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Daunted by planning that first family ski trip? You’ll need to read this


By Amanda Cassidy
12th Jan 2023
Daunted by planning that first family ski trip? You’ll need to read this

Exhilarating, but often perceived as hassle. Triple that if you are trying to pull it off as a family. Skiing as a first-timer can be daunting. Amanda Cassidy has the low-down.

It can be a daunting prospect; trucking your family up to the mountains, especially if you are unsure of what to expect. From the gear to the lessons, getting there and mastering the piste, it’s not surprising that many find the first time a little intimidating.

But rest assured that after only a few lessons, you’ll be whizzing down the blues and green slopes (They are considered the easier slopes, followed by red and then black) and appreciating the unique buzz that brings people back to the mountains time and time again.

Let’s take it step by step. For our part, we decided to take the easier option of an all-inclusive resort that included ski-rental, ski-passes, lessons, kids lessons and transfer and it definitely took a lot of the obstacles away.

We travelled to Club Med Grand Massif Samoëns Morillon, a stunning French ski resort, (the country’s fourth largest in fact) which is an hour’s drive from Geneva.

The resort delicately perches on the edge of the Saix plateau at 1,600 metres, enjoying ski-in ski-out access to the Grand Massif domain, the 4th largest ski area in France.

What to wear

The ski gear can be expensive for a family of five but what we didn’t borrow from friends, we got in Lidl or TK Maxx and in the end, we probably had too much.

The most important is base layers, merino wool will last for years. We each had two tops and bottoms which we alternated day to day for the duration of the trip. Waterproof gloves are a must, but we never ended up wearing our hats because we had helmets. Though the children did use theirs when they were out in the snow garden. Helmets were fitted as part of the resort’s ski rental and googles are handy when there is a lot of glare.

Everyone had a fleece jacket under their ski jacket (make sure your ski jacket has a pocket for your ski pass which slips into your sleeve so that when you are going up on the ski lifts you don’t have to fumble getting it in or out.)

Waterproof jacket and trousers are important. The children had snow boots and runners – snow boots for playing outside (us adults didn’t really need them as most paths are cleared) and runners as their feet were sore the first few days from the ski boots).

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Although the resort was four tridents (the Club Med luxury rating system goes up to five) we found it reasonably casual dress-wise around the resort at dinner and in the evenings which suited everyone. After a hard day skiing, there is a glorious amount of lounging around in huge armchairs reading by the fire with cocktails. Pack those clothes.

The resort delicately perches on the edge of the Saix plateau at 1,600 metres, enjoying ski-in ski-out access to the Grand Massif domain, the 4th largest ski area in France.

It is extremely family-focused, blending into the mountains with panoramic views across the Giffre valley.

How lessons work

Club Med’s system means that once you pay, pretty much everything is included (unless you want private lessons for example) The resort, like most in the region, work with ESF professionals. ESF is École du ski Français and you can’t miss the instructors in their bright red ski suits.

Your ski pass gives you access to all the lifts in that particular area and is valid for six days (Monday to Saturday included). The lessons start from four years old.

On the basis of precise technical criteria, ESF instructors validate your child’s technical level and sets a recognised level of ability. Younger children go to the ski garden in the resort where they are minded in the Petit Club by experienced staff. The first ski level is called Ourson (Teddy Bear) where the children get used to being on skis.

The next level is Flocon (beginners) It’s the level for any child over five who has never skied before. This is the level you can expect your children to start at if it’s their first time. They learn to snow plough (they sometimes call this pizza) and it’s how to slow down or stop by creating a triangle with their skis. They’ll learn how to take the small button lifts where you straddle a small round seat and let the mechanism drag you upwards. Everyone falls on these initially (even the adults) but you’ll get the hang of it easily!

You fall and laugh and learn together, cheering on your new friends from Namibia or Brazil or Israel.

After this is first star when children can make turns, improve balance and take the higher ski lifts. Second star level is where they can overcome bumps, hollows, bends and slide on the turns rather than snowplough them. After comes third star then bronze star and gold star. Competition levels follow this.

For adult lessons you can take the beginners class if you are a first timer (the majority are!) Next is level one, level two, etc. There are usually about six or eight others in the classes which are taken in English and French. The lovely thing about a resort such as Club Med is that you will find yourself in with all different nationalities. You fall and laugh and learn together, cheering on your new friends from Namibia or Brazil or Israel.

Later in the bar you’ll catch up which is why skiing is such a lovely social event. We enjoyed watching our children make friends with children from all over the world whom they’d grown close to over their shared love of smashing snowballs down necks.

And if they don’t love it at first, I’d suggest sticking with it. It’s amazing how quickly they will get the hang of it and the rush from the achievement is a great confidence booster.

You’ll have a gnawing worry that they’ll ski off a cliff or break a leg, but the wonderful part of being in such a controlled environment like Club Med is that most of that chaos is taken away. There’s always the vin chaud which also helps. 

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Chaos

No matter how organised a resort is, no matter how much work you put into planning a trip or researching options, let me give you some honest advice. The first day will be chaos, for a number of reasons; the kids will be trust up in their gear which at first feels like you are wearing a space suit, it’s hard to walk in the boots and well, it’s all just very unfamiliar.

If you are anything like me, you’ll have a gnawing worry that they’ll ski off a cliff or break a leg, but the wonderful part of being in such a controlled environment like Club Med is that most of that chaos is taken away. (There will still be some!)

There’s always a bit of a frenzy getting the kids ready and out for their lesson while you are trying to get to your own. But it is so worth it. Our children wore their under armour down to breakfast and then we’d throw on their waterproofs down in the boot room. They have different colour bibs for each different level and the instructors are very good at moving them around if they are struggling or feel as if they are not in the correct level.

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The surroundings

Part spiritual eco-retreat, part adrenaline-filled high (zipping down the mountain at 60km is something that gives me a feeling like no other) and part relaxation. Utter relaxation.

Between fir trees and wide-open spaces, the hotel is in a prime spot with over 265km of slopes. It’s is designed in the spirit of a huge chalet, a modern and cosy space for the 423 rooms, served by a team of over 300 staff. There are shows in the evening and a huge spread in the three restaurants. There are a lot of helpful, smiling GOs (Gentils Organisateurs or Kind Organiser) who can’t help you enough.

From the terrace of your room, you’ll enjoy 365 panorama over the Giffre valley which was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

The resort is kitted out in mid-century modern furniture in whites and grays, with a lodge aesthetic, like wide-panel washed wood floors, plush fabrics and floor-to-ceiling windows that show off stunning views of the surrounding Alps.

I don’t love holidays where you are so removed from nature that you can only watch it in the distance from your fancy sun lounger. I love being in it, really inside of it, feeling the wind on your cheeks, the icy cold of your own breath.

Skiing is unusual in that it’s part spiritual eco-retreat (it’s so quiet as you sail through the freezing air, over pines and past the peaks on the ski lifts) part adrenaline-filled high (zipping down the mountain at 60km is something that gives me a feeling like no other) and part relaxation (the Swedish massage at the 600 square meter spa is very special. They also have a complete menu of offerings, indoor and outdoor pools, fitness center, Pilates studio, and playrooms for kids.

Food

This type of holiday offers a lot of family fun (the children spent a lot of time in the pool while we read and splashed. We’d have liked it to be a little warmer for our chilly Irish bones) It’s also part gourmet tasting extravaganza (Oysters, chocolate fountains, Aperol Spritz on tap, Poké bowl station, fondu, steak…)

There’s something for all taste buds, Francophile or Asian-inclined, gluten-free or carnivorous. House wines are included and are good, but you can pay a premium for more upscale wines, like local bottles from the Jura. Gourmet Lounge is an upscale space that requires reservations, though there’s no extra cost. It’s a waiter-served restaurant, with a Michelin-starred chef’s menu.

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Escape

It’s also an easy trip down the on-site gondola to the charming, snow-globe-y village of Samoëns. It takes just 7 minutes to float down using your ski-pass to wander through their markets (the fudge is particularly good) or to just stand outside one of their four Boulangeries and sniff. (Guilty).

In those moments, against the backdrop of the ancient mountains, we felt as if there was no where in the world we’d rather be.

Of course, there are other ways to do a ski holiday. We’ve also done DIY trips where we’ve driven ourselves, rented a small apartment and boots from a local shop and gone up the slopes ourselves. It’s also great fun but as a first -timer I’m always so glad we had the buffer of Club Med to ease you into it – to guide you towards what’s what. This is the holiday where you want someone else to take the stress out of ski planning.There’s nothing like their Apres Ski either.

Some of my fondest memories are of my husband and myself skiing back towards the hotel, rosy cheeked and thrilled with ourselves at 4.30pm, to the sounds of a DJ, hot wine and Tolouse sausage in hunky bits of warm bread. On the slopes, surrounded by a blanket of white, with a dazzling blue sky above, it’s hard to think of anything but living in the now.

A while later, the kids arrived, exhausted but happy, making a beeline for the chocolate crepes, and chatting with their foreign friends about the show later that night.

In those moments, against the backdrop of the ancient mountains, we felt as if there was no where in the world we’d rather be.