Hitting the slopes one generation at a time

Bringing the family together for a ski holiday in Austria was a week-long ticket to fun, adventure and lasting memories, for writer Anna Selby.

The idea of multi-generational holidays is fast gathering pace, as more and more families decide to holiday together. And it makes sense. Not only is it a great time for family bonding, but it gives everyone a bit of time off and – hopefully – plenty of fun. So, Philip and I decided to join the trend and take Jon and Donna and their two children skiing at the very start of the Easter holidays. Two small children, lifts, skis, snow – what could possibly go wrong…

In fact, none of the above caused any problems – but our bags did go missing and didn’t catch up with us until late on day two. Actually, one piece did turn up: Donna’s outsize luggage. Her snowboard (fortunately stuffed with ski clothes for the children) was the only piece of baggage to arrive when we did at Salzburg airport. Undaunted, we set off for the Bismarck Hotel in Bad Hofgastein where they not only produced a late supper for us but also six toothbrushes. Talk about a lifesaver…

All catered for at every turn

One of the things that is abundantly clear here is that Austrian hotels are exceptionally good at catering for families. The Bismarck isn’t an actual kinderhotel, as they are known in Austria, as it doesn’t have a kids’ club, nannies or playleaders; but for families who want to spend some time together, it is just perfect. There are several different dining rooms within the restaurant so families with young children can sit separately from couples who just want a quiet romantic table. Dinner itself is very fine dining for the adults (there’s even a special ‘vitality’ menu, for those who are keen to ensure they don’t put on a few extra pounds) with a buffet for children. Breakfast is a buffet, too, and mid-afternoon there are cakes and treats for hungry skiers who’ve worked up an appetite (non-skiers are free to indulge too of course).

On the ski front, we were all on different levels. Philip is an excellent skier, Donna likewise but a snowboarder. Jon hadn’t skied for years, and the two girls had never been on a mountain before. I had a foot injury so was hors de combat and planned instead to spend a lot of time in the spa and the pool.It all worked surprisingly well. In spite of having only his travelling clothes the first day, Philip hired ski kit and went off with a guide for the morning, finding his ski legs and the lay of the land. The girls had their first ski lesson with their parents on hand (just in case). In fact, the kids both loved it not least due to their delightful teacher, Katarina. “I fell over 100 times,” said Eva, aged 7 (I think this might have been something of an exaggeration) and Gigi (aged 3), when asked how you stop, turned in her toes “like a pizza” – I think she meant the snow plough shape resembled a slice of her favourite food.

Off slope fun for all

The girls made considerable progress over the next three days and on the fourth (being Saturday) there was no ski school so Philip and Jon spent the morning together on the slopes while Donna and I walked the girls around the very pretty town, finding ponds with stepping stones and an amphitheatre where they could dance for us on the stage. We even witnessed a local wedding with everyone in traditional Austrian dress and a band leading them to the church.

Later, everyone came back to enjoy the other family fun at the hotel – the Bismarck’s very own water world, some 1,700 square metres of pools, thermal therapies and relaxation areas. The children’s pool area is (like the adults) is fed by the local thermal water, so it’s very warm and welcoming even in the winter. Even better, both pools have a linked indoor area and an outdoor one. Swimming through to the garden outside is endless fun for the kids, particularly in the winter when the steam rises from the water into the cold air and the snow is on the mountains.

There’s an indoor play area if the weather is bad plus another separate area for teens. In the evenings, there are kids’ movies if the grown-ups want to spend a bit of time lingering over dinner. The hotel’s family rooms are spacious – all of them have a sizeable terrace too. We had one family room plus one double and this worked well (and perhaps we did rather relish the peace of our own child-free space).

Individual time for all

Maybe the most important thing to remember on a trip like this, though, is that everyone can do their own thing and get a bit of time off if you plan it well. So, Philip and Donna spent one morning up the mountain doing some serious skiing and snowboarding while Jon and I looked after the girls who had an afternoon lesson that day. I spent a day visiting the next town, Bad Gastein, which is a quite fascinating place. Its also home to the Heilstollen, the source of all that thermal water and the place to go for the ‘Cure’ for which the Gastein area became so famous for in the 18th century and people still go today. I had to give it a try.

So, this a Cure that’s quite unique. It all takes place inside the mountain and there’s a train that takes you there with a number of ‘stations’ that have varying levels of heat and humidity. As it was my first time, I went to Station 1 where it’s 40C and 75% humidity (at other stations it’s 100%). You get off the train and lie down on one of the beds next to the cave wall and absorb the heat and humidity – and Radon. Yes, this is a (very slightly) radioactive cave and there are many scientific findings showing that, if you take the full Cure of eight to 12 sessions, it has great success in improving chronic conditions such as arthritis and skin diseases.

The secret of multi-gen holidays

Back at the Bismarck, everyone was interested to see if I’d glow in the dark (I didn’t!) but we agreed it had been, remarkably, a week that had worked for everyone. And this could be the secret of multi-gen travel. You don’t all need to be doing the same thing or spending all of the time together – but coming together several times a day, everyone shares their experiences. Lots of bonding, and hopefully that first taste of the slopes might just engender a lifelong love of skiing in the girls.

Next steps

Anna and her family stayed at the Hotel Bismarck in Bad Hofgastein, SalzburgerLand Austria. To plan and book your next ski holiday as a couple or as a multi-gen family, call Silver Travel Advisor on 0800 412 5678.

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Anna Selby

Travel writer & author

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