Your views

25th August 2009, by Chris Gill

Kids love the Milka cow and other resort characters ...   [(c) W King]

Kids love the Milka cow and other resort characters ... [(c) W King]

First published in WTSS 2005

Regular readers of my annual WTSS bulletins from the child-rearing front may recall that I appealed to readers to help. Write down the five most valuable lessons you have learned about taking the family skiing, I said, and I’ll aim to produce a distillation for the benefit of those about to take the plunge.

Well, here’s the result. I heard from over 30 parents; grateful thanks to all of them. With the benefit of the digest that follows, I’m sure you will find the process hassle-free. I’ve tried to give the findings some structure, but you’ll find lots of the sections are linked or even overlapping. Good luck!


How to travel

Not a lot to report here, and most of it’s pretty obvious. Between two and three hours seems to be the maximum length of airport transfer you should attempt. If you have a fairly long transfer to the resort, ‘try to travel in daylight so that the kids have something to look at out the window’, suggests Fraser Ralston. Bear in mind that transfers at peak periods can take much longer than the published times; Phil Morris, having suffered an eight-hour transfer to Les Deux-Alpes, recommends taking reserves of snacks and soft drinks; and sleeping pills, I would add.


Taking and making friends

Several parents stressed the value of ensuring companionship for your kids - either by taking friends of similar age or by making it easy to make friends in the resort. The natural way to do the first is to go with another family with compatible children. ‘It’s quite amazing how much more the children enjoy the holiday and how much easier they are to deal with,’ notes Mark Hunt. And the key to the latter may be travelling with a specialist family operator who will provide suitable chums - ‘there will be lots of other children on the flight and bus, which is what your children want,’ says David Weaver. See ‘Childcare in the resort’.

Childcare in the resort

If you are taking young children who need to be looked after either full-time or part-time, there are of course several ways to arrange things. Broadly speaking, our correspondents fell into two camps - those who recommend taking your own nanny/granny (or whatever) with you, and those who have happily relied on the services of specialist UK tour operators. Not much support for resort nurseries.

David Walton points out that taking your own childcare with you works well if you’re driving in a large car to a large apartment: ‘Get a friend’s teenage daughter to join you, pay for their lift pass and food, and get them to babysit for a few hours a day in return.’

Going with another family and simply sharing the burdens is another formula that works for some. ‘We did this about four years ago and wished we had tried it many years earlier,’ said Eddie Baines. Of course, going with another family also has a clear bearing on the business of companionship - see ‘Taking and making friends’.

Travelling with a specialist operator has benefits other than the services of the nannies, of course - see ‘Taking and making friends’.

‘Book early if you want to use these companies. By the time the brochure hits the doormat, it’s too late,’ notes Martin Law. This is, of course, particularly true of half-term week.

Where to go

A popular issue, this, with pointers coming from about half of our correspondents. They ranged across a number of issues. Not surprisingly, among the most common was the need to choose a mountain with suitably gentle runs - long, top-to-bottom runs, as well as nursery slopes.

Other mountain-related suggestions included: avoid draglifts for as long as possible; avoid chilly north-facing slopes; avoid resorts with fragmented slope areas, and uphill walks between them; look for self-contained lift/piste loops, where children can pretty much be left to their own devices. One suggestion that struck a particular chord with me came from Helen Gallop: look for places where you can ‘ski below the treeline, where there are plenty of dips, bumps and tracks to play in’. Straying off the piste to play in the fringes of the forest was definitely a highlight of a family holiday we had a couple of years back, in Les Arcs.

But what about the village? Here we got conflicting advice again. ‘Choose a small resort with accommodation close to the lift, such as Champoussin or Valmorel,’ says Martin Nicholas. Others stressed the need for a range of non-skiing activities, which may point you in the opposite direction. ‘Some small resorts do not really offer anything substantial, whereas larger resorts generally do,’ said Fraser Ralston. Obviously, if you have non-skiers in the party, their needs have to be met, as well as those of storm-bound children. Andrew Osborne points out that areas like the Jungfrau region, with its countless mountain railways, are especially attractive for grandparents lumbered with babysitting duties (see ‘Childcare in the resort’).

Activities off the slopes

Choice of resort links with the whole question of what the kids will do in the evenings (and perhaps the afternoons if skiing all day doesn’t appeal). Swimming pools and games rooms get the thumbs up, of course. Not all parents are convinced that the dangers of sledging are outweighed by its rewards but for most who offered a view, sledges are a key aid to holiday happiness. ‘Hire or buy a toboggan,’ says Sally Newton. ’ Daisy and a friend she met stayed out until dark nearly every night.’ Ski-in, ski-out accommodation is a related key ingredient, of course (see ‘Where to stay’).

How should they learn?

This is the big one. We got advice on this crucial question from practically everyone who took part in our little survey.

Lesson One, which to be honest I wish I had learned some years ago, is not to talk at all about learning, lessons and school, but somehow to turn ski school into an adventure. ‘Make sure your child knows that by going with the school [oops!] they’ll be taken places you wouldn’t take them,’ says Paula Wid, ‘and that they’ll be better than you very soon.’

When it comes to choosing a school, the advice is clear: avoid the ESF - ‘draconian and insensitive’, says Jen Warren - and go instead for a British-run school staffed by native English-speakers and limiting class sizes to modest numbers. The downsides are that prices are higher and that you absolutely must book ahead in high season.

Several people raised the idea of hiring a private instructor. ‘If all at the same level, having private family lessons works out just as cheap,’ says Rachel Swinscoe.

And what about dry-slope lessons before you go? Emphatically a good idea, say the few families who express a view. Even one lesson ‘gave the children a little bit of extra confidence’, says Jeremy Wartnaby. ‘Have lessons over the summer months,’ says Lynne Wallis, ‘often cheaper, and often have fewer people in the group.’

Kitting out the kids

Three main messages here, and all easy to convey: don’t skimp on quality of equipment or clothing, and particularly gloves; do what you can to prevent loss of gloves, but take a spare pair anyway; and insist on the wearing of helmets. In principle, one should be wary of the last message - after all, most parents are not in a position to evaluate thoroughly the case for wearing helmets. But my view is that the advice is supported by the available evidence. I even wear a helmet myself, at least in wooded terrain.

A more unusual and therefore interesting bit of advice is to buy, not hire, your kids’ equipment. ‘Buy in the end-of-season sales here,’ says Helen Melvin, ‘and avoid the bedlam of the resort ski hire shop.’ The larger the family, she points out, the more economical buying can be, because boots and skis can cascade down the family. Well, she’s certainly right about the bedlam.

Where to stay?

A popular topic, and no doubt about the most widely supported piece of advice: ‘If you can afford it, book ski-in, ski-out accommodation.’ It isn’t simply a question of getting to ski school in the morning, either - it means ‘the kids can come and go as they please, in safety,’ observes Helen Gallop. ‘If you can persuade the kids to have a rest around lunch time you can also save the cost of lunch on the mountain,’ notes Andrew Clark.

And what sort of accommodation? Some people enthuse about ‘child-friendly hotels’, but on looking more closely I realised that they are mainly enthusing about such things as swimming pools, which are by no means limited to hotels. Mark Hunt also noted that ‘some hotels which say they are family-friendly are not’, and advocates checking on facilities directly with the hotel before you book. On the other hand, a sizeable group of readers reckoned that ‘apartments are much easier than hotels’, to quote Dave Walton. Flexibility over meals seems to be the key factor here. ‘Whether it’s cooking your child’s favourite meals in the apartment, or finding a restaurant that suits the whole family, an apartment brings a great deal of flexibility to the holiday,’ said Clive Murgatroyd.

And finally ...

One of the main messages to emerge 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. ‘Recognise that a holiday with kids will be different from one without them,’ says Sally Newton. ‘Enjoy the whole mountain experience,’ says Nigel Birch. ‘It’s not all about skiing, it’s about having a good time as a family.’



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