Tignes for ski teenies? Just follow the pink bibs

With young children in tow, a family ski trip can leave you feeling snowed under. But help is at hand, as Ben Ross discovers in the French Alps

There are, of course, no guarantees when it comes to family skiing holidays. It can snow too much or too little. One of your children may twist an ankle or eat too much fondue. A fellow guest in your chalet may hog the claret, whip out their Ouija board, or force you to play hilarious nightly games of Twister.

Some things, then, must be left to blind chance (or at least a very strict policy on fondue consumption). But – to paraphrase the MasterCard advert – for everything else, there's an Esprit person.

I learnt this towards the end of the last ski season, in the high-altitude environs of Tignes, one of the ski jewels of France's Savoie region. Not that any of those disasters actually befell us. The snow was excellent – part of that fantastic glut that arrived in the Alps around Easter – and we survived the week without experiencing either injury or cheese-poisoning. What's more, the other two families in our chalet were lovely: keen, simply, to get the most from their winter break.

But even here, it seems, Esprit can influence things. Esprit chalets tend only to host those travelling with children, so youthful friendships were being forged the instant we arrived. Chalet Charline itself was also a delight. Sturdy yet cosy, it boasted exactly the sort of well-worn wood panelling and heated ski-boot racks that are the hallmark of a proper Alpine holiday. From a grown-up perspective, our shared goal of getting up and down the slopes in one piece and then collapsing with a glass of red wine while someone else did the cooking was all the social lubrication we needed. At no stage did anyone suggest Twister.

Childcare forms the core of an Esprit holiday. The company has chalets and chalet hotels in 10 French Alpine resorts, two each in Austria and Italy, plus one in Switzerland. You can tell if you're in an Esprit resort because you'll see groups of children in pink hi-vis vests singing songs about Tarzan. These are the Esprit Spritelets and Sprites en route to the slopes – and it's unlikely that their parents will be close by. Instead, the children are chaperoned by terrifyingly competent Esprit people, who appear to be able to muster camaraderie among even the most standoffish of youngsters.

Flip through the brochure and you'll see what it's all about. "Esprit Classic Child Care means being able to leave your accommodation after breakfast to head for the first lifts, only needing to return after the last one shuts," it reveals, soothingly. "We look after your children completely throughout the ski day if you wish."

Without proper back-up, the thinking goes, you're constantly concerned with chivvying small people through ski school, picking them up for lunch, and keeping everyone jolly as they toil up button-lifts in the afternoon. You have to locate missing ski gloves, hang on to expensively hired equipment and locate emergency chocolat chaud. As a hapless parent, particularly if your children are very young, the odds of you being able to achieve all this and still enjoy your own skiing are slender. Sure, it's doable. But it's often easy to forget why you came to the mountains in the first place.

Not this time. I sauntered brightly towards the Palafour lift for my first morning's skiing secure in the knowledge that my two sons, aged eight and 10, had already been picked up by Dave, an Esprit person, and taken to ski school. Their skis had been magicked from our chalet's ski locker by another, sadly nameless, Esprit person in the middle of the night. Breakfast, provided by our charming chalet hosts Chelsea and Helen, was already on the table by the time we'd all thundered downstairs: warm croissants, a selection of juices, boiled eggs, cheese and ham. There had even been time for a peaceful cup of coffee before my wife and I pottered over to meet our ski instructor.

While we set out to find our snow legs in the company of the effervescent Cindy Charlon from the Evolution 2 ski school, the boys developed their own skills, guarded by Hayley and Louise, and were then escorted to lunch at the nearby Chalet Yosemite, followed by bumboarding in Snow Club. Minutes after we returned to our chalet, they were tucking into their dinner, supervised by Amy and Becka. Then, while the grown-ups began a hearty evening meal of their own, the children were off for a session with Matthew and Ben at Cocoa Club, which appeared to involve testing the structural integrity of raw eggs. Gunge points were being accrued, we were later told, and one unlucky Esprit person would be dunked on the last day of our holiday. This would apparently be "awesome".

As you will no doubt have gathered, it takes a lot of Esprit people to make all this work. Aside from Chelsea, Helen, Hayley, Louise, Amy, Becka, Matthew and Ben, there was Janey, our ski rep, plus at least one other Dave, a Louisa and a Vicky. Esprit's staff-to-child ratios are industry-leading: one nanny per two infants under 12 months; one per three for the under-twos. There's one instructor for every six Spritelets (under-fours) and one per eight for the under-12s. Tignes is the company's second biggest resort (after nearby La Rosière) and there's such a concentration of Esprit activity here that the zone around its chalets and child-care rooms is known as "Esprit Street". Awesome isn't the half of it.

For the first time in my family's travels, the holiday became disconnected from the destination. The kids' clubs, those splendidly prepared evening meals, the pink bibs, the ski tuition: they could have been offered to us anywhere and still formed a memorable – indeed the fundamental – part of our time away. Nevertheless, few families will want to take advantage of all that childcare all the time. And Tignes – for teenies, or teens – delivers the sort of varied Alpine geography designed to make it easy to head off on your own.

Together with Val d'Isère, Tignes forms the gigantic Espace Killy area, with a combined ski pass that gives access to over 400km of ski runs and 90 lifts. However, the two resorts are very different from one another in temperament. Tignes has a cool, retro-style logo and is all about height (a snow-sure 2,100m) and hurtling down mountains in a stylishly sporty way. The villages of Val Claret, Le Lavachet and Tignes-le-Lac form the heart of a complicated web of lifts and runs that take you to snowparks, up a glacier via the Grande Motte funicular, and to plenty of black-run and off-piste excitement. The blues and reds were more our – intermediate – level, particularly the keenly paced Double M red run off Les Lanches lift, and the cruisey blues down from Chardonnet and Palafour.

Val d'Isère, meanwhile, goes for smart-looking heraldic eagle on a logo that dates back to 1934 – and there's a similarly strong whiff of old money about the place. It's also lower (at 1,850m) and more spread out, with the runs above the village forming the core of the skiing, and the lift system becoming gradually more and more primitive towards the heights of the Glacier de Pissaillas. From the safety of the Olympique gondola, we watched plenty of people wiping out on La Face, Val's daunting black run. Even our hitherto fearless eight-year-old felt that might be just a little too steep for comfort.

Local loyalty, not logos, demanded that our family favour the Tignes side of the mountains. We formed our own little ski safari down through the woods to Tignes les Boisses, which lies in the valley close to the man-made Lac Du Chevril, and then on to Tignes Les Brevieres, where we discovered La Bouida restaurant on a bridge spanning a tinkling river. Here, among tables of pizzas and raclette, the €10 children's menu proved particularly welcome.

Returning via the Sache lift we had a view of the Barrage de Tignes, the hydroelectric dam that forced the relocation of old village of Tignes further up the mountain back in the 1950s.

As a relatively fresh arrival to the Alps, "new" Tignes has a reputation for being ugly. However, I felt there was real beauty in the way Tignes-Le-Lac tucked around its own frozen lake, and there were plenty of pretty, snow-bound chalets to catch the eye nearby. (There's also a smart new complex of self-catering apartments – Tignes 1800 – that's set to add to the options this season.) At night the glitter of lights from Val Claret was framed by the blue-white mountains, the only sound the purr of piste-bashers. One evening we watched as a torch-lit procession of skiers scythed down through the cols of a nearby peak, muffled cheers from the lake below greeting each successful descent.

Our lift passes conferred free access to the watery pleasures of the Lagoon, Tignes's leisure centre, complete with flume and diving boards. And on Chelsea and Helen's night off, we risked a fondue at the cheerful Bagus Café. One day, I intend to return unencumbered by children to sample the tartiflette at the highly rated Clin D'Oeil restaurant, and may even dance the afternoon away at Folie Douce, the super-bling club above the village of La Daille. But for now, we concentrated on the important things: skiing, skiing, skiing. And, er, gunge points.

By the end of our week away, these had become the subject of fierce debate between the children of Chalet Charline. Would it be Dave? Or Amy? Surely not Ben? At a grand gathering of Esprit families on the last day, awards were given out, and songs about Superman's underpants were sung. My younger son was granted a certificate for "most improved skier", which appealed to my competitive side; his sibling was also commemorated, much to his embarrassment, as "best big brother". Even the assembled toddlers won prizes, mostly just for being toddlers.

In the end it was Vicky who got gunged. She took it well – although I'm not sure she thought it was quite as awesome as we did.

Travel essentials

Ben Ross travelled as a guest of Esprit (01483 791 900; espritski.com) which offers a week's catered chalet accommodation at Chalet Canvolan or Chalet Chamois in Tignes from £1,499 for a family of four (based on two adults and two children under 12), including flights.

Esprit Classic Child Care is available from £209 per child including a week of ski lessons. Free lift passes are available for children under five; adult lift passes cost from £135pp. For each adult that pre-books skis and boots (from £79pp), one child's skis, boots and helmet are free. Price based on 5 January departure.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Extras
indybest
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on