DAD'S GUIDE TO THE PERFECT FAMILY SKI HOLIDAY
Follow the 9 rules for skiing with kids so a family ski holiday doesn't mean sacrificing your own skiing or snowboarding - or your sanityFather of twins, Gavin Baylis, reveals how he survived countless ski holidays with the family ensuring plenty of dad-time for peace and powder...
1. KEEP IT FUN
This is the number one rule for family ski holidays. Fun for the kids? Of course, it's going to be fun for them transported to a world of snow like some giant white playground at vast cost to your bank account and sacrifice of your normal guy ski trip.
So, essentially, is it going to be fun for you? Unless your definition of ski fun is dragging half-dressed wailing off-spring to ski school while carrying their skis, then no, Fun is skiing endless powder all day followed by downing a few beers. Right? So how are you going to achieve this with two kids and the mother of your children hanging onto your powder skirt? Well, let's go to Rule 2.
2. EARN YOUR BROWNIE POINTS
Every couple barters. You do the cooking, she does the washing up. You take the kids swimming with their mates then you're allowed to go cycling/surfing/drinking/whatever for a couple of hours with yours. Same goes for skiing holidays.
So check out the snow reports with, for instance, Meteoceil who can forecast the weather in your resort with surprising accuracy even 10 days ahead. But the closer you get, the more sure you can be of the snow reports. Cross check with a couple of other weather forecast sites such as Snow Forecast and then start your cunning plan.
So it looks like it's going to snow Wednesday afternoon and nuke overnight giving you a bluebird morning on Thursday with over 60cms for perfect powder. Spend Tuesday and Wednesday being an exemplary dad/husband, taking the kids cruising blues when they're not at ski school. And wear as benign a smile (and, okay, equally as fake but who'll know?) as Santa in the department store grotto, when the family want to stop for burger and chips at the mountain restaurant, even though you're splashing out more for lunch than on a day's mountain guide shared between four mates.
Then on Wednesday night when the kids are doing snow angels in the fresh snow and you casually drop the bomb that you'd like to go dad-skiing the next morning, you'll have so many brownie points that no one can complain. In fact, if you've managed to exude enough enthusiasm about all things family skiing to a nauseating degree, then they might even carry your skis to the lift, glad of a day off without you. Result.
3. TAKE THEM WHEN THEY'RE YOUNG
While your kids are under five and not at Junior School take them skiing as often as your work schedule - and wallet - allows. Once they are at proper school, you'll be restricted to school holidays fighting for accommodation, queuing at lifts and paying the same exorbitant prices as every other fraught family skiing in Europe.
Under fives are also mostly less demanding on dad's time as they'll either be waddling like penguins in their ski suits in the Jardins des Neiges or sleeping in the chalet. Chalet? Now let's go to Rule 4.
4. NEVER SELF-CATER IN AN APARTMENT
So it's going to be cheaper? Yep, of course,, but staying in an apartment is going to cost your sanity. I mean, do you really want to be searching for Baked Beans and Fish Fingers at Sherpa (and paying double UK prices) and squashing your kids in a cupboard to sleep (a cupboard with bunk beds in most French apartments counts as the 'second bedroom')?
Well, okay, most kids will quite like the squashing in the cupboard aspect but they won't like the dodgy Internet connection. Or Dad having a melt down. Do yourself and your family a huge favour and book a catered chalet and, preferably, one with childcare, which brings us to Rule 5.
5. PRE-ARRANGE CHILDCARE
Unless you're with the mother of your children who is a non-skier - or a saint - or you can afford to bring a nanny (in which case, high five) looking after the kids will inevitably impact on your skiing.
You could book them in for lessons both morning and afternoon, which will certainly boost their skiing or snowboarding techniques but you'll have to get them ready in the mornings. As a father you know how fraught stuffing a four year old into layers can be? You know it'll be, 'Daddy, I need to pee' just when you've zipped up their puffa onesie and jammed on their furry boots.
Then it's back to collect them at lunch and tea time (nope, you can't do that last run and be late) and, chances are, there'll be some very tired tantrums. Yours. Agreed, they'll be knackered, too, from doing ski lessons both morning and afternoon and, consequently, sleep like alpine logs but bang goes any chance of a beer or two because, of course, you can't leave them sleeping while you go down to the apres bar. Booking a chalet with childcare is, therefore, a no-brainer.
I did take my daughters to Club Med in Les Arcs before they officially started school and Club Med was free for them off-season in January. They hated the childcare and instructors because they only spoke French which, I know, is what you might expect in France but try explaining 'Entente Cordiale' to four year olds.
But I'd recommend Andora for friendly New Zealand childcare staff and ski school who let me go dad-skiing with the happy knowledge that my daughters were having fun, too.
You might be tempted to go with one of the larger UK tour ops who offer creches and childcare but just be warned that some of their childcare staff are, although undoubtedly qualified, hardly more than children themselves just out to do one season and enjoy the vibe. Do you really want your kid looked after by an 18 year old with a hangover? So it's worth going with ski companies who have a more 'family' feel about their staff with longterm and dedicated nannies.
Also, I'll admit I always felt the pull of untracked powder stronger than the tug at the heartstrings leaving the kids but, for mums especially, it's a real bonus if you go with a ski company like Ski Famille who offer childcare in your chalet rather than at a creche, preparing and taking them to ski school. And, then you can skip the first para of Rule 6.
6. CHECK YOUR LOCATION
Oh you didn't realise your chalet was so far from the lifts? Well, what's the matter with you? As a dad you deserve the long walk to the gondola in ski boots, carrying three pairs of skis and a whinging five year old if you hadn't Google mapped your location before booking and realised that you were two miles DOWN the road from the nearest lift or bus stop (so that means walking UP the road every morning).
Also did you check the piste map? Lots of cruisy blues and greens through the trees are more family friendly than blacks and off piste so choose a resort that has both if you want to ski with the kids AND also enjoy dad- skiing steep blacks, side and slackcountry. For instance, book your holiday in a luxury chalet in the family friendly Les Bruyeres and you have all the steep and deep and miles of skiing you could wish for in Les 3 Vallées. Or there's Serre Chevalier with scenic runs down tree-lined slopes where, with enough brownie points if you followed Rule 2, you can escape for some backcountry extreme skiing in La Grave (below), only 35km away over the Col du Lautaret.
Didn't bring a car? Check out Rule 7.
7. MAKE THE JOURNEY AS EASY AS POSSIBLE
Forget about Japan or Canada unless you have just one child (or twins) under a year who can fly for free. Although, hang on, why are you even thinking about taking them? Just save up a year's brownie points doing loads of nappy duty and go to Niseko with the guys - you've got at least another couple of years before family ski holidays unless you actually want to put a toddler on skis which, I know, means that Rule 3 only really applies for two years.
With any chlld try to avoid resorts that are over two and a half hours by coach from the airport (and here's a tip, take the sick bags from the plane as cruising those uphill hairpins on a coach is like pressing a kid's vom button).
Consider driving. Okay so it'll probably be you driving for the 8-10 hour trip from Eurotunnel, to your French resort but it'll a) be cheaper than flying if there are four or more of you, b) means you can take more luggage including your quiver of skis and, c) ensures you have the car in case you broke Rule 6 and you're not staying close to the lifts - or you want to head to La Grave.
8. MANAGE EXPECTATIONS
So I don't mean manage the expectations of your kids who'll be like any kid and love the snow whatever its depths. But manage your own.
We know you're a dad and want your children to make you proud but manage your expectations that they're going to be Billy Morgans on snowboards after one week's lessons. Also, don't take them out after day two and go straight down a black run because this could scar them mentally for life in all sorts of ways. They'll blame you forever for confidence/anxiety issues/scar on their leg.
On the other hand if they are pretty gung ho and wanting to follow in Dad's ski tracks let the ski instructor show them some sidecountry and safe off piste and they might start loving the powder as much as you do (image below).
And if they ARE as good as Billy Morgan, consider taking a couple of lessons yourself (private lessons maybe with the legendary Darren Turner of Insight Ski Coaching, founder of the Ski School App, image below). Nothing worse and guaranteed to put you in a bad mood than, as a dad, being spat out the back by your own kids.
No fresh powder for a month? No need to be a grouch and ruin the family holiday moaning about snow conditions. Now's your chance to hire or buy some dynamic piste carvers such as the award-winning Dynastar's Speed Zone 12 Ti Konnects and crank those turns (again, check out Darren Turner, for tips) or, if snowboarding, practise those Eurocarves on the piste. Or you could head for the snowpark to improve your freestyle while trying not to create an embarrassing dad yard sale. Especially not in front of your park rat kids.
9. TAKE BACK UP
You want to go off piste and do powder, they want to ski piste and do lunch. One dad against the whole family means, yep, you're outnumbered unless you stuck to Rule 2 and have a powder bowl full of brownie points.
So suggest to your ski/snowboard mates who have kids the same sort of age (it's a mother conspiracy to have babies at the same time) that you go as a group. This way you can take over the whole chalet without worrying that other guests will not appreciate your kids' food fights. Instead you'll be encouraging friendly snowball fights between families so your kids will expend even more energy and, hopefully, preserve your family honour (but remember Rule 8).
You'll also have other dads for back up when it's a bluebird morning with fresh pow and for doing beers at apres providing, that is, you've all followed Rule 2.