Family Traveller editor, Jane Anderson travels to Les Deux Alpes with her work family for a multi-gen ski trip with a difference
When you have a 30-year age range and ski abilities spanning from total beginner to off-piste daredevils, things can get interesting. Nailing a family ski trip and keeping everyone happy is always a challenge, non more so than when the Family Traveller team, aged 21 to 51, bravely took it upon themselves to review Les Deux Alpes in southwest France for their pre-Christmas shindig.
Granted we had no children in tow, but it was obvious after an easy flight to Grenoble and a drive up through the mountains with much oohing and aarhing at the gothic white mountain peaks, that this is an easy resort to reach with kids. Add the smiley Neilson staff who greeted us at Grenoble Airport and the sight of Neilson nannies wheeling their charges around the snow-covered streets of Les Deux Alpes, it was clear we were in family territory.
We arrived at the start of the season in mid-December to the best snow in five years. Coming from a snow-starved city like London, just being in this winter wonderland is uplifting. With a glacier at an altitude of 3,600 metres as well as efficient snowmakers between 2,100 and 1,300 metres, you’re unlikely to see any grass here during the ski season.
Built in 1946, Les Deux Alpes is now one of France’s biggest ski resorts, yet it manages to maintain an intimate and friendly feel for skiers of all abilities with 96 runs from green to black and plenty of accommodation close to the slopes so there’s minimum trudging through the streets and snow in heavy ski boots, dragging kids along at snails pace, or in our case, hungover members of the team!
Les Deux Alpes town is a mixture of traditional Alpine architecture and French brutalism, but once it’s all covered in the white stuff, it holds together as a charming ski resort packed with facilities.
The Family Traveller HQ was Neilson’s Chalet Ruby on a quiet sloping street at the east end of town. Suddenly we were all teenagers bagsying our en-suite bedrooms, checking out the hot tub out front and the lounge-cum-dining room laid out with freshly baked carrot cake and cookies care of our ever patient Neilson hosts, Faith, Tori and Chris who made our beds, cooked our breakfast and dinner and generally acted like our parents. Neilson reps made regular visits to show us the ropes, reassuring for ski newbies and old hands alike.
Out of my cosy chalet bedroom window I spied the playground of the local primary school, with the mountains towering above – a reminder that this resort is a real town with year-round residents.
Happily Venosc Sports, our ski hire shop was literally just round the corner and the main ski lift, just a 10-minute walk. As our most able skiers headed out to the more demanding slopes, mid ability skiers hooked up with Neilson’s Mountain Experts on hand daily to give two-hour refreshers to blue and red run skiers or boarders (aged 16 and over) who need a bit of guidance to bring them up to scratch – a fabulous complimentary service.
Our Mountain Expert, Sarah from Scotland, proved a lifesaver for me as my ski abilities proved rustier than expected. She gave me the tips and confidence boost I needed to transform me in one session from shaky starter to tentatively competent downhiller.
Mohamed, our beginner, enjoyed a one-on-one lesson with a Neilson instructor and took on the nursery slopes with confidence the following day whilst our most accomplished skiers, Andrew, John and Lucy, comfortably skied the entire resort in the first day.
Lucy commented, “I followed Andrew and John (nicknamed my ‘two dads’) as they sped down every single run without a moment’s hesitation. I was slightly further behind but nevertheless enjoyed the incredible snow conditions and the luxury of having most of the slopes to ourselves. There was usually a blue option and a red option for each run which was perfect for the end of the day when I was tired and preferred to perfect my ski style down the blues whilst Andrew and John chose to go as fast as possible down the reds.”
Had we had kids in tow, Neilson’s children’s club is based at the Hotel Aalborg, a smart ski in-ski out resort by the nursery slopes. A team of nannies is on hand for half or full days of childcare from age four months to 12 years. This includes ski kindergarten for 2-12 year olds so they can get to grips with the slopes (see The Lowdown below for more details). And if you fancy a grown up dinner without the kids, Neilson has evening clubs from 7pm to 10pm, three nights a week.
Despite our differing ski abilities the Family Traveller team were able to meet up for lunch on the slopes at La Patache with its open fires, huge copper pots hanging overhead and a mean tartiflette on the menu, and for afternoon bevvies at Le Diable au Coeur, a rustic bar with a cosy fire that even provides slippers with your gluhwein.
For families there’s plenty of non-ski activities to keep everyone happy. How cool is a visit to a real life glacier, not to mention brownie points for their geography lessons back at school? Take the epic Jandri Express up the slopes to the glacier’s ice cave hollowed out 30 metres beneath the glacier surface with ice sculptures galore. Alternatively snow geeks can take a behind-the-scenes tour with the resort’s snow engineer who will show you the ‘Usine a neige’ where they access when to use the snow cannons. There’s also a cute tobogganing area, an out door ice rink with ice gliders (bumper cars on ice), horse drawn sleigh rides, and La Croisette swimming pool.
New activities include the snowscoot, basically scooter let loose on the snow, and the snooc, a toboggan-like ski that you sit on. Both potentially loads of fun!
Visit from April 16 to 20 and your kids can experience the Junior Foliz family festival with street entertainment, musicians, story telling and circus tricks aimed at 6-12 year olds. Thanksfully there are chill out areas for parents to relax while kids wear themselves out.
We were lucky enough to visit during the Rise Festival, a curated week of free and paid for music gigs that would be great to bring teens to. We relived our early noughties musical references with a live, outdoor set by singer/rapper Craig David with classics like Re-Rewind, before heading to the Polar Bear Bar for Christmas party shots and general silliness.
Les Deux Alpes has plenty of family-friendly bars and restaurants which cater for kids including Le Sherpa with mini fires pits right on the outdoor tables, the perfect place to head to after a day on the slopes.
The shopping here is extensive if you’re looking for ski gear and cute souvenirs. Visit pre-Christmas and stock up on traditional Alpine tree decorations. We had no problem finding our Secret Santas ranging from Reblochon cheese to woolly socks.
After our three nights in Les Deux Alpes, we’d all improved our ski abilities, managed to avoid any casualties on the slopes or on the dance floor, and like all the best family holidays, had all learned a bit more about one another and bonded some more. As a mum of two, I’d definitely be back with my kids for a more conventional family ski break.
Winter season at Les Deux Alpes runs form early December to late April.
Grenoble is the closest airport. Easyjet flies from around £60 return. The resort is also accessible from Lyon or Chambéry airports. Grenoble is the closest train station.
Where to stay
Taking the whole of Neilson Chalet Ruby for 15 people on 7th April 2018 for seven nights works out £630pp. This price includes return flights and resort transfers plus chalet board accommodation which gives you daily cooked and continental breakfast, afternoon tea every day and six evening meals with wine included.
Seven nights at Neilson Hotel Aalborg for a family of four in a Club piste view quad room with a double bed and either two singles or bunk beds costs £820pp and includes return flights and resort transfers plus half board accommodation which gives you daily breakfast and afternoon tea plus seven evening meals.
Lift passes in Les Deux Alpes cost £245 for adults and £195 for kids aged 5 to 12 years. Standard skis and boots cost £85 for adults and £65 for kids while standard board and boots cost £90. Ski lessons for 6 x 2 ½ hour lessons come to £200 while 6 x 2 hour snowboard lessons come to £195.
Neilson-run childcare is located at Neilson Hotel Aalborg. There are three clubs:
Snowangels for kids aged 4-23 months costs £259 per child for the week (£279 next season). 6 days a week with lunch and snacks included.
Snowman for 2-3 year olds costs £229. 9am to 5pm, 6 days a week with lunch and snacks plus ski kindergarten drop-off / pick-up also included if pre-booked and required is included.
Snowbusters for 5-12 year olds 9am to 2pm is a ski school drop-off and pick-up service for children who have pre-booked tuition through Neilson. It includes lunch and costs £109 per child for 6 days.
Snowbusters full day service is pam to 5pm includes the above but the care carries on until 5pm. This costs £199 per child for 6 days.
Neilson’s evening clubs for kids from 7pm to 10pm three nights a week (£20 per child, and £10 per sibling).
Out and about
Touch ‘n Go Multi Activity Wristband gives access to many activities such as the ice rink, ice cave, luge, cinema, and the glacier with a 15% discount and no need to carry cash.
Ice cave costs 5.50 euros per adult, 4.50 euros per child
Junior Foliz Festival costs 20Euros per week and one day tickets 8Euros
The Rise Festival takes place from 15-22 December 2018