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“Mummy & Daddy, will you take me skiing?”

What to do? …… Your little one has been in ski school, and can now SKI!  She/he can link snow plough turns, control their speed, and most importantly STOP. They’re ready to leave the safety of the nursery slope and discover the big wide world of the mountain, but are you?  If you’re full of ‘What If’s, rest assured that our contributors have all been through the same nervous feelings. From my own experience there is a fine line between having great fun and having a disaster! Here are our inspired tips which will make venturing out on the slopes with children much less daunting…

Before you head out on the slopes, a quick tip – this is THE most vital skill you will need: PROBLEM: How is it that children can put their feet facing opposite directions? How do I untangle a twisted heap of legs, arms, poles and skis – without getting myself ensnared, and both of us then sliding away down the mountain?

ANSWER: Pick them up under the armpits with their legs dangling, and let them unravel themselves like a piece of twisted string.  Easy when you know how!

I have asked some of my friends who have been through the ‘Take Me Skiing’ scenario with their own children to see what they can recommend; their favourite pistes, and top tips.

 

 

Izzie Milne, Ski Instructor, Sweet Snowsports Ski and Snowboard School. (Mum to a not-so-little 13 year old)

‘My favourite Meribel routes with the little ones are the trails like Inuits around the Altiport, which have little attractions like bells to chime, penguin slaloms and other fun features. Littilies often don’t see the point of skiing at first so the features keep them interested and make them turn and control their speed. Until they can do so, mums and dads need to be able to ski with the little ones between their legs on the steep bits, think for their children and even get them to follow. From day 1 the skiers code is really important, like teaching them road safety.  Use the bubbles to go down – the lower slopes are often busy and worn by the end of the day. No point spoiling the fun. Plenty of food, water and sleep too. The key thing for the Littilies is that it should always be fun. Lumps and bumps, on the side of the piste, hot chocolate and snowmen play as much a part in learning to ski as snowploughs.’

 

Ginny Christy – Alpine Therapies massage and physiotherapy. (Mum to a 3 & 5 year old)

Les Verdons in Courchevel 1850 was our best run by far – especially because in the new Polar Café at the bottom you can get a very reasonably priced hot chocolate and a cookie, and coffee for the grown ups! Amazing value in a very convenient location, so there was always an incentive at the bottom of the run! We did lots of Verdons laps. With loos at the top and bottom too it was ideal, and just watching all the bubbles and comings and goings at the Croisette was entertainment in itself. Plus a cable car ride was an option (without skiing down yet for us!)

My top tip (as a physiotherapist!) is to not over do it with little ones, but try and tailor the skiing (and parents’ expectations) to their pace, and make sure you keep their energy levels topped up with regular snacks!

 

Sarah Woodbridge – Alpine Infusion luxury chalets in Meribel, and Courchevel (Mum to 3 boys of 7,9 and 11)

When the children were younger I always liked taking the boys on wide, gentle pistes around 1850.  One of our favourite spots was the Pralong area in Courchevel 1850.  There are toilets and a snack kiosk, and picnic tables at the bottom of the Pralong Chair lift . The Courchneige on the green Bellecote piste is a favourite hot choc stop and quite child-friendly. It’s easy to access from the drag lift which is quite long but not too steep (make sure you send your children up in front of you so that you can keep your eyes on them at all times!) and the piste is quite wide but with enough slope to keep them going. Avoid flatter runs as you’ll end up having to pull them along!

 

John Hendry – Director Parallel Lines Ski School, Meribel (Dad to a 12 and 10 year old)

“The Meribel Valley has really improved its terrain for children in recent years. After the nursery slopes, when children can snowplough and control their speed enough to follow someone, the Altiport area in Meribel is superb. There is the Piste de Animaux which winds its way through the forest with models of local wildlife at the edge of the piste, the Inuit village with swings, igloos and events organised for children, and many padded shapes to ski through. The Altiport 8 seater chairlift is very well designed to make getting on and off with children as easy as possible.

Another great area for children has been created in Mottaret where the Yeti Park has themed kids slalom, hidden Yeti cave and tunnels that talk, all based around the new Combes Chairlift.

Once kids can bomb around and cope with Blue runs, a fun area to ski is from the top of the Plattieres telecabine where the Sittelle Piste has easy bumps and jumps and a really good, winding skier cross course that’s not too difficult.”

 

Tom Pinches – Director of The Boot Lab boot fitting in Meribel and Courchevel Moriond (1650) (Dad to boys aged 7 & 4)

We found that the best way to our children started on longer ski outings was to put them between our legs with the poles horizontally under their arms so you can easily pick them up if its steep or busy, or if they get tired. The Courchevel 1650 area is ideal for intermediates and I find its wide, quiet slopes great for younger children. My two particularly enjoy the Indiens piste. It has a bit of a steep start but is well worth carrying them down this short bit for the rest! There’s a lovely winding gully through the trees which feels like a real adventure, then half way down you’ll come across two wigwams on the left. It’s very a welcoming and fun Native American themed area for children – there’s facepainting, bow & arrow shooting with ‘Grey Wolf’, you can toast marshmallows and have a cup of tea around the fire and nose around at the bones and lizards in jars and dress up with authentic headdresses. It’s is on the way back down into 1650 so is a good treat for them without there being any more lifts to tackle afterwards.

Anna Cosgrove – Holiday Baby Hire (Mum to 3 children between 9-4 yrs)

Plan Fontaine in La Tania is one of our favourites for a family ski. We take the La Tania bubble and the start of the piste is just below the Bouc Blanc restaurant (so it’s perfect for an energising hot choc before you start!) This long green piste winds its way through the woods all the way back to the village.  It’s not steep and there are lots of twists and turns to keep them interested – it feels like a journey rather than a simple up-and-down. More confident kids love finding little jumps  at the side of the piste, and as they gain more confidence they cut the corners and can race along quite safely as it feels quite enclosed. As the children have got older they always want to ski to the Family Park at Verdons. It’s very cool to watch people doing the big jumps and they can feel a part of it all when following the ski cross track which is quite gentle. At the bottom they love to watch the Big Air Bag.

Please let us know if you have any other recommendations, we love to share top tips with our customers.

Ski resorts aren’t the most baby-friendly places on this Earth.

Quite apart from the cold temperatures, conditions underfoot and the altitude, you’ll struggle to get around with a pushchair and if you’re looking for a changing table or even a clean toilet floor on which to change your baby, then I’m afraid you’d better prepare for disappointment.

However… Many families, like ours, are completely in love with the snow and mountains – enough to put up with these public (in)conveniences. So we’re going to share with you the results of our painstaking research into bars and restaurants with decent-ish facilities and a warm welcome in Meribel and Courchevel. (Thank you to all the mums who helped compile this info!)

First prize for Méribel has to go to the Rond Point, as it ticks boxes for having a changing table AND highchairs. The staff are patient, considerate and helpful. You could also watch some of the live music at après time, although be aware it does get quite raucous! Well done to The Ronnie, for looking after our future skiers.

Elsewhere in Méribel you’ll find that you’re welcomed en famille by the staff at Evolution who bring over pencils and colouring for your littlies, as well as having a broad AND healthy children’s menu. There are also exciting-sounding smoothies and milkshakes. Nearby there’s a little park to burn off any excess energy. Another recommendation is Iglu, which has decent sized toilets and friendly service. In Mottaret, Crocodile comes high on the list because of the terrace from which you can sip vin chaud and watch the kids play in the snow, as does Le Brizolet for the same reason, plus it’s quite spacious inside so you don’t feel the little ones are annoying other diners! The Crismarin is good for a cheap and cheerful snack/drink outside and is close to the slopes and shops.

We’ll have a little shout out here for Courchevel’s public toilets! Those near the slopes do have changing facilities, with Courchevel Village’s conveniences even featuring a tiny loo for toddlers! In Moriond you’ll have to go into the tourist office and through the ‘Ye Olde Skiing’ display into the ladies’ but sure enough, there’s a flip-down changing table right there in the first cubicle. In Le Praz by the bubble lift there’s a whole room marked Baby Changing. OK, it’s right next to the urinals so the view’s not great, but at least that means the chaps are able to shoulder some of the nappy-changing responsibility!

We can highly recommend the Chabotté in Courchevel 1850 for its luxuriously clean toilets, smart wooden highchairs AND changing facilities (wow!) Plus the little sofa area is nice for a coffee – if you crack a smile you’ll get nibbles to go with your drinks, although the service is sometimes a little on the slow side despite the hundreds of staff. In Moriond we love the Fire & Ice Bar outside the Portetta at the foot of the slopes. Especially for the happy hour (4-6pm). Outside there are pretty trees, comfy sofas with furry rugs, and a fire pit. The hotel lounge bar inside is rather nice with little armchairs that the children enjoy, and the staff are extremely polite. And you get free cake in the afternoons! We haven’t found a changing table here, but the toilets are nice and clean (the disabled toilet on the far right as you enter is the most spacious). Rocky’s – by the main roundabout – is also very welcoming and good for the kids in the daytime if you can get the sofa area. The staff were friendly, although there’s no sign of a highchair, and the toilets are rather bijou so it’s amongst the jackets on the settee for nappy changing!

At the top of Moriond’s Ariondaz bubble you’ll find the Bel Air which is very friendly with good hot chocolate and vin chaud and great views of the skiers. It’s a busy place so it’s a good idea to book for lunch, but the staff even helped one of our customers with the pushchair. The toilets are a bit soggy from the ski boots so nappy changing isn’t easy, but there’s a sofa area under the eaves upstairs which is quite discreet.

In La Tania, La Ferme and the Marmottons restaurants are particularly child-friendly and welcoming. We definitely wouldn’t recommend changing a nappy in the Ski Lodge toilets! Although if you fancy listening to some live music, the Ski Lodge and slightly smarter Taiga are good, although be prepared to move on if it gets too rowdy for little children. The Bouc Blanc at the top of La Tania’s bubble is a lovely place to meet skiers for lunch, and very friendly. They serve lovely big mugs of hot chocolate.

In conclusion, there are lots of ‘family friendly’ venues, in that you’ll receive a warm welcome pretty much everywhere. Most places have highchairs, but it’s sensible to ask before you sit down to eat, just in case. It’s best to keep your expectations low when it comes to changing nappies. And don’t go anywhere without that portable mat. And if anyone knows where French children have their nappies changed, please divulge! It remains a mystery to us… (We recommend an ‘Oh well, no-one knows me here’ attitude!)

Please let us know if you have any other recommendations, we’re always keen to share such useful information with our customers.

Getting your children all dressed up in salopettes, boots, sunglasses, suncream, gloves and hats is a mission, we wholeheartedly agree! So once they’re togged up, how do you make the most of being out and about with your littlies? Here’s our guide to how to entertain your babies and young children in the Three Valleys:

Sledging There are numerous areas set up for safe bumboarding and sledging in the different resorts making up the Three Valleys. Investigate the foot of the slopes (the ‘front de neige’) on your first day to scope out the potential areas, then ask your chalet host or rep whether they have any sledges or bumboards you can borrow. Failing that, most of the hire shops have ‘toboggans’ for a small price, or click here to add one to your order with Holiday Baby Hire.  Our baby sledge is also a great alternative to a buggy if it’s really snowy around town – the French mums often use them! We can also provide some lovely snow toys for digging and castle building! Don’t miss: Courchevel’s 1850-1550m sledge run, then get the bubble back up to do it all over again! (Can be fast, wear ski stuff and a helmet!) Meribel has two areas at the Altiport and beside Rhodos gondola.

Bubble lifts Children love to go up high and watch the goings-on underneath them on the bubble lifts, especially if you can time your ride to watch your family whizz by on skis! Under 4s get on for free although it’s worth getting a free pass for them from the ticket office (take their passport) if they look old enough to ski. If you’re concerned about the effect of altitude then check with your doctor/health visitor before your trip and perhaps leave this activity until later in the week once they’re more acclimatised to the pressure difference, but bear in mind that lots of babies are born in the nearby hospital down the valley and go home to resort at just a few days old. If your baby is struggling to settle and take a nap whilst on holiday, you’ll probably find the gentle movement and background noise is a great place to induce a snooze and you can happily do several loops if you need to. Tip: Avoid 9.00-9.30 and 2.00-2.30 as this is when lessons start and you’ll get stuck in the queue! Also make a note of the last lift home before you get on. Don’t miss: Ariondaz bubble in Courchevel Moriond ends at the Bel Air restaurant which has a quieter area upstairs where children can be a bit more relaxed. The Bouc Blanc at the top of La Tania’s bubble is a lovely place to meet up with skiers for lunch.

Swimming Meribel’s Olympic Centre has a swimming pool, climbing wall and ice-rink so it’s a good venue should you be wanting to escape the cold or snow. The swimming pool is free to under 5s and there’s a baby pool, as well as a flume for bigger children. There are floats and noodles (we call them ‘frites’ here!) on the poolside. On Sundays there’s a fun session between 10-12 with games and floats. Tip: Take your towels in as the air can be a little fresh when you get out! We’re excitedly awaiting the enormous new swimming pool in Courchevel 1550 in December 2015 which promises all sorts of fancy things, including indoor surfing…

Ice-skating Both Courchevel and Meribel have ice-rinks and young children can join in the fun too, with the special trolleys/chairs that they can hold on to whilst wobbling around the ice. It tends to be quieter early on in the afternoon whilst bigger people are out skiing. Tip: Proper ski gloves or mittens are essential for warmth and protection, and it’s as well to take a helmet – better safe than sorry!

Indoor play area Courchevel’s La Croisette is home to a ‘soft play’ area which is ideal for little ones to expend some energy indoors; you can easily spend a good hour on the climbing/slide area, doing the puzzles and dancing in the disco! And best of all, it’s free. Visit the ponies outside afterwards, and there’s also a crepe and churros hut if you need a snack. (Drinks in the surrounding bars are rather pricey!) Tip: Unfortunately it lacks a changing area and toilets, so make sure you go before you get all your clothes and shoes off – it’s outside in the square area, down a few steps. Meribel’s Olympic centre has a ‘Kenoteque’ area for little ones with books, toys etc. which is a nice area to hang out en famille. If you’re killing a bit of time in Courchevel 1650 (Moriond) then you could pop into the Tourist Office/Post Office which has a space for children with colouring, a few building blocks and a wooden car to play in. It’s not worth a specific trip but it’s warm, dry and has free wifi! It also has a good display of ‘old fashioned’ skiing with wooden sledges, as well as toilets with a changing table!

Using the buses The free shuttle buses in Courchevel and Meribel are a great way to explore the different levels. During busy weeks, it’s really tricky to get on with a pushchair, so use a backpack carrier for little ones. Get a map from your host/rep or the Tourist Office.

Walks All the Tourist Offices will have a pedestrian/walking guide so that you can explore the woods and tracks on foot. These tranquil routes are great places for spotting animal tracks, collecting pine cones and enjoying the mountains at a leisurely pace, safely away from whizzing skiers and traffic. Plus the snow stays fresher than on the slushy pavements!

Special events Don’t forget to pick up a copy of the week’s events guide from your rep/host or the Tourist Office. There are often fireworks, torchlit descents and other ‘animations’ for children, especially during the school holidays.

Watch this space… Coming soon, tips on which restaurants and bars are family-friendly.

It’s a nightmare, we know…

You can spend hours researching the weather conditions, but in your heart of hearts you know that in the mountains, the weather can change dramatically in a few hours. So how on earth do you begin to pack without simply budgeting £150 for excess baggage?

Let us help!

As the saying goes:* ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing’. We agree: it’s really very important to pack the right clothing for you and your family, which means catering to all types of weather. The aim of the game is to prevent the weather from stopping you skiing. You don’t want to be too hot, too cold or too sweaty! You also want to get value from your lift pass, not have to finish at lunchtime because everyone’s whinging to go home because they’re uncomfortable.

Here’s what you’ll need for skiing: Ski jacket: (ideally with a powder skirt – that stretchy bit around your hips – and a high collar). Don’t be obsessive about getting the warmest one possible unless you’re going to Alaska. Windproof is important, as is waterproof. And do allow space for layering underneath especially for beginners and children who fall over a lot, they’ll be getting hot as well as soggy so taking layers on and off is very useful. Salopettes: The more waterproof the better! Yes, we know some people ski in jeans, but it’s simply not practical (not to mention unfashionable!) You’ll end up with trousers stiff with cold, frozen to your leg hair or with snowballs in your pockets. All-in-one suits for adults are making a comeback but mostly only for those rad dudes who have the off piste or park skills to get away with it! However, they are really practical for small children as they stay cosy and dry. If you do go down the ‘onesie’ route, consider: Can my child go to the toilet wearing this? Although ski schools with little folks are used to taking them to the loo, you really don’t want any accidents… Rent a snowsuit from us for your baby, rather than buying one. Thermals: We’d highly recommend investing in decent, technical thermals. Of course, you could just layer up with tights/leggings and tshirts, but real thermals make a huge difference when temperatures drop, and they’re also designed to breathe when you get sweaty meaning you won’t go through uncomfortable sweat-freeze phases all day! Mid-layers: If you have decent thermals then you can get away with a t-shirt or hoodie over the top. Fleeces are ideal because they’re light so don’t add too much to your baggage allowance. Socks: Don’t even think about skiing in two pairs of everyday socks or those old fashioned tube socks in turquoise or fuschia. Your feet will get cold/sweat/rub/blister and it will spoil your day/week. Happy feet = happy face. Get a couple of pairs of proper ski socks that fit you well and we promise you won’t regret it. And unless you’re particularly sweaty you can get away with 2-3 pairs as you can wear them twice, no-one will mind! And you can wash them in the bathroom sink… Ski gloves: Don’t forget them! Skiing in woolly gloves is just not warm enough. Mittens are best for small children, although those skiing with poles may find it difficult to grip them and are better off with gloves. Pack spares, just in case. Sunglasses: We can’t overemphasise the need for these! Not just for style reasons, we mean the protective ones. Suncream and SPF lip balm: Again – it’s vital for the WHOLE family. And ideally a tube for each person to carry with them. Hat. But… most ski shops rent helmets at very low cost and it really is worthwhile getting these for the whole family. Not only do they protect your precious brain, but they are much warmer than a hat. Nowadays, the majority of people have seen the light and would never ski without one. Goggles: Most folks that live and work in ski resorts prefer goggles over sunglasses. They stop your eyes streaming and usually attach to your helmet, meaning you won’t lose them should you take a tumble. They’re also not so prone to getting lost or sat on. Backpacks: It’s nice to ski without a bag, but if you’re skiing with children you’ll need spare gloves, jumpers, suncream etc.  And you really mustn’t forget snacks! It’s amazing how much further a child can ski with the promise of chocolate on the chairlift… Better still, get them to carry their own bags and equipment? What about other clothing?

You’ll actually spend relatively little time in your civvies so you can pack minimally here. The grown ups and older children will just need a couple of pairs of trousers and 3-4 tops as you’ll doubtless end up sitting around in your thermals after skiing, and you can get a couple of days’ wear out of your normal clothes. The important thing is not to pack too many shoes! Unless you’re staying in a 5* hotel, you’ll look a bit daft in Manolo Blahniks. Conditions in resort can vary between ridiculously slippy through to extremely slush via knee deep snow, so anything other than snow boots will probably be pointless as you won’t be able to wear them anywhere but the airport. If you have room for a spare pair of boots for the children, then so much the better – you won’t have to worry about them getting soaked whilst sledging, then not drying overnight. Having said this, Alpine chalets and hotels are notoriously overheated so clothing tends to dry well. With that in mind, don’t think: ‘Ooh we’ll need loads of woolly jumpers’ because inside the chalet you’ll usually be toasty warm and wandering round in a single layer.

Packing for babies and young children

It’s vital to check in advance exactly how well the chalet company or apartment caters for little people. Some companies, for instance, provide cots but no bedding. Others provide nothing at all. Others are used to accommodating children and will be well equipped with highchairs, sterilisers and the like, and you don’t want to waste your baggage allowance packing things that are already in the chalet. Have a look at our product list and check what you’ll need, then contact the tour operator with this list. Everything they don’t provide, you can hire through us and have delivered to the accommodation for your arrival.

Although you can purchase nappies, wipes, dummies and formula milk in the small resort supermarkets, they’re usually extremely expensive. Take advantage of our ‘Baby Essentials‘ package containing nappies, a pack of sensitive wipes and nappy sacs which will give you a bit more space in that suitcase! I can also buy formula milk or soya or goat’s milk products to save you a wild goose chase in resort, just get in touch with any special requests. You’ll need to bring your own bottles or cups, and something you mustn’t forget is to bring a basic first aid pack – eg calpol, sudocrem, plasters, cold remedies, vitamins, and we’ll say it again – suncream and lip balm! We’d recommend a minimum of SPF50 for little ones. If you are overweight in the luggage department, then here’s a little tip – buy these travel sized bits and bobs in the chemists once you’ve gone through security!

Car seats? Buggy or backpack?

With car seats, it depends how you’ll be getting from the airport to your accommodation. If it’s by bus, tour operators don’t tend to provide car seats, but often with a private minibus transfer you’ll have them provided. It’s great to have your buggy with you at the airport (where else would you put the gin?) but in resort you may find it difficult to push around in the snow. We have 3-wheel all-terrain buggies available for hire, check the details here. Carriers are the easiest option as you can go off-road for a walk and they’re also easy to take on the bubble lift for your little one’s first adventure on the gondola, or to meet the rest of the family at a mountain restaurant. Rather than buy your own (the good ones are highly expensive!), think about renting ours. It’s tried and trusted! We also have baby-specific sledges with safety straps.

Please share our blog with anyone who might find it useful!  Watch this space for other useful tips on family skiing in the Trois Vallees…

*This is credited to Alfred Wainwright, a man who’s encountered a storm or two in the Lake District!

We will be updating our blog very soon.. watch this space!!