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Club Med ski holidays: the perfect mix of family and me time

The Grand Massif Samoëns Morillon resort is a luxurious break even for non-skiers

Sophie Vokes-Dudgeon

I can’t quite put my finger on the exact moment that we realised our week-long holiday at Club Med’s Grand Massif resort in Samoens was going to be amazing; the ease of finding our taxi transfer at the dedicated Club Med desk at Geneva airport was a positive start. The experience of checking in, while sitting down with a glass of champagne in the luxurious lounge, another. The seamless journey through the ski and snowboard hire process on level G of the recently-built club house, ending up at our lockers, complete with bootwarmers and the realisation that the lesson meeting point was just a few steps outside the giant glass doors, a third.

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But while it’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment, there was no doubt that by the time we sat down to dinner that night in the Cosy Mountain Restaurant, with an array of food to choose from a literally mouth-watering buffet, we were all pretty certain this was going to be a great holiday. In fact, who am I kidding? While all the above were great plusses to the adults in our family – it was the chocolate fountain and the realisation that trips to the dessert counter could be unlimited, that definitely clinched it for the kids!

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They immesurable joys of a chocolate fountain

This was our first experience of a Club Med ski holiday and we didn’t really know what to expect. Everything was included – this we understood. From ski passes, to ski lessons, to all food and drink, as you would expect for this company – one of the founders of the ‘All Inclusive’ concept. But what I hadn’t anticipated is the amazing flexibility this enables a family to have, and the fact that every member of the family is able to get exactly what they want out of a ski holiday.

With an 11 year old and a 13 year old, both of whom are fairly experienced skiers, we hadn’t really planned on taking lessons. The Grand Massif area is huge, and we’d been lucky with some early-season snow so we thought we’d just zoom around, en famille, as we’ve done on previous holidays.

The sheer array of lessons available to us at no extra cost made us wonder if we should at least try – and after a little deliberation over a Mountain Spritz at the bar, my husband and eldest son decided to give snowboarding a try – just for a session or two - to at least be able to test out the instructors.

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The pistes were empty and the snow perfect

Morning one, and we delighted in the relaxation that becoming part of the Club Med well-oiled machine allows: Up at 7.30am, breakfast in the restaurant (triple course of fry ups, pancakes and fruit for some – I won’t mention names), before heading to the boot room and outside to the lesson meeting point.

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The dining room has some very fun decor

Having dispatched the adventurous two snowboarding debutantes, my 11-year-old and I headed down the mountain for our own adventure. Or so we had planned. Unfortunately (or so it appeared at this point) the ski lift linking Samoens to the rest of the Grand Massif was shut due to high winds, leaving just a handful of red and blue pistes for Noah and me to enjoy.

We re-found our ski legs and had some fun but couldn’t help but feel a little deflated when we met up with the others for lunch at 12 – what if the lifts were shut all holiday? We were going to get bored? If it hadn’t been for this piece of supposed bad luck, I think we’d have pressed on with our plans to go it alone for the whole week of skiing. As it was, we decided the best course of action might be to give a lesson a go – even though our ages (11 is still considered a child, whereas my 13 year old had been able to go into an adult session with my husband) meant we would have to do so alone. Not quite my idea of a family holiday.

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Thankfully things at Club Med are very flexible, so it was no problem signing my son up to the Bronze club, and I slightly reluctantly added my name to the 3A skier class – happy with reds and blues, but not really a fan of off piste or black runs. It took a bit of encouraging to get Noah off with his group – but with only three in the lesson it was, without doubt, a great opportunity to increase his skills. And off I headed to meet my fellow class members too.

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It quickly became apparent that being a solo skier was not an oddity here. In fact in my class of 8, only two knew each other – everyone else had partners or children with them on holiday, who skied at different levels. All so friendly and from diverse parts of the world – from Singapore, Brazil, Switzerland, Romania and the US – under the expert tuition of our French instructor Richard, a funny mish mash of a group, but instantly a lot of fun.

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That afternoon, as I rejoined my family for afternoon tea (more pancakes, healthy options and some very welcome vin chaud) and offered to drop out of my class tomorrow since the connecting ski lift was looking likely to be open, if everyone would prefer to go back to the original plan to ski together, I was met with a resounding no! My youngest loved his club and had made firm friends already. My son and husband were determined to become snowboarding dudes by the end of the week leaving me free to do my own thing.

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My son made firm friends with his small ski group

It felt a bit odd, but I was up for the challenge. As the week progressed, we all realised how great the Club Med set up was. I was already feeling the improvements in my skiing and really relishing the chance to focus on me, what I was doing and how my skills were progressing. Equally – the boys were not being held back by parents distinctly less daring than them, with my youngest tearing around off-piste, doing jumps, slaloms and all sorts of other things he definitely wouldn’t have been doing with mum.

The other two were really progressing – in a way that they only would with consistent morning and afternoon sessions focussed on learning how to get down first a green – and later a blue and red slope, on a new mode of transport.

Breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner times were peppered with tales of adventures we’d had during lessons, and introductions to friends made on the slopes, and re-encountered at the fish bar.

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The food at Club Med is out of this world

Mealtimes deserve a mention of their own. Never before have I managed to go on a ski trip and return feeling a little healthy. Fear not – for those wanting to indulge in fondue, raclette, tarteflette and rich puds, there is absolutely the option. But there is also an option to make healthy choices without feeling the slightest bit hard done by. A buffet at Club Med is not a normal buffet; there were days where there were so many scrummy options I literally didn’t have the room to try them all. Breakfasts of oat vegan croissants and fruit were followed by a lunch of delectable salads, tea time treats of healthy veggie soups with crudités and a dinner of sashimi. And of course, the pudding counter was usually too good to avoid entirely, and what’s a holiday without wine, Mountain Spritzes and the odd Nutella pancake?

But the point is, it is possible to both indulge and also make healthy choices – in fact every option is there. Pizza, burgers, paella – you name it. If you fancy a break from the lively buffet, there’s an a la carte Skyline Gourmet Lounge. We tried it one night and the ambiance and food were great – but to be honest, with kids, the convenience of the buffet was hard to beat.

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The view from our bedroom window - right on the slopes

There are so many things we didn’t get a chance to try – however keen and energetic we thought we were. With a full day on the slopes, we were all passed out in bed by 10pm most nights – while the parties continued downstairs for those who could! The teen lounge and ping pong tables became a meeting point for new teen friends, so often the kids were out later than us. The Club Med wristbands, which double as room keys, meant the youngsters were afforded a huge amount of freedom which they relished. 

We managed a swim twice, a couple of saunas, and enjoyed both a lot. The décor at Samoens Morillion  is stunning – a modern twist on traditional mountain chic and huge glass windows wherever you are bringing the beauty of the Alps inside. There’s even a spa which myself and my eldest tried on on the last day, as the aches and pains started to creep up on us. A mother-and-son massage was a real treat, in a double treatment room we were pummelled and prodded until the stresses and strains of a ski trip (yeah right!) floated out the windows into the mountain skies.

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There are fitness classes for non-skiers or those taking a break from the slopes

A Club Med ski experience is just that. And thankfully we found out almost by chance, how fantastic it is when you really embrace it. The kids have made friends in Shanghai and Japan, and we’ve all returned with new skills and tales to tell each other about which keep emerging as we remember a new one.

As ever with Club Med, there’s no pressure to get involved. But if you want anything, you can guarantee it will be possible. And now we’ve had a taste of the excitement of conquering new challenges and achieving new skills, I have a feeling our ski holidays will never be the same again.