Austria: Sloping off to serfaus

Skiing with young children may seem daunting, but this Austrian resort has (most of) the answers.

By Jo Kessel
Saturday 14 February 2009 01:00
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Bob the Builder is an unlikely source of inspiration for an Alpine getaway, but ever since he donned skis in one episode, my twins, Nathalie and Gabriel, had been on a mission to do the same. However, while the concept was a thrill, the practicalities of travel with two five-year-olds and their two-and-a-half-year-old sister, Hannah, was less enticing. A long weekend to test the water (in case the children didn't take to the slopes) seemed a far better proposition than squandering thousands of pounds on a week's package deal. And with transfer times from Innsbruck being less than an hour to many resorts, the capital of the Tyrol looked the most accessible destination.

On the other side of the mountain to the party resort of Ischgl in Austria lies its much more sedate neighbour, Serfaus. With a dedicated children's area on the slopes and a hotel that caters particularly for families, it ticked all the right boxes. Coated in December snow, the village is quintessentially Tyrolean, complete with a pretty church, wooden chalets and the smell of dung to add to the parochial feel. As the children busied themselves making snowballs, my husband and I replenished our lungs with long-forgotten Alpine air.

The next morning there was a hitch: our youngest wasn't in any mood to climb a mountain. As we deliberated which parent should stay behind, the Löwe hotel intervened to save the day. The English-speaking nannies were happy to take care of Hannah. Our daughter didn't object to being left, so mobile-phone numbers were scribbled in case of emergency and goodbyes were said.

Serfaus is the only resort in Europe with an underground network – a two-carriage train with four strategically placed stops – useful both for reducing traffic and for transporting tired youngsters with multiple skis and poles. Equipment was easy enough to hire at the main bubble's check-in service, a system that was so hi-tech that no sooner had you entered your data into computers, than skis and boots were ready for collection at the counter.

After a couple of runs, our wobbly ski legs gradually steadied. Serfaus boasts 185km of quiet, empty pistes and peaks at 2,800m above sea level – high by Austrian standards. It's set on a sunny plateau above the Tyrolean Inn Valley, so there wasn't a cloud in the vast blue sky. We wasted no time in exploring the area, which connects with two sister villages: Fiss and Ladis.

Before lunch, we popped into the children's ski area, known as the Kinderschneealm, in order to spy on Gabriel and Nathalie.

This wasn't just the usual nursery slope with magic carpets, but a bona- fide playground with swings, slides, and climbing frames. The twins' progress was remarkable. Gabriel looked completely relaxed at having two planks for feet, gliding effortlessly. Ditto his sister Nathalie, who even managed a neat, snow-plough stop. And they'd only been there for two hours.

Gratified that all was well, we took a breather in a sleek, minimalist establishment called the Lounge, complete with Philippe Starck-style touches, such as neon-lit water flowing from taps in the bathrooms. When the twins were finally delivered to our hotel room later that afternoon, they were utterly exhausted. Again, we capitalised on the situation: the hotel's hi-tech baby-listening service came into play while we enjoyed a champagne dinner in the downstairs restaurant.

Day two, and the weather was still glorious, but overnight our three children had developed high fevers and rib-splitting coughs. They were clearly too ill for a visit to the mini-club, so my husband and I tossed a coin. "Oh, well," said my husband after losing, "it'll be my turn tomorrow. Go and enjoy yourself."

No point wasting the opportunity, I thought, so guilt was cast aside and mountains were climbed, over to Fiss on a heated chairlift (such a pleasing sensation – this gimmick should be mandatory) and to the start of a 10km run that took an exhilarating half-hour from top to bottom. It was wide, straightforward, with not a soul in sight – the only sound was my staccato breath and the reassuring scrape of skis.

On the way back down to base to relieve my husband of parenting duties, I tracked the Murmli trail, a run designed for children who've progressed beyond the nursery slope. With all three of mine conked out on the bed on return to the hotel, I felt sad that they hadn't met the snoring marmot and ogre that rises if hit by a snowball, because in a few years time they might well be too old to appreciate it.

To salvage what we could from the time left, my husband spent an afternoon in the hotel's gym and spa and booked a babysitter for our last night. For a memorable evening, we took a horse and carriage ride to Madatschen, a traditional – and remote – inn where we warmed up on schnapps and an assortment of succulent grilled meats.

Perhaps we bit off more than we could chew attempting a four-day ski trip with three little ones, but if illness had struck during a week's package deal, there would have been even more to lose. The Löwe made our stay much easier than it might have been in the circumstances. The food for the children was always excellent (and the grown-up fare was pretty decent, too), our family suite was vast, and the staff went out of their way to help us settle in. On the final morning, our brood even managed an hour's entertainment in the hotel's huge soft-play area. Around the corner from the Löwe there was also a convenient small nursery slope (where children should start off until they have familiarised themselves with basic ski skills).

This season, Serfaus is even more family-friendly, thanks to the arrival of a new eight-person chairlift called Familien Bahn Gampen, which is cleverly set up so that the chairs arrive at the right height for children. Bob the Builder would surely approve.

Traveller's Guide

Getting there

Innsbruck is served by easyJet (0905 821 0905; easyjet.com) from Gatwick, Bristol and Liverpool. To reduce the impact on the environment, you can buy an "offset" through Abta's Reduce My Footprint initiative (020-7637 2444; reducemyfootprint.travel).

Staying there

Löwe hotel, Herrenanger 9, Serfaus, Tyrol, Austria (00 43 5476 6058; loewebaer.com). Seven nights in a family suite (sleeping four), booked through Kinderhotels (0845 082 2422; kinderhotels.co.uk), start at €652 per child and €1,526 per adult, including full board, lift passes and children's ski school; flights not included.

More information

Serfaus-Fiss-Ladis Tourist Office (00 43 54 766 2030; www.serfaus-fiss-ladis.at)

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