Like any family trip, skiing comes with a host of potential banana skins. Here’s how to avoid slipping up on the slopes.
The most important thing you can do to avoid the myriad of pitfalls lying in wait on a ski holiday with children comes at the packing stage – cram in as much patience as you can carry. You’ll need it when you get there.
Take it as a given that the first day on the slopes will not be plain sailing. Few holidays you go on, for beginners at least, will involve as much unfamiliar rigmarole and alien equipment. No matter how organised you think you’ve been with the pre-planning, the potential faff factor, with sorting equipment, ski school, ski passes and crèches, will be huge.
RULE 1: KEEP CALM
Keep an iron grip on temper and patience, no matter how keen you are to hit the slopes yourself. Getting irate will transmit itself to the children rapidly and they will become anxious, too. Subsequent days will go much more smoothly.
RULE 2: CHECK AND RE-CHECK
Before going out each morning, discipline yourself to go through a checklist as rigorous as that of an airline pilot before take-off. Gloves or mittens, hat, sunglasses or goggles, ski pass, suncream, lipsalve… everything. It is a 100% certainty that something vital will be forgotten by one or more members of the family if you don’t – and probably discovered only when you get to the top of the gondola lift.
RULE 3: GIVE KIDS SPACE
Don’t be tempted to teach your children technique. One of the most distressing sights we’ve seen on a mountain is a father getting exasperated with his child for being slow to grasp a particular skill to his satisfaction.
RULE 3: TRUST THEIR INSTINCTS
Children learning to ski need very little formal instruction. They learn by watching and simply doing it. For instance, little ones rarely need to be told how to turn. They will watch, follow and turn intuitively. And they will improve rapidly without ever knowing exactly how they’ve achieved it.
In a ski school, you’ll see children receiving very few ‘instructions’ from their teachers. Instead, what you hear is a great deal of cheery encouragement. The skill is keeping the young pupils happy and entertained, picking the appropriate terrain and the right pace, and knowing when the time is right to stop for a hot chocolate. And your job as a parent is mostly to tell them how well they’re doing.
RULE 4: WATCH THE WEATHER
If the weather is horrible, don’t take the view that it’s part of the skiing learning curve. In years to come, children will not remember with fondness how they overcame shocking conditions to get more mileage under their belt. They will, however, remember being cold and miserable and not being able to see anything and how it nearly put them off skiing for good. Decide instead to go to the water fun centre, the favourite cafe in the village for hot chocolate with marshmallows, or the cinema showing English-language animated films.
RULE 5: BE FLEXIBLE
If you’re heading out for a ski day with the children, be flexible with your plans. You know how in normal circumstances a youngster’s mood can change quickly. From being full of energy one moment to tired the next, and how suddenly a huge hunger develops. Multiply this by at least two when skiing. Always have your piste map handy and a Plan B available that involves heading to a mountain hut quickly, or curtailing the day to a more manageable target. More and more ski areas these days have vast interlinked networks – don’t be overambitious with plans, and always be ready to amend them.