Brat pack hits the nursery slopes: Skiing with children

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The Independent Travel
PRESUMABLY it's just a demographic phase that we're going through, and the process will be reversed in a few years' time. But right now, children seem to be taking over. Pubs that once were the preserve of adult males now think nothing of building adventure playgrounds in the car park. And ski tour operators seem to employ more nannies than they do ski guides.

It must be galling for family-free skiers. Every year, more chalets are sucked into the family market, their basements turned into creches and their dining rooms cluttered with high chairs. More flights are made sleepless by the wails of distressed babies, more coach transfers made harrowing by the antics of undisciplined infants. For us, the parents, it's great.

There was a time when you might read a column like this to be told of the few brochures offering holidays with child care on tap. Now, the odds are that any brochure you care to open, from Thomson downwards, will have something to offer. Crystal has gone so far as to introduce a special family hotline, so that parents can be handled with the sensitivity and understanding that we crave (081-399 9358). But some guidance on where to look first may still be helpful. And those who haven't taken their darlings to the mountains before may not realise the range of artificial aids at their disposal.

The catered chalet holiday has much to recommend it for families - fewer disciplinary problems than in a hotel, obviously less work than self- catering. Naturally, most operators take some precautions to separate families from non-families - allocating particular properties, or particular weeks, to families, or insisting that you take the whole unit. There is no such nonsense with Ski Esprit who, despite the increased competition, remain the masters of the affordable family chalet holiday. A summary of what they offer gives a good idea of the kind of facilities that you might find helpful - and of what you might have to pay.

In all of Ski Esprit's 10 resorts (eight in France, two in Switzerland) they have creches, mostly five days a week (Thursday off, as well as arrival day, which is Sunday) but in some cases seven days. You can leave children from 8.30am to 5pm (or for only half the day if the guilt pangs are too strong). The cost for a full week is pounds 107, pounds 127 for the under-twos.

In most resorts, Ski Esprit operates a five-day Snowclub to cater for infants who are in morning ski school classes - they are collected, fed and amused for the rest of the day by nannies. Cost: pounds 84. In three resorts, children attending classes in the afternoon as well as the morning can be collected, fed and returned to the ski school. Cost: pounds 40.

This year's innovation may be the real breakthrough for parents nervous of the callous reputation of French ski schools, even though it operates only in Morzine: special ski classes for children aged four to seven, with British instructors from Hugh Monney's British Alpine Ski School. Cost: pounds 80. There is also free babysitting on two evenings a week.

Mark Warner is another name that should be on parental shortlists, especially if your interest is in big-name resorts. Their speciality is nurseries attached to 'club' chalets - hotel-sized buildings run along chalet lines - but this year they have added a creche in the much smaller chalet St Martin in St Anton to their clubs in Val d'Isere, Verbier and Courmayeur. Its accommodation includes two family suites, each with two bedrooms plus bathroom.

Mark Warner's Club Cygnaski in Val d'Isere has always had the attraction for families that all of its bedrooms have private bathrooms. But it is even more appealing now that half of its rooms have had a rather overdue refurbishment.

Other chalet companies to consider include: Bladon Lines (creche in a 30- bed chalet in Val d'Isere); Crystal, whose chalet programme has mushroomed to become the biggest on the market (creches in six chalets in big- name resorts); Meriski, Meribel specialists (a whole chalet dedicated to a creche); Ski Famille, a one-chalet operator in Les Gets, near Morzine (prices include four days' child care); Ski Olympic, small but growing chalet operator (nanny service in Courchevel and Les Coches, a satellite of La Plagne); Ski Scott Dunn (six-day creche in Courchevel 1850); Snowtime, Meribel specialists (six-day creche in one chalet); Ski West, big-resort chalet specialists (free child care from lunch to teatime in three resorts).

Hotel holidays still have their appeal. Made to Measure (a sort of travel agent/tour operator hybrid) has an informative brochure covering the 15 Alpine hotels with the best child care facilities. Many of these can be found in other brochures and Enterprise, Crystal and Inghams all have additional suggestions. Ski Hillwood run their own creche in Hopfgarten, where they have hotel and self-catering accommodation. Other brochures to look at include Neilsons and Snowline.

There is, of course, another dimension to the choice of a family package: the cost of the children's basic holidays, before you start paying for child care. It is possible to pay nothing at all: operators such as Enterprise, Crystal and Airtours offer free holidays for children sharing a room with adults paying the full fare, although places are limited. I'd be interested to hear from readers who have tried to take up these offers.

It's worth remembering that all child care facilities are of limited capacity. Book now to avoid disappointment, as they say.

I am grateful to the many readers who have written in response to my article on ski holiday costs. But we still need more volunteers, planning to ski in the early part of the season (no later than the first week of January), who would be prepared to record a few typical prices for food and drink. All reporters will get a free copy of Where to Ski, which I shall be publishing later in 1994. Write (no stamp) to Chris Gill, Fox and Partners, FREEPOST, Norton St Philip, Bath BA3 6UB.

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