It is the sort of perfect day skiers dream of. Several inches of fresh snow have fallen in the last few days, the sun has appeared at last, everything looks glorious. And yet, as our gondola rumbles out of the lift-station and swings up through the pine trees, a guilt-ridden expression of sorrow clouds my partner’s face.
“The poor things!” he bleats. “Will they be OK?”
It doesn’t matter how desperately you need a break as a parent – and I really do, nine months after having my second baby – there is still a certain amount of soul-searching and guilt-suppression when putting your little kids into childcare on holiday. The Family Ski Company provides, if not a solution, then a helping hand and soothing words. While most major ski operators offer packages that are great for school-age kids, often in big-name resorts, the Family Ski Company has zoomed in on three little-known hamlets in the French Alps that pull off a neat double-act: the toddler-friendly pleasures of a quiet, traditional base with lift connections into some of the world’s biggest ski areas.
At first sight Ardent is not party ski capital
There’s Les Coches in the Paradiski area, and Reberty in Les Trois Vallées, but we go for Ardent, part of the Portes du Soleil, where the company runs 10 chalets – almost every building in its one street.
To a knackered parent, the deal sounds like bliss. The children will be collected after breakfast and taken to their respective creches – Powder Hounds for four- to six-year-olds who usually have morning ski lessons, Powder Pups for those aged three months to four years, and Adventurers for older kids who attend ski school until mid-afternoon. Parents go off to ski and make merry, collecting them at 4.30pm, returning to toasty wooden chalets for homemade cake. Someone else will make the kids’ dinner and, even better, clean it up. Parents put them to bed, drink wine, eat canapés, have a dip in the hot tub, a four-course grown-ups’ meal, and more wine. A babysitter will be provided so adults can go out. All will be heaven.
Chalet La Ferme was the author’s base for the trip
Sounds too good to be true … and for us, it is. Both kids are harpooned with flu the day before departure. Seeing them pick dolefully at the delicious-looking shepherd’s pies cooked for our arrival by Nick, 21, from Hull, our cheery chef at Chalet La Ferme, is pitiful. Yet once his co-host Rhianna, 19, from Cheshire, has poured us a glass of red and led us to the deep sofas by the fire, we’re convinced it’s worth coming, even if we just sit here and get waited on for a week.
Seasonnaires are renowned for their love of wild partying in ski resorts, so aren’t they bored, tucked away in this sleepy village, we ask?
“Oh no!” they insist, eyes aglow, “This place is amazing!” Ardent may have just one après-ski bar, Happy Hours, explains Nick, but it’s one of the best in the whole area. So good that all the seasonnaires from Morzine and Avoriaz head down for its weekly parties (though parents needn’t worry as the DJs finish by 8pm). Having written off Ardent as the sort of somnolent enclave that is to be our lot now we are parents, this is welcome news. In fact, I quickly realise it’s the sort of place we should have been coming to for years.
Children having a ski lesson
The Ardent gondola whips skiers up to Les Lindarets, heart of the Portes du Soleil, a much faster way into the best skiing terrain than the slog up from more-famous Morzine. With the children initially too sick for the creche, the lift’s proximity is a godsend, as we take turns to ski while the other builds snow forts, watches Frozen and endlessly bundles layers on and off to visit the Cosy Cafe over the road. I may only get two hours’ snowboarding a day but, within minutes of dashing off, I’m into some phenomenal free-riding and the Stash, a woodland fun-park. I return to my pale, snotty infants with a massive grin on my face.
With Morzine only 15 minutes away by bus, it’s easy to head there for lunch and a ride on the carousel one day; those making use of the babysitting service could easily go for a night out.
Skiing isn’t the only entertainment
By Wednesday, the three-year-old recovers enough for a go on the pink skis she’s chosen from Ardent’s excellent hire shop, so we drop the baby in the creche and take her for a ski between daddy’s legs. She isn’t keen. At all. Our dreams of being parents to a little 360-performing ski prodigy are shattered. Being carried by daddy while he skis gives her the idea, though, as she whoops down the mountain. However, she refuses to have another go herself.
Finally, towards the end of the week, they are sufficiently recovered for childcare. Swallowing our remorse over their inevitable distress at being left with strangers, we succeed in pursuing further adventures on the Swiss side of the ski area. But with the nannies taking him for long buggy walks in the fresh air, and making paintings with his feet, the baby returns happy enough, and the eldest is full of glee after playing in a massive pile of snow with other kids.
They may not be skiing yet, but at least we’re finally making the most of the trip. Our appreciation of time on the mountain has skyrocketed, too – every second is a gift.
The writer with one of her children
And there’s an extra treat on our final night. A big party’s starting at Happy Hours, beams Nick when we return that afternoon, with DJs from Café Mambo in Ibiza. Have we heard of it? I’m not sure he believes we’ve been there. Even less so when he sees us dancing like total parents in our thermals on the balcony to the tunes from over the road. We may no longer be part of the young crowd, but who cares? Jigging about up here with our kids is absolutely joyful, and we can still hear the music.