FAMILIES looking for suitable skiing locations should check out the 40 resorts which have gained the label Famille Plus Montagne.
The Famille Plus label, which is supported by the Tourism Ministry, was launched in 2006 and covers several resort types: countryside, mountain, coast and town, with those selected having to pass rigorous assessments of welcome and facilities for families.
The French skiing areas with the most Famille Plus Montagne resorts (11 each) are Savoie and the Alpes du Sud area. The latter covers the departments of the Alpes-Maritimes (two resorts); Hautes-Alpes (five); and Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (four) followed by Haute-Savoie (10) and Isère (four). The Pyrenees and Massif Central have two each.
The label is a guarantee that the resorts cater well for families with children from 18 months old. They have to:
- Offer a personalised welcome to families
- Have entertainment suitable for all ages
- Have specialised tariffs for all ages and attractive family rates including an all-inclusive Famille Plus Montagne rate on creches, lessons and lifts; usually free lift use for under fives, and free cross-country skiing for under sixes
- Activities suitable for all ages, to take part in together as a family or separately
- Medical facilities in case of injury
- Professionals (ski school, lifts etc) who look after children to a high standard
Find the list of all resorts on the site of the Association Nationale des Maires des Stations de Montagne (www.anmsm.fr) one of the bodies that helped set the label up. (On going to press however it was missing two resorts listed for the first time this winter - Les Houches in Haute-Savoie and Les Deux Alpes in Isère)
Click on Famille Plus Montagne in the top bar and then stations labelisées. You can also see all the resorts at the site www.familleplus.fr - on their map, click on “montagne” to see just the ski resorts. Check the Bons Plans (then destination montagne) section for some recommended holiday deals in labelled resorts (watch out for some of the ski jargon, like RM, for remontées mechaniques - ski lifts - and forfait, literally “set price,” which refers to a lift pass).
The kinds of facilities you can expect include creches for those too young to ski and suitable lessons for those aged three of more. Creches are known as garderies, and resorts will have ones taking children from 18 months (sometimes less) to six, at least six days a week, and with outdoor play areas. Resorts have links with protected ski facilities for the very young, called jardins des neiges so that children attending garderies can start to learn to ski (from age four at the latest) for part of the day.
Ski schools should be available for children three and above. The leading French ski school organisation, Ecole de Ski Français (the largest in the world), calls its youngest classes the Club Piou Piou. These use jardins des neiges with mini ski-lifts and tapis roulants (a snow version of moving walkways which act as lifts for very gentle slopes) and a fun environment, for example with inflatable figures.
The children get their Piou Piou badge after the first week, which then allows them to take the ourson (bear cub) test when they are ready, the ESF’s first skiing test. Some of the clubs also offer garderie and meal facilities on site.
In Famille Plus Montagne resorts the jardins des neiges must function all season, with artificially-produced snow if necessary. They must also have areas where parents can ski with their young children, a special sledging area, entertainment for kids aged three plus and suitable accommodation and menus for all ages, with enough cots, high chairs and baby baths etc.
From around age five to six children graduate to normal lessons - whether for ordinary skiing or snowboarding - which are offered as half-days, days or by the week (morning or afternoon). Private lessons are also available, and the ESF has a series of eight progressively harder tests for kids.
Teenagers will appreciate facilities like teen discos and many resorts offer activities like story-telling sessions, heated indoor pools, snow-shoeing (raquettes) and ice skating.
Les Houches tourism director Didier Joseph said they worked hard to get the label because they had always had a family focus. “This label in really important to us. We used to have the [now obsolete] P’tits Montagnards one.
“We are just next to Chamonix and we work closely with them. We brand ourselves as the family resort for the Chamonix valley. We have been working with all the professionals - lifts, ski schools, hoteliers, for two years to make sure what we meet all the criteria.
“The ESF and the mairie have made big investments to improve the welcome for children and the activities on offer and we have developed attractive tariffs - like a special ‘tribe’ rate for the lifts. We also have a new beginners’ ski zone opening this winter at the top of the cable cars, with a special child’s chairlift and a very competitive rate - e9.70/day for the cable car, chairlifts and moving walkways.”
Take strong sunblock and gloves and sunglasses/ masks and consider wrist protectors (known as boardies). Boardies are especially useful to protect young snowboarders from their most common injury, a sprained wrist.
Helmets with the N1077 standard are recommended by mountain doctors for age four to 12.
Check the whole family gets enough sleep. Some people find it harder to sleep at high altitude, but young children need about 10 hours sleep, especially after a hard day on the slopes.