Adventure travel: Crawling, walking; now get them skiing

Claire Gilman on how to ensure your kids love the slopes from the word go

Skiing as a family can be one of the most rewarding of experiences, and your child's first venture on to the slopes should be an exhilarating time for you all. Most ski professionals agree that four or five is the optimum age to start skiing. But kids are like the proverbial elephant, and if it all goes miserably wrong on that first attempt, they will never forget; no amount of bribery will get them back on skis. So it is important that you do all you can to ensure whinge-free skiing pleasure from the start.

Weather conditions can be a major cause of discontent; children get bitterly cold standing around on the nursery slopes, particularly in January and February. Once they have suffered frozen fingers, the whole skiing experience will be tarnished. Therefore, it is best for young families to go late- season skiing, when the weather is warm and the sun is likely to shine. Aim to go before Christmas, in April, or even in May.

Extended skiing seasons depend on the height of the resort and the availability of glacier skiing or artificial snow. The French Alps offer a good choice of big, high-ski areas with efficient lift networks. Resorts such as Val d'Isere, which links with the glacier skiing at Tignes, or Val Thorens, the highest ski resort in Europe (part of the enormous skiing region of Les Trois Vallees) run seasons from early November to May.

Austria has some of the best glacier resorts in the Alps and is renowned for its warm welcome, lively night-life and good-value accommodation. Both France and Austria have a good reputation for children's ski schools, although you must satisfy yourselves that the instructors are speaking English in the classes. If your child doesn't understand what is being said, they cannot be expected to progress or to be happy.

For those with a tough constitution, who can stomach the idea of an eight- hour flight with the kids, North America is a good option for late-season skiing and there are some good deals to be had at the moment. The US, in particular, has good, reliable ski conditions late into the season in most areas, thanks to low winter temperatures, extensive snow-making and religious piste-grooming. Another advantage is that there are no language problems for children in the ski schools.

Although late-season skiing means that you miss the worst of the winter weather, good quality, warm clothing is still essential for children. But it must be manageable for the child when you're not around; if they can't do up their own salopettes, it doesn't much matter which month of the year you ski; it will be an unmitigated disaster.

Ski hire equipment in most resorts is good now, but if your child complains of uncomfortable boots, etc, don't be afraid to return as many times as it takes to get a good fit. Take your time; be patient but persistent. Uncomfortable boots will put your children off skiing more quickly than anything else.

Despite your best efforts, and against all probability, you have to face the fact that your child may loathe skiing. So, make sure that you are booked with a reliable tour operator who specialises in family skiing holidays. Finally, don't start the child skiing too young. The best time is governed not so much by age as by ability. They must be able to put on their own gloves,and be reasonably self-reliant. If not, they will get cold and miserable and be put off for life.


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