Independent Families: 'Our son would like an adaptive skiing holiday'


Q. We (five adults, two children and a baby) want to go on a family skiing holiday for a week between January and March. Our five-year-old son has a progressive muscle-wasting condition and is able to walk short distances, but would be unable to use regular ski equipment. We have heard about adaptive skiing holidays, and have found resorts in the US where it is available. However, we don't want to travel that far. We would appreciate advice on European resorts where they offer adaptive skiing. We also need to consider the layout of the resort and access to the slopes. We do not need specialist accommodation, although the fewer steps the better.

Andrew Roberts, London

A. Resorts offering adaptive skiing, as you have discovered, are more prevalent in North America than in Europe. One of the reasons for this is that the number of people with lost limbs and disabilities increased in the US following the Vietnam War. Unfortunately, it is still an issue to be fully addressed in Europe, so your choices are more limited. Nevertheless, there are some options to consider closer to home with fully capable instructors and adaptive ski equipment.

A small number of British organisations and charities can provide information and help with skiing for people with disabilities. The largest is Disability Snowsport UK (01479 861272; www.disabilitysnowsport.org.uk), also known as the Up Hill Ski Club of Great Britain. It can "cater for all disabilities and all ages", with an adaptive snow school in Scotland, and also organises group skiing trips to Europe. Although it leans towards group holidays, private instruction can also be organised.

DSUK has a specially designated family skiing week during half term, allowing parents a chance to ski with their children, although tuition for family members is not included in the price. European destinations it offers include Soldeu in Andorra, Bellamonte in Italy, Niederau in Austria, Morzine in France and Villars in Switzerland, all of which have instructors fully capable of providing help and tuition for people with disabilities. February's half-term destination is Niederau, with prices starting from £795 for the week, which includes flights, transfers, half-board accommodation, lift passes, adaptive ski lessons and equipment hire. There is an organised trip during the second week of January to Morzine, costing from £857. There is a guaranteed ratio of one instructor per skier for half a day each day, with group lessons for the second half of the day. Should you choose a holiday with DSUK, it is advisable to book well in advance since places are limited.

If you'd prefer to travel independently, some European resorts are better equipped for adaptive skiing than others. Ski operator Erna Low (0870 750 6820; www.ernalow.co.uk) tailors trips for adaptive skiers in three French resorts, engaging the services of specialist schools (for which there is an additional charge). In Tignes it uses the popular Evolution 2 (00 33 4 79 06 43 78; www.evolution2.com), while in La Plagne it favours the specialist school of Antenne Handicap (00 33 4 79 09 13 80; www.antennehandicap.fr.st) or the ESF (00 33 4 79 09 06 68; www.esf-laplagne.com). In Avoriaz, Erna Low uses the Alpine Ski School (00 33 4 50 74 12 64; www.avoriazalpineskischool.com), where a 10-hour course (two hours per day) costs from £155 per person.

The ESF in Avoriaz (00 33 4 50 74 0565; www.esf-avoriaz.com) can also provide standard group ski lessons and private lessons using adaptive equipment. Expect to pay €63-€72 (£43-£49) for a two-hour lesson (whether adaptive or not) with an extra charge for specialist equipment hire.

A week's stay in Avoriaz with Erna Low in January would cost £970 for two apartments at the Residence La Falaise (wheelchair-accessible). This includes return Dover-Calais ferry crossings for one car, although flights and transfers can be arranged if you prefer not to drive. Avoriaz is just over an hour's drive from Geneva airport. Avoriaz tourist information: 00 33 4 50 74 02 11; www.avoriaz.com.

Villars, in Switzerland's Vaudoises Alps is another resort that is well suited to adaptive skiers. With Crystal Ski (0870 160 6040; www.crystalski.co.uk) prices start from £585 per person per week at the Hotel Bristol, which is accessible for wheelchair users. For an early January departure the total would be £4,712 for the eight of you. This includes return flights from Gatwick to Geneva with Thomsonfly, transfers (two hours) and seven nights' half-board accommodation. Skiing lessons and adaptive equipment can be organised at an additional cost by Crystal, and the hotel offers a free minibus service to the lifts or the station. Villars offers stunning Alpine scenery and is well-suited to non-skiers (00 41 24 495 32 32; www.villars.ch).

If you want to organise tuition in Villars independently, Handiconcept (00 41 2 44 98 10 28; www.handiconcept.com) specialises in disabled sports, including adaptive skiing. It can provide assistance, private tuition, or you can simply rent equipment. Lessons to choose from include using a ski-chair, mono-ski or bi-ski. For assisted sessions with equipment included, prices start at SFr110 (£49) for 90 minutes, SFr170 (£75) for three hours or SFr360 (£159) for six hours. This doesn't include ski passes: for six days in January you can expect to pay SFr261 (£115) for adults and SFr145 (£64) for children aged nine-15. Handiconcept's website also provides information on accommodation and restaurants suitable for people with disabilities.

Reserve ski tuition well in advance and provide schools with as much detail of your child's disability as possible. This will allow them to work out what equipment will be most useful to your son. Another helpful organisation for advice and information on European resorts is the Ski Club of Great Britain (0845 459 0780; www.skiclub.co.uk).

Send your family travel queries to The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS or e-mail crusoe@independent.co.uk

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