Sloping Around

16th January 2015

Rowena Carr-Allinson is something of a sceptic about the very idea of family skiing.

Can she find a stress-free solution to the problem that besets snow-loving parents: how to introduce a little one to the slopes while enjoying the holiday oneself…?

For a week before we left for the Alps, my three-year-old son, Lennox, was wearing his ski getup back home. Sat on the sofa in head-to-toe gear, his enthusiasm for the trip to Morzine was quite apparent – and for the first time, I was looking forward to an Alpine adventure with just as much glee.

Set in Haute Savoie, just below Avoriaz in the French Alps, the picturesque resort of Morzine is at the heart of the Portes du Soleil ski area, which spreads over 650 km of pistes, two countries, 14 resorts, 209 lifts and 288 marked slopes. Plenty to be getting on with – especially for a toddling first timer!

Morzine itself sits at 1000m with a charming mix of traditional chalets and hotels, restaurants and stylish new accommodations like the stunning Chalet Kaila. Our home from home for the week came with beautiful panoramic mountain views, a ‘disco lights’ bathroom preloaded with l’Occitane products, open fire, hot tub and traditional yet hip décor – from the anthracite/chrome kitchen to the oversized grey sofa to the timber clad bedrooms with high ceilings and cosy fluffy soft furnishings. Not to mention all the tech gadgets one might need – a big flat screen TV, an iPad, flat screens in the rooms. A masterclass in cosy luxe chalet chic.

I have to admit to equating skiing with hassle. The hassle of the cold, the hassle of those clunky boots, the hassle of getting from A to B dressed like the Michelin man, the hassle of the crowds, the undignified ski-tows and the rest of the logistics that go along with the whole miserable pursuit. I had been dreading the multiplying effect of taking a toddler along too.

Luckily, when you travel with a specialist company, the stress is taken out of pretty much everything. From the minute you’ve booked you’re taken care of by an efficient team, who often pre-empt things you didn’t even know you needed. Our lovely chalet host, Katie took great care of us, with local tips, advice and gourmet meals every night. We were utterly spoilt with the likes of slow cooked lamb, polenta with garlic mushrooms, chicken saltimbocca, sea-bream with olives, beetroot and goat’s cheese stacks and much more. Daily tea came with a dizzying array of homemade cakes, ranging from lemon drizzle and cheesecake to chocolate fingers and raspberry soufflés worth writing home about.

Katie and co also make sure all your practical needs are met, getting the chaps at the local ski store to come to you for fittings (no queuing in the shop with a bored toddler… Hurrah!), picking up the lift passes for you and, crucially, switching on the boot warmers so your toes are nice and toasty. To top it all off, they also magic away the dishes and make the beds to five star standards.

It’s soon clear that this is the only way to holiday. Luxury is not having to fret about the kids’ food, the adults’ food, the mess and the shopping. It’s so nice to be looked after this well… it’s going to be very hard to return to normal.

Even better, the chalet comes with your very own nanny. Kayleigh is armed with a BTEC Level 3 in Children’s Care, Learning and Development and five years experience in a nursery. The idea is that mum and dad can ski, relax and even get some work done while the youngest member of the family is kept busy with countless activities.

Despite an initial confusion about names – this three year old didn’t quite grasp the pronunciation difference between Kay-lee and Kay-tee – things got off to a great start thanks to a thoughtful toy box packed with pirate hats, handmade treasure map, toy cars, train set and dinosaur bookss. Not to mention Kayleigh’s secret weapons: the ultimate craft bag, cupcake recipe and homemade play-dough.

On Lennox’s first sortie on the slopes, flakes coming down fast and furious on top of the mountain, we introduced him to the ‘bubble’ ride, the joys of getting those boots on and seeing everything orange thanks to the ski goggles. He even managed a couple of slopes, between Dad’s legs, whizzing down the car-free centre of Avoriaz.

Before we managed to instil any bad habits, or put him off for life, we booked him a few lessons with the local British Alpine Ski School BASS. Becci was just the pro you want to trust with your little one’s first ‘steps’ on snow. Obviously experienced with kids, she engaged Lennox, chatting, joking and putting him at ease, explaining the basics and actually getting a few smiles along the way. After a few hesitant steps, he was ready to ‘go faster’ so, in order to keep him happy and more importantly, keen to come back for more, we indulged the toddler’s demands, hopped on a ‘télésiège’ and rode up high to get some speed. He took to it like fish to water, or rather penguin to snow.

My heart melted as I saw him grinning from ear to ear, holding onto Becci’s poles and whizzing down between her skis, even managing some solo skiing. With encouragement, and a growing taste for speed, Lennox was beaming and clearly proud. As were we, of course.

After my traumatic memories of winters spent freezing in junior ski school groups, and hating every minute of it, Becci’s kindness and way with words were a dream come true. The best news was that on taking the skis off, Lennox wanted to keep them on. A real result.

The next day Becci continued to work her magic on Lennox. We even took him right to the top of the mountain, graduating from a green to a blue run to whizz down. When she praised him for his natural balance (something I’ve always struggled with) it was music to my ears.

After the lesson was up, Kayleigh took over for some sledging and snowman building before we introduced the little one to another skiing tradition: a chocolat chaud and frites’ in the sun on the terrasse at La Tanière.

A catered chalet set up in Morzine is a great bet for families. In addition to the hassle free factor, and the obvious fun on the slopes, there’s plenty to do off piste too. Kids will love the ice-skating rink, the local park, chocolate-making workshops and the plethora of activities scheduled for the school holidays, from the carnival to ‘tipi’ family meals, outdoor laser games and even paragliding for the over 4s. With a weekly cheese market, tartiflettes and ‘vin chaud’ on tap for the adults, what more could you possibly ask for? It’s the perfect playground for all the family…

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