How to get the kids skiing and still have a good time

Teaching children to ski is serious stuff. Chris Gill on the seven ages of learning
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The Independent Travel
The Austrian instructor and I watched my nephew Nick conducting his way down a serious mogul slope with enviable speed, control, balance and style. "The boy's good," he said. "Really good. Not many Austrian kids can ski like that." I knew it perfectly well, but now it was official: the child I took to the Soll nursery slopes with his parents a decade ago is not simply a competent skier, but an expert - a better skier, I'm sure, than I will ever be. Damn.

So one of my young skiing companions has reached the final stage of skiing development. If that development can be broken down into seven ages, he has reached the seventh. Happily, my own children have a little way to go. Last winter, at the age of six and three-quarters, Alex really started skiing: in the course of a week's half-day sessions with my wife and me, he learnt to ski long green runs, obliterating the memory of two years before, when the Ecole du Ski Francais kindergarten at Val d'Isere made a comprehensive attempt to put him off skiing for life. Meanwhile Laura, aged three-and-a-half years old, did some parentally guided sliding on skis, but preferred sledging and demolishing snowmen. I reckon that puts them (last year) in the fourth and second ages.

Here is a quick guide to all seven, and what they mean in terms of childcare. Or, perhaps I should say, what they have meant to my family: as comparing notes with other parents, I find that learning to ski goes differently in every family.

Babes in arms You can leave them with anyone who can attend to their immediate needs, which includes toothless Tyrolean grannies who don't speak a word of English. Resort nurseries are well worth looking into, although it's less stressful to hand over your precious bundle to a trained British nanny employed by your tour operator.

Toddlers You can put them on skis, but what's the point unless they're going to get regular opportunities to repeat the experience? You can entrust them to an English-speaking nursery, or even consider leaving them at home with Granny or nanny - but, if you're as soft as my wife and I, you'll be missing them badly by the end of the week.

Infants If they take to it, they can have fun on skis, zooming around your resort's "snow garden" and learning to ski in the process, and I wouldn't want to put you off taking that route. But if your child lacks resilience, you may take the view that having fun (indoors and out) with other British children in the care of a tour-operator nanny is a more attractive option.

Juniors Our experience has supported the view that once-a-year child skiers are most likely to make good progress once they are used to applying themselves to a discipline at about the age of seven. Crunch decision: do you teach them yourself - in which case all you need is nursery slopes and easy runs - or hand them over to a ski school? Pass.

Improvers Once the child has found his skiing feet it really is time to hand him over to the professionals in the ski school. Obvious considerations: good spoken English, small classes, suitably non-threatening terrain, lunchtime care. Less obvious, but equally important, are the arrangements for getting the children to and from classes. Tour operators can be very helpful here.

Real skiers The child can join in your explorations of the Trois Vallees. Great fun but don't drop the ski-school lessons altogether: maybe you could share a private instructor for the occasional day?

Experts Once he skis faster, steeper, deeper than you do, the main consideration is probably the availability of black runs immediately above a restaurant terrace, where you can watch in comfort.

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