In 2020 we decided to change-up our ski holiday. For years we’d been booking our family ski holidays with EspritSki with few exceptions. Why? They offer good prices and, most importantly, wraparound childcare. This gave us peace of mind while we were on the slopes and provided a great way for the kids to learn skiing. As the kids got older and became better skiers we felt we no longer needed the level of childcare that Esprit offered. That fact, coupled with our plan to ski during February half-term, a notoriously expensive time with package holiday providers, led us to try a self-drive, self-catering ski holiday with our kids this year.
Was it worth it, did lower costs balance out the additional effort? Yes and no! Read our bumper guide to a self-drive, self-catering ski holiday with kids to find out what we did, and perhaps how we might do it differently next time.
Driving to the French Alps
We chose a resort in the French Alps over potentially cheaper resorts in Italy due to its relative proximity to the UK. As we were going in half-term we only had a week to fit in the long drive plus skiing. Our journey to Val Thorens looked like this:
|1pm||Pick the kids up from school & drive to Folkestone|
|4pm||Chunnel Time! Arrive in France and drive till late|
|11.30pm||Arrive at hotel in Dijon and sleep|
|8am||Check out of hotel and start journey to the mountains|
|12pm||Join the traffic and move along at snails pace|
|3pm||Supermarket stop in Moutiers, then drive up to resort|
|6pm||Arrive in Val Thorens!|
It’s a lot of driving time which doesn’t suit every family, and its exacerbated by being a busy travel weekend not only for the Brits, but for many French families too. Driving long distances like this is second nature to us as we’ve spent many holidays driving down to stay with family in the Dordogne, which is a similar distance from Calais to Val Thorens. Our routine is to swap drivers every two to three hours, pack picnic lunches and suppers and plenty of snacks. We entertain ourselves with games, music, magazines and audiobooks as well as allowing the kids some tablet time.
We used AirBnB to find our home in the mountains for the week. The long list included some budget options, but avoided those exclusive, luxury chalets of dreams. We settled upon a modern, stylish 4-bedroom apartment with parking in Val Thorens which was only 30m from the slopes (we skied out most days and were able to ski in too). It was comfortable for eight of us (we were holidaying with friends, a couple who have two boys the same ages as ours) with the two younger boys sharing a room, and the two older boys in together. We even had a balcony overlooking the town of Val Thorens and the slopes beyond. Picture-perfect! The total cost of the AirBnB for 7 nights was £3,500 which was split between the two families.
Staying in self-catering accommodation has its advantages. Making up picnic lunches in our own kitchen helped us save money on the mountain as well as avoiding those restaurant queues. On our white-out day we decamped back to the apartment and had lunch at home, followed by a few hours chilling out before heading into town for an explore. The mornings ran smoothly as we didn’t all have to troop down to breakfast at the same time. We found it relaxing having our own space and happily shared the cooking and clearing-up jobs, spreading the workload. This was our first experience of self-catering on a ski holiday rather than being in a catered chalet. I would absolutely recommend it but suggest that having a good meal plan is essential to reducing any potential stress.
The other mum and I created a meal plan for the week, also agreeing that we would have two dinners out. We created a shopping list and a list of things to bring from home (tea towels, tea, dishwasher tablets etc). At the supermarket in Moutiers we had a clear idea of what we needed. How the total price for both families came to a little over €400 I’ll never know (I blame the dads who were on alcohol buying duty, and the kids who kept adding their favourite crisps and chocolate biscuits under the radar, though perhaps it was my penchant for jambon sec and camembert?).
We had picnics on the mountain for lunch rather than standing in endless queues in the self-service restaurants on the pistes, though we did treat ourselves to an amazing sit-down, table-service meal at Le Plans des Mains in Meribel. For our picnics we bought fresh bread from a supermarket in the resort (we were lucky enough to have a small supermarket less than five minutes walk away) and made up sandwiches each night.
|Steak, chips & peas||Steak, parmentier (frozen) potatoes & salad|
|Spaghetti bolognaise (using shop-bought tomato sauce)||Lasagna (using kids bolognaise and ready-made fresh béchamel)|
|Pesto pasta & peas||Beef stroganoff with pasta|
|Chicken drumsticks, chips and salad veg||Chicken and veg traybake|
|Spaghetti and meatballs||Duck confit, chips and salad|
Our apartment was very close to a few different ski hire shops. We chose the closest one, Intersport Balcons, and were happy with the service and the quality of the equipment. Ski hire for our family of four came to a total of €330 for the week.
We’ve skied all over the French Alps, from La Rosiere and Les Arcs to La Plagne and Meribel. Val Thorens has fast become one of our favourites. At 2,300m it has the altitude to weather (excuse the pun) warmer conditions which, in our changing climate, is increasingly becoming a concern for ski resorts. It has a wide choice of blues and a few greens for beginners and intermediates, plus some challenging reds and blacks. There is a good choice of restaurants on the mountain and some bordercross and snow parks for diversity. Most importantly Val Thorens sits on the edge of the 3 Valleys giving access to Meribel and even Courcheval with your lift pass. We enjoyed discovering the slopes of Orelle too. A lift pass for our family of four for 6 days cost €990.
The children were enrolled into ESF ski school for morning lessons (9-11:45am) for six mornings. This cost €190 per child. It’s possible to add lunch and afternoon lessons to this at the time of booking. You can also choose to enrol your child into a Super6 group which guarantees a maximum of six children per class (ours had approximately 10-12 kids) at a higher cost.
|8am||Leave Val Thorens|
|6.30pm||Arrive Arras, have dinner out and overnight in Lens|
|12pm||Eurotunnel back to UK|
|Arrive in UK and drive home|
We were advised to leave the apartment by 8am to avoid the worst of the traffic. We made it off the mountain smoothly but traffic on the road into Albertville and again into Chambery built. We followed a Google Maps diversion to avoid standing still, though I don’t think it took much less time overall. Leaving at 8am in the morning it’s possible to make a Eurotunnel booked for 9pm or 10pm and continue your drive home late at night in the UK. We chose to stop overnight in Arras. We made it there by 6.30pm and enjoyed walking around the old town and eating steaming bowls of mussels with a glass of Leffe! We had pre-booked a family room in a budget hotel (€87 for the four of us including breakfast!) near Lens which was about 15mins from Arras. The next day we popped to a supermarket in Calais before checking into the Eurotunnel. Be warned! Travelling back at the end of half-term meant that the volume of traffic was high! We arrived at the terminal about two hours before our booked train, and only just made it (booked for 12pm, arrived at 10am).
A self-drive, self-catering ski holiday – the verdict
We calculated that we spent almost £5,000 in total, including all travel (Eurotunnel, tolls and fuel), accommodation (including our journey out and back), ski hire, lift passes, as well as all food and drink (at home and in restaurants). How does this compare to previous ski holidays? One of our cheapest holidays was a last-minute EspritSki deal to La Rosiere over Christmas which cost about £4,000 for the four of us. This included meals and drinks in the chalet and many other costs including ski hire, lift passes, ski school and some afternoon childcare. This didn’t include our food on the mountain or the enforced ‘chalet-night-out’ when staff get the night off. Other holidays have cost over £5,000 for the four of us before adding the cost of eating on the mountain and eating out on the chalet night off.
February half-term is one of the most expensive times of year to go on a ski holiday. I think our approach for this particular week saved us money. Would we do it at a different time of year? Probably, though we do love the creature comforts of a catered chalet. It’s usually the one holiday we take in a year where I don’t have to cook at all, and I did miss my annual week off!
If you want to read more about taking kids skiing then check out my Ultimate Guide to Skiing with Kids!. I’ve also written a couple of blogs for Little Trekkers with packing top tips, and how our children fell in love with skiing.