Saturday 30 December 2017

Practically perfect - skiing at Christmas with Mark Warner

The fabulous view from our balcony 

I learned to ski about 15 years ago on a holiday with friends who had been skiing since they were very young. It was while having lessons in Meribel that I made the decision that if I was to have children I'd introduce them to skiing at an early age. I haven't actually been since Brown Bear was born and as Hubbie isn't a skiier I thought it would be unfair to book a holiday that only I would be interested in. Then the lovely chaps at Mark Warner suggested we might like to go away to ski for Christmas. Well, I was very keen to go and looked into how to make it happen for all of us. I wanted it to be a holiday that would be special for everyone and where we would all get to do what we enjoy. 

Is that our plane Mummy ? 

Advance booking: 

You can book pretty much everything before you leave for your holiday so you have nothing to worry about when you arrive. Our holiday included flights, transfers and half board. The flight was mercifully short and at a sensible time of day so we didn't have to get up in the middle of the night to get to the airport. It was also important to me that we have a short transfer time from the airport so we chose Les Deux Alpes which takes around 1 and a half hours from Grenoble. The Hotel Berangere offers interconnecting rooms so we are close to the boys, but not in the same room as them. We have a bathroom in each room too, so they have their own space and have loved sharing with each other. Half board is also a blessing for me as I don't have to prepare any meals and there is plenty to eat for everyone from hearty breakfasts to tempting afternoon tea and delicious dinners. The hotel has a swimming pool, sauna, steam room and a beauty salon. This meant that Hubbie could relax and do nothing if he wanted to or have a soothing massage. Mostly he chose to do nothing, which was the whole point of the holiday really. 

Freshly pisted snow - bliss 

The additional costs were for activities that we chose to do, so we pre-booked kids club for the bears, skiing lessons and ski equipment. This meant that it was all ready for us so we didn't have to leave the hotel for anything on arrival. It was just as well really as the boys were tired and hungry and I wanted to unpack. 

Family friendly: 

Mark Warner are renowned for the family friendly nature of their holidays so I have been keen to travel with them for a long time. It has been all I could have asked for and more. There are plenty of families staying here so the bears have made friends. As we were here on Christmas Day there was a visit from someone special and he brought gifts for all the children. There is provision for children to eat early so Blue Bear has been having high tea at 5pm so we can then put him to bed at close to his usual bedtime at home. There is also a kidz tea around 7pm for children over 6 and Brown Bear has enjoyed eating dinner with his new friends. We can then eat our meal later in the evening with other adults or the children can join us if we prefer. 

Ooh who's been the visit the chalet in the night ?

Child Care: 

This has been the one area I've been most impressed with. All the 'nannies' are brilliant with the children and both bears have been allocated a key worker. Blue Bear has loved playing in the snow with Aimee and made friends in the mini club. Brown Bear has been taking skiing lessons so Izzy takes him down to the ESF meeting point in the mornings and brings him back at lunchtime. The children eat lunch together under adult supervision and spend the afternoon at their respective clubs until we pick them up for tea. 

Blue Bear in the snow

The evening listening service wasn't what I had expected. The children watch a movie from 7.30pm in the childcare area and they are put to bed in sleeping bags by Danni and Danielle ready to be picked up before 10.30pm. We renamed it 'movie club' and Brown Bear loved it so much he went every evening. On the staff night off we also dropped Blue Bear off for a 'sleepover' with his friends. We have never had a holiday where we could eat dinner without the children before and it was so relaxing. You do have to stay in the hotel - except on the staff night off - but it is reassuring knowing the children are happy and being looked after while we eat our three course dinner and converse with other adults. In fact I've even enjoyed the cocktail of the day most evenings knowing that the children are safe and sound in the same building and that we don't have to drive to pick them up. 

Hubbie and me enjoying a much deserved night out


Well, it's fair to say that I love to ski. I had no idea if I would be any good or if years away from the slopes would render me a hazard to everyone on the pistes. As we had pre-booked lessons for Brown Bear I also decided to book some for myself. Mark Warner work with preferred suppliers for ski equipment and lessons and the latter are with ESF (Ecole Ski Francais). I have had lessons with them before and would recommend them. The distinctive red suits can be seen all over the French alps and the instructors are encouraging and knowledgable. Most speak more than one language so you might find yourself in a group with people of other nationalities. I find that my french improves only marginally, but I expect their english fares far better. The skiing conditions have varied enormously this week. From a sunny and bright first day to a rain soaked last day with blizzards and white outs in between. Still I skied every day and enjoyed pretty much all of it. I befriended the drag lift operators who I saw every day and became well acquainted with the contours of the piste outside the window. I've honed my turns and realised that I'm actually not a bad skier at all. Every previous time I've been  skiing with friends who are very skilled. All this week I've remembered the voice of Harriet imploring "bend zee knees," and Adrian patiently demonstrating pole plant turns. They always pushed me to do more than I thought I could and as a result I had a pretty good grounding despite the long break. 

Brown Bear and me on the slopes 

The staff:

I can honestly say that the staff at Mark Warner have worked exceptionally hard to keep guests happy and made the time to get to know us by name. Paul the customer service manager and Amy the hotel manager have been incredible. At one point Hubbie came in and said, "I've just seen Amy outside digging a minibus out of the snow - whatever they pay her it's not enough." If you want to know what customer service is you have to meet a man who doesn't even ski, but works as a manager in a hotel at a ski resort. That man is Paul. For many of the staff this is their first ski season, although you wouldn't know it as they handle whatever happens with patience and speed. When my ski boots were missing from the boot room Ally kindly helped me locate them without any fuss. Bearing in mind that we were here over Christmas every effort was made to give us all the elements of a festive stay. When I booked I asked, "what about the staff do they not get to celebrate Christmas ?" and I was told that they do, but they also want us to have a special holiday. 

Jabba the snowman 
This was our first family holiday abroad and so much was new for us. We haven't put the children into holiday childcare before, it was Blue Bear's first time on a plane, I usually do all the cooking on holiday or we eat out and generally we spend all of the time together. This holiday we've all done our own things and spent time doing things we love. Hubbie has relaxed and rested, Brown Bear has taken to skiing like a natural, Blue Bear has made new friends and loved making snowballs and snow angels. As for me, I've seen my children in a whole new light, from brave and daring to sociable and fun. Their smiles and laughter have warmed my heart and spending time with Hubbie and enjoying each other's company has been wonderful. As I sat on a chair lift on Christmas Day I felt the sun on my face and closed my eyes to appreciate the serenity and fresh air of the mountains. That feeling will stay with me for a long time. 

Disclosure: Mark Warner Holidays offered us a special deal to ski at Christmas. All opinions are honest and my own. 

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