I've been on a few family ski holidays in my time, but this was the first time I had gone on holiday with just my youngest son. I had a few doubts about how compatible we would be as ski companions. I rabidly maximise my time on the snow, skiing from the moment the lifts open until I'm being chased down by the pisteurs at dusk. My son however, at the age of 10, is more into the apres ski, happy to relax in a pool, indulge in afternoon teas, and hang out at kids' club.
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It was the opportunity for flexibility that drew us to Mark Warner's Chalet Berangere in Les Deux Alpes. Not only does it have the pool and spa facilities, afternoon teas starting at 4.30pm and a fantastic kids club, it is - most importantly for me - on piste, so no time is wasted traipsing across town before the skiing begins.
Our ski-in, ski-out hotel
What I also hadn't realised but now appreciate, is that its proximity to the slopes also means it is very easy to break up the day, satisfying our different requirements. And in late March this was a double blessing because it was HOT! With bright blue skies and scorching sun the less time spent getting steamy whilst walking in ski boots the better. By the second day we had discarded our ski jackets entirely and were cruising in just our jumpers.
On arrival I was thoroughly impressed with the organisation. After a rapid transfer of just an hour and three quarters from the airport, we were greeted by the team of chalet hosts who efficiently dispatched our luggage to our rooms. Prebooked skis would be available an hour later in the underground garage so no need to face the dreaded scrabble at the ski shop at the beginning and end of your week. Fantastic not to have to think about anything.
Blue skies all week for this Easter holiday break
Jen, the general manager, personally assisted us in getting our bearings, giving us a tour of the facilities and orientating us towards the spacious and heated boot room. Jen really set the standard that was matched by the rest of the staff for the whole week, from Ben and Maria in the restaurant to Summer, who handled customer services, we were always greeted with a positive, happy to help attitude - my son loved them all.
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Les Deux Alpes has a different topology to many resorts I have experienced with a narrow pinch point to access the higher slopes. On the plus side if you take the two consecutive gondola lifts (Jandri Express 1 & 2) to the top of the Mont-de-Lans glacier, you can ski uninterrupted from 3450m to 1300m covering over 10km in one run. On the downside, the demand for the gondola lifts and the time of travel to the glacier can be frustrating at peek times.
In 2018, the configuration of the lifts meant there was no secondary access to the glacier, however this was due to be resolved for 2019-2020 season with a new chair lift connecting the Fee sector directly to the Glacier. In fact, within the next 3 years even the Jandri Express will be replaced to triple the capacity and there will a link connecting the neighbouring Alpe d’Huez pistes, so the long term outlook for the region is extremely positive and motivates us to return.
On skis we managed to cover every sector within the week. We really enjoyed the the reds and blacks in the quieter Fee area. On the Wednesday and Thursday we decided to switch things up a little and try snowboarding for the first time. Again - this was surprisingly simple. Lessons can be prebooked before departure, and a representative from ESF visits the Chalet a few times during the week should you wish to schedule any additional tuition.
With the lower slopes being icy in the morning we headed up on the white eggs lift (Oeufs Blancs) to the magic carpet lift (Petites Crêtes) on the edge of the Crêtes piste. It was a roller-coaster transition with my son's initial enthusiasm for snowboarding evaporating the moment he realised he wouldn't be capable of frontside grabs after the first couple of hours. Our instructor was incredibly patient with him though, and he was soon beaming from ear to ear as he managed to transfer from heel to toe and combine multiple turns.
Note to self: instructors are king
HIs glee was slightly short lived however - and when we tried to practice on our own in the afternoon, he vowed to never snowboard again! Turns out expert tuition is pretty key to picking up a new skill on the slopes, and as he happily told me, he wasn't going to listen to anything I said, "because you're not an expert!"
An immediate return to the chalet for an emergency helping of brownies and raspberry cake meant the spills and falls of the afternoon were soon forgotten. At five, during afternoon tea, kids can get their full evening meal, so any hunger-induced meltdowns can be avoided. The official evening meals start run from 19:30-21:30 and you can choose to dine on the social table or with just your own group.
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For our final two days, we switched back to skis, skiing for over 6 hours a day. I was incredibly impressed with my son's stamina, no doubt assisted by the excellent evening meals and multiple course full breakfasts. But even having made the most of time on the slopes, the holiday really flew by, and we left early on the Sunday morning with heavy hearts. One thing's for sure, we will be back - either here, where we'd happily return, or another of the Mark Warner holiday destinations. Ski trips can feel overwhelming for first timers (or those who are used to sorting everything out on the fly from those carefree, pre-children days!). But with everything from ski hire to passes sorted ahead of arrival, and all meals and entertainment on hand, you literally just turn up and go. We can't wait to do just that again this season!
- Beginners may prefer to go earlier in the season when it is colder and the snow in the lower slopes near the village are softer.
- Avoid the Jandri Express at peak periods; in the afternoon it is much quieter.
- Don't neglect the other sectors away from the Jandri Express.
- The WiFi is excellent so don't worry if you need to stay connected for work (or Fortnite! - sorry, Prince Harry).
December holidays currently on sale from £499 per person on the Mark Warner website.