A FATHER’S STORY:
The tale of the accidental black
There comes a time in every man’s life when the transition is made from teaching and caring for your children to an awkward realisation that they are undeniably better than you at pretty much everything.
My sons, both now in their 30s, were expert snowboarders many years before I tested the patience of my fi rst ski instructor. I have long since come to terms with seeing them wave encouragingly in my direction as they hurtle past with the insouciance of the true expert.
My youngest daughter, on the other hand, strapped on a pair of skis for the fi rst time only three years ago at the age of 13. Though far from expert myself, I took great fatherly pride in teaching her the basics and supervising her first inelegant runs in the tiny Spanish ski station of Puerto de Navecerrada.
By the following year, she and I were able to explore the slopes of Les Saisies in comfortable parity. Now, with a couple more trips under her belt, she too has left her dear old dad far behind.
Charlotte and Peter skiing gentle blues
So, a fearless teenage skier, two calmly expert snowboarders and me, the archetypal blue run cruiser. Our annual ski break en famille takes much research to ensure the chosen location caters for the varying needs of our disparate bunch.
This year, La Thuile made the cut. Easily accessible from Geneva, runs for all abilities, good late-season snow and plenty of bars and restaurants. On paper, the perfect destination for our Easter ski trip.
After a stunning drive through the upper reaches of the Valle d’Aosta, fi rst impressions were...interesting and a little unusual. The town of La Thuile dates back to the 12th Century and was originally a mining centre. It’s not what you’d call conventionally beautiful, but has a certain rustic charm.
Within an hour of arrival we were clattering aboard the main Les Suches gondola which, queue-free in spite of this being the Easter Holidays, whisks skiers up to the access point for the 160km of piste which make up the San Bernardo ski region – La Thuile being linked with the French resort of La Rosière.
Around 3 hours ski time remained – plenty of time to crank up the muscles on the handful of blues and reds between Gran Testa and Les Suches before returning on heavy, fi rst-day legs, through the trees back to the village – scenic, and skiable all the way in spite of the lateness in the season.
Day two, and bright sunshine. The two snowboarders had booked an off -piste guide so a quick coffee together at Le Panoramique Café at the top of the Les Suches gondola before we headed off in diff erent directions.
Charlotte drew the short straw and was elected to keep her dad company. Detailed scrutiny of the piste map plotted a series of runs which looked as though they might suit us both – interesting enough for the daredevil Charlotte whilst remaining within my less adventurous capabilities. And so they did – to a point.
The day passed enjoyably, exploring the varied reds below the 2,600m peak of Chaz Dura. Great intermediate skiing in perfect conditions with a pleasant range of reasonably priced piste-side cafes and restaurants. Late in the day, a final run down to the village is plotted. Reds all the way down - no problem. Except they weren’t.
Somewhere in the trees above the hamlet of Pont Serrand, in gathering dusk, we reached a fork in the piste. The good news: both directions signposted to La Thuile. The less-good news for my now aching limbs – it was black or black.
Charlotte set off fearlessly, as I momentarily pondered my fate. I’d taught my daughter to ski, I reasoned, so if she can do it, so can I. And I did. Not with any great grace I’m sure, but not with any great discomfort either, and down we went, father and daughter full circle to reach (relative) parity on the slopes once more.
Day three was the highlight or me – a family trip over to La Rosière. A series of lifts interspersed with scenic runs under the majestic Belvedere brought us to the border between Italy and France.
Onwards into France. Narrow mountain tracks soon opened up into wide, sunbathed slopes. Great fun to race down as a group, but no prizes for guessing who came last. After a lengthy lunch on the sun-soaked terraces of a piste-side restaurant, we head back towards Italy.
Beware – one unannounced hazard awaits the weary-limbed! The route home took us through the Little St Bernard Pass via probably the longest drag lift any of us had ever experienced.
And so, back to La Thuile to reflect on a memorable day and holiday. And the resort itself? I’d go back. I loved the fact that La Thuile is a real town, with real shops rather than simply the usual range of ski shops.
Most of all, we loved the variety of pistes. We may not have skied together every day, but enough to make it feel like a proper family trip.
Time to stick together
Ski resorts usually don’t offer the best ‘family time’ for my brothers, my dad and myself as we are all of different abilities, so staying together all day usually gets boring for someone!
La Thuile did seem to give us a lot more opportunities to spend quality slope-time together which I really liked. A favourite example of this was when we all set off on the long route to neighbouring La Rosière.
I expected my brothers to go speeding off together as usual, leaving my dad and I to follow a more ‘sensible’ route, but I was wrong! The long route enabled us to stay more or less together as it dipped and wound along, making it fun for us all!
My brothers sped down the dips and frolicked in the off-piste at the side of the run, I enjoyed the many undulations too and dad went happily at his own pace, all of us sharing the stunning views of snowy mountains.
Hiring an experienced ski guide for a few days definitely added to the enjoyment of the trip, as not only did he introduce us to new beautiful places but his tips on technique really made a difference to my trip.
Sadly that did not prevent me drifting off into a world of my own, and I suddenly found myself off piste having to slide down on my bum through the trees with a metre jump to get back on route....I would have said it was intentional, but the sheer shock on my face when I reached the others showed the opposite!
But it was not only these full days of skiing and adventuring that made us look forward to getting back to the hotel. Chateau Blanc was all-round beautiful. It perfectly combined the old and new which gave it a warm, rustic, yet modern feeling and I completely fell in love with my room.
Not only was the state-of-the-art bathroom beautiful - with a giant shower, but I had a massive circular bed all to myself and it was these cool, extra things that made staying there more special – that and the fact it was a two-minute walk to a spa and a lovely restaurant!
So... La Thuile delivered with not only the variety of pistes to explore, but also had a village which had beautiful hotels, spas, restaurants and something for everyone. And we had a lovely family holiday!
Jim's going off-piste
Just don’t tell his wife...
The first priority of this trip was to spend time skiing together as a family, says Jim Walker. But family love only goes so far, and if he and his brother Mike hadn’t been able to stretch their legs on the tough stuff , they’d have burst with frustration.
So time was set aside for the family to go its separate ways. While dad, Pete and Charlotte went off cruising the blues and reds, for the Walker brothers day two was off-piste day...
I’m not sure our guide heard us when we were talking about our off-piste day. I’d voiced the fact that I was under strict instructions from my heavily pregnant wife to ‘please take it easy. I don’t want to see any videos of you hanging off sheer faces and if you come back broken don’t expect me to look after you. I’ll be busy’. Fair enough, really. You don’t mess with a pregnant lady.
We’ve headed off to the side of the Chaz Dura lift, where, unnervingly, there is a stone monument placed to commemorate the death of a guide on this very face. I’m peering over the precipice with mixed emotions. It looks wonderfully inviting and untouched given it’s been a week since the last snowfall, but there is a nasty traverse over some rocks before you get to the open face, and Izzy’s words are ringing in my ears.
It doesn’t help watching the guide edging gingerly along the traverse, poking carefullly for avalanche risks. I discuss it with myself. Just how sensible do you have to be when you have a baby on the way? Is this just daft? I’ve done far worse and it looks like so much fun.
Our guide gingerly edging along the traverse.
I look back up to see where we’ve come from and realise there isn’t any going back anyway, the only way is down. Dropping in and seeing the length of the run ahead wipes any thoughts out of my mind, except maybe that I must go faster than my brother who’s joined me for today’s exploring.
It’s just the start...and as we spend a glorious day romping down bowls and through trees, it’s clear there is plenty here for the more experienced skier. Just don’t tell the wife.
La Thuile’s been perfect for our annual three-generations trip. Mixed abilities and mixed ages always result in mixed requirements. Without the La Rosière link, La Thuile would only be a weekend resort, but the cross-border entente cordiale of the Espace San Bernado opens up a whole additional resort – and a much renowned one – giving a huge variety of terrain to explore and making it brilliant for a mixed ability family group.
And that description, I imagine, probably applies as much to your family as it does mine.
LOCATION La Thuile is in Italy’s Aosta Valley, but its ski area is linked with La Rosiere, just across the border in France
GETTING THERE The Walkers flew via Swiss to Geneva (2hrs)
WHERE TO STAY The family stayed at the Chateau Blanc hotel
MUST DO Book a guide and go off-piste. Cross the border to La Rosiere. Grab a pizza at the Pepita Cafe.
USEFUL CONTACTS www.lathuile.net