Looking back

25th August 2006, by Chris Gill

(c) Nendaz

(c) Nendaz

First published in WTSS 2007

End of an era

Another year has gone by, and another stage has been reached in the gradual progress of the Gill household through the gratifying process of child-rearing.

Elder child Alex reached what is laughably called adult-hood - ie the age of 18. This could be taken to mean that he is now of an age when he can devote himself to selflessly looking after his mum and dad - you know, carrying the skis, fetching the lift passes, getting the breakfast baguettes, bagging a table for lunch - while amusing us constantly with his good-natured banter.

As it turned out, he is of an age when he can arrange for six of his school mates to take a flat in the same resort so that he doesn’t need to spend any of his waking hours in our company. So it goes. It could have been worse, I suppose: he could have arranged for six of his mates to inhabit our apartment. His absence did mean that I was able to ski comfortably at my own pace, rather than struggle to ski at his. But it did feel like an era had ended without warning.

So: let’s see what lessons that closed era taught me, year by year.

When he was young

Age 1: Norwegian woods Mk 1

Just to show how liberated we were, Val and I left Alex at home with his nanny while we had a week at Geilo in Norway. Two mistakes in one: Norway was wet and tedious, and we missed the little angel almost as much as we missed decent, affordable wine.

Age 2: Christmas in Montchavin

A pretty, rustic village free of cars, snowy nursery slopes, a ski-in ski-out chalet right next to them and Ski Esprit’s ever-capable nannies on hand to take charge while we had a Christmas lunch of egg and chips over in La Plagne. Perfect.

Age 3: shome mishtake?

This must have been a really bad trip, because I have obliterated it from my memory.

Age 4: the VDI disaster

The holiday from hell. Our bags failed to arrive (they went to Peking instead of Geneva) so we had to borrow stuff for ourselves and stretch our credit limits buying new clothes for Alex. But I digress. We didn’t want to use the ESF for Alex’s first ski lessons, but we had no choice - the small scale alternative was stricken by illness (a hazard with small-scale alternatives to anything, I guess). The result was disastrous. The ESF was understaffed, too; Alex’s lesson was terminated early and British kids who didn’t understand what was going on were lying in the snow sobbing when we turned up. We organised a parent rota to ‘teach’ the kids for the week. Judging by reports from readers, the culture of the ESF in many resorts still leaves a lot to be desired.

Age 5: rest and recuperation

The scars caused by the ESF hadn’t healed by the time we came to discuss our plans for the next season, so we allowed the lad a year off to build his strength up.

Age 6: progress in Courchevel

The Jardin Alpin gondola is really intended to get people up to their swanky hotels in the woods above 1850, but we made good use of it as a beginner lift, getting off at the mid-station and snowploughing down the winding trail to the main resort. The main lesson, though, was that novice skiers don’t really want to based in Le Praz, with no suitable local runs except a neglected nursery slope.

The spirited junior

Age 7: survival in New England

American ski schools are widely recognised to be excellent, particularly for English-speakers. They did the business in Killington, getting Alex skiing down the mountain from virtually the first day. Watch out for frostbite, though, in chilly areas like this.

Age 8: mixed messages in Chamonix

Chamonix was a risky choice for a family holiday; it worked pretty well, but one factor it underlined is the undesirability of nursery slopes that are on the floor of a steep valley (and therefore shady) and completely detached from other runs. Given his achievements in Killington, Alex should have been off that slope within minutes - not easily achieved when moving on involves bus-rides.

Age 9: Hinterstoder

One of my main regrets about our handling of the kids’ development as skiers is that I didn’t insist on more ski school lessons. I should have built on the basis of this quick trip, in the course of which Alex had a great day or two in a small group with a young instructor who rightly sensed that a bit of excitement was called for.

Age 10: Norwegian woods Mk 2

The need to take a look at Norway’s premier downhill resort, Hemsedal, was the trigger for this trip. It would have been a perfectly satisfactory week if only Hemsedal had had a liquor store. Alex’s taste for speed was developing faster than his taste for control, which accounts for his demolition of sister Laura in a collision that could have produced serious injury.

Age 11: Verbier

Mid-life crisis time: this trip was in celebration of a Big Birthday of mine, and to add to the age concern it happened also to be the first time I had real trouble keeping up with Alex. Not because he was a better skier, of course, but because he still had no sense of danger. I should have sent him to ski school again, but somehow I’ve never had the moral fibre to make it happen.

Age 12: Les Arcs

Our first self-catering trip, and our first trip with another family since the kids were babies. Having an apartment on the ground floor with patio doors opening on to the piste was fabulous, especially on a spring holiday when the kids wanted to be out on the snow as late as possible. Woodland runs above Peisey-Vallandry were a great hit with all the kids, mainly on account of the little piste-side off-piste adventures that the woods offered.

Teenage kicks

Age 13: Tignes

A great week on good snow, at a time when many lower resorts were barely functioning. Surprisingly, the wife-and-daughter half-day-skiing faction quite enjoyed themselves too, which goes to show that even a high-altitude ski-station can be a good place to relax in.

Age 14: Les Menuires

The tourist office here kindly lent us an instructor for half a day, spent on the splendid slopes of La Masse, which again demonstrated to Alex that instructors are not necessarily something to be avoided.

Age 15: school trip to Switzerland

In my day at school, Fountains Abbey and the caves of Derbyshire were as far from the satanic mills of Yorkshire as school trips could take you. (I know, I know: ‘Derbyshire? You were lucky ...’) But it’s clear to me (from video evidence) that school skiing trips are an absolutely excellent thing - like family skiing trips but with mates instead of sisters to ski with, and fun young teachers in place of dreary old parents. Alex’s skiing came on by leaps and bounds, and he even won the ski school slalom race at the end of the week. Proud? Yes - and envious.

Age 16: apathy rules

So impressed was Alex by his school trip that he displayed no interest in going back to a family trip the year after - and since his mother and sister can never raise much enthusiasm for cold holidays we didn’t do a trip this year.

Age 17: Les Arcs

Well, here we are: 16 years on from that misconceived trip to Norway without him, and 13 years on from that disastrous first lesson in Val d’Isère, Alex spent our pre-Easter ‘family’ week in Les Arcs bombing around the slopes with his mates, I’m sure doing so at speeds I would rather not know about.
Earlier in the season he did another excellent school trip; but this time he came second in the end-of-week race. Maybe it’s time for some more lessons, Alex?

The facts: tour operators

Esprit Ski
Tel: 01483 791900

Family Ski Company
Tel: 01684 540333

Family specialists in Puy St Vincent, France
Tel: 01778 341455

Mark Warner
Tel: 0844 273 6777

Ski Famille
Family specialists in Morzine / Les Gets, France
Tel: 0845 6443764

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