Free run

You hit the slopes while the kids hit the creche in the French Alps

The Guardian - Travel - - Front Page -

It is the sort of per­fect day skiers dream of. Sev­eral inches of fresh snow have fallen in the last few days, the sun has ap­peared at last, ev­ery­thing looks glo­ri­ous. And yet, as our gon­dola rum­bles out of the lift-sta­tion and swings up through the pine trees, a guilt-rid­den ex­pres­sion of sor­row clouds my part­ner’s face.

“The poor things!” he bleats. “Will they be OK?”

It doesn’t mat­ter how des­per­ately you need a break as a par­ent – and I re­ally do, nine months af­ter hav­ing my sec­ond baby – there is still a cer­tain amount of soul-search­ing and guilt sup­pres­sion when putting your lit­tle kids into child­care on hol­i­day. The Fam­ily Ski Com­pany pro­vides, if not a so­lu­tion, then a help­ing hand and sooth­ing words. While most ma­jor ski op­er­a­tors of­fer pack­ages that are great for school-age kids, of­ten in big­name re­sorts, the Fam­ily Ski Com­pany has zoomed in on three lit­tle-known ham­lets in the French Alps which pull off a neat dou­ble-act: the tod­dler­friendly plea­sures of a quiet, tra­di­tional base with lift con­nec­tions into some of the world’s big­gest ski ar­eas.

There’s Les Coches in the Par­adiski area, and Re­berty in Les Trois Val­lées, but we go for Ar­dent, part of the Portes du Soleil, where the com­pany runs 10 chalets – al­most ev­ery build­ing in its one street.

To a knack­ered par­ent, the deal sounds like bliss. The chil­dren will be col­lected af­ter break­fast and taken to their re­spec­tive creches – Pow­der Hounds for four- to six-year-olds who usu­ally have morn­ing ski les­sons, Pow­der Pups for those aged three months to four years, and Ad­ven­tur­ers for older kids who at­tend ski school un­til mid-af­ter­noon. Par­ents go off to ski and make merry, col­lect­ing them at 4.30pm, re­turn­ing to toasty wooden chalets for home­made cake. Some­one else will make the kids’ din­ner and, even bet­ter, clean it up. Par­ents put them to bed, drink wine, eat canapés, have a dip in the hot tub, a four-course grown-ups’ meal, and more wine. A babysit­ter will be pro­vided so adults can go out. All will be heaven.

Sounds too good to be true … and for us, it is. Both kids are har­pooned with flu the day be­fore de­par­ture. See­ing them pick dole­fully at the de­li­cious­look­ing shep­herd’s pies cooked for our ar­rival by Nick, 21, from Hull, our cheery chef at Chalet La Ferme, is piti­ful. Yet once his co-host Rhi­anna, 19, from Cheshire, has poured us a glass of red and led us to the deep so­fas by the fire, we’re con­vinced it’s worth com­ing, even if we just sit here and get waited on for a week.

Sea­son­naires are renowned for their love of wild par­ty­ing in ski re­sorts, so aren’t they bored, tucked away in this sleepy vil­lage, we ask?

“Oh no!” they in­sist, eyes aglow, “This place is amaz­ing!” Ar­dent may have just one après-ski bar, Happy Hours, ex­plains Nick, but it’s one of the best in the whole area. So good that all the sea­son­naires from Morzine and Avo­riaz head down for its weekly par­ties (though par­ents needn’t worry as the DJs fin­ish by 8pm). Hav­ing writ­ten off Ar­dent as the sort of som­no­lent en­clave that is to be our lot now we are par­ents, this is wel­come news. In fact, I quickly re­alise it’s the sort of place we should have been com­ing to for years.

The Ar­dent gon­dola whips skiers up to Les Lin­darets, heart of the Portes du Soleil, a much faster way into the best ski­ing ter­rain than the slog up from more-fa­mous Morzine. With the chil­dren ini­tially too sick for the creche, the lift’s prox­im­ity is a god­send, as we take turns to ski while the other builds snow forts, watches Frozen and end­lessly bun­dles lay­ers on and off to visit the Cosy Cafe over the road. I may only get two hours’ snow­board­ing a day but, within min­utes of dash­ing off, I’m into some phenom­e­nal free-rid­ing and the Stash, a wood­land fun-park. I re­turn to my pale, snotty in­fants with a mas­sive grin on my face.

With Morzine only 15 min­utes away by bus, it’s easy to head there for lunch and a ride on the carousel one day; those mak­ing use of the babysit­ting ser­vice could eas­ily go for a night out.

By Wed­nes­day, the three-yearold re­cov­ers enough for a go on the pink skis she’s cho­sen from Ar­dent’s ex­cel­lent hire shop, so we drop the baby in the creche and take her for a ski be­tween daddy’s legs. She isn’t keen. At all. Our dreams of be­ing par­ents to a lit­tle 360-per­form­ing ski prodigy are shat­tered. Be­ing car­ried by daddy while he skis gives her the idea, though, as she whoops down the moun­tain. How­ever, she re­fuses to have another go her­self.

Fi­nally, to­wards the end of the week, they are suf­fi­ciently re­cov­ered for child­care. Swal­low­ing our re­morse over their in­evitable dis­tress at be­ing left with strangers, we suc­ceed in pur­su­ing fur­ther ad­ven­tures on the Swiss side of the ski area. But with the nan­nies tak­ing him for long buggy walks in the fresh air, and mak­ing paint­ings with his feet, the baby re­turns happy enough, and the el­dest is full of glee af­ter play­ing in a mas­sive pile of snow with other kids.

They may not be ski­ing yet, but at least we’re fi­nally mak­ing the most of the trip. Our ap­pre­ci­a­tion of time on the moun­tain has sky­rock­eted, too – ev­ery sec­ond is a gift.

And there’s an ex­tra treat on our fi­nal night. A big party’s start­ing at Happy Hours, beams Nick when we re­turn that af­ter­noon, with DJs from Café Mambo in Ibiza. Have we heard of it? I’m not sure he be­lieves we’ve been there. Even less so when he sees us danc­ing like to­tal par­ents in our ther­mals on the bal­cony to the tunes from over the road. We may no longer be part of the young crowd, but who cares? Jig­ging about up here with our kids is ab­so­lutely joy­ful, and we can still hear the mu­sic.

• The trip was pro­vided by the Fam­ily Ski Com­pany ( fam­ilyski.co.uk). A week’s stay starts from £569 adult, £489 child and £200 for un­der-2s, in­clud­ing trans­fers from Geneva, half-board with wine plus af­ter­noon tea, and one night of babysit­ting un­til 11pm. Six days’ child­care costs £339 for un­der-4s and £459 for over-4s, in­clud­ing ski les­sons; £499 for seven-year-olds to teenagers. Flights to Geneva were pro­vided by easy­Jet (easy­jet.com), and cost from around £55 re­turn (un­der-2s pay £40) from more than 10 UK air­ports

Kids are col­lected af­ter break­fast so par­ents can go off to ski and make merry un­til 4.30pm

Snow pa­trol … kids on their way to ski les­sons (above) in the French vil­lage of Ar­dent (top)

The writer and baby

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