The A-Z guide
First published in WTSS 2006
Ten years and counting…
To mark the tenth edition of your favourite ski resort guide and roughly ten years since my children Alex and Laura really learned to ski, I thought that I would take stock, and look back over all the bulletins to distil the main lessons we have learned. I’ve included tips derived from the very valuable input from readers that formed the basis of the previous feature. Here is an A to Z list…Alphabetical reflections: A to F
Keep them short - preferably no more than two hours. If you have a fairly long transfer to the resort, try to travel in daylight so that the kids have something to look at. Bear in mind that transfers at peak periods can take much longer than the published times.
If you want to take advantage of the childcare and the tuition offered by UK operators and British-run schools, book early. This is, of course, particularly true of half-term holidays.
There’s no real alternative to buying/borrowing/renting salopettes, but they don’t need to be very fancy or expensive. Jackets, on the other hand, can be general-purpose warm/waterproof items that are as useful at home as on the slopes.
Familiarity with the mechanics of moving around on skis pays dividends when your precious week on real snow comes around, so dry slope lessons have to be a good idea. Some people even get to like dry slope skiing; not me: I’ve never been on one without damaging one thumb or the other (or both) in falls.
One of the main messages to emerge from last year’s trawl for advice from readers was the crucial need to adjust your expectations of your holiday - to focus on enjoying the holiday as a whole, and not just the skiing/boarding.
Chums for your kids should be arranged if possible - either by taking with you friends of similar age or by making it easy for them to make friends in the resort. The key to the latter is to travel with a specialist family operator. If you are going to a smallish chalet, ask about other children already booked, to maximise the chance of finding kids of the right specification.
G to M
Buy them by the dozen from your nearest Aldi, on the one day of the year when they have stock. You can’t have too many.
The available evidence is that helmets reduce head injuries. I even wear a helmet myself, at least in wooded or rocky terrain.
Unless your children are used to a harsh regime, avoid the ESF (the French national ski school) - and go instead for a British-run school staffed by native English-speakers and limiting class sizes to modest numbers. Prices are higher; and see ‘Booking’.
Having come to skiing as a grown up, I’ve never really got into jumps; but it’s clear that children love them. They don’t have to be big, at first anyway - little bumpy trails slightly off-piste, preferably in woods, seem to generate great excitement.
Most resorts have them, these days even in Italy, traditionally the land of the non-skiing mamma. Research carefully how they are run and how universally English is spoken - or do what we always did, and go with a UK operator with its own crèche.
OK, it should be ‘Accommodation’ - but I’ve used A for ‘Airport transfers’. The question is: to cater, or not to cater? Or to put it another way, to stay in your own private apartment, or to share space with others in a catered chalet or hotel? Both have their merits, and we’ve enjoyed both. One neat formula was to go with another family and have two apartments in the same block.
When Alex was tiny Val and I left him at home for a week. By day four we were itching to get back home. We were in Norway, which didn’t help, but my guess is we’d have felt the same in the Alps.
N to T
Nannies and grannies
Taking your own childcare with you works well, especially if you’re driving in a large car to a large apartment - you could take your regular nanny, or a friend’s teenage daughter, or a granny.
The UK operators who specialise in looking after children do a good job, and the reports we get on them are overwhelmingly positive. They offer other benefits, too - see ‘Friends’.
In our family, we bless the day in 1830 when the first pizza saw the light of day in Naples. In France as well as Italy, a good proportion of restaurants do pizza alongside entrecôte au poivre avec frites, thus ensuring that we can all eat at one table.
Queues are no more popular with children than grown-ups; look for **** or ***** in our queues and fast lifts ratings.
I know this is obvious, but: choose a mountain with suitably gentle runs - long, top-to-bottom runs, as well as nursery slopes. This doesn’t mean you have to go without your moguls and off-piste.
For grown-ups, ski-in, ski-out accommodation is about the convenience of getting to the lifts in the morning. With children, on-snow lodgings mean that it’s easy to have lunch back at base, saving money and allowing a good rest, and that they can play safely in/on the snow in the early evening.
Toboggans and other diversions
Swimming pools and games rooms get the thumbs up from experienced skiing parents, of course. For many families, sledges are a key aid to holiday happiness, despite the considerable opportunities they offer for accidents. Accessible snow is a related key ingredient, of course - see ‘Ski-in, ski-out’.
U to Z
If you think the little ones can put up with the flight, and if you can afford it, give it a try. It has everything else in its favour, from fun-oriented Anglophile instructors to abundant burgers. But check the costs carefully - childcare, instruction and lift passes are all pricey.
Small, cosy and conveniently compact, or big and bursting with things to do off the slopes? Your call. We’ve had successful holidays in all kinds of places, from Montchavin to Chamonix.
When to go
Going late in the season has lots of attractions - chief among them the ability to play out on the snow for hours after the lifts close, instead of retreating indoors. So Easter rather than half-term, or ideally sometime between the two, if the kids are not at some crucial stage of their education and you have a co-operative head-teacher.
Haven’t a clue how children get on at cross-country/langlauf/ski de fond, but we needed an entry for X.
Young, younger, youngest
What age to start British kids on skis? Everyone’s children are different, and I think the key thing is the child’s resilience and persistence. They need the self-discipline to keep at it. Don’t think that you have to start them at three or four so that they learn ‘instinctively’; they’ll still do that at seven or eight.
A long lens is very handy for getting shots of the little ones in ski school without the need to go so close that they’ll spot you and come hurtling down the nursery slope begging to be rescued from their misery. (Remember that, Laura?)