So when Joe and Christopher, having arrived in mist-enshrouded darkness at Voss, Norway, found themselves hoisted aloft the following day into the dazzling azure-and-white panorama of the slopes, they should have been able, as it were, to land on their feet, except ... The dry slope where they took lessons had a simple predictability, each run downhill constrained by its limited size. Here at the resort, every undulation was different, and the runs seemingly infinite.
For a parent who loves skiing, their children's first time is an occasion for anxiety. Will they be able to embrace this pastime of the counterintuitive, where the sun blazes down on a freezing landscape, and midwinter spells exhilaration? Or will a diversion that can stretch family budgets to the outer limits turn into one of life's traumas, a sequence of struggles and painful tumbles to be stored at the back of the mind and recalled in later years as yet another example of Dad's heartless attempts to impose his values?
But the boys, too, had their anxieties. Christopher, who is nine, had been worrying out loud for days before the trip began. Did he really have to go to ski school? Well, yes, kind of, I suggested, with soothing ambiguity (slyly concealing the real reason: my intention of having time to ski on my own).
A shambling bunch of novices, misfits, and the middle-aged struggled to line up at the behest of the Voss Ski School and were put through their paces. Joe did well and was put into a group of practised skiers, though he was a novice. When Chris was somehow assigned to an intermediate group. I saw trouble ahead, but slipped away for my first time on skis in years.
Yes, I fell on the first drag lift, scattering a family or two behind me, but was quickly back in action. However, after a few enjoyable laps of Voss's most accessible green run, waving to my sons in their distinctive baggy hired suits each time I passed, I realised all was not well with my youngest. He was on the slope, but going nowhere. When I met him at the end of the lesson he was in tears.
After lunch I tried to coax him down the easiest slope with visions of a holiday spent mooching around the hotel with endless negotiations centred on DVDs and games of pool. But here on the slope the fall count was simply too high, every laborious start followed all too swiftly by a demoralising stop. The next morning, even the lavish breakfast of the four-star Fleischer's Hotel was not enough to quell the great anti-skiing revolt fomenting in his mind. There are times when a boy needs a mother's balm and this was one, but Chris's was hundreds of miles away.
As we glumly waited for the morning's lesson to start, I was preparing for Chris to tell me he would no longer ski. Enter Sally, who to a middle-aged man was a Nordic goddess in ski-school uniform but to my son no doubt resembled a mum. She was reassuring, comforting and ruthless. He was to be put in the lowest group, which seemed to consist only of mums. He was surrounded by them. His morning was spent taking the simplest side steps and glides, away from the lifts. Demotion worked wonders. By lunchtime, he was smiling. In the afternoon the three of us ascended to the top of the green run. Despite the glittering scenery, it was as if he were back on Essex plastic. Down he went. Smoothly. Yes, he was snowploughing, but he was doing it with confidence, cheered on all the way by his brother. My boys were hooked.
To someone who has skied in France or Italy, Voss, though famous for fostering Olympic skiers, is notable for what can be politely described as compactness. The main resort is on one mountain, and the runs, though varied and often long enough, are limited. As the boys' confidence grew, we agreed that the two of them could ski together, keeping in touch with me by mobile phone. This enabled me to enjoy the coffee and scenery while Joe and Chris sped around - even on reds - with ever increasing speed. On the fourth day, though, I found myself waiting alone as arranged in a café as the light began to fade, the chill was settling on the mountain and the lifts were preparing to close. After half an hour of desperation for me, they turned up and nonchalantly told some story about a queue and problems with the phone. We stuck together after that, me putting up with constant exhortations to greater speed and courage.
GIVE ME THE FACTS
How to get there
Francis Jezierski flew to Bergen with Norwegian (www.norwegian.no). A return from Stansted costs from €94 (£67). He stayed at Fleischer's Hotel, which can be booked through Inghams (020-8780 4433; www.inghams.co.uk). A week's half-board, including flights, costs from £449, based on two sharing. He also stayed at Park Hotel, which can be booked via Crystal Holidays (0870-405 4047; www.crystalski.co.uk). A week's package starts at £485. More information at www.visitnorway.com .Reuse content