Our kids have nearly a month off from school for Christmas break (and again at Easter break!), which is an insanely long time to be off school, but which gives us a really good opportunity to travel. After New Year’s, most of the state (public) schools start right back up, but our kids didn’t go back until January 10th, so we took advantage of the extra week and headed to Chamonix, just at the base of Mont Blanc in the French Alps, to do some skiing.
We actually flew into Geneva, Switzerland and took a bus to Chamonix. This was the closest airport and the bus trip was only about 1h 15m. The bus ran fairly frequently throughout the day between the airport and the center of the town of Chamonix with no extra stops anywhere else, so that made travel easier for us. While it’s nice sometimes to have car, it’s also nice not to have to navigate unfamiliar roads with signs in foreign languages.
Although the kids have been skiing before, it’s been two years — and for Quinn that is 1/3 of his life! — so we knew that lessons would be useful. We booked two private sessions with a company called European Snowsport for just our four kids with a single instructor for three hours each of the mornings we’d be skiing. The rates were VERY reasonable and it was the best money we spent on the whole trip. Our instructor was Jon Wilson, and he was simply fantastic with our kids — patient, funny, and extremely helpful. The kids absolutely adored him; the boys thought he was quite possibly the coolest guy ever.
Bridget, Gabe & Owen already had a general ability to ski, stop, and turn, although none of them were super confident. B was the best of them, as she had been taking indoor ski lessons with her school for a few weeks before the Christmas break.
Gabe and Owen could get by with the gift of athleticism and a general lack of fear, but they definitely needed instruction to improve their technique and really be able to ski the harder slopes safely. Owen in particular is not really interested in skiing slowly; he bombs down the trails as fast as he can without fear or hesitation so he definitely needed better control for safety purposes. Gabe is more cautious and wanted to do it all properly, so he went slower and turned more often. Quinn was just happy to ski at all, but not exactly in control of his body initially. The improvement they each made over the course of two days was literally astounding. And they all just LOVED it.
Jon also took the time to give Matt and I some advice and pointers, which we both needed and benefited from. I realized after he gave me a few tips that I have had exactly one ski lesson in my whole life when I was about 14…and that I basically ski on a wing and a prayer. I can make it down the intermediate slopes, but it’s not pretty or graceful or done correctly. After attempting to apply Jon’s advice, I felt wayyyy better about my own skiing, which was a lovely bonus.
We rented an Airbnb for the weekend that was perfectly located; we were easily able to walk everywhere we needed to go. The apartment itself was extremely comfortable and so cute and Alpine-y, and it had 3 bedrooms AND two bathrooms, which is always a bonus when you’re traveling with 6 people. It was in a quiet location, but literally a 5-minute walk from the village center where all the shops and restaurants were located, and it had a gorgeous view of Mont Blanc. You can see it in the picture below — it’s the smaller building on the right, just under the mountain. I would definitely stay there again, and the host was very helpful!
Our one mistake was renting skis from a shop that was not located at the mountain where we planned to ski. Although the ski shop we used was completely fine, we did have to walk from the shop back to our apartment carrying all the gear on the night we picked it up (a very slow process with 4 kids), and then we had to carry it all again in the morning to walk in the opposite direction to get to the area where we were skiing. And we had to do THAT walk in ski boots (or carry them, which just mean more crap to carry). We should have rented our skis from the shop directly at the base of the area where we planned to ski. We rented a locker at the mountain that afternoon so at least we could leave the skis and poles there overnight and just walked back in the morning in regular boots carrying our ski boots. It took us less than half the time to walk the <1km distance without skis than it had with them! Live and learn.
There are ten different ski areas just in Chamonix, but we stayed in one place for both days of skiing. First, our trip was pretty early in the ski season, so there wasn’t a ton of snow yet and some of the ski areas weren’t open. And second, the area where we skied — Les Planards — was all beginner and intermediate trails and was fairly small so we felt like we’d be better able to keep track of all four kids.
None of us are expert skiers by a long shot, so we didn’t really need to venture into the more difficult ski areas yet (I’m sure that day will come though, since all the kids absolutely love skiing and improve by leaps and bounds every time we go). The slopes we were on were open from 9AM until 4PM and we were there for the entire time both days. Although we did get a bit bored of doing the same runs over and over by the end of the second day, it was also really cool to see the kids getting better and better each time they went down and feeling confident that they knew their way around.
Plus, there was an Alpine luge roller coaster there that was included in the ski passes! The luge track ran next to the ski slope and was self-controlled — you were in charge of the brakes, so you could determine how fast or slow you wanted to go!
Because the area is in the valley, it was in shade all morning. It was so interesting to watch the sun hit the tops of the mountains beside us and gradually make it’s way down to us sometime after lunch. On the first day, we spent the afternoon skiing in bright sunshine, slowly peeling off layers of clothing as it warmed up. The second afternoon, though, the sun attempted to break through, but a cloud sort of drifted down from over the top of Mont Blanc and the weather turned grey and cloudy. People told us that locals know that when Mont Blanc “wears a hat” (has a cloud perched on top), that means weather is coming. It snowed overnight that night, so the kids thought that was such a cool way to predict the weather.
We had SO much fun skiing. By the end of day two, even Quinn was zipping down the intermediate slope; in fact, he went so fast, I couldn’t keep up with him. He was in control the whole way though, and loved every minute of it. (And here I say another huge thank you to our ski instructor, who spent quite some time on the second morning going down that trail over and over again with just Quinn until he was confident Quinn had it mastered.) We are determined to get another ski trip in this winter so Quinn (and all of us) can maintain the improvements we made in Chamonix!
The village of Chamonix is also so quaint and charming, you can hardly believe it’s real. Sometimes you see pictures of a place and think, there’s no way it all looks like that in real life, it’s too perfect. But Chamonix really is as picturesque as it seemed when we were researching our trip. There are tons of restaurants and shops and everything is perfect Alpine beauty. We had several great meals at different restaurants. On the first night, Owen discovered fondue. My kids hadn’t heard of it before somehow, but Owen read it on the menu and asked what it was. After I explained it, he wasn’t interested in anything else. When the waitress set down a literal VAT of delicious melted cheese and an enormous basket of bread, we basically all ate our weight in fondue. In fact, we didn’t have a single meal that wasn’t delicious the whole weekend.
Although we went on this trip looking at it more as a ski experience than as a destination we really wanted to see, it turned out that Chamonix is one of my favorite places in Europe so far. Even if we hadn’t skied, it would have been worth visiting. Such a good surprise!
On the last day of the trip, we actually didn’t ski and instead spent the day at the Aiguille du Midi — which was such an amazing and unbelievable experience, it deserves its own post. Coming soon!