Our favourite time of the year is when it gets chilly enough for the mountains to be coated in a glittering layer of snow.
Our best family memories have been created on our ski trips.
We have discovered that we love to be in that glorious environment, nature made magical with a covering of snow.
Skiing has given us much both individually and as a family, and so we make a point of planning to ski every year. We are thankful that we're able to do so, although we also choose not to do other things so that we can!
Skiing is the best mental health strategy I know.
There is no option BUT to be mindful when I'm skiing. It could be because I'm not overly talented... I really have to concentrate - where I'm going, how I'm going to get there, are there gaps / bumps / moguls, people? I have to pay attention.
This leaves me zero mental space for worrying about all the usual things that I worry about. Really all I have to do is (more-or-less) know where I'm going, and how to find a way back (although seeing as I cannot read a map to save my life, I usually rely on my husband or another skiing buddy for that bit... Returning to the same place over and over has been beneficial for me to understand how the runs and lifts connect to each other!
Oh, and what I'm going to eat. And there is something doubly yummy about eating when you're skiing: it's cold, you're expending tremendous energy, and all the fabulous things are just soooo good to eat when it's cold and you're hungry (none of this summer 'it's-too-hot-to-cook-or-eat' business). Plus, there seems to be a fabulous German alpine food vibe: Pretzels, schnapps, Glühwein, and throw in a curry for good measure and everyone is happy... Of course, the fact that you're expending all that energy means you can eat more, right? Oh wait...
The other benefit - we play together. This is such a great way to be outside and actually play together. No distractions, no technology (well, apart from photos). We're building family memories with our rituals (It is now compulsory that we sing the Sound of Music soundtrack on our drive to the snow each year). It's giving our children a chance to learn a skill they'll keep for life. And with a child with vision issues that will prevent his ever being great at catching a ball, we're keen to give him a sporting ability (that might even earn him some cred ;) )
Here's some tips for you if you're considering a family snow holiday.
How do we organise ourselves?
We have developed a bit of a system over the years. A lot of this is from experience now, having done this a few times with the children. Obviously needs have changed as the children change each year, but here is what we have learned! You can benefit from what we have learned through bitter experience.... (without any suffering on your part. You're welcome.)
Take Your own Food
Food up the Mountain is expensive. Understandably so - they have to get it transported up there in difficult conditions, and staff the services that provide it. While we always buy food up there, we take a lot with us, and have friends who manage without buying much at all.
Pack an insulated grocery bag with snacks, drinks, and some hot foods. Here are some things we've done over the years:
* Taco meat (in Thermos) + mini bags of corn chips
* Macaroni cheese (in Thermos)
* Spring Veg Dip & cob loaf
* Shredded BBQ Chicken in wraps (these can fit in a jacket pocket too)
A thermos of hot water is also a great idea - you can easily make a hot chocolate or tea which will keep you going.
Tip: buy a good quality Thermos (Thermos brand or similar) - they make a difference in keeping things hot!
Also, look out for "Happy Hours" - hot chocolate at the Perisher Mid Station is cheaper at certain times (before 10.30 and if the major lift is on windhold).
Take More Food: Food in the Car
On one memorable evening driving down the mountain in bad conditions, the usual 45 min drive turned into 4+ hours. We were lucky because we didn't slide off the road in the snow (see Safety First below). We had desperately hungry and bored kids - again, we were thankful to be warm and dry.
Since that adventure, we always keep extra food & drinks in the car, as well as charged up iPads/entertainment.
Pack a spare fleece, trackies & uggies in the car for everyone. That way you can get out of wet/heavy ski gear, and get warm & comfy for the way home. Learn the art of changing in the car/car park ;) Pretty much everyone does it, and you've got thermals under everything, so it's all good :D
Pack a garbage bag / ikea bag to take all the wet gear/boots. An old towel is also handy to protect the back of the car while getting organised.
Yep! Yet more Food: Pocket Snacks
One of our weird family rituals is Pocket Snacks. We've converted friends to them too...
A ziploc bag with high energy food that fits in your pocket. It's easy to get to something if you need a boost. The kids particularly need these, as the cold & the strenuous activity are exhausting. Hungry kids are cranky kids.
The kinds of things we pack? Kit kats (we only eat these at the snow, must be some clever marketing going on there), nuts, dried fruit, chocolate coated biscuits, snakes lollies, protein bars, muesli bars
Warm+Dry = Happy
Cold + Wet is another way to have cranky kids. And therefore, cranky parents.
For the warmest, happiest peeps:
* proper ski socks (cheap at aldi)
* mid layer (like a long sleeve tee, or a skivvy, but get technical fabrics that wick the moisture away - the old cotton skivvy from your childhood will just get sodden)
* Ski pants - In our experience, the Bib & brace style is great for children, because it protects them from having snow go down their pants in their many tumbles
* Ski jacket - it's worth getting the gear, they have pockets in the right places for the right things (eg. your Lift Ticket)
* Buff/fleece cowl: again, cheap at Aldi - great for pulling up over mouth/face/nose while on the lifts
* Balaclavas - these have been excellent in bitter conditions - again, lightweight fleece ones from Aldi have been great. Husband & I wear some lightweight silk ones (again from Aldi), or I have a fleece one that's good for really cold days
* Helmets - Ski helmets keep kids (and you!) safe and warm. They are compulsory for kids in lessons, and can usually be hired free with any other gear. We wear them too, and I am certain I've been saved from some concussions by my helmet in a couple of nasty tumbles I've taken.
* goggles - again, Aldi has cheap reliable ones - you really can't manage without these
Load up those pockets!
lens cleaning cloth - often attached to one of the pockets of your coat
Ziplock bag to put your phone in. Oh, and zip your phone in, every time. I've learned this one through bitter experience.
Safety First (even though I put it last, it really should be first!)
* Ski/Board Lessons - for everyone!! See below!
* Driving - Living in Australia, we don't often experience the hazardous conditions of driving on black ice or snow. You need to know how to handle the car, especially if something goes wrong and you start sliding on the snow & ice.
An excellent video for identifying & handling black ice can be found here - seriously it's 1 minute to watch, and could save your life.
Other great tips can be found here and here (including planning ahead)
At our ski fields in NSW this is what you need:
* National Parks Pass - if you drive up to the resort, you need to purchase 1 for your car. You can book ahead online, or purchase in Jindabyne at their office.
- if you catch the Skitube or a bus up to the resort, it is included in the fare.
* Chains - if you are driving into the National Parks you must have chains, unless you have a 4WD. There will be bays at the side of the road where you will be directed to put your chains on in difficult conditions. Whether you hire or buy them, do a practice run before you are up there in bitter, snowy conditions. There are also youtube how-to videos. Chains are sized according to the wheel/tyre size, so you do need to know which car you're going to use them for.
* Lift pass If you want to ski/board down a slope, you have to get up it first. To ride a chairlift you need a pass. Of course, you could always trudge up the mountain but that would be tedious and tiring. Choose the fun option and buy a pass. The pass is worn in the sleeve of your jacket, and you scan it to enter the lift queue. The resorts (Thredbo, Selwyn, Perisher) have a range of deals you can check out online. Costco also sells some discounted deals that include lessons.
* Lessons Everyone should do lessons! We put our kids into day programs, in which they learn to ski and are also given hot meals. It gives us a chance to have some fun together and cover more ground than we can with kids. As the kids' skills are going to surpass ours soon, we may not put them in the full day programs as often, but we still enjoy the time together!
Adults should also have ski lessons, especially if you are a beginner or a bit rusty. There really should be a basic skills test that everyone has to pass before being allowed on a lift. We've rescued a number of people on difficult slopes that didn't actually know how to stop or turn.
As a minimum you need to know how to:
* snowplough to slow, stop & turn,
* get on & off a lift safely. (I won't get started on the number of people who've nearly taken my eye out because they aren't following the instructions to safely carry their poles).
You should also be familiar with the Alpine Responsibility Code which you can find here - it lists your responsibilities on the slopes, and includes things like who has right of way.
I hope this answers a few questions and gives you encouragement to give the snow a go as a family holiday. If you're not quite certain yet, a great way to have a taster is to stay somewhere in the area with other attractions, such as a farm stay, so you can try a day on the slopes, and have fun things to do otherwise. The whole Snowy Mountains area is just so beautiful!