Tuition from a former Olympian is great for young skiers, as Siobhan Mulholland discovers

It's just another celebrity lending his name to a product, I thought. According to the brochure, Britain's finest skier of recent times, Martin Bell, offered instruction for the 11-15 age group during February half-term and the Easter holidays. But at 8.30 on a Monday morning, Britain's top ski racer for over a decade in the 1980s and 1990s turned up at our hotel – the Schweizerhof in Zermatt – to teach my two girls, and two other children, for the week. Which left me thinking, this is either a huge privilege or pushy parenting at its peak.

After some brief introductions, the former Olympian took his small group and set off to the mountains. We didn't see them again until pick-up time at 4pm, when the children were given an hour off before meeting for a debrief.

And it's during this that it really hits me what a privilege my children are getting. In a conference room in the basement of the hotel, the ski pro played back video footage of each of his pupils on the slopes. Bell analysed their performance and technique, and while I watched, I picked up tips on how I could improve my own skiing – as well as some new vocabulary, such as "angulation". It's all to do with bending your body in different directions to create angles – once mastered, it helps you ski fast without falling over, apparently.

Zermatt is a resort on the corrugated, south-western edge of Switzerland, surrounded by the country's most towering peaks. With runs that start at 4,000 metres, it offers the highest skiing in the Alps. It also offers a motor-free environment: after a longish train ride from Geneva or Zurich to the village of Täsch, you take an electric taxi or train for the final 5km. Zermatt allows only electric vehicles on its streets, which means during the "rush hour" at the start and end of the ski day, it sounds like you're in the middle of a milk float rally.

Dominating everything is the iconic, pyramid-shaped Matterhorn, which stands at 4,478m at the head of a long valley on the border between Switzerland and Italy. Its image is everywhere: on souvenirs, postcards, flags and cable cars. Zermatt's ski area is known as the "Matterhorn ski paradise", and covers more than 350km of piste split into four different areas: Sunnegga, Gornergrat, Klein Matterhorn and Schwarzsee.

The children clearly had fun with their well-qualified teacher. At lunchtime Bell's students met up with another, similar-aged group of skiers whom they also occasionally joined up with during the afternoon. And amid the expert tuition there was lots of mucking about and joke-telling. For the younger children, there's the Yetis: a ski club for four- to nine-year- olds with their own ski instructor. Meanwhile, the adults were taken on guided tours around the mountains with ski reps who were scarily proficient.

I joined in a few times, but found the group experience rather competitive, in a middle-aged, "I was once a good skier" sort of way. The rest of the time I did my own thing, which is easy to do in Zermatt, where the snow lasts well into April, when we were there. Despite the sunbathers being out and the snow having melted from the town's cobbled streets, conditions on the slopes were still good. I found the tamest, and most accessible slopes from our hotel, were those on the way up to Gornergrat.

Taking you up to the summit is the Gornergratbahn, Europe's highest rack railway, which offers wonderful mountainside views, making the trip worth it for the scenery alone. From here there are plenty of reassuring blue and red runs, the type that will make you think you're a much better skier than you probably are.

A different type of railway – this time a funicular, mostly buried in the rock – takes you to Sunnega. Marketed as "the sunny corner of Zermatt" there's less wind and more sun here than on other slopes, and there is a park for beginners. A cable car will take you up to the summit, Rothorn, with its intermediate-level, seemingly never-ending, thigh-aching runs back down the mountain.

To get to the other main area of slopes it was a five- minute taxi ride from our hotel to the cable cars which head up to Schwarzsee and Klein Matterhorn. Again, the views on the way up are stunning and you feel you could almost touch the icon itself: the peak of the Matterhorn.

There are several routes you can take here, either to the top where the glacier skiing and scenery is breathtaking, or to the Italian border and the Italian ski resorts of Cervinia and Valtournenche. Reaching the border is a bit of a slog, but worth it to be able to say you popped over to Italy for lunch (and could be useful for holding your own in competitive conversations).

Zermatt has plenty of charm: amongst the international hotels and restaurants there are centuries-old wooden chalets, cobbled streets and horse-drawn sleighs. All at a large premium, though.

The restaurants, bars and shops are very expensive. Yet despite the financial shocks, this was a family holiday for five that worked. I have to hand it to the Olympian: he's a natural teacher.

By the end of the week my girls were skiing in a very different way. They looked as though they skied every weekend, as a sport, rather than coming every other year for a week's holiday. Yet there is one drawback: they quickly get good – a lot better than their parents. So much so, that maybe that moment I hoped for, when all five of us would spend our holiday skiing down the slopes together, has already passed...

Travel essentials: Zermatt

* Siobhan Mulholland and her family travelled with Powder Byrne (020-8246 5300; powderbyrne.com). A holiday for a family of five, staying in a two-bedroom Residence suite at the Schweizerhof in Zermatt, costs £2,199 per adult for a one-week, half-board trip departing on 10 April . The package includes return flights from London, transfers and resort service.

* The Martin Bell ski camps cost an extra £525 per child and are offered during the February half-term and school Easter holidays.

* For more information, visit zermatt.ch.

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