Author and Alps resident Claire Garber ‘pretends’ to be a parent and gives us her perspective on what it’s like to look after a child in a ski resort. If like me (Ed.) you’re already a parent, you’ll likely not require the advice – but at least it’s fun to read it from the perspective of someone thrown into the deep end.

Ski resorts are a different place when navigating them with children. This is something I discovered only recently when helping to look after my boyfriend’s daughter of seven. My free-flowing lifestyle of flexible arrangements, unstructured days and easy-going nights was immediately curtailed. My apartment looked different, as did my fridge, my bathroom, my lounge. There was Calpol next to my soya milk; special blankey on my sofa; little pairs of socks and tights as far as the eye could see along with Barbie dolls, pieces of partially drawn-on paper, and glitter. There seemed to be so much glitter. It was as if children could quite literally explode into a space. 

Life through a child’s eyes

But navigating my familiar ski resort in the company of a 7 year old has changed my view of my mountain home. The lay of the land is now different. I am now focused on the availability and frequency of public toilets, the location of handy refreshment stands, the dangers of uneven pavements and my sudden dislike for any skier, snowboarder or car moving over a speed of 3km per hour. The world suddenly became a dangerous place. So here are my top tips and lessons learnt after my week of Pretending to be a Parent (in a ski resort).

Lesson 1 | Feel the need

Children, it seems, are driven by a series of ever-changing, ever-fluctuating, ever-reversing needs – the need to pee, the need to eat, the need to cry, and also thankfully, to laugh. They can be consumed by a hunger that makes them sob, until they burst into fits of giggles, the hunger entirely forgotten. They can stop randomly in the middle of ski school overwhelmed with the need to build a snowman. Or they can cry, loudly, if anything at all displeases them, like food that isn’t yellow, the wrong kind of hot chocolate, or if their ski instructor looks at them the wrong way. The emotional rollercoaster is non-stop, and very very real.

Lesson 2 | Stock up

Mostly on any food that is white and high GI. If you are not sure just do the opposite of all the healthy eating plans you have studied and adhered to for the last 10 years. Kids, it seems, are not into cheese fondues or large French steaks, which often leaves them starving hungry after a day on the slopes. They need comforting food, with a colour palate of bright white to sunset yellow and lots and lots of snacks. Be prepared.  N.B. Also stock up on loo roll, crayons, paper (toilet and writing) and various game apps on your iPad. Free Flow was a winner for me.

Lesson 3 | Give up
Your healthy eating plan, your day plan, your life. Because kids are not interested in structure, regiment, and restraint. So throw out any gluten-free vegan vegetable dips and temporarily side-line your special Spirulina shake that you’ve been diligently making yourself at 6am every morning. Just accept you will be eating handfuls of skittles and bowls of dry Coco Pops before consuming Orangina after Orangina followed by white pasta, white bread sandwiches and chocolate biscuits (of all kinds). If you must maintain your healthy lifestyle do so while they sleep or are distracted by the above-mentioned well-stocked iPad.

Lesson 4 | Start earlier

Leaving the house. Takes. Forever. If you need to go out by 10am tell everyone you need to leave by 8:45am. I won’t go into further detail. You’ll see. Just be prepared to dress and redress the same child several times before you leave the house. There is always one layer missing.

Lesson 5 | Embrace the pack

I have female friends that would rather cut off their right arm than use a backpack, for anything. Get over it, get yourself on ASOS and find one you can comfortably live with then order two. Fill them with one of everything you could ever possibly need, in every kind of temperature, weather condition and emergency. Then leave one in the house and one in the car. Get a bum bag and fill it with chocolate snacks, bottled water and the face wipes you used to use at university when you were too pissed to wash your face. Keep this on your person at all times. You still don’t have everything you need to successfully spend the day with a child, but you will waste lots of time packing and unpacking said bags. And kids love unpacking stuff.

Lesson 6 | Kids go free

This is one of the best things I discovered being a pretend parent. The world is a veritable free-for-all for little kids and most ski resorts provide help for ski-loving parents. Many beginner slopes are free. In Les Crosets you can ski the beginner slope for free up to the age of 12. It’s short, and not very steep, so I wouldn’t suggest spending a powder day there, but you could easily spend a few days on it with an under 5 and have loads of fun. There is also a plethora of free daily events organised by most tourist offices from creative workshops, painting afternoons and treasure hunts, to magic shows, inflatable assault courses and cheese rolling competitions (basically all the activities adults love doing but can’t legitimately do without a child present). Children also love a lot of things that are entirely cost free – like rolling around in the snow, licking the snow, making snowballs in the snow, throwing the snow at you. Priceless.

Lesson 7 | Kids live in the moment

Sod Buddha, kids have got this nailed. They’ll enjoy petting a melting defaced snowman for an indefinite amount of time, not worrying what’s next on the to do list. They will marvel at the wind chimes displayed in the town square or happily sit on the slopes pushing the snow between their fingers, just because they like how it feels. Life is a series of moments and they are fully present and fully engaged for each one. How often can you say that you do the same? Learn from them.

Lesson 8 | The Slow Train

Kids take their time.They are not in a rush to be the best, to learn, to get anywhere fast. They are only interested in being happy and having fun. Don’t rush them. Don’t push them to be technically correct. Don’t lecture them about the punter gap between their helmet and goggles. They just want to talk to the trees in the magic forest and bury their faces in fresh snow. Let them be free!

Lesson 9 | Scaredy-kids

Kids get scared. Sliding down hills can be frightening. So show them how fun it can be. Fall over, a lot, so they aren’t scared to make a mistake and be prepared to do a lot of sledding, sliding and rolling on the snow. None of it will progress their snowboarding or skiing but they are more likely to want to come back next year.   

Lesson 10 | Take a break … (but they can cost you a fortune.)

On the mountain kids burn out fast, which affects their mood (a.k.a crying) and energy levels (a.k.a crying). On extra cold days this happens three times as fast. So make sure you take frequent breaks, play often, and make sure they have consumed enough food and fluids to sustain them. HOWEVER: If you do go to an on-piste restaurant every time you need a break expect to spend at least 3.50 per drink, per child, per stop and that’s before any snacks, or you having a drink yourself. If you stop 4 times a day it is going to get expensive and you’ll have a sugar-filled crazed child to deal with. This is when the ASOS backpack comes in handy.

Lesson 11 | Embrace Disney & Pixar

Colouring books, films and early nights. They are your best friends. Ski holidays can be a sensory explosion for children (and adults), so wind down at the end of the day. Make sure they drink lots of fluids, eat good food, maybe read some stories, draw some pictures or watch a film before an early night. They need to rest after their adventures, as do you. Late nights and sugary snacks are not the way to go. It’s time for R&R – kid style.

This story was originally published in Snow Enthusiast magazine. Read the full issue free at!page1