Michael Wolstenholme travelled to the resort of La Plagne for what was their first time together as a family on a ski holiday. With a 14- year-old and a two-year-old in tow, he describes his first experience with a family specialist operator in what is the most popular destination for UK skiers.
We are travelling with Esprit Ski (a specialist family ski tour operator) in the week leading up to Christmas. Previously, it has just been me and 14-year-old step-daughter Chloe, hitting the slopes, but this year the dynamics have changed. My wife (Letang) is back with us along with our two-year-old daughter Lilly who is experiencing her first ever holiday and as the coach ascends up to La Plagne, she appears super excited. The accumulation of snow is deep for this time of the year and is apparently the best it’s been in over a decade and I am excited too.
I’ve never really had to consider booking with a family specialist on previous trips but with Lilly now in tow, Letang and I were keen to book with a company with a good reputation for providing family ski holidays. With younger children, who you go with is, in many respects, more important than where you go. The priority is no longer focussed on how many kilometres of piste a resort boasts or their legendary après ski reputation but simply whether my little one will cry and scream all week or whether she’ll have the time of her life.
La Plagne is a very popular ski destination which is located in the Tarantaise (Savoie) area of the French Alps and is part of the large Paradiski domain which includes the resort of Les Arcs. I’ve been to both resorts on ‘mates’ holidays, but since that time I can see a lot of new development has occurred with new sectors dotted around the mountain. La Plagne may not be the most traditional or scenic resorts, but its high-altitude position offering snow sure skiing, 425km of pistes and high volume of beds has made it one of Europe’s most popular ski resorts, and now number one resort for UK guests.
We are staying in the Chalet Hotel Deux Domaines in the newer Belle Plagne area. The hotel is located close to one of the main cable cars but also has its own small piste to allow you to ski from the boot room straight onto the piste. As a family option it works brilliantly. The rooms are big and to a decent standard. We had two adjourning rooms so Chloe could have her own space whilst we had Lilly in with us. The Hotel is also owned by Esprit so all the guests are British families. This provides plenty of opportunity for you (and your kids) to make new friends, and with a comprehensive entertainment schedule, you’ll have no option but to do so.
It’s the little things that count! With Esprit we were able to travel Tuesday to Tuesday which avoids the busier weekend traffic and meant a smooth two-hour transfer rather than a traffic ridden slog. At dinner each evening, you were allocated seating next to a new set of guests. This may sound a little bit like speed dating but was great and we made new friends we are still in touch with now. For under 3’s there is a separate dining area where the toddlers can have their meals before the adults and older children sit down. After the toddlers sitting, Esprit provide a free ‘listening’ service until 10pm where members of their staff sit in the corridors and scan the baby monitors, keeping their ears tuned for any unsettled babies and toddlers. This means the adults and older children can have their meals and then relax in the foyer and bar area as well as take part in evening entertainment.
Tears before ski time, tears after ski time.
The biggest test and the one we were most anxious about was having to drop Lilly into the hotel creche and then leave her. She was not happy to be put in new surroundings and walking away hearing her crying was tough, but once the creche door closed behind me I just had to console myself with the thought of a day’s skiing ahead. The creche operated all day so unless you want to, there is no need to cut your ski day short. Letang was in group lessons which finished at lunch time so on day one she said she would go and have a peak to see how Lilly was getting on. Low and behold, she was full of smiles and enjoying herself with her new little buddies.
Dad’s Ski Club+Chloe
With Lilly in the nursery for the week and my wife in lessons for the first three mornings, Chloe and I planned to head out and explore a different ski area each day and get back to meet my wife for lunch. This was the plan at least but we soon had company. My wife is very good at socialising and during her lessons she made various new friends. These were all fellow ladies from our hotel who were learning to ski but had husbands and partners who could already do so. Unbeknown to us, she was informing them that their husbands should go skiing with Chloe and I the following day. I was a little concerned that it might mean slower pace around the mountain. I protested to my wife that “I’m here on official Snow Enthusiast business and the readers will expect me to be skiing hard and fast to explore the whole resort, not meandering”. I was ignored and on day two we were joined by Andy – who was an awesome snowboarder (even with his new hip). Day three, we were joined by Gavin – who was also a decent skier and by day four the ‘Dad’s Ski Club’ had grown to six of us. I’m happy to explore a resort by myself but ‘DSC’ was great fun and is another benefit of staying in a larger ‘tour operator owned’ hotel – you get to meet new people who can ski to a similar level.
The skiing and fifty-six wings
La Plagne has some good skiing on offer for all abilities. To take advantage of the wider ski domain of Paradiski, you need a ‘Paradiski Unlimited Pass’ which allows you to head over to Les Arcs which has a similar amount of piste to La Plagne. Les Arcs is easy to access and is connected to La Plagne by the double-decker ‘Vanoise Express’ which whips you across the dividing valley in four minutes. I’d recommend the Peisey Vallandry around the Vanoise Express on the Les Arcs side. Here you will find several wide blue and red tree-lined runs with some modern, speedy chairlifts taking you quickly back up to do it all over again. The off-piste is tempting and accessible, but although there had been some tremendous snowfalls prior to us arriving, most of the off-piste was tracked out with no new snow forecast.
By the last day of the holiday, there was still an area on the far side of Les Arcs I had not explored which was home to the highest lift in the area, the Aiguille Rouge at 3,200 meters. On paper a trip over there and back did not seem too daunting, but not being familiar with this side of the resort, it would be easy to miss a connecting lift and if bad weather came in it becomes an anxious dash home. I therefore set out early leaving DSC a member down.
Paradiski has developed an app called ‘Yuge’ which enables you to track distance covered as well as other useful functions such as an SOS button. It also has a league table of other Yuge users showing how far they have skied in a day, week or season. I was determined to be this week’s winner and get awarded my electronic winners medal. I managed to get over to the top of the Aiguille Rouge in good time and with the spectacular views on offer and the weather set fair I decided to spend a bit of time here. In total I skied the from the top down to the valley three times, leaving my legs in tatters but my Yuge score rising high!
The only downside to an awesome day was when I thought I had ordered the ‘eight chicken wing set menu’ from the snack bar but instead ordered eight portions of chicken wings (a total of fifty-six individual wings) setting me back €56! I did try to protest but the French language is not my forte and the English language clearly not the owner’s strength. On the plus side I now hold the winter 17/18 Week two Yuge record with 189.6kms skied in a day.
La Plagne is a good choice for a family ski holiday but if there is a downside, it’s the cost of food and drink outside the hotel, which I felt was a bit pricey. France has a reputation for providing less value for money than Austria or Italy and it certainly feels like that in La Plagne. To give you an example, an average main course is €15 plus, and a pint of beer or glass of wine was coming in at €8. A standard mountain restaurant lunch for four with a drink or two could easily set you back €100. This means in my view, going on a family ski holiday with a tour operator that gives you breakfast, afternoon tea, dinner and expert childcare, makes more sense than self-catering.
Why not try…
The bob sleigh track was built for the 1992 Winter Olympic Games and is still in professional use today. I’ve always loved watching bobsleigh on TV and wondered what it would be like to experience this crazy sport. I’ve never been to a resort where there was a bobsleigh track, or certainly not one where it is open to the public, so I could not turn down the opportunity to try this unique experience. When I explained to Chloe that we would reach speeds of 80kph, she was sold too.
Chloe and I opted for the ‘Bob Raft’ self-driving 4-seater vehicle. The bob sets off slowly but soon you are hurtling down the track whilst being thrown around the tight bends with a g-force that forces your neck one way then the other into the side padding. It’s an amazing white-knuckle ride. The only downside is that we had only booked the one run.
The track is open from the 2nd week of the season through to early April. They offer the ‘Bob Raft’ 4-seater vehicle or if you are more daring a ‘Mono-Bob’ single seater which reaches 90kpm or a ‘Taxi-Bob driven by a professional racer which will give you a 3.5G and 100kph experience. Prices for the ‘Bob Raft’ are €45 per person, the ‘Mono Bob’ is €109 and the ‘Taxi Bob’ is €125 per person.
Jaguar Land Rover Fun Zone
I was lucky enough to be invited to the opening event of the new Jaguar Land Rover Fun Zone. It’s a partnership between the resort of La Plagne and car manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover. It’s completely free and open to anyone over twenty-eight who has held a driving licence for a minimum of three years. Located just up from Plagne Villages near the Dou du Praz poma lift you can drive (the aim is to drift) a 600 bhp R-Type convertible Jag or a duel-controlled E-Pace around a 100-meter loop of snow and ice. Don’t worry about crashing, a professional instructor sits in with you and soft shoes are provided. I tried my hand at ice drifting in the R-Type convertible with limited success but it’s well worth taking your skis off for a bit and giving it a go.
Michael and his family booked their holiday with Esprit for week two of the season (Tuesday 19th to Tuesday 26th December) flying from Manchester.
The package for this season from Sunday 23rd to Sunday 30th December would cost £7,296 (£1,824 each) and includes: 7 Nights half-board accommodation in Chalet Hotel des Deux Domaines, flights, return airport transfers.
www.espritski.com/ski-chalets/deux-domaines Extras: 6 Days Nursery for children ages 17 weeks to 40 months (£379), Ski and Boot Hire (mid-level ‘Red’ package) for 2 Adults and Teenager (£420 – £140 each), Paradiski Unlimited Passes for 2 adult and teenager (£795 – £265 each), *Ski lessons with ESF – 5 days (AM) for 2 Adults and a Teenager (£627 – £209 each for any level)
*Letang also took some private lessons with Oxygene Ski School located in Belle Plagne. She was very impressed with them and felt her skiing improved much quicker compared to group lessons. They offer a one-hour morning private tuition for €55 or a two-hour private tuition for €106. Group lessons also available as an alternative to ESF. www.oxygene.ski/la-plagne-ski-school/la-plagne-private-and-off-piste-lessons
Opting for the previous week (Week 1) 16th to 23rd December with the same package would cost £5,536 saving you £1,760.
Alternatively, with Easter being late in 2019, the last week of the season (Week 18) 14th to 21st April would cost £5,858.
For those looking to go at February Half-Term the cost would be £11,149.
If you are not planning to ski Les Arcs, then a La Plagne Lift Pass (with 1 Day in Les Arcs) is £232 saving £33.
This story was originally published in Snow Enthusiast magazine. Read the full issue free at http://magazine.snow-forecast.com/snow-enthusiast-sf-2018#!page1