grandparents, parents and young kids pose for ski photo outside a chalet on the snow
Featured Family Skiing Ski Holiday

En Famille with Ski Famille

Family Skiing in the 3 Valleys With Three Generations of Hardys.

Even if you’re experienced yourselves, taking small children skiing for the first time has always been fraught with logistical and emotional problems. How can we possibly dress them – and ourselves – and get them to ski kindergarten on time? Surely, by the time we’ve got our clobber together and gone up the gondola, it’ll be almost time to pick them up again? This is meant to be a ski holiday.

Thirty years have passed since we first faced all this as a family. My husband and I made our living by writing about the sport we love, so it was natural that our eldest, Max, turned to us for help in arranging that first trip to the Alps for him and his partner, Harriet, along with their two boys, aged four and two-and-a-half. We’d be joining them.

a grandfather carries his young grandchild, on the snow, during their family ski holiday in the 3 Valleys
Grandfather and grandson © Felice Hardy

Rewind the reel to 1994 in the French Alps. A dozen quiet and unsmiling children sit in a row on a wooden bench. There’s something almost Dickensian about the scene. Among them is Max, aged four. I’ve come to pick him up at the end of the morning ski kindergarten session and find the children left like parcels waiting to be collected.

We’d followed that age-old maxim: Never teach someone you love to ski or drive. A small child – and indeed a teenager – probably won’t listen to their parents’ advice, so ski school is the best place for learning. After all, instructors are fully trained in teaching little ones on the snow. The added advantage is your child can be with others of their age and, hopefully, have fun.

But this ski kindergarten was typical of what we found throughout the French Alps in the early 1990s.

When I told the instructor Max wasn’t happy in the class, she replied: “He is here to learn, not to have fun.” He refused to return the next day.

The following year, we went to Méribel. It was now the early days of specialist tour operator childcare, which seemed gentler and more relaxed. The staff and other children were native English speakers. Max was happy, as were we, knowing he’d be well looked after.

That was before my adult stepdaughter stumbled across Max walking alone down Méribel high street at midday. I was horrified.

“Why were you on your own?” I asked him later.

“The lesson finished, and everyone went home. I was looking for our chalet.”

The thought of any six-year-old being abandoned to do this chilled me. We’d expected the chalet staff to collect our son and bring him back to the chalet for lunch, but they had failed. There had been a lack of communication.

As the years passed, chalet operators dramatically improved their childcare offerings. But in most cases, people still had to contend with the cultural hurdle of French ski childcare that was alien to them. Our middle child, Barney, had similar experiences to Max’s, including being made to sit in the midday sun at ski kindergarten in Andorra without sun protection or supervision.

two young children sit on stairs of wooden-clad chalet wearing salopettes, on their family ski holiday to 3 Valleys
Arthur and Leo Hardy © Felice Hardy

So what should Max and Harriet do to avoid those historic childhood disasters? We disregarded resort childcare, although I am sure this will have improved since the last century. The answer lay with one of the chalet childcare specialists that had evolved since our first experience with that long-since defunct operator in Méribel. Unfortunately – thanks mainly to the twin evils of Brexit and the pandemic – only a handful remain in operation. Even Esprit Ski, the largest and once the most successful of them, ceased trading at the end of Winter 2023/24.

Les Bruyeres base area, with chalets up hill and a gondola
Les Bruyères base lift © Felice Hardy

Ski Famille, which has existed since 1990, has been busy taking up the slack. They run 15 chalets across four French resorts and, in 2023/24, launched their star accommodation, Chalet Hotel Cocon des Neiges, in Les Bruyères. Curiously, this satellite village of Les Menuires is located in the same ski area as two of Max’s unfortunate early experiences. But here we found the zenith of ski childcare.

a happy young skier walking in ski boots outside hotel/chalet on a family ski holiday in the 3 Valleys
Leo en route to ski school © Max Hardy

Our four-year-old grandson, Leo, joined a small class of English-speaking children his age. The nursery slope was right outside the door. Arthur was a few months too young for ski school, but the staff agreed to take him as he is a strong and active boy.

Dressed top to toe in Helly Hansen thermals, socks, gloves, jackets and ski pants, the boys were snuggly warm and dry. We rented tiny skis, boots and helmets at Intersport, a short walk from our hotel. Les Bruyères is a compact place, and our hotel was the epitome of ski-in, ski-out accommodation.

a line of ski school kids wearing ski famille vests
Ski Famille’s ski school snake

After the morning lesson, with a kind and friendly instructor and one of the 13 Ski Famille nannies hovering close by in case of problems, the children were taken into the hotel for a supervised lunch. This was followed by an afternoon of play. We then collected the boys before it was time for children’s high tea – either supervised by staff or, in our case, parents and grandparents. The routine was similar each day, with interchangeable afternoon activities ranging from soft play and tobogganing to face painting and biscuit decorating.

During adults’ dinner from 7pm, there was yet more optional childcare with children bedding down in sleeping bags to watch a film in the dedicated playroom. They could dip in and out at any stage of the day, and it was all completely flexible.

After skiing, they could run around the hotel, watch videos, or play board games in the main living area. They ate in a dedicated children’s dining room, with food tailored to children’s tastes. We adults in the family could ski the 3 Valleys without worrying about getting back in time. Everything was taken care of.

interior of hotel/chalet bedroom, wood clad and cosy looking with a fur bed throw, in a family friendly chalet in the 3 Valleys
Cocon des Neiges © Ski Famille

The bedrooms were almost faultless; our only criticism was the lack of door hooks. Even if you weren’t opting for childcare, the hotel comprised suites like small chalets-within-a-chalet. Ours was on two levels and cosily wood-clad, with three bedrooms with en suite bathrooms, a small sitting room, and an outdoor terrace complete with sauna and hot tub. There was no fear about children accessing the hot tub or climbing over the balcony, as these were fenced and topped with safety covers. Not all the suites are this size, and there was an even bigger one than ours. All have hot tubs; the village spa is next door if you want more water fun and adults want to relax.

People skiing on the pisted slopes around the town of Val Thorens, one of the resorts within the Trois Vallees ski area.
Family-friendly slopes in the 3 Valleys

For parents, there’s the vast ski area, snow-sure up to 3,230m, and next door to the pretty village of St Martin de Belleville. Mountain restaurants are notoriously expensive at the other end of the 3 Valleys, but we came across l’Alpage, close to Les Menuires, which was excellent value, with tasty food and a pleasant sun terrace.

We’re all set for next year’s ski trip en famille to the 3 Valleys.


One week at Chalet Hotel Cocon des Neiges with Ski Famille costs from £1,249pp, with discounts for children.
Intersport equipment rental is €8 (£6.90) per day.
Helly Hansen provided the ski wear for all three generations of Hardy.

About the author

Felice Hardy

Felice was one of the founders of Welove2ski and regularly contributes, as well writing for a range of other publications including The Evening Standard, The Guardian, Conde Nast Traveller, Tatler, Harpers Bazaar, Country Life, BA Highlife and House & Garden. She started skiing at the age of three. She also enjoys hiking with her dogs and mountain biking in the Alps.

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