I know that every resort and ski school are a little bit different and have their own personal touches but I wanted to tell you about our experience in Tignes Val Claret with SKIONE, both the children's school (Les Marmottons) and the adult lessons. Arriving on a Sunday night and having to be ready for school at 9am sharp on the Monday morning meant that things were a little fraught and we were not as organised as we possibly could have been, even with the help of the lovely Mark Warner staff. Hopefully, if you're thinking about booking a ski holiday and taking lessons, this post will help put you at ease and make sure that you're fully prepared.
Firstly, if you're staying at the Chalet Hotel L'Ecrin, it's a little too far from Les Marmottons ski school for your little ones to be able to walk in all their gear. Luckily, as part of the childcare package, the Mark Warner staff take the children in a mini bus and see them safely in to the hands of the ski instructors. And also pick them up and bring them back to the hotel for lunch. This is such a great service and if you're heading off for lessons yourself, it's invaluable as you can't be in two places at once. The one thing that we didn't think of in advance though was really preparing our four year old for what was about to happen. Mainly, because we weren't really prepared ourselves.
We had to take him to the crèche in his ski gear, complete with skis, boots, helmet and goggles and hand him over to strangers who in turn put him on a bus and then handed him over to more strangers in order for him to spend three full hours learning (and falling over a lot) a brand new sport. All that at only four years old. Obviously, the Mark Warner staff and the SKIONE instructors deal with this kind of situation on a daily basis but initially, it left us a little shell shocked. My little dude coped admirably but had we known how hectic it would be, we would have definitely gone through it all with him in advance.
The children are asked to take a small drink and snack and €5 with them to ski school and even thinking about what pockets to put all those things in takes a little planning. My little dude didn't eat or drink anything on the first day because he forgot, in all the chaos, that I'd actually given him anything. The ski instructors are wonderful but they're not babysitters so are not going to watch if your child eats or drinks anything. But, by day two, we were sorted and he knew exactly what was in his pockets.
My top tips ... either take a box of cereal bars with you or instead, pick up an extra pain au chocolate at breakfast. Because pockets don't tend to be large enough for a bottle of water, I filled empty fruit pouches. They're quite flat so you can generally fit two in a little ski jacket.
The setting of the ski school is a beginner's dream. It's bright and colourful and the instructors are quite high-energy leading the children in a warm up and song before the actual skiing starts. I went along to watch for half an hour every morning and it was lovely to see all the little ones skiing through hoops, using the lift, practising their turns, and yes, falling over. A lot.
I hadn't seen this before we went, but the SKIONE website has an outline of a typical day at ski school. I think it would be perfect to talk your child through this before you go. So you both know what to expect, really.
My two other top tips are ... 1. Children don't need to wear a helmet when skiing within the Les Marmottons village (there's a minute incline and they're not really picking up much speed) but the sun can be very strong so I'd suggest taking a cap. 2. My little one didn't really get on with goggles but these KidzBanz with a strap from Natural Baby Shower were absolutely perfect. No pinching his face and no falling off either.
So how did he get on? Well, to be honest, we do not have a natural skier on our hands. He found it really, really hard (probably not helped by the late nights at the crèche) but he went every day and gradually, fell over less and less. I managed to capture one semi-flawless run on video. You can see him in the blue cap and sunglasses and the bright, yellow Mark Warner vest. Yep, I'm so, so proud. And so was he when he was awarded his medal on the last day of ski school (an award ceremony is held at the end and parents are invited to come along too).
The five day course that my little one went on, for three hours a day, costs €155. You can see a full price list here. I'd also suggest having a read of this post by Karen from Mini Travellers. Karen and her family stayed at the Mark Warner hotel in the neighbouring village, Tignes Le Lac, and you will be nothing short of gobsmacked reading how her eldest daughter got on a ski school. Scroll down for her final video and remember that Lily is just four years old.
Although my husband had had several lessons in Switzerland, he decided to take more in Tignes so booked himself in for three hours every morning. The SKIONE meeting point is just a few minutes walk from the Chalet Hotel L'Ecrin, in the middle of the town square. It's well signposted but all you need to do is follow the hordes of other people that are heading in the same direction come 8.45am every day.
There were five people in total in Paul's group, all relative beginners but keen to hone their technique. The instructor took them to different slopes each day and not only did they focus on perfecting their parallel turns but they also tackled a half-pipe, slalom and a few jumps. All that and awesome views at every turn too!
Paul found the lessons invaluable and I know from the reduced amount of wincing that he did after his Friday lesson compared to the Monday, that he'd really improved over the week. Paul's top tip (well, life lesson, really) is to pack a snack and a drink. Skiing, especially when you're a beginner, can leave you hungry and thirsty and you're not always close to a restaurant or kiosk, so best to be prepared. Much like with the little ones, he recommends a cereal bar of some sort and a drinks pouch.
I hope this post helps you if you're off to ski school or are contemplating it. Please, if you have any questions or concerns, just ask. I'm happy to share what I know or find out the answers for you.
Disclaimer: We visited Tignes and Chalet Hotel L'Ecrin as guests of Mark Warner but all opinions are honest.