Tignes and toddlers go well in the spring

Warmer days and softer snow can make late-season skiing safer and more fun for children, as Chris Moran discovers

Sometimes, the fantasy of what constitutes a good family ski holiday seems to have come straight from the Wham! video for “Last Christmas”: big jumpers and playful snowball fights. However, the reality for those with pre-school children tends to involve snotty noses and screaming tantrums on the nursery slopes. (And that’s just from the parents.)

It’s a shame, because it doesn’t have to be like that. The simple fact is that skiing in December, January and even at February half-term is often just too cold for very young children. Instead, consider heading to the Alps at the end of the winter season. This year Easter falls at the beginning of April: exactly when things should be warming up nicely.

John Bassett, owner of the Dragon Lodge, a snowboard-friendly chalet in the French resort of Tignes, certainly thinks it makes sense. “This is the best time to come out with kids,” he says. “It’s sunny; the days are longer, and you don’t have all the paraphernalia to deal with.”

I’m talking to John on the terrace of the Loop Bar, a wooden-decked area where skiers and snowboarders eat, drink and watch others whizz by on the slopes. The paraphernalia of which John speaks includes the thick coats, mittens and hats that we Brits haul to the Alps each winter. To illustrate his point, John waves his hand across the table, which contains nothing more than a sunglasses bag and some lip salve. It is April; we are wearing T-shirts; it’s fantastically warm, and were it not for goggles strapped to our heads, we could be in a beer garden on a summer’s day in the UK.

My wife Rachel, our toddler Harry and I were visiting John’s Dragon Lodge during the last week of Tignes’ 2010-11 ski season. We’d taken Harry for a week in Canada in the preceding January, a trip that presented three fundamental problems: keeping Harry’s gloves on, keeping his goggles clear, and stopping his skin from being exposed to the freezing conditions. We fixed the first problem by sewing a pair of gloves on to the sleeves of one of Harry’s small hoodies (thank you, mumsnet), but the other two issues required our constant attention. He was simply too young to know what to do.

In Tignes, however, Harry was fine in just his hoodie, helmet and mini-goggles. It’s 15C outside. “Have you noticed that nothing has fogged up?” says Rachel, applying another batch of sun lotion, the only thing we now have to keep an eye on.

In Canada, we spent a week going from warm mountain lodges into the freezing outdoor air. Here in France, the shop doors are all open. And with less kit to worry about, and no large swings in temperature to deal with, everyone is more relaxed. With a pre-school age child, we could also take advantage of late-season discounts: not an option for those travelling during the Easter holidays. But all the other advantages remain – including better snow for children.

I’ve always had a certain sympathy for British Rail’s old argument about the “wrong type of snow”. The simple fact is that snow comes in a variety of forms. And April’s snow is undoubtedly the best for young children learning to ski. I take Harry snowboarding on the nursery slope, and ski with him between my legs, holding his arm as he tracks a straight line through the soft, slushy snow with ease. He does the last 50m on his own, his mum ready to catch him at the end. The snow is soft and forgiving. Contrast that with January, when the snow was like ice. One fall was enough to put him off for the day.

Just as he’s getting the hang of it, a woman pops out of the Loop Bar to say hello. She turns out to be pro snowboarder Jenny Jones, a three-times |X-Games gold medalist. “He’s the cutest snowboarder I’ve ever seen,” says Jenny of Harry in his snowboarding get-up. “Can I get a picture with him?”

Harry wants to do more runs, and Jenny is happy to offer a few tips. She has her own view about late-season snow, too. “I love the mountains at this time of year,” she says, “although you do have to be careful you don’t get goggle marks, as the sun is stronger.”

So what are you missing with a |late-season trip? With its 1960s-designed apartment blocks, and tree-less landscape, purpose-built Tignes doesn’t have chocolate-box good looks. At the end of the season, too, the lower runs are beginning to close due to lack of snow. But higher up, the slopes look exactly the same as in midwinter. And we are delighted to discover that, as it’s the off-season, everything from the lift pass to the accommodation is far cheaper than we’d expected.

There are also family-friendly details that make a real difference, such as free lifts in the nursery areas; a fantastic, rustic-built play area next to the cable car and the awesome Tignes Lagoon: a vast leisure centre on the shores of Tignes le Lac that houses a waterpark, kids’ area, and wellness centre.

In fact, from a family perspective the Lagoon is almost – almost – as good as the skiing itself. Rachel and I get entry included in the price of our week lift passes; Harry goes free because he’s under five. We end up spending at least two hours there each day on the slides and in the children’s pool. Although it’s beautifully sunny every day of our trip, the Lagoon would be the perfect bad-weather activity.

The success of the Lagoon, and the family re-brand Tignes has undergone, has not gone unnoticed elsewhere either. Avoriaz has followed suit with its “Aquariaz”, a huge tropical-themed waterpark surrounded by eight new family-friendly apartment blocks. Rachel and I have now agreed that we’ll be trying out Avoriaz this winter.

And by winter I mean April, at the very earliest.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Recruitment Genius: Learning Team Administrator

    £17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions