot.
Some ski schools, like Flumserberg, strangely require that older children (over 6) can use a drag lift before starting ski school. So you may need to practice a bit or stretch the truth.
– Chair lifts. Thankfully, almost all chair lifts now include a safety bar and foot rests. Chair lift operators are very helpful with small children, usually lifting them up on to the seat. Each chair lift has a diagram showing where the child should sit for safety and balance. Some lifts have bubbles over the chairs, but not on every chair. If it’s not busy and the weather isn’t great, it’s perfectly acceptable to let a non-bubble chair pass by so your child can be warmer in the next chair with a bubble.
Eating at the resort
– Reserve a table for lunch, even at self-service cafes. On busy weekends, the restaurants can get super packed and since everyone likes to eat at the same time, it can be hard to get a table, especially when the weather isn’t nice enough to sit outside. At Flumserberg, my friend always reserves a table for lunch and it takes so much stress out of the day, especially with tired, wet, cold, hungry kids. I don’t know if it’s possible at other resorts, but it’s certainly worth a try.
– Snacks. When I was growing up, each of us kids wore a fanny pack filled with fun-sized candy bars which could be eaten on the ski lift. This helped ease the misery of super cold, blizzardy, white-out days. These days, I pack crackers, fruit, gum, candy, and water in my backpack and dole a little out while we wait in lift lines. On several occasions, I’ve been able to rescue my kids from mid-slope emotional breakdowns with a well-played gummi bear.
– All resorts, large and small, offer ski lessons for children 6 and over. All offer private lessons. Most offer weekly group lessons during school holidays that start Sunday or Monday and run for five days. Some offer drop-in lessons on weekends. In any case, contact the ski school beforehand to get the exact schedule and ask if you need to book beforehand. In most cases, ski lessons run from 10:00 to 12:00 and 13:00 to 15:00. Some provide lunch with child care for an extra fee.
– Many resorts provide a supervised “snow garden” ski experience for children aged 3 to 6. A snow garden is usually an enclosed ski school area with a magic carpet and short gradual slope for absolute beginners, usually aged 3-6 years old. A snow garden is a good place for very young kids to start. The instructors focus on teaching them how to stand and walk with skis and do very basic maneuvers, like ski in a straight line for a few feet without falling over. After a week in the Flumserberg snow garden, my 4 year old was ready to try the slightly bigger slopes with a t-bar.
However, not all snow gardens are equal and certainly don’t expect that a week at a snow garden will turn a screaming 3 year old into a downhill racer in 2 short hours. I really like the Flumserberg snow garden, but I’ve seen other snow gardens that seem rather useless. Some are completely flat, so the kids can’t actually ski down anything so they just spend their time walking around on skis (I’m looking at you Einsiedeln and Oberiberg). Others don’t have a magic carpet, so kids have to walk back up the slope each time – very exhausting (I’m looking at you Ibergeregg). Others only have tow ropes, that difficult for anyone, let alone a frustrated 5 year old. Other beginning areas are sloped to one side, are too steep, or aren’t enclosed so little beginners who can’t stop have to be constantly rescued (I’m looking at you Sattel Hoch Stückli). So be picky. Flumserberg has the best snow garden I’ve seen so far.
– Ski school is often loosely supervised. I’ve only had positive experiences at Swiss ski schools, but I’ve heard about and seen some strange things at Swiss ski schools (like a sick kid being left alone at the restaurant while the class continued for the afternoon). At Flumserberg, they don’t ask for any contact information so no one knows that your child is with a particular class. So you should put your contact information in your child’s jacket pocket and tell your child what to do if they get separated from their group (i.e. find a staff member and show them the contact card so they can call the parent’s cell phone). If your kid is old enough to work a cell phone, it would be good to keep one in their pocket.
When taking chair lifts, ski school kids are sent up individually with strangers. I know there’s only one instructor so there’s no other way, but it makes me nervous all the same. Even in the snow garden, there’s only one instructor for a big group of 3-5 year olds and as you can imagine, there’s a lot chaos and crying. I found myself helping a lot during the class, picking up kids that had fallen and couldn’t get up, unclogging traffic jams at the end of the magic carpet, rescuing lost gloves, etc. I’m sure the class would have survived without me. Perhaps it’s better to just walk away and hope for the best.
– Bring extra clothes. Before we even talk about skis, I must say that having extra clothes is the most important element for my kids to have a happy day. So many times we’ve had to quit early because of wet gloves, wet socks, wet pants (it can be hard to quickly get all those layers off a 5 year old who has to pee right now!!!), etc. So now I carry an extra set of gloves and socks in a backpack while we ski. I have extra underwear and thermals in the car for emergencies. I also carry hand and feet warmers just in case. Not every brand works well, but if you get good ones, they can really save the day. Some recommend against direct skin contact because of the high heat, so read the directions carefully.
– Seasonal rentals. It costs the same as renting for the week, so you might as well get it for the whole season. The cost is determined by the ski length, so for little kids, you pay about 100-150CHF for skis, boots, and poles. Many places offer a small discount (like 10%) if you rent in October. So it pays to plan ahead. If you wait too long, the rental shops might run out of used equipment to rent and will charge you a “new equipment rental” surchange. Many shops will let you buy the equipment at the end of the season for another surcharge. But kids grow so quickly, it’s probably not worth it.
I usually rent from Migros SportXX, which starts renting the first week of October. If you rent in the first week, you can usually get the “Best Price” category for kid skis and snowboards, which is quite a bit cheaper than the regular rate. I’ve also rented from skirental-zueri and been quite happy (and they speak english). Their rates are competitive and about the same as Migros SportXX.
– For single-day rentals, pick them up the night before at a local rental shop. On-site rentals are more expensive, have long times and take precious time out of your day.
– Buy secondhand. If you’re on a budget, you can save a lot by picking up used equipment at a ski shop, Brockenhaus or online forum. I bought skis for my kids for 10CHF at Salvation Army and I’ve used them for two seasons because ski length doesn’t vary much for beginners. I’ve bought used boots at a ski shop for the past three years, ranging in price from 35-55CHF. Kid’s feet grow quick, so we usually need a new size every year, but I can pass the smaller boots down to my younger son, so it’s good value.
You can take used equipment to any ski shop and they can service the skis and fit the boots to the skis for a small charge (like 15-20CHF). It’s best to do this in October/November as the equipment can go quickly. But I’ve also noticed that the shops sometimes have good inventory in January after people dump old equipment that was replaced by Christmas presents.
OK, that’s all I can think of for now. Please leave a comment if you have other tips.
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