How would a Mum and daughter fare when they were dragged to the French Alps for the first time by a ski fanatic Dad?
This was what I had waited 5 long years for! Blue skies, sunshine, mountains and SNOW! Beautifully groomed white corduroy stretching out in front of me, just waiting for my skis to let rip. We’d done a couple of warm up runs and it felt like it was time to show the mountain who’s boss. Then I heard a phone ring. Our rep Amy answered, looked up and told me that my wife was in an ambulance on her way to the medical centre. The tour of the slopes was over.
How could she? She didn’t even wait a couple of hours before getting injured! To add to it, she wasn’t carrying her insurance details. I skied back to the apartment for them and then had to pick up our 4 year old daughter from the ski kindergarten. We waited for the bus but unfortunately, a gap in the timetable necessitated a trip to the bar, at F’s insistence. I felt I couldn’t reveal this to Jess (the other rep) when she called to find out where we were, just in case she thought I wasn’t taking my wife’s predicament seriously. Nevertheless, we arrived at the medical centre half an hour later, sorted out the paperwork, and I treated my two girls to a long lingering al fresco lunch at the café nearby. I even bought a carafe of wine, to act as an anaesthetic until the pharmacy opened sometime in mid- afternoon. Did I mention S’s injury? A groin strain, or something like that. She had done the splits at the top of a drag lift in her first lesson. She assured me it was very painful!
So, for the rest of the week, there’d be just 2 of us skiing. How would S be kept entertained high up on an isolated French mountain? Snowmobiling, dog sledding, sledging and snow showing were available, but I couldn’t see her doing any of those activities with her groin. She could have a nice lie in every morning (unprecedented for many on a skiing holiday), read her book on the balcony and be our official photographer at the bottom of the slopes. If that wasn’t enough, the outdoor pool and Jacuzzi were open every afternoon, and there were those long lingering al fresco lunches, with the odd carafe of wine. And that’s pretty much how it turned out, aided by blue skies and sunshine to take the chill out of the air.
I’d take F to ski kindergarten in the morning, and then go off for a proper ski. For me, the previous day’s tour of the slopes lasted just long enough to find a couple of ski buddies, who had exactly the same idea of how the holiday should work. B and O had a daughter and partner respectively in ski school, and wanted to let rip in the morning until lessons finished, leaving the rest of the day for family time. F, S and I would all meet up for lunch and then it was off to the pool or hire a sledge for the afternoon. On one swimming excursion, I did take over the role of official photographer, after finding an excellent vantage point on the neighbouring beer terrace!
As the week progressed, more skiing crept into the itinerary. This was after the day I picked up F from ski kindergarten and she said those words that every parent dreads to hear: “Daddy, I don’t like skiing”. Action was necessary. Amid initial protestations, I took her up the drag lift to the top of a beginners’ run. I wanted her to feel what it was like when you can do it. We faced down the hill, I held onto her tight, and wweeeeee!! “I don’t like skiing” immediately changed to “let’s go again!” and “faster, faster!” followed by “Daddy, I love this!”
The thrill of getting that reaction from your child for the first time can’t be described. By the end of the session, I was more exhausted than after anything I’d done with my morning ski buddies!
I soon realised that I had created a rod for my own back. Skiing with Daddy was far more exciting than ski kindergarten. F took some persuading to go back, but luckily, some proper instructors had arrived. She responded to the attention and when I went to collect her, I got a full report on her progress and was advised to take her up the chairlift. The chairlift? That went a long way up the mountain! Admittedly, there was a nice easy blue back down again, but it was an awful long way for a 4 year old. Tentatively, I did as her instructor asked. I took F over to the chairlift, and gestured to the attendant to slow the lift down as I had a young child. He gave me the thumbs up and then did absolutely nothing as the lift came around at full speed and whacked me in the calves. I lifted Fiona onto the seat in a rather clumsy manner, but we sorted ourselves out and pulled down the barrier. At the top, we met the instructor again, who suggested I hold my poles horizontally in front of us, so that F could hold them too for reassurance. This seemed to work, although the lazy little madam did prefer me to hold onto her which almost gave her a free ride. I think that was more exciting too! We did a mixture of the two, but I also let her go on her own on the gentler sections
On my last morning outing with O and B, we were quite high up the mountain when we saw a group of small children with an instructor. “They’re no bigger than F,” I remarked to the others. Then, we saw a little girl with the same purple jacket and black salopettes – it WAS F! What was she doing so high up the mountain? She was looking a bit tentative, so we watched from a distance, so as not to put her off. Eventually, we had to take off down the slope, but tried not to distract her. Nevertheless, she looked up at me as I passed and said “hello Daddy!” with a beaming smile on her face which told me all was well. The smile infected my face too. I found out later, that she had won her ESF Ourson badge, by successfully slaloming around a set of cones and stopping afterwards.
We had an afternoon departure the following day, which gave us time for one last lingering lunch overlooking the slopes. Once the tartiflette had disappeared, our first family skiing holiday was finally over.
“I want to stay for 80 weeks!”- F
“Never again!”- S
It looks like I’m going to have to check out the single parent deals in future!
Skiing – Chamrousse in France has about 90 kms of pisted runs. While most runs are blue and red cruisers suitable for beginners and early intermediates, it does boast the black graded 1968 men’s Olympic Downhill, where Jean-Claude Killy came to fame. For real experts, there is the Couloir de Casserousse, which is very vertical with lots of rocky obstacles near the top.
Accommodation – Chamrousse Apartments at Chamrousse 1700 are a collection of self catering blocks which have a communal swimming pool and Jacuzzi. A couple of restaurants are within walking distance with more at Chamrousse 1750.
Transport – A free bus service connects all satellite villages on the mountain. The resort can be reached by bus from Grenoble, although the service maybe infrequent. The nearest train station is Grenoble (35kms) and nearest airports are Grenoble (80kms) and Chambery (90kms).
An abridged version of the above article first appeared in Go Local Cardiff
Click the link for my guide to Skiing With Kids