A Bumper Guide to a Self-drive, Self-catering Ski Holiday with Kids

Have you ever considered driving to your ski resort? Driving to the Alps means that you can travel at your own pace, avoid airport queues and that long coach transfer from the airport to your mountain ski resort. No need to pay extra carriage for your skis or snowboard. Pack up your car with as much as you like. Driving for a self-catering ski holiday also means that you can carry food and kitchen items from home too, saving money and reducing waste.

In February 2020 we decided to try driving to our ski resort and have a self-catering ski holiday instead of booking a package ski holiday with catered chalet. 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:

1pmPick the kids up from school & drive to Folkestone
4pmEurotunnel Time! Arrive in France and drive till late
11.30pmArrive at hotel in Dijon and sleep
8amCheck out of hotel and start journey to the mountains
12pmJoin the traffic and move along at snails pace
3pmSupermarket stop in Moutiers, then drive up to resort
6pmArrive 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.

Top Tip: book your Eurotunnel tickets as soon as you’ve decided to go! Places go fast at popular times like half-term and Easter


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.

Surveying the pistes he shredded from our picture-perfect balcony

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.

meal planning

Bootcamp outside the supermarket in Moutiers

We created a meal plan for the week with our friends, also agreeing that we would have two dinners out. We wrote up 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 & peasSteak, parmentier (frozen) potatoes & salad
Spaghetti bolognaise (using shop-bought tomato sauce)Lasagna (using kids bolognaise and ready-made fresh béchamel)
Pesto pasta & peasBeef stroganoff with pasta
Chicken drumsticks, chips and salad vegChicken and veg traybake
Spaghetti and meatballsDuck confit, chips and salad
Our meal plan for five nights

ski hire

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 booked this in advance to ensure availability of ski equipment for our family in a busy week.

location, location

We’ve skied all over the French Alps with our kids, 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 skiers and 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. Lift passes for our family of four for 6 days cost €990.

ski school

The end of a successful week of ski school

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.

driving home

8amLeave Val Thorens
6.30pmArrive Arras, have dinner out and overnight in Lens
8.30amLeave Lens
12pmEurotunnel 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 near Arras, not far from the Eurotunnel terminal at Calais, extending our holiday by one night. 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 on board (booked for 12pm, arrived at 10am).

Stretching our legs in the beautiful Grand-Place in Arras at the end of a long day in the car

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 in Europe. 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.

Suitcases and Sandcastles

Published by grandadventurestory

I’m Debbie. Together with 'MrP' and our 7 and 9 year old boys every day trip and holiday we take is an adventure of sorts. We’re planning a family sabbatical, our Grand Adventure, but in the meantime we love exploring closer to home

18 thoughts on “A Bumper Guide to a Self-drive, Self-catering Ski Holiday with Kids

  1. I’ve always wanted to go on a ski/snowboarding holiday. I used to snowboard as a kid, but not for the last 20+ years and now I just find it all so overwhelming (and expensive!) These tips definitely are useful! #FarawayFiles

  2. Thank goodness you picked France over Italy this particular Half Term! This is a really helpful guide and I particularly appreciated the break down of the journey times and the food you ate. What a good idea to make a packed lunch every day. The cost is the biggest hurdle to our going on a skiing holiday so it’s really helpful to see how much it is. My brother and his family skis every year and they always drive to the mountains from the UK. Thanks for sharing on #farawayfiles

  3. There’s no real way around the expense of a ski holiday – it still runs into the 1000s!! Good to see you managed to keep costs down. I know friends who stay in Bourg and get the funicular up which makes accommodation cheaper, also getting on easyJet the day flights are released is good. We’ve started getting the train which also is booked in advance saves money #farawayfiles

    1. All good tips – love the idea of going by train. Our friends spent two weeks glamping in Bourg over New Years and were impressed with the bus / funicular service. We’re still clinging onto ski in / out but I’m sure that’ll change in the future!

  4. Lots of great tips here (since we’ve yet to do a family skiing holiday) and it’s refreshing to hear that you take your own picnics and snacks to save money and avoid queuing time! Stunning pics too, sounds like a fantastic holiday #FarawayFiles

  5. I’m an avid skier and Ski Patroller in Toronto. No mountains, only small hills to ski regularly. I’m envious of any European skiing. Interesting post with some great detail, thanks. Fingers crossed – I’m off to the Canadian Rockies in a few weeks time.

  6. SUCH a detailed post! I’m sure your family had lots of fun on the skii trip. I’ve never went on ski holiday before (and i know I totally should …living amongst the Swiss Alps) The next time I’ll check back here for some good planning tips! 🙂

  7. Reading this has got me itching to go skiing again! It’s been a few years since my last trip. My boyfriend and I usually go to the Sierra Nevadas in Spain. We stay in Granada (cheaper accommodation and food) and hire a car to drive to the resort and back. Like you say, a car gives you so much more freedom and flexibility 😊

  8. I did a self drive val thorens trip a few decembers ago and loved it too! would be keen to do it again

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: