Skiing friends had told us horror stories… Frazzled parents carrying exhausted children and all their ski equipment, kids having on-piste meltdowns and resorts with only one over-crowded green run back to the village, notorious for accidents. The search for an easy first family ski trip was on – and, with a mind-boggling array of ski resorts to wade through, a lot harder than it looks.
Our family consisted of a decade-rusty skiing mum, a snowboarding dad with a dicky knee, a gung-ho intermediate eight-year-old and a kamikaze five-year-old beginner, who was a wild card. After months of trepidation, trying to satisfy our family’s criteria, we finally cracked it – Courchevel.
With no car, we wanted self-catering in the main village with easy access to a supermarket, close to ski school (with an on-site lunch club), close to the main ski lifts and plenty of easy green/blue runs. The only snag? The world-class resort that ticked all our boxes was frequented by the elite and très expensive. Our budget pointed to going at the very end of the season at Easter (three times less expensive than school holiday February week). The downside was some of the designer stores were already closed for the season; but no matter, we’d come to ski, not shop.
Courchevel is frequented by celebrities and Russian oligarchs; you could be sitting next to Victoria Beckham on the ski lift. It has the French highest category of ski resort ‘Famille Plus’. There are five villages in Courchevel; we were staying in the highest, Courchevel (previously known as ‘Courchevel 1850’ before the villages were rebranded), which is the most upmarket with luxury hotels, Michelin-star restaurants and designer clothing stores.
Just a three-minute ride down the mountain on the brand new ten-person Les Grangettes gondola is Courchevel Village (formerly 1550), which has lots of reasonably priced self-catering accommodation. Courchevel has lots of family activities, such as the luxe Aquamotion swimming pool/spa (with waterslides) and family toboggan runs down to the next village, all linked by free shuttle bus.
Courchevel is a two-hour drive from Geneva and Lyon, with plenty of flights to both airports from around the UK.
We chose Mountain Rescue Ski Resort Transfers to get us from plane to piste, an award-winning family business which offers direct customer contact 24/7 from their Alps office, back-up vehicles and children’s car seats of all sizes. It ran like clockwork and was a stress-free start to the holiday.
A text message and email with our driver’s name and mobile number, and a reminder of the pick-up time and location, arrived bang on time. Our two-hour journey in the brand new eight-seater Volkswagen Caravelle minibus was comfortable, our Scottish driver, Graham, gave us valuable advice about the resort and we were dropped off at the door of our accommodation.
It was no fuss, faff-free, we’d book again, especially as the company has an option on the website to share the transfer with others and split the cost. You’re also best to book directly rather than through a middleman, as you need to be able to speak to the company if the roads are impassable with snow.
Set amidst the ritzy hotels, designer clothing stores and luxury chalets, we stayed at family-friendly Pierre et Vacances Hotel du Forum – which is actually four-star self-catering apartments. A children’s toy area and cartoons in reception made check-in easy. Brilliantly located, it’s close to the main ski lifts at La Croisette, Village des Enfants/ESF ski school and a small supermarket – which, with tired little ones in tow, made our holiday logistically easy.
There’s a choice of one-four bedroom apartments, some with alcove beds, and all unique. Our apartment had a generous master bedroom, power shower and bath, a full kitchen and spacious open plan living room with flat screen TV and sofa beds for the children (some one-bedroom apartments come with alcove bunk beds). Our balcony overlooked the Village Des Enfants and pine-clad mountains. The luxe chalet-style interior (think wooden beams, rustic furniture and crisp white bed linen) was comfortable, warm and quiet – we’d return.
Each apartment has a heated ski locker for storing skis, helmets, boots (ours was in the basement via a lift) which saves lugging ski gear and tired children. There’s daily cleaning and towel change, plus games, DVDs and books are complimentary at reception All apartments are different however, so call reception to ask the details.
The clincher for us was the Courchevel 1850 Village des Enfants – the largest enclosed children’s only ski area in the world (secure and fenced off from other skiers). This five hectare area has an ESF ski school, magic carpets, Drago gondola, tree-lined runs, ice tunnels, cartoon characters and a snow garden. The key factor here is the on-site lunch club, where children can finish their two-and-a-half hour morning lesson and stay in the same building for lunch (12-2pm) until pick up – giving parents extra time to enjoy a morning’s skiing and lunch on the slopes. There is another Village Des Enfants with creche/lunch club at Courchevel Village, which has plenty reasonably priced self-catering accommodation, popular with families.
Children’s skiing ability is assessed at the beginning of the lesson on a small nursery slope with magic carpet (parents can watch), and they wear a coloured bib according to ability. Classes start at Piou Piou (age 3-5 years; a mixture of skiing and snow play), then progress up through different colours. Children’s skis and boots can be left at Village des Enfants so you don’t need to carry them every day.
Our son, a beginner, was in the yellow group. We were unsure of how he’d take to skiing; part of the appeal was that he’d be safely enclosed in a fun children’s ski area with cartoon characters and obstacles. However, we were surprised that by day three we bumped into him on the main mountain, riding gondolas with his instructor and class of eight and whizzing down green and blue runs. Our daughter (orange group), was mastering parallel turns, and spent most of her time on the main mountain’s green and blue runs.
The French instructors spoke English, the children were mostly French but it didn’t bother our kids. Both children loved skiing, so much so that on the last day, we attempted a few runs en masse as a family. Big mistake! The children started racing each other, whizzing down secret tree tracks, ad hoc. Their traffic skills were seriously lacking (luckily the slopes were quiet) and tempers flared.We’d recommend lessons until they are older.
READ MORE>> First Family Ski Trip – what you need to know
With 80 percent of the ski area set above 1,800 metres, it’s a snow-sure resort, especially with the help of Courchevel’s 600 artificial snow makers. Courchevel suits a variety of abilities; there are free beginners nursery slopes, five safe and protected Zen (beginner) zones and enough cruisey greens and blue runs.
Experienced skiers have plenty red and black runs, plus easy access to The Three Valleys, the largest ski area in the world, for 600km of unlimited terrain. Advanced skiers can try Le Grand Couloir, the most difficult run in the Three Valleys at 900m long, 350m descent and an insane 85% slope.
For beginners, Western Ski Park is a cowboys and Indians themed area with wide easy runs, perfect for families. Meet Grey Wolf in a tipi encampment, try archery, face-painting and toasted marshmallows (Ariondaz gondola). Or try boardercross and jumps at the Family Park (Verdons gondola).
Aquamotion is the largest European water park in the mountains, offering fun for kids and relaxation for adults. It boasts an indoor and outdoor lagoon, 25m pool, jumping pool, bumpy three-lane slide, toddler play area and wild river.
The Aquawellness Spa has an indoor salt pool with ski film projected on the wall, Turkish baths, Finnish sauna, steam rooms and heated outdoor pool. There’s also an indoor surfing pool and climbing wall. You can get there by free shuttle bus and entry costs €26 for adults (€37 if you include the spa), €16 for children aged 3-12 and is free for under 3s.
Courchevel 1850 toboggan run is family-friendly 2 km-long tree-lined sledge run with a 15% incline. It is open all day and floodlit at night. It leaves from the edge of Le Tovets ski run in Courchevel 1850 and finishes in Courchevel 1550 village, where you can stop for a hot chocolate before getting the cable car back up. There’s another run for 3-10 year olds at Le Tovets, Courchevel 1850.
Moriond Racing toboggan run is a new 3km family racing run around hairpin bends, through eight tunnels, around a carousel and double serpent.
If that wasn’t enough, you can try snow shoeing through the forest, ice skating, cross country skiing and snow-mobiling. The resort also has lots of seasonal events such as fireworks.
Accommodation: Pierre et Vacances Hotel du Forum. A one-bedroom self-catering apartment with alcove bunk bed from £1,000 for seven nights. pierreetvacances.com
Ski lessons: ESF/Village des Enfants ski lessons and lunch club costs €361 per child for five days. esf-uk.co.uk
Ski hire: L’Atelier Boutique sells high end kids and adults ski gear as well as quality ski equipment rental. Five day hire costs from £66 for adults, £38 for children. atelier-courchevel.com.
Ski pass: There are many options and prices for ski passes depending on age and how many hours you wish to ski – it’s also cheaper to buy in bulk. Courchevel adult six-day pass, €256, child six-day pass, €205. Or buy a family pass where everyone pays the child rate, Courchevel family six-day pass, €205 (based on two adults, two children 5-18 years).
Transfer: Mountain Rescue private transfer in an eight-seat minibus with child seats, Geneva Airport to Courchevel return (door to door), €602. themountainrescue.com