I took my grandchildren skiing when I was in my 70s – here’s what it taught me

Three generations of the Hardy family hit the slopes together in the French Alps – Ski Famille

As someone who has made a living telling people where to go skiing for the past fifty years, this should have been the easiest question of all time.

The best resorts for intermediates? For a mountain atmosphere, for good food or for value for money? After visiting more than 525 resorts in 20 countries around the world, I was foolishly proud that I had an answer for everyone.

But this winter I found myself stumped. “Dad, where are Harriet and I taking the kids for the first time in the snow, and how are we going to do that? And are you and mom coming with us? my son Max asked.

I could only half answer. “Yes” to the last request – a multi-generational holiday seems a sensible solution for a getaway where an extra pair of hands would likely prove invaluable – but where and how indeed?

I looked back to the heady days of the last century, when my wife Felice and I somehow integrated skiing into our daily family life. It wasn’t easy, but we traveled from country to country, from ski slope to ski slope – like the von Trapp family, but above all without singing.

Now the pendulum has gone full circle. Max and his partner Harriet have their own family: Leo is four years old and his always energetic brother Arthur is two and a half years old. I think that’s too young to start skiing. However, the world is changing and everyone wants to spend their holidays in the snow.

Peter and ArthurPeter and Arthur

Peter with his always energetic grandson Arthur, two and a half years old: F.Hardy

What my experience does teach me is that if you want to organize a ski trip with very young children, you need a battle plan worthy of Alexander the Great.

The complex logistics involving clothing, equipment and ski lessons are nothing like the logistics required for a simple beach holiday. It doesn’t matter that the parents – and in our case the grandparents – are experienced skiers themselves, you need expert help from a family ski tour operator who organizes full childcare, with its own nanny service.

But where there were once dozens of these specialist operators, in the post-Brexit era there are barely a handful left. Even fewer offer inclusive charter flights and transfers. Ski Esprit, the largest of these companies, will cease to exist at the end of this season after 41 years.

Its rival, Ski Famille, started in 1990 and is currently busy catching up. This season it opened its chalet hotel on the Les Bruyères slopes, halfway between Les Menuires and Val Thorens.

Hotel Cocon de NeigeHotel Cocon de Neige

Hotel Cocon de Neige is ‘the definition of skiing at the door’

Four-star hotel Cocon de Neige is the definition of skiing at the door, which is extremely important if you are going skiing with a young family. The ESF ski kindergarten, where Leo and Arthur spent their mornings on the slopes with instructors, and a Ski Famille babysitter turned out to be just a snowball’s throw away from the luggage room door.

The idea of ​​spending an entire week’s vacation in the company of a group of 23 rowdy children and their parents, most of whom were half my age, filled me with anxiety, if not fear. But from the start, Leo and Arthur quickly bonded as playmates and I found – somewhat to my surprise – that I was having a good time too. The hotel consists of approximately 18 suites, each with a maximum of three bedrooms. Our room had its own hot tub and sauna on the balcony.

As grandparents, we were certainly not alone, other hotel guests had brought the older generation with them – or perhaps the other way around. According to Ian Hope, director of Ski Famille, grandparents often foot the family bill for the entire holiday.

“What we do is not complicated,” he says. “Parents want to leave the kids safe in the knowledge that they are cared for and have fun, while having the freedom to ski alone for as much of the day as they want.”

Lion and snowmanLion and snowman

Leo, four years old, enjoying the snow – M Hardy

During our week-long stay, a team of 13 nannies were on hand to care for the mainly toddlers in the hotel. After the morning skiing, which starts at 8.40am, they will have lunch, before the afternoon is taken up with a program of fun and games, including soft play and face painting. Further babysitting was available in the Pajama Club from 7pm to 10pm.

The formula means that parents, and us grandparents, could spend almost the entire day exploring this side of the Trois Vallées. As the kids happily embarked on their first morning of lessons, my wife and I suddenly – almost unexpectedly – ​​found ourselves free to enjoy our own skiing, having left Harriet and Max to watch the boys from a discreet distance.

We meet Clément, an amiable and fit 70-year-old instructor born in the Belleville Valley. He comes from a dynasty of ski instructors and four of his children have followed in his footsteps. Half a dozen bends yielded a silent nod of approval and we headed up La Masse, the mountain from Les Menuires, on the other side of the valley road. Although the runs from the 2,800-metre peak were still busy for the time of year, they were therefore free from most of the Trois Vallées ski traffic.

Ski classSki class

Excellent childcare and children’s lessons ensured that adults could enjoy the slopes too – Ski Famille

After La Masse we crossed the valley road, but instead of heading up the busy slopes towards Val Thorens we headed to St Martin. “If you want to enjoy a good lunch, away from the crowds, and enjoy some skiing along the way, this is the place to go,” says Clément.

Au Toré is the restaurant of the new four-star Lodji Hotel next to the resort’s gondola. On a busy Bluebird day, we miraculously had the place almost to ourselves: the perfect spot for a long, leisurely lunch. Later in the week, while skiing with Max and Harriet, we came across l’Alpage, a sunny terrace on a red slope above our hotel on the Mont de la Chambre slope. Both were enjoyed shamefully because of the absence of small children.

The intensive level of Ski Famille childcare allowed us all to enjoy skiing in a way we didn’t expect. Max, an ex-racer, enjoyed exploring the steeper terrain of Val Thorens, while Harriet, a relative novice, took advantage of her daily freedom from the kids to take some private lessons.

Toboggan run Max and ArthurToboggan run Max and Arthur

Max and Arthur made the most of the snow – F Hardy

And the grandparents? A lifetime dedicated to skiing has brought so many rewards… and none greater than watching another generation of Hardys loudly proclaim their love of the snow and the mountains.

The judgment about the holiday came from four-year-old Leo. Would you like to come back? “I do not want to go home. Can we live here?”

But the last silent word came from Arthur, who – you remember – I had declared at the age of two and a half that he was too young to learn to ski. On the last morning, he and his ski lesson weaved flawlessly down a blue run from the top of the gondola to the resort.

The grin on his face made the whole trip worth it.


Ski Famille offers a week’s stay at Hotel Cocon de Neige from £1,249 per person, with discounts for children. The price includes chalet board, flights and transfers. Childcare is extra. Daily rental at Intersport costs from €8 (£6.90).

Peter was a guest at Ski Famille, with clothing provided by Whole Hansen

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