Ever-so-slightly anxious first-time ski dad Rowan McIntyre heads for family-friendly Morzine, France, to push his four-year-old down a mountain (in a nice way)
‘Do you REALLY think he’s ready for this?’
‘More to the point, are we ready for this?’
To say we were a little concerned as to how our first time skiing as parents would pan out is something of an understatement. Adam, our four-year-old, seemed up for it – but ever since he chose to redecorate the front room in Crayola green, we’ve tended not to leave major decisions up to him. In the end, our hankering to get back to the slopes won out, so after some research into hotels with top-notch child care – just in case everything went pear-shaped – and a lot more packing than usual, we set off.
Morzine has a reputation as one of the better family ski destinations and the reasons why swiftly became apparent. First off, at only 75km from Geneva, the transfer is blissfully short – after surviving Gatwick and trying to keep a child quiet on the flight, the last thing you need is four more hours in a coach trying to conjure up endless new verses for She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain.
Speaking of mountains, the skiing is properly kid-friendly too. The wide, gentle slopes at the heart of the resort are ideal for first-timers and beginners. Then, with littl’uns safely checked in at ski school, parents with more adventure in mind can slip the family circle and help themselves to an array of more challenging runs, courtesy of one of the largest linked ski areas in the world, Portes du Soleil.
Morzine’s own skiing area radiates from the top of the Pleney lift on the eastern edge of the town. This hub acts both as nursery area and gateway to the rest of the region. It was also the location of our hotel, Le Viking, which couldn’t have been more convenient. Since the top of Pleney is also where many of the ski schools meet, it meant Adam (or rather we) had no distance at all to carry his skis. The only downside to being at the top of the cable car was that once the lift closed at around 7pm we were stuck there, except for two evenings a week when the lift ran until 2am. I made the most of those two nights. On one, I headed into town, which has for the most part hung onto its old-world charm, to check out a bar or three with a couple of other hotel guests, and on the other occasion, we had a family dinner at the very fine Savoyarde La Flamme restaurant at the foot of the Super Morzine lift.
Back on the mountain, the nursery facilities were superb. A magic carpet and three rope pulls helped get the little ones (and big ones) get started, and an impossibly wide central area left enough room for all and never seemed crowded, even at the end of the day when everyone (except the lucky ones in Le Viking) headed for the cable car back down to town. (You can ski back down when the snow is good, but since the town itself is only at 1,000m, best not to bank on it.)
The rest of the Morzine area comprises mainly red and blue runs, which might disappoint more advanced thrillseekers, but for me offered pretty much the right balance between hard work on the steep and narrow, and stretching my legs with sweeping, soul-cleansing schusses on generous cruiser runs. If you want more, take the Super Morzine gondolas from the western edge of the town to be whisked up to the boarders’ paradise Avoriaz, from where the rest of the Portes du Soleil is your oyster. Adam loved it and took to the snow like a fish to batter, in no small part thanks to the great teachers at the ski school and staff from the hotel’s kids’ club who sat in on every lesson. I’d like to say it’s also in the genes of course, but I wouldn’t want to limit the poor lad’s expectations.
Off the slopes, the town too goes out of its way to be family-friendly, with a kids’ ice-skating rink, toboggan run, carousel in the main square and a paintball arena for the over-16s, as well as a full activity programme – from storytelling for toddlers in the library, to activity trails along the riverbank – laid on for those who want to spend some time off-mountain. And the hotels are in on the act. Ours offered an excellent range of childcare options, so on a couple of afternoons my wife Janet and I felt comfortable leaving Adam in the kids’ club while we went off to ski together, just like the old days, unfettered by the bonds of parenthood (not that either of us is much given to high-octane daredevilry any more!).
To wrap each day up, there was also a great toboggan run, right outside the front door of the hotel – so when the day’s skiing was over, we could keep Adam entertained until dinner (to be fair this was usually Mum’s job, while dad looked on lovingly from the comfort of
the hotel bar).
Getting there: EasyJet (easyjet.com) and BMI Baby (bmibaby.com) fly to Geneva, from where road transfers take 90 minutes. British Airways (ba.com) also flies from London and Manchester to Geneva. Rail routes from the UK, offered by TGV Europe (tgv-europe.com), SNCB (b-rail.be) and Rail Europe (raileurope.co.uk), go to the TGV station at Cluses, 28km away, which offers frequent bus transfers
Across the board/bespoke: Independent Ski Links (ski-links.com), Ski Independence (ski-i.com)
High-end: Classic Ski (classicski.co.uk)
Mid-range: Inghams (inghams.co.uk), Erna Low (ernalow.co.uk)
Budget: First Choice (firstchoice-ski.co.uk), Thomson (thomsonski.co.uk)
The following info applies to Morzine (M) and Portes du Soleil (PdS) ski areas
Season dates: (M) 19th December 2009 to 18th April 2010, (PdS)12th December 2009 until 25th April 2010
Vertical drop: (M) 2,010-1,000m, (PdS) 2,300-950m
Terrain: (M) 110km, (PdS) 650km
Snowmaking: (M) 220 cannons, 370 acres; (PdS) 694 cannons, 900 acres
Lift passes: (M) £25 1-day, £128 6-day, (PdS) £34 1-day, £176 6-day
Mountain munchies: Try Le Vaffieu near the top of Le Pleney and the little place just down from the top of the Troncs chairlift.
Guiding and tuition: Try the British Ski School (britishskischool.com) or Easy2Ride (morzineski.fr)
Snowpark?: (M), None, but a boardercross course on the Les Gets slopes, (PdS) 10, of which Avoriaz’s four are best.
Downtown: Dining ranges from burger shacks and crêpe stalls to high-end cuisine. Plenty of great bars including The Cavern (always rammed), The Buddha (a bit more mellow) and Dixies (live music). There’s a cinema, ice skating, and lots to keep kids busy.
Highlight: Your kids are alright
Bummer: Low altitude risks poor snow on the lower slopes, and rain!