It was one of those moments that you get when you’re a parent, when you realise that your babies really have taken a big step towards adulthood. Half way down a blue run from the summit of the Grand Motte, to Val Claret, I was struggling pushing mid-afternoon sun softened spring snow through my parallel turns. “Daddy, you’re in my way!” berated my young daughter from behind me, before confidently slipping past on her non-stop descent to the bottom.
I’d mentally prepared myself to be overtaken, metaphorically and literally, by my nine year old on this, our third family ski trip. But I wasn’t expecting to be pushed down into fourth place on the family ski slope by my six year old! I hit the après ski vin rouge pretty heavily that evening I can tell you.
It was relatively recently that my wife, Kirsty and I re-discovered our life long love of skiing, having realised that there are specialist companies who cater for families with, on first hearing, unfeasibly young children to be partaking in the sport. In my mind, we’d have to wait until their early teens before sloping off to the slopes together.
Quack… Quack… Ooops! Wrong! Barely out of nappies and the doorway bouncer, they can slip on the boots and buckle the bindings. In Europe, I’m sure they learn to ski before moving on to solid foods!
So for two years, then four year old Megan, and six year old Scott based their learning at the Crystal 2000 Esprit Ski exclusive hotel in Courchevel 1850. Fine food, fine weather and fine snow ensued. Choosing the last week of the season both times, we were blessed by a deep base and some of the best skiing of the season.
But time and salopettes wait for no man (or child), and a riotous evening with some good friends of ours with similar aged children concluded with the booking of a week in a catered chalet together.
This time in Tignes, but still with Esprit Ski – giving access to their unrivalled child care and youngster friendliness, but in a catered chalet environment. Once again, we chose the very last week of the season and ‘Thank You” Snow God, we were blessed with recent snowfall and the promise of a fresh dump imminently.
Our chalet (Chalet Iceberg) oozed Alpine charm in a way often missing from modern resorts, with separate bedroom areas, but a communal lounge and kitchen / diner. Views of the lake. Lots of creaky pine. A log fire and freshly baked cakes on arrival. What more could you wish for?
First day on the slopes, and the kids were duly divided into groups by age and ability – Spritelets for three and four year olds and Sprites for the five to twelve’s, with further sub-divisions of Beginner, Improver, Intermediate and Advanced as per the French ski school norm.
Our friend’s kids started as Beginners but took to it like moths to a candle. Like ours, they exhibited an annoyingly quick level of competence, sharing roughly the same age – now seven and nine- as ours, and an identical fearless spirit.
Their parents, like us, were ecstatic at the realisation that their favourite pastime was back on the agenda. Kids ski school extended through kids lunch, meant that the big kids (us!) could ski from 9.30am until late lunchtime.
There was an option for children’s afternoon activities, but we all decided that more fun could be had by spending a few hours skiing together until slope closing time.
When the promised dump of fresh powder dutifully perfected the slopes, the eight of us enjoyed, without doubt, the most magical two hours of family ski ecstasy imaginable. As the realisation that falling over was now the most fun it had ever been, four little rookie skier faces and those of their experienced mums and dads, lit up equally radiantly.
The chalet food was suitably family orientated – with a hearty breakfast, cakes at tea time, an early evening kids meal and a four course dinner with wine for the adults. This was usually followed by games by the fire and everyone crashed in bed by 9.00pm.