Head for the hills

The lay­out of Passo Tonale, in an Alpine re­gion of Italy with 100km of slopes, is per­fectly suited to our fam­ily of novice skiers, writes Madeleine Lyons

The Irish Times Magazine - - SKI SEASON -

From the time they learned that per­sis­tent nag­ging could some­times pay div­i­dends, ev­ery year our chil­dren ask to go ski­ing. And ev­ery year we counter with a bor­ing lec­ture about money and trees. But as our last chance to travel dur­ing ( cheaper) term time loomed, and be­fore the el­dest started se­condary school, we de­cided to bite the bul­let.

Ini­tially hours were lost on­line, gamely at­tempt­ing to put to­gether a DIY pack­age – flights, ac­com­mo­da­tion, ski passes and tu­ition all booked sep­a­rately. In the end we went the pack­age hol­i­day route. The DIY route best suits ex­pe­ri­enced skiers or those trav­el­ling in groups, where there are good sav­ings to be made.

For novices ski­ing i s such a vastly dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence to any other that hav­ing the trans­port, gear and les­sons sorted by a tour op­er­a­tor has many ad­van­tages, not least that on day one you can hit the slopes run­ning.

Pri­or­i­ties for our fam­ily of two adults and two chil­dren ( aged 11 and 10) were a ski re­sort with good be­gin­ner slopes and tu­ition; a rel­a­tively short trans­fer time from the air­port and ac­com­mo­da­tion you could prac­ti­cally ski in and out of. ( Ski boots weigh about 3kg each, so it’s no joke hav­ing to trudge a long way, es­pe­cially for kids.)

We hit on the dis­trict of Ponte­di­legno- Tonale, an Alpine re­gion of Italy about three hours from Verona air­port with about 100km of slopes, the lay­out of which couldn’t be bet­ter suited to be­gin­ner and in­ter­me­di­ate skiers.

Crys­tal, one of the big­gest ski hol­i­day providers, op­er­ates here, and re­cently pur­chased the Grand Ho­tel Par­adiso, a four- star ho­tel in Passo Tonale. It’s a busy re­sort where gen­er­a­tions of Ital­ian chil­dren have learned to ski on an­nual school tours. Like a nat­u­ral am­phithe­atre, Passo Tonale’s wide me­an­der­ing slopes rise up­wards i n ev­ery direc­tion, with i ts crown­ing glory, the Pre­sena Glacier, t op­ping one of

3,000m.

We trav­elled mid- March and there was plenty of snow, in­clud­ing a cou­ple of days of heavy snow­fall while we were there. This can make ski­ing hard work be­cause vis­i­bil­ity isn’t great and the snow is tricky un­der­foot, but this was more than com­pen­sated for by sev­eral days of un­bro­ken sun­shine and cobalt skies.

The con­stant pres­ence of re­sort reps make the ex­pe­ri­ence all very hi- de- hi but not in an in­tru­sive way. For fam­i­lies with younger chil­dren the reps also run kids’ camps where they will bring chil­dren to their ski les­sons in the morn­ing and feed and en­ter­tain them in the af­ter­noons. We chose to meet up after les­sons in the morn­ing and choose our own ski runs for the af­ter­noon, tak­ing in lunch along the way.

The days start at about 7am, with a carb load- up at the ex­pan­sive break­fast buf­fet fol­lowed by ski les­sons from 9am to 11am each morn­ing. Our les­sons were pro­vided t he high­est peaks at by in­struc­tors from Tonale Pre­sena Ski and Snow­board school. The tu­ition was ex­cel­lent. De­spite a ba­sic com­mand of English, the in­struc­tor in my group did a good line in ad­mon­ish­ment – which on bal­ance is not a bad mo­ti­va­tor to­wards im­prove­ment.

Cer­tainly by the end of the week, red runs weren’t nearly so daunt­ing, and this re­sort has a good se­lec­tion of long, man­age­able reds. The kids, of course, were tear­ing up the slopes by around lunchtime on Tues­day, and would hap­pily launch them­selves off any red slope with­out a se­cond thought. Their par­ents took a lit­tle longer. There’s a lovely fi­nal- day event for the kids group, fol­lowed by a medals cer­e­mony in the evening.

One new re­sort fea­ture we didn’t get to try but which is planned for the 2018- 2019 sea­son is a “zip- line” ad­ven­ture trail – a scenic four- to- five minute slope de­scent above the tree tops. Be­tween that and the ca­ble car as­cent to the glacier, these are good, ac­ces­si­ble al­ter­na­tives to ski­ing all

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