The realities of a ski holiday with kids, up a mountain, too far from the ski school and ever so slightly under-prepared! Expat in Provence Susana Iwase Hanson and her ski-freak husband decided to take their children (aged eight and five) for their first ski holiday; they went with friends who also had children. Susana chose to holiday for one week at Les Deux Alpes located in the Rhone Alpes department, a large ski domaine with plenty of activities – ski school, ice skating, large municipal swimming pool, etc. Each family was to sort out their own accommodation and they would alternate the evening cooking duties and “visit” each other. They could ski together in the mornings while the kids were at ski school and relax with them in the afternoons. It all sounded perfect but was it? Susana recalls the experience day by day…
Day 1 – Altitude Sickness: In order to avoid the first-day-of-school-vacation-traffic-rush (it was February half term), we left our little Provençale village of Cotignac at 5am. We stuffed everything into the car, including kids in pyjamas so they could continue sleeping. The car was so full we couldn’t see through the rear view window. Six hours later, we arrived at the busy resort, full of snow, and in time for a pizza lunch where the portions were humongous and not at all “French”.
Our friends had rented an apartment in the middle of the village and seemed well placed for their walk to the slopes. We, on the other hand, had fallen for the views from a studio apartment located on top of a hill. Hopes of an easy walk to the pistes were shattered as soon as we found ourselves driving up and up and up… almost a kilometre’s walk from the ski school. It didn’t take long for altitude-sickness to hit me. I felt nauseous at 2600 metres. My husband and kids seemed fine but it took me four days to get over it.
We sorted out our ski passes and kids’ ski-school which cost a whopping 1,000 euros. The resort was full of shops, restaurants, hotels, apartments, etc. but I felt the signs and billboard advertising seemed to undo some of the charm of the wooden chalet buildings. I hardly heard a word of French being spoken at Les Deux Alpes, the majority were British holiday-makers and I was told that only 25% ski holiday-makers were French and many of the businesses had British staff.
Day 2 – Mayhem and Chaos: The next morning turned into a circus, and not a pleasant one. It began with my over-excited husband reminding us that we had to be well prepared in the morning. If we were late to ski school the kids wouldn’t be allowed in. I watched my family nonchalantly over my cup of coffee and rolled my eyes. My husband was pacing and rushing about and when he asked me where our older child’s helmet was – I felt burning panic. I was sure I’d packed everything but no – without the brand new helmet we’d purchased for the holiday our eight- year-old couldn’t participate in the lessons. Luckily I saved the day with my calm and collected intelligence and let her use my helmet which thankfully fit her.
We ran out of the apartment with all our ski gear… down the stairs, several corridors, trying to locate annoying timed light switches for the hallways as we kept plunging into darkness. We arrived exactly one minute too late for the shuttle bus… we were screwed.
In total-melt-down mode, my husband gathered our gear and stuffed it into our car in order to drive down to the slopes knowing full well there wasn’t going to be a single parking space open. Amazingly, a shuttle bus appeared. We grabbed the 4 sets of skis and poles, hats and gloves, and ran like heavy ducks in our ski boots to catch it. Our five-year-old slipped and fell on one of the bus steps and cried the entire way down but that didn’t matter, we were saved…
The shuttle stopped at the bottom of the hill, nowhere near the lifts. Everyone had to get off. It was the end of the line. My husband was furious. I could see his expression getting more and more contorted, it was 9am and the classes were starting…
We walked and walked. My legs felt like they were made of iron. We reached Cote Brune where our older daughter had her class (the Flocons) but the beginners’ class for very young kids, called Piou Piou, was at the opposite end of the domaine, almost half a mile away. Eldest daughter safely signed in and then my husband ran like Superman with our youngest child under his arm to the other side and deposited him in the nick of time.
The chaotic morning took a turn for the better when we, the adults, finally took the cable car lift up to 3600 metres. The views were jaw-dropping, the sun was piercing, the strip of fog under one of the peaks made it feel like we had arrived in the pristine heavens, far away from all the insanity and civilisation beneath us.
It didn’t take long for me to feel like an escargot when the others took off like those old Concorde jets on a hurry to New York. I pushed myself to keep up, even though I hadn’t skied in almost 7 years. I was afraid of breaking a limb and just getting down the red run to the bottom was a miraculous accomplishment. I was done in. I wanted my lunch, my beer and a hot tub. I noticed my ski pass allowed for free use of the swimming pool so that is what I vowed to do in the afternoon…
Except the swimming pool would not be open until 3pm. Then our youngest started to complain of stomach aches after lunch, so I lugged her back up the one- kilometre-hike-in-ski-boots for her to take a nap. The manipulative five-year old then managed to recover enough to beg me to play Uno with her until the others got home… my altitude sickness came back.
It was my turn to cook dinner so I had to go back out (and down that hill again) to buy ingredients. It was the last straw. I somehow managed to defrost a packet of salmon in butter-sauce. It didn’t compare to our friends’ home-made-slow-cooked Apricot Chicken with fluffy rice, Beef Bourgignon, and Raclette-with-the-works-meal (they had brought their own raclette machine!).
They had the best charcuterie, the best boulangerie, and the best pub right underneath their spacious apartment and it only cost 100 euros more than ours (new motto, read the small print when renting an apartment in the Alps). If it hadn’t been for the fact that they got no sleep due to the ructions of plastered youngsters partying next door to them, I’d have plunged into jealousy-induced-depression. But they were the stars and heroes of our holiday because they let us leave our skis in their locker and our boots next to their living room heater making the morning walk achievable.
I was sure that things would get much better from now on…
Susana Iwase Hanson lives in Cotignac, she teaches Sushi, looks after holiday homes and is the founder and president of Provence Living.
Advice for driving to ski resorts in France
Read our interview with Susana Iwase Hanson, expats in Provence