Just because you have children shouldn't put an end to your skiing holidays. Karen Banyon takes a look at the world's best resorts for families, where even toddlers are welcomed and entertained and adults do not have to be tied to the nursery runs or early bedtimes
WHEN THE children arrived, we weren't ready to hang up our skis. Instead, we decided to share the joys of skiing with Lewis, now aged six, and Craig, who is four. They have been skiing since they were three, but their success on the pistes owes a lot to finding the most child- friendly resorts.

AUSTRIA - KITZBUHEL

Kitzbuhel is a large, walled medieval town with cobbled streets and painted pastel houses, and has been among Austria's best ski resorts for many years. The chic luxury of earlier years is still present, but, more importantly, it also caters for families. It is traffic-free during the day and has excellent ski schools where children are taught the basics. The emphasis is on making skiing fun, especially at the Red Devil Ski School. On certain dates, children's equipment, lift passes and accommodation is free. For non-skiers (or if the children have any energy left after skiing), the Aquarena complex has several swimming-pools and a multitude of leisure facilities.

For children

The resort is running a "Snow Bunnies" offer from 13 March to 11 April in which children under 15 can enjoy free. For smaller children, there is a kindergarten toboggan run, and ice-skating is also available.

Getting there

Club Hotel Edelweiss overlooks the Hahnenkamm slopes. Adult prices from pounds 329 for seven nights; free child places available, and when they are sold out, 20 per cent off. This includes breakfast, afternoon tea, four- course dinner with wine. First Choice Ski (tel: 0870 7542754). For general information, contact the Austrian National Tourist Board (tel: 0171-629 0461).

FRANCE - LA PLAGNE

La Plagne is made up of 11 self-contained villages, linked by bus or gondola. It is not one of the most picturesque resorts, but it does offer excellent skiing for the whole family. For intermediates, there are some challenging runs, like the one down from the Bellecote glacier, and in most cases, it is possible to ski right to the door of your hotel. It also has one of my favourite runs in the Alps - the Montchavin - that winds its way through large fir trees and has typical postcard scenery. Mark Warner has an excellent creche and good facilities for children at Chalethotel Christina (right on the slopes). Suitable for children from four months to 12 years, there is also a drop-off and pick-up service to the ski school. Also, there are separate evening meal times for children - a brilliant idea, so you can get the kids off to bed, eat dinner in peace and exchange ski stories with other parents.

For children

There is a free listening service up to 11pm, and baby-sitting is available in the evening for around pounds 5 per hour. From l9-26 December and 2-23 January, children under 10 get free equipment-hire and a ski pass.

Getting there

Seven nights at the Chalethotel Christina costs from pounds 365 per adult, and from pounds 165 for children under 15. This includes breakfast, afternoon tea and large three-course meal in the evening with free wine. Contact Mark Warner, 10 Old Court, London W8 4PL (tel: 0171-761 7002). For general information, contact the French Government Tourist Offices (tel: 0891 244123; calls cost 50p per minute).

CANADA - BIG WHITE MOUNTAIN

Altitude can be a problem, and if you are planning to go for just a week, younger children will suffer from jet-lag. That aside, Canada (and the USA) offers outstanding facilities and ski schools for children.

This is a rustic resort located about an hour's drive from Kelowna, and is British Columbia's second largest ski area. The great points about this resort are the whole family can ski together, you can go anywhere on the mountain, and there are beginners' trails all the way back down. It was recently voted Canada's top family ski centre by Ski Canada magazine, which said: "It is the best place to be abandoned by your parents."

The Big White Kids centre takes children from 18 months to 12 years old, and the decor is Hansel and Gretel meets the Mad Hatter: doorways are not square, ceilings are sloped and the furniture is children-sized. When the youngsters are through with skiing, there are tons of games, a sleeping room and even an ice-skating rink. This resort also has state- of-the-art detachable lifts that allow children easy access onto the lift system.

For children

This season, the resort is running "Fun Ski Weeks", when children can attend ski/snowboarding schools during the day, then enjoy the evening entertainment. There is a special Kids Club programme for children aged three to 12, which teaches the basics of skiing and introduces racing. Children of five and under stay and ski free.

Getting there

At the White Crystal Hotel, where you can ski right from your front door, adult prices start at pounds 819, and for children under 12, prices start at pounds 430 (both prices include lift pass and B&B accommodation). Frontier Ski (tel: 0181-776 8709). For general information, contact the Visit Canada Centre (tel: 0891 715000 - calls cost 50p per minute).

USA - SNOWMASS VILLAGE, ASPEN

Aspen, in Colorado, is one of the world's most famous ski resorts. But although it has long been renowned for its glitzy Hollywood image, it is also excellent for families. Snowmass is smaller than its neighbour, Buttermilk, but is in a beautiful setting and is a traffic-free resort. There is a dedicated sledding hill at the Snowmass Cross-Country Centre, and a "family zone" (by the Burlingame lift) which has adventure trails, live reindeer and a terrain park. Every Thursday from 11am to 3pm, clowns, entertainers and musicians amuse the children. We found the "family hosts" scheme particularly good: community volunteers give visiting families information, assistance and tours of children's mountain trails (on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Fridays). Many restaurants welcome families, and the Cirque Cafe has family buffet nights with entertainment for the children. If you fancy a night in, Mangria deliver buckets of pasta (priced by the gallon) right to your door.

For children

The resort runs snowboarding lessons at all its ski schools - The Bears of Boards programme (for five to seven-year-olds), in which groups of no more than three children learn to ride using the latest teaching techniques, is very good.

Getting there

Snowmass Lodge and Club is at the base of Snowmass Mountain. Seven nights for adults costs from pounds 549 for board and accommodation, and for children (up to 11) from pounds 259. This includes free car rental for your holiday. If both parents book Thomson's winter-sports insurance, children get free insurance cover. Thomson Ski & Snowboarding (tel: 0181-210 4555). For further information, contact Aspen Skiing Company (tel: 001 970 9251220).

SWITZERLAND - ZERMATT

Zermatt, at the foot of the Matterhorn, in the south-west of Switzerland, is in the middle of the Alps, at an altitude of 1,620m. It has three interconnecting ski areas and endless skiing possibilities, including being able to ski to Cervinia in Italy. This idyllic car-free village under the Matterhorn has become one of the most renowned winter resorts. The only means of transport allowed are horse-drawn sleighs and carriages, and electric cars. Zermatt is also famous for having one of the longest skiing seasons in the Alps. This is a good resort to choose for parents who are good skiers because it has some excellent intermediate and expert runs. For beginners, the Gornegrat area has the best runs. More daring parents might also want to try the ice-diving which was introduced to the resort last year.

For children

Free ski passes for children under nine years, and children aged 10-16 get a 50 per cent reduction on the regular price.

Getting there

Seven nights' half-board accommo- dation at the Alpenhof Hotel costs from pounds 664 for adults and from pounds 149 for children. Inghams (tel: 0181-780 4444). For information, contact Switzerland Tourism (tel: 0171-734 4576).

SLOVENIA - KRANISKA GORA

This pretty village lies in the extreme north-western corner of Slovenia, just a few miles from the Italian border. It is Slovenia's leading ski resort, with wonderful scenery and an Austrian ambience. A holiday here is excellent value for money and perfect for families who do not want to spend a fortune.The slopes are less crowded than other resorts and lift queues are small. Most of the hotels are either on, or a short walk from the nursery slopes, so parents will not have to carry their children's skis far. It is a good beginners' resort and for parents wanting a challenging run, the black pistes of the Pudkoren Mountain, where you can ski the World Cup Slalom run, is a must. Kraniska Gora is also worth considering if you have smaller children because the transfer time is one-and-a-half hours.

For children

Crystal Holidays offers creche and nanny services (for children between six months and four). For children between four and 10, there is a Whizz Kids CIub. There are free lift passes, tuition, equipment hire or Learn to Ski packages for children, subject to parents booking them in advance.

Getting there

Seven nights' half-board at Hotel Kompas costs from pounds 295 for adults. Some free child places are available; otherwise, prices for children start at pounds 99. Single-parent reductions of up to pounds 50. Crystal Ski (tel: 0181-399 5144). For further information, contact the Slovenian Tourist Board (tel: 0171-287 7133).

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