By Natasha von Geldern
I was 32 when I discovered the joy of skiing and ski holidays, and it was a huge mental challenge. And having struggled for years to become a competent skier, it was important that my daughter had the opportunity to learn while still a child – to be one of those tiny figures zooming down the slopes without poles or fear.
When my daughter was five years old – a great age to start skiing – I looked to book a ski week in Europe with excitement. Then reality hit. February half term is the best time to take young children skiing in Europe – with the optimum likelihood of having good snow conditions and good weather. Unfortunately this – and the inflexible attitude of the British education system towards term-time travel – also means the cost of a ski holiday in half term is eye-watering. It seemed a one-week holiday would wipe out most of our travel budget for the whole year. However, having set to work, I booked our family ski holiday myself at a cost of less than £1600 for two adults and a child, before food (which we'd be buying at home anyway). How did I do it?
'Our super-budget ski holiday was a huge success – by the third day my five-year-old daughter was riding the lifts and able to ski with us when not in ski school.'
First, I booked a self-catering apartment in the heart of La Plagne [Editor's note: we recommend Pierre & Vacances ski apartments], taking our own sheets and towels to save on hire. When I looked at flying to Geneva or Chambéry in half term, it would have cost the best part of £800 for the three of us plus bags. Then a transfer to La Plagne would cost around £75pp and take up to four hours. So we opted to take the train, which cost £109 return per adult and £99 return for a child in standard class.
Staff at SNCF Connect were very helpful in planning and booking the London–Paris–Aime La Plagne return journey, and the train journey turned out to be much more fun and comfortable than flying. The Altibus shuttle bus from Aime La Plagne train station up to the ski resort left within 10 minutes of our arrival by train. This service connects rail stations in the Savoie and Haute Savoie to the many ski resorts in this region, as well as Geneva and Chambéry airports.
I discovered that booking early online is a good way to get discounts on ski hire and lift passes, and I bagged a discount on my daughter’s ski lessons by booking through the resort itself.
There was nothing glamorous about our holiday, but our accommodation was warm and comfortable. We saved money by cooking simple pasta and rice dishes, and we didn’t drink much. At the end of the week I cleaned the apartment myself to save a charge. But there was room for the odd vin chaud and chocolat chaud at the end of the ski day, and a number of Nutella crepes were consumed. To stay within our level of spend we took some food with us and supplemented it with fresh produce from the supermarket in the ski village. We had takeaway pizza the night we arrived and treated ourselves to a lovely Savoyarde meal at one of the resort restaurants one night.
Our super-budget ski holiday was a huge success – by the third day my daughter was riding the lifts and able to ski with us when not in ski school. It made it easier that we had been to this resort before and knew that it is very well set up in terms of transport links, facilities on the mountain and good terrain for beginner skiers. Yes, some days my daughter moaned: “I don’t want to go to ski school”. But she got used to the routine and gained confidence so quickly that there were big smiles every day as well.
Read more about family ski holidays in the French Alps.
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