Skiing with kids is always a challenge, not just because the little darlings learn how to whizz down slopes much more quickly than their parents do, but for the occasional difficulty of finding suitable apres-ski activities.
Resorts like Val D’Isere struggle to cater for families because they’re so tuned in to the needs of older teenagers and twentysomethings, for whom a copious supply of alcohol and loud discos are the order of the day.
Les Deux Alpes, however, manages to do something for both camps, having plenty of moderately-priced restaurants and a very good supply of entertainment from ice skating, sports centre and heated outdoor swimming pool to cinema, nightclubs, amusement halls and even ten-pin bowling.
As important as the apres-ski, of course, is the quality of the ski experience itself. At Les Deux Alpes, it’s mostly excellent thanks to one of the biggest skiable glaciers in Europe and good slopes on both sides of the resort. We’ve been to Les Deux Alpes in the February half term when snow in the resort was plentiful and you could ski all the way to your chalet door.
Snow levels during a repeat visit at Easter weren’t quite so good, being non-existent in the village itself – but the upper slopes were still marvellous with fresh snow falling throughout the week, much more than you can expect in most resorts at this time of year.
The resort is a hefty, five-hour bus ride from Turin airport and about half that from Grenoble. Many British families choose to drive from home and if you start early enough it’s achievable in a day, though the road up to the resort can get jammed solid on change-over days.
Apart from the bottleneck entrance, Les Deux Alpes is a very well laid out resort with a towering and efficient lift system. Even on the busiest blue runs the lifts are quick and efficient, guaranteeing that you’re never stuck in a queue for more than a few minutes in school holidays.
The easier slopes do get a bit crowded, however, and the behaviour – and ability – of the mostly French teenage snowboarders leaves something to be desired. A conversational ability in French will stand you in good stead, however, as there’s nothing like being able to tick off a speeder in their own language.
There are plenty of shops and supermarkets in Les Deux Alpes with prices comparable to those in other ski resorts. Many people prefer to take lunch in one of the eight mountain-top restaurants, all of which take credit cards and will do you a minute steak and frites for a princely 12 Euros.
That’s not bad if you’re on a budget for two but it’s an expense that mounts up for a full family over the course of a week. Packed lunches were available in our hotel for around 8 Euros but if you’ve got the time you’re better off making them yourselves.
If you’re undecided about where to stay, there’s accommodation for every budget. We’ve stayed in an excellent self-catering chalet with Wasteland Ski, a stone’s throw from the main ski lifts as well as in the two-star Hotel Des Neiges with Rocket Ski when we went at Easter.
I’d be giving Rocket Ski the benefit of the doubt by suggesting that the poor state of the accommodation reflected a hard season’s use by British school ski trips. Very spartan bedrooms were just about alright if you were up for slumming it on a tight budget. But the bathrooms were almost unusable and the subject of much complaint from other families in the hotel.
Acceptable, perhaps, as they were for schoolchildren whose parents back home don’t get to see the state of the rooms, they were not adequate for the family market. Pointedly the hotel brochure doesn’t even refer to bathrooms, referring ominously just to ‘private facilities’.
Location in ski resorts is also everything. The main drag of Les Deux Alpes is the best place to be, just a few minutes’ walk from the lifts in the morning with all your ski equipment. Chalets and rooms there are a good idea.
Choose a hotel, as we did, that’s a little further out and you’ll be lugging your skis and poles – and those of your children – for a good 15 minutes.
That’s probably as far as you want to walk in ski boots first thing in the morning. Last thing at night, it’s a very long schlep for tired kids. Mysteriously, our reps’ minibus was ‘unavailable’ and sat unused outside our hotel all week.
There are enough slopes to satisfy even the most expert skier, though by the end of the week the most advanced will have traversed everything the resort has to offer.
The more adventurous can still venture further afield to Montgenevre, Serre Chevalier and Alpe d’Huez, the latter accessible by helicopter if your budget will stand it.
But Les Deux Alpes is a good all-round resort with something for everyone. We certainly would go back again though we’d be a mite choosier about our accommodation next time.
Travel facts Guy Dresser and family travelled to Les Deux Alpes with RocketSki (www.rocketski.com)
This article appeared on the Daily Mail website on 21 January 2005.