A ski break doesn't have to be a guilt trip
Parents with toddlers can feel comfortable about taking 'me' time at this French resort, says Susie Mesure
Sunday 28 March 2010
It is still barely lunchtime on Day One and, after a three-year absence from the slopes, I have rekindled my love affair with bombing down pistes by surviving a bumpy black run with my dignity and knees intact. The snow is powder fresh, the Alpine skies almost touchable and the sun life-affirmingly bright after an interminably grim English winter.
I should be in heaven. But something is missing. A 20-month-old something from whom I have barely been parted – my son Louis. Yet, this morning I dumped him on virtual strangers in our hotel crèche to try to regain what I'd lost in becoming a mum: the freedom to do something selfish for a few hours. And I'm sure it should have felt better than it did.
For, rather than rejoice in those near-perfect conditions, I fretted and fussed about the child I had abandoned. Even if the odd hairy hurtle down the mountain forced me briefly to forget, there was always time on the long chair-lift rides back up the mountain to wonder how I had turned into one of those mums. You know, the ones who consider it a modern parental rite of passage to palm off their child on someone else. What should have been a legendary first day was little short of an endurance test. And for what?
It should have been so different. After all, he was not in any danger. I'd even waited long enough before deserting him to ascertain that unlike some of the other kids, he was pretty happy playing in a room full of new toys. (A window out on to the nursery slopes meant anxious parents – namely me – could spy into the crèche.) It was more that I think family holidays should be just that, for families. Or rather, thought, before I remembered how much I loved skiing and, crucially, solved the conundrum of how new(ish) parents can still swing a ski trip.
That solution lay in the Neilson nannies at the Hotel Aalborg in Les Deux Alpes, who were very capable and came complete with the requisite qualifications. This is the first year Neilson had offered an under-twos crèche and the three-star Aalborg seemed a good place to check it out: the hotel was refurbished ahead of the 2009/10 season, plus Les Deux Alpes has a great reputation for good snow with Europe's highest glacier and plenty of challenging runs. At two hours, it was also billed as a short transfer from Grenoble airport.
But back to the slopes. Despite my qualms, we persevered. I'd like to say that leaving Louis got easier, but given my drawn-out goodbyes each morning that would be lying. How other parents managed just to drop their offspring and head straight to the ski room is beyond me. Not that he wasn't OK once I eventually left. I know he had fun because he wasn't desperate to leave each afternoon. Without me, he got stuck happily into each day's activities: foot painting, cookie baking and endless sledging being particular highlights.
Slight quibbles include the size of the children's club rooms, but luckily there were only two other toddlers the week we were there. That said, the nannies – the ratio was two to one – made plenty of use of the hotel's perfect location on the foot of the nursery slopes, so the toddlers weren't left to climb the walls.
Jade, Louis's nanny, was very patient with my neuroticism. It was a shame she tested my faith on the first day by not ringing me to confess Louis had taken a tearful 90 minutes to settle for his afternoon nap. I would rather have come back than risk scarring him for the rest of the week. But, after that, she rang me most days with updates (it is a shame Neilson didn't provide her with a phone she could text from to cut down on the expense).
Otherwise, the Aalborg served us well enough, although as a fussy vegetarian I'm not crazy about half-board hotels, especially ones that turn even my husband off their cooked breakfast. Or that serve only instant coffee at breakfast. To appeal to sleep-deprived new parents, proper coffee should be offered – and plenty of it.
As for the skiing, well, I never did quite get over the pang of being Louis-free. But I can recommend a ski lesson or two as a useful distraction. There's nothing like being shown up by the husband you taught to ski in front of a French ski instructor to focus your mind.
Ironically, the biggest thrill of the week came on the last afternoon when, for once, we finished early and liberated Louis from the crèche. I had wanted to use his lift pass (free for the under-fives) to take him up in the gondola to the Diable au Coeur restaurant, which with its live DJs, a hot-tub and roaring fire was easily Les Deux Alpes' classiest piste joint.
From Louis's fascination with the various ski lifts – I hate to typecast, but he adored the mechanics – to his face as he watched the skiers fly past, and his hot chocolate with chantilly cream, it was the highlight of the trip.
How to get there
Susie Mesure travelled with Neilson (0845 070 3460; neilson.co.uk) which offers seven nights at the three-star Neilson Hotel Aalborg from just £445 per person, £29 per child under two years, based on two adults sharing, departing 10 April. The price includes return flights from Gatwick, resort transfers and seven nights' half-board. Neilson runs three pre-bookable children's clubs for kids aged four months to 12 years, with prices from £150 for six full days. Susie had a two-hour private lesson with Evolution 2 (00 33 4 76 80 17 98; evolution2-2alpes.com), price €80.
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