To ski or not to ski: that is the question for many parents of young children. Young kids are all besotted by snow and in love with the thought of hurtling down mountains at crazy speeds, but do they have the patience to learn or will they get bored and give up? It seems crucial to establish this before you get out your credit card and book that trip to the French Alps or to Whistler…
Bar my husband, who skied over the course of a week about 20 years ago, we were all beginners when we arrived at Manchester’s state-of-the art Chillfactore. Leaving the baby with his sitter in one of the cafés with views over the sparkling indoor slopes, we headed into the ‘changing village’ only to discover our first error – we’d failed to read the advice on the website to arrive an hour in advance of our activity, to leave time to pick up our tickets and equipment and get ready. The queues, this New Year’s Day, were long. Getting measured up, having one’s bindings adjusted and even fighting one’s way into one’s boots takes, we discovered, an age. This could clearly have been a disaster, but luckily our instructor was able to both fast-track us through the process and, though we were half-an-hour late starting our lesson, run on and give us our full 55 minutes.
The age of the youngest member of our party – four-and-a-half – dictated that we have a private family lesson rather than join a group one. The former is obviously the pricier option, but one well worth considering if your wallet can take it, ensuring personal attention and more time actually skiing.
Our instructor couldn’t have been friendlier or more down-to-earth, and he took great pains to devise ways of making our first attempts on the slopes fun for the kids. Our oldest, Ethan, rose as ever to the challenge and even enjoyed falling over. His brother Ripley was fine when going down the slopes but, equally true to form, grew huffy about the effort needed to climb them and gave up about two-thirds into the lesson. Which was fine – at least we knew.
We revived with coffees as we watched the boys pelt each other with snowballs in the Snowplay area (for ages 2–10). Fired up by our lesson and the fact that we hadn’t fallen over that many times, we agreed that we would like to try a skiing holiday, Ripley’s sense of humour failure notwithstanding. In fact, we’d got a valuable insight into how to approach finding the right ski resort and facilities for us – we’re currently looking at Norway’s Hafjell, where the Barneland ski school for ages 4–6 gives young learners the opportunity to ski outside in a safe, fenced-off area but to retreat indoors to a well-equipped childcare centre when they’re cold and/or tired.
That said, we did suspect that, as is often the case with kids, Ripley might be more inclined to give it a better try if we were not there, and if we do book a ski holiday, we’ll almost certainly look into preparing the boys by putting them into Chillfactor’s Kindergarten Club, which over three Saturday-morning sessions brings 4–6-year-olds to the point where they can ski down the main slope.
Chillfactore also offers snowboarding, luge and tubing.