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Compare the best weekend and short ski breaks

On paper, family ski holidays are a shortcut to a nervous breakdown. If you are going on a skiing holiday with the little ones, just think of all the potential for tantrums, accidents and lost gloves or goggles. But, the fact is, more and more families are trying ski holidays each year.

Why is skiing so good for families?

We give you the lowdown on why families love skiing holidays and our top tips for making your holiday go smoothly.

Families are discovering that - yes - it's a bit of a hassle, but in return for the extra work, you'll have a holiday everyone can talk about for weeks afterwards. What's more, it doesn't have to be the world's most glamorous ski resort. Snow is snow. Children adore it (provided it's not too cold), and they're not remotely bothered which celebs are in town. And seeing their confidence grow on the slopes will reward you with an enormous sense of pride and achievement.

 Top 5 tips for family holidays

1. Any chance of going outside the school holidays? You'll save a lot if you can. However, you must have permission from the school before we advise you consider this option.

2. If you're tied to the holidays, Easter is the cheapest time to ski - although you'll have to go to a high-altitude resort (ideally 1,800m or above) to be sure of getting good snow at this late point of the season. The next cheapest week is Christmas, which tour operators sometimes find hard to sell. The snow in lower altitude resorts can be iffy, however, so again, you need to aim high.

3. If you're a first-time family, then pay extra and go with a family skiing specialist. Putting yourself into the hands of someone who knows what your needs will be, long before you do, will make all the difference between a successful holiday and a disaster.

4. Don't expect the children to ski all day. They'll need other distractions, such as pools, to keep them fully occupied - though often they're happiest tobogganing on a tiny slope outside the chalet.

5. Bring your own essentials from home - you don't want to be searching a ski resort for them in the middle of a blizzard! And don't forget to apply high-factor sunblock on little faces each morning, whether it's sunny or cloudy.

What's the right age to start children skiing?

Your first ski holiday with the children can be earlier than you think. This is our advice.

You will know better than anyone else how physically brave and adventurous your children are. But as a rule of thumb, anything under the age of five is a bit of risk. At the very least, it's going to be a tough job to keep them from getting cold and grumpy. If you are taking under-fives to the slopes, then think of your trip as more of an introduction to winter rather than a dedicated skiing holiday. Choose your resort accordingly - looking for one which has plenty of well-organised activities beyond the pistes.

When considering a company to travel with, look for family offers from them. In addition, your chosen company should offer most, or all, of the following:

• Nurseries and crèches for the children under the age of four.

• Ski school classes which are run exclusively for the children of its guests - or which at least are attended by a member of staff from the company.

• Supervised lunch.
 
• A special, earlier, meal time for children, so they don't have to wait till the adults eat (usually 8pm).

What equipment should you take with you?

Should you spend huge amounts on flash kit for your first family ski holiday?

Your children will have grown out of their ski gear by the next time they use it, so hire it from one of the growing number of rental companies. Failing that, search online auction sites or discount retailers on the high street for cheap gear. Helmets for children are more or less obligatory in every mountain resort these days, and are provided as a matter of course by ski schools. (If not, you can rent them in the resort, along with skis and boots.)

The most important things are to ensure that children stay warm, that you protect their eyes with decent sunglasses or goggles with a good UV factor, and that you protect them against the sun, which can be surprisingly strong.