Easy does it: Avoid the stress of skiing with a family by booking a package

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The Independent Travel

You know the type of traveller – perhaps you are one yourself – who swears by DIY holidays, assembling all the components of flights, accommodation, etc online. For years, that strategy was reasonably successful – until last 11 September, when the XL Leisure Group collapsed. Tens of thousands of prospective holidaymakers who had used XL Airways flight for a component of their holiday were affected. Many people found they had lost hundreds of pounds. But travellers who had booked a proper package holiday – flights and accommodation purchased as a single transaction – were covered under the Atol scheme.

Besides the extra financial security, there are plenty of good reasons for choosing an inclusive holiday. That's why, for the past four winters, I have taken my children on a skiing holiday booked with a major tour operator.

We can now describe ourselves as a "family that skis". This outcome has not always been a given; there were moments, especially during our first holiday, when we weren't sure this skiing malarkey was for us. That's because skiing with young children can, at times, be hard work.

Just getting a family of five kitted up and on those slopes each morning requires the multitasking skills of an air-traffic controller. Not only do you have your own thermals, salopettes, ski jacket, ski pass, gloves, scarf, hat, sun screen and pre-slope loo trip to worry about – you have three other peoples' as well. All this before you have stepped outside to embrace the even greater challenge of acclimatising the young to a very alien environment. It's not easy – which is why the cosseting provided on a package holiday is so wonderful.

A bit of online research, a few credit card details and the click of a mouse will confirm flights, transfers, accommodation and half board in a single transaction. On arrival, a rep meets you and directs you to your transfer coach. En route to your resort you are given an introductory talk about your destination, plus an information pack containing timetables, maps and phone numbers. If you haven't done so already, you get a queue-free opportunity to book your ski pass, ski lessons and après-ski activities.

Should you so wish, your every moment can be advised, catered for and time-tabled. I say, bring it on – let someone else worry about the detail; let your holiday rep embrace the task of working out where each family member should be at what time every day.

What holiday reps also offer is local knowledge. On our trip to Norway – a nation that arguably offers a more family-friendly experience than many others – all the basics worked as they should. But there were plenty of other "soft" benefits from our tour operator, Neilson. They helped us avoid wasting a big chunk of precious holiday time trying to master the resort.

From day one's "snow briefing", we were all informed of the best slopes, the best off-piste opportunities, the best times to ski down the various sides of mountains and the best après-ski activities.

And then there's the childcare, which can be included in your package: trained, English-speaking nannies who pitch up from the UK to run the crèches and kids clubs. In certain resorts they will even come to your chalet to look after your children exclusively. This can be most useful. It's recommended that children under eight or nine only spend around two hours on the slopes each day. Not until you are there, in perfect snow conditions on a sunny day, does it hit home how short a time this is. It can mean your children – and you, if you don't use any childcare – spend a lot of time not skiing.

Tour operators are also able to suggest plenty of après-ski activities – not least because they often earn commission on them. Options can include swimming, snowmobile safaris, horse-drawn sleigh rides, dog sledding, tobogganing, ice skating, shopping, bowling, spas, even cinema trips. When you are not on the slopes all day, these alternatives can be very handy.

There are other touches – at a price. Book through an upmarket operators such as Seasons in Style (seasonsinstyle.com; 01244 202000) and the ski instructors collect and return your children to your front door.

With Descent International (020-7384 3854; descent. co.uk), your children can have their skis and boots fitted in your chalet.

Powder Byrne (020-8246 5300; powderbyrne.com) will even hand you a glass of bubbly and put your children in front of a DVD while you get your boots and skis fitted.

And Norway? Geilo, the resort we visited, is excellent for families, with relatively gentle slopes, a calm but fun ambience, good teaching and – in the later part of the season – plenty of daylight and warmth. Best of all, while almost every other ski destination looks far more expensive this winter because of sterling's slump, the pound has just about held its own against Norway's currency.

Europe's richest country may not yet be exactly cheap, but compared with France, Austria and Switzerland it looks increasingly good value.

Traveller's Guide

The writer travelled with Neilson Active (0870 333 3356; neilson.co.uk) to Geilo, Norway. The cost for a family of five staying in a self-catering forest cabin in high season is £409 per adult and £368 per child. This includes accommodation, flights and transfers. Ski packs (£303 per adult, £255 per child aged seven years and over) include lift pass, equipment hire and ski school. For more information on skiing in Norway, see visitnorway.com/uk

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