Bringing a young child on a ski holiday can be a daunting prospect, but if you choose your resort carefully, you’ll find there are plenty of activities for little ones who aren’t yet old enough for the slopes.
Meribel, in the heart of the 3 Valleys, has plenty to offer the non-skier, and plenty to amuse the under-5s.
The first question to ask is, what is the right age to start skiing? The British ski schools in Meribel, such as Parallel Lines, offer 2 hour classes for 4 – 6 year olds. Any longer than that and little legs get tired. Any younger than that, and they’re not really skiing, it’s more a case of child-care. So with that in mind, ESF, the French ski school, offer two groups for the really young. Les Saturnins is for 18-months to 3-year-olds, and is a mix of indoor and outdoor games, but no skiing. Then Piou-Piou is for 3 – 5 year olds and does include putting skis and boots on, and sliding around a fun little course. You can choose morning, afternoon or all day sessions in both of these groups.
If you don’t want to leave your child with ESF, or they are still too young to ski, you still have plenty of options open to you: Bring your own child-care. Either a nanny, or we find grand-parents are very useful at this point! In resort childcare – there are plenty of qualified nannies in resort who you can book for half-days, whole days, ski school pick-up etc. If you’re staying in a catered chalet, they can bring your children back to the chalet for lunch. You can try Meribel Nanny Service, Merinannies, or Snow Angels. Look after the kids yourselves – perhaps taking it in turns to ski and babysit.
So if you’re looking after non-skiing kids in Meribel, what can you do? Here’s a list, most of which we’ve practiced over the years, as our 4 kids have come and gone through the pre-ski years.
Swimming pool – always a winner, has an ankle deep toddler pool, and a slide for 6 year-olds and above. Only drawback is it doesn’t open until 2pm each day. Sledding – Meribel has designated several safe toboggan areas, at La Chaudanne (the main lift area), and at Altiport (the main beginner slope). There are also picnic tables there too. Kenotheque – new this year – an indoor play session, with games, books, arts and crafts, and other organized activities.
Bubble car rides – this is a favourite in our family. Take the Olympe bubble from Meribel all the way down the mountain to Bride les Bains. Wrap up warm as it can be a bit chilly sitting in a bubble car but it’s a good time-killer for the kids. Get out at Les Allues, half-way down, for a short walk to a very little playground, with swing, slide and wendy house. Get out at Bride les Bains for a bigger town, with playground and coffee shops.
More bubble-car rides – take a bus up to Mottaret and ride some more bubble cars, and a funicular. Ideal for train-spotter types!
Here’s another winner idea for transport geeks – take a bus up to Altiport and watch the planes taking off on the snow runway. Kept my kids amused for hours, but that probably says a lot about my kids! Also in Altiport, go for a nature trail. Alongside the animal ski-run is a walkers path, so you can take your toddlers for a stroll through the woods and see lifesize models of local wildlife – red deer, fox, badgers, grouse and more. You can read their names in French, see their footprints, and also learn about their stools – this is so much more than just a ski holiday.
Cinema – there is a French and English language cinema, and every so often there may be a child-friendly English film – or go to a French version, and improve their French whilst on holiday!
Shopping – lots of choice here, if you must! Eating and drinking – there are pancake restaurants, bakeries, hot chocolates – so many hang-outs for kids to indulge their taste-buds. Bowling – not ideal for really little ones, but there is a bowling alley (pricey), and also arcade games. Ice rink – again not ideal for really little ones, but if you’re feeling brave, they run a family morning session on a Tuesday morning (10 – 12noon), €4 per person including skate hire.
If you are in a catered chalet, there should be lots of DVD and games options, and maybe even a hot-tub. The main thing to remember with kids in the mountains is keep them well wrapped up – all-in-one snowsuits are ideal – and keep them well fed and watered, and keep applying the suncream, even on cloudy days. And of course, have fun – it won’t be long till they’re racing past you on the slopes, breaking the cardinal rule “No Overtaking Dad…”