The exquisite torture of skiing with children

I have a twin sister who currently has a lot more time for crazy adventures than I do. As she’s a translator, she can work from anywhere, and spends several months of the year skiing. So she decided to take our five year old on a ski holiday to Grindelwald. I had thought she was going to write an account of the whole experience, but she just sits on the sofa looking a little broken. I was hoping for some great insights into how to make a success of taking kids skiing. As far as I can work out, the insights are:

  • Stuff them full of favourite foods
  • Everything takes forever
  • Ski gear is really annoying with kids
  • Hell is other people

That was my experience last time we took them to Chamonix, so maybe the answer is that skiing with kids sucks. This was her account of the rough timeline – bear in mind she has no kids of her own, so the things that are just parent life probably seemed extra traumatic:

7.35 Get to breakfast. Obviously have to let him have hot chocolate as I set the precedent yesterday. They bring the hot milk and a sachet of hot chocolate powder, and in some utterly magic way Conrad remembers that last year I brought him back a sachet of hot chocolate from Switzerland. He’s either incredibly cute and has an excellent memory or a sociopath who knows what will push the “charmed” button. Obviously I think the former.

He is rather keen on salami at the moment. Mysteriously, to me, he does not like scrambled egg, but does like boiled egg.

He was less prone to yesterday’s tantrums about waiting for the bus, fortunately.

8.10 Got ready to go skiing, I didn’t get myself ready , which was a mistake, but thought it couldn’t take that long to drop him off and I would get the 10am bus back at the latest, saving me carrying my skis as well. Of course it was the same old story, ski school never starts on time even in Switzerland. He got put back down to absolute beginners today. I was a little bit gutted, as I really want him to learn to use the drag lift, it’s key to taking him anywhere, and is really hard to teach him. Still, I had some amusement watching some Americans who live in London drop their kids off with their private ski instructor. They had never skiied before, but they had some pretty nice kit, Smith goggles and helmets, Polarn (whatever) outfits and their own ski boots. The ski instructor, all of maybe 22, asks them, “London, so really London or nearby?”, and they were almost offended at the accusation that they might not be utterly loaded and said, no, central London.

I didn’t get the 10 am bus, had to rush back to get my kit, out the door by 11.30, missed the 11.47 train to Kleine Scheidegg, next one 12.17. That’s the old cog railway, absolutely beautiful, one of the best train journeys especially in the morning. Got up chairlift and skiing by 1ish I guess, was actually great. It hasn’t snowed for at least two weeks, probably more, but the weather is just gorgeous. Snow that high up is pretty good, I need the practice on easy smooth pistes anyway to work out my new skis, which are all-mountain.These skis have less room for error, I actually wonder if he’s drilled the bindings slightly further back, but probably it’s just the extra rocker and 4 cm at the front.

I thought about Grindelwald. It’s lovely, but it’s almost a one-time place. The beauty of it is surpising the first time, the way the mountains perfectly encircle the town without actually looming over it like Chamonix; the almost religious veneration of the Eiger that made the town’s fortune. I suppose Chamonix does that too, but Mont Blanc is a bit further away. The fact that almost everything is south facing because the whole town pretty much faces the Eiger.

The second time you come, you notice all the annoying things, like how slow the Swiss are with everything. I suppose they don’t have to fear losing their jobs, so there’s no reason to be fast or particularly ingratiating. I do like that sometimes though, I like that they just have their beautiful country and history, and don’t really care if some things are really run down, they still work, and you don’t get rich by replacing everything too early.

2.47 took the long home run back down, and was briefly annoyed that I hadn’t made the effort to take one of my film cameras with me, the best shot of the Eiger is from that piste. But it’ll still be there for another day. And what would I really do with a nice picture of the Eiger?

3.05 got on bus, which took half an hour as I didn’t realise it stopped at the station for ages, but it gave me time to find out Karl Lagerfeld had died. Got off the bus a few stops early and tried skiing across some fields but the snow was pretty dead, melted and rained on and sun-softened.

Conrad was less crazy tired today, so he seemed less over-excited about skiing, but I watched him doing a “jump” – the instructor holds his hand and guides him over it, but he still landed it better than the other kids. He seems a tiny bit bored actually. They had lent him some gloves, as his got wet, I gave him the less boiling hot ones this morning, but he only produced one lent glove and threw that on the ground, which I slightly told him off for. Note to self: give him the overly hot gloves that he will wear on his wrist all day.

He wanted to go watch TV but I gave him a choice of going to eat cake or going swimming. He chose going swimming because he wanted a wee, for some reason he seems to not like going for a wee in a coffee shop, maybe he doesn’t realise they have loos. We went to the hotel pool, nice and warm outdoor “infinity” pool, with obligatory Eiger view, where of course the French people were charmed by how cute he was swimming up and down with his swim wings (as the Germans cal them), quite determined to show me he could do it. Spent a bit too long there, think he got tired, then he wanted to watch C beebies, and pretended he wasn’t hungry yet – beginner mistake of mine, that. Of course he was utterly knackered and starving by the time we got to sit down at dinner at 640, and I was pretty pissy that it took them half an hour to bring food. Fondue doesn’t take long to make, guys. I hate the Swiss version, the Appenzeller is sour tasting and ruins the whole creaminess. Tried to get him have some salad but not much success. Then he had almost an entire chocolate mousse to himself, but whatever. Not as if he’s fat, and on a very simplistic level I want him to associate skiing with happy times. Is that outright bribery? Yup, probably.

I’ve realised the nice thing about children. They make you care less about little things not happening. So what if I get less ski time? So what if he wants to snuggle when half-asleep in the night, so he wakes me up three times? So trivial things don’t happen, like perfect sleep or perfect execution of plan (no such thing anyway), and in return you get affection and a happy excited little face. Oh, and the satisfaction of other people being impressed with his nice manners, that’s hugely satisfying but not a good thing to be pleased with, as it is just reflected glory then, the effort is his.

After dinner we had a story, and talked to mummy and Daddy, and then he wanted to write his diary but couldn’t work out how to spell breakfast so I didn’t correct him as he was by this time very very tired.

He’s his own little person already. He has his own internal life and his own little projects in his head, like a series of chess moves, “end goal: tv. Steps to get there: distract, get closer to venue for tv with pretext, commit to enjoyment of pretext, then: hotel, room, strike!

Tomorrow: take packed lunch, eat on deck chairs, ski bunny slope for short time, then take him to city pool that has slides and kiddie pool. Not sure where to do dinner.

Note for next time: kids need self catering accommodation.

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