Having a new baby needn't stop you hitting the snow, finds out World Snowboard Guide's Steve Dowle, with a specialist family trip to the French resort of Puy St. Vincent
Have child, will ride
It's a Thursday afternoon, and I'm almost at the top of the La Pendine chairlift in a strangely reflective mood. I'm having one of my best weeks snowboarding in France, but I've hit no powder, have no bar tales to tell, and am staying in a resort that even by French standards looks like it was designed and built by a 5 year old who didn't have enough Lego bricks to build a council block.
I'm a dad these days. Life has changed beyond all recognition, and although I have embraced everything so far, I was determined that my snowboarding wouldn't be diluted down to watching the odd film, and glancing at my old gear in the cupboard while I try and find that last pack of nappies, that I'm sure are here somewhere.
Everyone knows that taking your kids on holiday is a shocker, especially on the wallet, so to make the most of those first few years before you have to worry about facing the wrath of breaking them out of term time or selling that last kidney to go at half-term, we looked to head to the Alps asap.
This is where Snowbizz comes in. Snowbizz offer great value family holidays to the French resort of Puy St.Vincent, located near to the Italian border in the Ecrin National Park. While you may not have heard of it, you will have heard of its neighbours Les Deux Alps, Serre Chevalier and La Grave, and you can expect to pay a good 25% less for lift passes.
The 75km of slopes offer a decent 1400m continuous vertical descent, spread amongst a good mix of forest and open upper slopes. The majority of the area is North facing, so the snow holds well late into the season.
They do have a good snow record despite the seemingly low elevation. There is plenty of nice easy tree shredding to be had, if you want to break away from the pistes, and freeriders should ask a guide about the Col du Bal area if the conditions are good enough. There is a small terrain park, but it's not really up to much, however the boardercross course next to it is great fun.
We'd discovered the joy of airport drop-off parking a few years ago, and having a pushchair means that you can get onto your EasyJet plane even faster than those smug easyboarding folks, so laden with spare baby milk, rice cakes and more Cbeebies Iplayer downloads than I'm sure is legal, the journey there was pretty painless.
Our apartment was up at the purpose built 1600m village. The block was drab, dark and everything you would expect from this celebrated time of French architecture, however our new eyes only really noticed how easy it was to negotiate a pushchair into the lift, and how convenient everything was. You could easily push the pushchair from the apartment to the crèche without having to do any lifting or getting wet. The restaurant was next to the hire shop, which was next to a gift shop, which was next to a bar. The small complex had everything a family would need for a week's holiday.
Snowbizz offer self-catering as well as an evening meal option in the nearby and decent La Chaumiere restaurant, who are happy for you to bring your pushchair with you in the evening. There is also an on-site supermarket in the complex. Towards the end of the season when we went, shopping there was becoming a bit like a bad episode of ready-steady-cook, with enough olives to see out a nuclear winter but not a massive variety of other things. However there are a few places you can hire a fondue set, and even a speciality food shop where you can order some tasty local dishes, should you need a break from the olives.
As first time parents with a six-month child, we were not even comfortable letting family members babysit our little one, so although we'd booked a week of the crèche, we were not really sure how we would feel handing our little bundle over to complete strangers. My partner was having skiing lessons and I was busting to go and explore the slopes, so the first day was nervous, but the snowbizz crèche staff are excellent and took great care of her, and gradually as the week went on, she spent more of each day in the crèche, allowing us to spend more time on the mountain and importantly, more time together. You can hire baby sitters in the evening, and they also arrange various activities over the week to keep the little ones occupied.
Snowbizz was set up by husband and wife Michel and Wendy, almost 20 years ago, so there's not much they don't know about the area, and husband Michel also runs the ESI ski school, who handle all the tuition for their customers. In a predominantly French speaking resort, all of their instructors speak good English and help to complete the almost perfect first time family holiday package.
We certainly wouldn't hesitate in coming back, and maybe next time she'll be old enough to try skiing for the first time.