A Brave Ski Mom interview with David Ward-Nanney, a Brave Ski Dad living in London
I have been going to Chamonix for a long time and know my way around. This makes all the little things easier. For example I know where to buy my son’s Weetabix. Because we return to Chamonix, both my wife and son find it familiar and comfortable.
Why is Chamonix good for family skiing?
There are five different beginner areas in Chamonix, which is great for teaching children how to ski. Both Les Planards and La Vormaine offer inexpensive hourly tickets and great slopes for teaching.
Check out the Panda Club in Argentiere for great English-speaking children’s lessons, although nearly everyone speaks English. The vastness of the valley ensures that the whole family can find challenging skiing.
Are there any “secrets” are you willing to share about Chamonix?
More than four hundred English-speaking families live in Argentiere, the village at the base of Grand Montet. Cheap Argentiere apartments can be had in the Grand Roc buildings and the walk to the ski slope is about two hundred yards or less. The other hot tip is to stay on or near the pedestrian district in Chamonix, where there are plenty of restaurants friendly to kids and everything is handy.
Any other specific advice you would give to families before they come to Chamonix?
Plan, plan, plan. France lets school children out for one of three weeks in February (meaning Chamonix is a zoo in February). The locals will go to Courmayeur to ski during this time.
The Geneva airport is only an hour away. Rent a car or catch a cheap shuttle from Geneva to your doorstep. This beats the terrible trek from Grenoble. Chamonix.com has a lot of good information, but it is best to gird yourself and call the actual tourist office to help sort you out.
Finally, the Chamonix Valley is very spread out so if you do not chose lodging carefully, you can spend a lot of time either on buses or driving. For example, Le Tour offers great beginner and intermediate skiing but the village itself is desolate.
What about finding good food?
Chamonix is not known for its food. The smell of raclette is ubiquitous. We like to go to Elevation 1904 (259 Avenue Michel Croz in Chamonix) because the atmosphere is super laidback, the staff is excellent with kids and it is lively with a mix of locals and tourists. More family- and budget-friendly restaurants are all over Chamonix Sud.
Usually we find an apartment near or in the pedestrian district of Chamonix. Make sure you have parking if you have a rental car and that Wi-Fi (which the French pronounce Wee Fee) is included.
What makes Chamonix unique?
Chamonix is allegedly the Extreme Capitol of the World and has been featured in any number of ski films. This is where a lot of climbers and skiers have established themselves. It is going through a bit of an identity crisis (it now has a Chanel store), but the hard-core roots are never very far away.
Having my first Belouga sandwich after my first day of skiing in Chamonix. Seeing my son point the skis straight downhill and smiling.
At what age did your son start skiing? Do you have any tips to share with other parents?
He was four. Ski with your children, even if they are having lessons, but don’t interfere. They love the extra support. Also make sure they have good gear. If you get caught in a nasty storm, having those goggles and facemasks and good gloves will keep them happy. Remember there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear.
At what age did you start skiing? Do you have a favorite family skiing memory?
I was eight. I have two sisters and every Wednesday my mother would take one of us out of school to go skiing. Thanks, Mom.
What is your favorite thing about family skiing?
When we all have the same ski buzz.
The Brave Ski Mom Adds….
I have only been to Chamonix in the summer, so I am jealous (again!). David references Chamonix.com which is a great site. He also suggests you call the tourist office. Their number is (011) +33(0)4 50 53 00 24. Having been inside the Chamonix tourist office to request information on a good afternoon hike with children, I suggest you do some research before calling. Suffering fools is not part of their training. Or you can try email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’ve skied Chamonix and have other suggestions, please leave them in the comments!
David Ward-Nanney is the author of two novels, A Particular Obedience and Powder Dreams, which was reviewed on Brave Ski Mom in late September 2011.
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