Budget family winter sports holidays? Yes please!

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winter wonderland

winter wonderlandChildren love snow – their faces light up like Christmas trees when the first flakes fall. Being whisked to a wintry wonderland is bound to provide a flurry of excitement, especially on fun-filled family holidays.

For those too young to ski or snowboard, sledging, skating and meeting Santa Claus are all just as cool.

Cheap(er) winter resorts

Mums and dads who don’t want their bank accounts to freeze over should avoid swish Swiss resorts, where everything from fondue cheese to family chalets fetches peak prices.

Instead, head to the slippery slopes of Bulgaria, Slovenia, Andorra and Scotland or lesser-known European resorts such as Haute Maurienne Vanoise in the French Alps for cheaper thrills and spills.

Low-cost airlines now fly to smaller airports like Chambéry, Grenoble, Lyon and Nice which may offer cheaper options to resorts surrounding Geneva; and don’t forget that it also snows in the Spanish Pyrenees and even Turkey!

Train travel to the mountains is also affordable if tickets are booked far enough in advance.

All-inclusive package holidays and catered chalets with childcare facilities may turn out to be most cost effective, while there is the added financial security of booking with a bonded operator.

Santa breaks

Experts have predicted that the northern lights will be at their most spectacular for 50 years in 2012 so where better to head for this mesmerising display than to Lapland?

Arctic adventures include star gazing from glass igloos or ice hotels and steering huskies through the wintry wilderness.

Sleigh rides, snowmobiles and ice karting are other exhilarating off-piste activities, while you can learn about the life of Sami herdsmen on a reindeer safari.

Meeting Father Christmas is, for many children, the icing on the cake. Bargain last-minute Santa short breaks from UK airports are still available from travel operators such as Inghams.

For example, seven nights half board with complimentary wine in a catered 4-star chalet with flights from Gatwick, Manchester or Bristol and transfers to Levi, Lapland, now cost from just £399 per person in December, saving £280.

You may prefer a winter wonderland week during the lighter days of spring when off-peak deals are available and snowshoeing treks can be followed by relaxing in a Finnish sauna.

There are packages inclusive of free activities such as dinner with Santa and Spa Water World, while you can cut down the cost of protective gear by hiring thermal clothing.

Closer to home

Aviemore, in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, is one of the most lively winter resorts, filled with child-friendly activities.

The UK’s highest funicular railway whisks passengers up into the Cairngorm Mountains for hill walking, snow sports and to admire the panorama of this ancient Ice Age landscape, normally during this time my husband loves to use the sportsbook bonuses for the winter sports.

Survival skills courses may appeal to families with teenagers keen to learn how to build snow holes or ice climb.

Cairngorms National Park also provides a spectacular adventure ground for hiking, mountain biking and horse-riding.

Quad bike treks and Land Rover safaris explore old whisky smuggling trails where mountain hares and golden eagles may be spotted.

The elusive wildcat can be seen at the Highland Wildlife Park, while there is also a reindeer farm and husky sled dog centre.

Visit Scotland often offers outdoors saver schemes and online vouchers worth up to 50% off activities and attractions.

Hotels, bunkhouses and B&Bs suit all budgets, while self-catering accommodation specialists such as Great North Lodges provide pet-friendly chalets and log cabins big enough for family reunions. They have Premier Apex Weeks, when you can save up to 30% on advertised rates, or last-minute discounts with part weeks available on some properties.

Mums especially may enjoy extra luxuries like a hot tub and sauna as well as a welcoming log fire.