My six- and eight-year-old sons are watching an ice hockey match, their noses pressed to the Perspex. They gasp as the star player of the Tigres Blancs, Patrick “Pat” Adin, gets slammed into the barrier by an opponent: his face is squished a few millimetres from theirs. When he then wins back the puck and scores, they erupt with a fervour usually reserved for their football team.
All around us, French families and holidaying friends were cheering and chanting Pat’s name. What made this more unusual is that Pat is in his mid-60s, and we later saw him driving the ice resurfacer in the interval and selling refreshments at the end of the match. He also gave us a skating lesson at a group session here the day before.
We were in the lesser-known ski resort of La Rosière, which often gets overlooked in favour of its big-hitting neighbour, Les Arcs, just across the Tarentaise valley. The resort is joined with La Thuile across the Italian border to make up the Espace San Bernardo.We were attracted by its comparatively reasonable prices and excellent snow record. La Rosière sits at a relatively high 1,850 metres, and regularly appears in lists of best French resorts for snowfall – in 2018/19 it had almost five metres.
It also has a good reputation within France for family-friendly skiing, which was certainly our experience. There are plenty of wide green and blue runs, with 33 of the 77 pistes suitable for beginners and improvers, plus some easy reds for the kids to progress to. There are two forest fun parks with a St Bernard dog theme, with features such as bells to hit with your pole as you ski past. The kids, especially the younger one, adored a narrow tunnel shaped like a dog’s mouth that they had to squeeze through.
Both of them also enjoyed racing down the new funcross circuit. And their minds were blown by the fact you could ski across the border to Italy without showing your passport. This does involve a couple of longish button lifts, which was tiring for the younger one, but the prize of a pizza lunch in La Thuile made up for it.
La Rosière isn’t expensive, but prices in La Thuile were even cheaper. The route back to France was beautiful and otherworldly, with no lifts scarring the dramatic mountains on either side of the piste. But then, La Rosière itself is also one of those resorts that has great views from the slopes in all directions. We saw some beautiful sunsets during our week and it was sunny most days. Nearly all the slopes are south-facing, though thanks to the altitude the snow stays in good condition.
One day, my husband and I put the kids in ski school so we could try out the new red pistes and freeride area around Mont-Valaisan. Now the highest point of the resort at 2,800 metres, with views of Mont Blanc from the top, the area was opened at the end of 2018. Our kids will be skiing this kind of stuff better than us in no time but, for now at least, it was beyond their level. We found some lovely fresh snow and excellent steep runs, both on and off piste.
The village is small, which is good for families, with two hubs: the older centre of La Rosière and newer Les Eucherts, which both have lifts up to the ski area and pistes running down to them. They are connected by Narnia-esque snowy forest trails, which were especially fun to walk at night. Everything is close and it’s an easy place to navigate, with a good selection of cafes and restaurants serving a mix of traditional Savoyard fare, pizza and more modern stuff. Our kids loved the crepes at Aux 3 Ours (the Three Bears) in Les Eucherts, and my favourite was nearby Le Flocon, where standout dishes include salmon poké, sea bass with black rice or, if you ask the boys, the burgers. It also has bowling lanes at the back. Booking is essential in school holidays.
While our kids definitely enjoyed the skiing in La Rosière, it’s the non-ski activities that really made this a memorable week for them. The younger one loved dog-sledding so much he nearly cried saying goodbye to the dogs, while the older one raved about the climbing wall. They were both mad for the snowball fights and toasting marshmallows over fire pits, both free events organised by the resort. We didn’t even have time to watch the free magic show, try “snake-gliss” (going downhill with sledges linked together) or join a nighttime snowshoe hike, which would be great for stargazing.
Back at the ice rink, where match tickets were just €3, the atmosphere was still electric. Pat’s White Tigers were narrowly winning against the Mountain Goats from Les Arcs. It’s not a proper league game, more a local friendly, though as I queued with the boys for Pat’s autograph at the end of the match, I wasn’t surprised when he told me he had played for the French national team in his younger years. Why did he move to La Rosière? “To finish my career in a beautiful place,” he beamed. “And to pass on my passion for ice hockey to the younger generation.”
As I watched my sons gaze at him as if he were a wizard, I’d say Pat has done exactly that.
• A week in a self-catering studio for four in La Rosière, including lift pass, costs from €249pp. Bookings and more information at larosiere.net.The direct Eurostar Ski Train from London to Bourg-Saint-Maurice starts at £175pp return. Return buses from Bourg-Saint-Maurice to La Rosière €4 (altibus.com)
FIVE MORE LESSER-KNOWN, FAMILY-FRIENDLY RESORTS
Saint Lary, French Pyrenees
Animal-loving kids will adore a new Husky Lair experience in this scenic resort in the Pyrenees, where they can brush, cuddle, feed and learn all about the dogs from a professional musher. Saint Lary has great ski terrain for beginners and improvers and is “Famille Plus” certified on account of its family-friendly credentials. It also has a thermal spa.
• Seven nights at Résidence Les Rives de L’Aure, in an apartment sleeping six, from £444pp, ernalow.co.uk
Set beautifully on the edge of a national park, Beitostølen is a family-friendly resort with a mellow ski area that’s easy to navigate and perfect for building confidence in young skiers. You can also dog sled and raft down the slopes in an inflatable boat. The English-speaking ski school is highly rated.
• February half-term packages, including lift passes, from £715pp excluding flights, skisafari.com
Building igloos, sleigh rides and tobogganing are some of the non-ski activities in Niederau, a picturesque resort in the Wildschönau valley. And the world’s first double-looping waterslide is at nearby Wörgler Waterworld. Wide nursery slopes and plenty of intermediate pistes make this a good resort for kids to progress fast, helped by the excellent ski school.
• Seven nights’ B&B at Pension Franzl in January, including return flights from Luton to Salzburg and transfers, from £338pp, crystalski.co.uk
Serre Chevalier, France
Older kids will love racing mountain karts and Deval’Bobs (joined-up toboggans, from €15.50) down the 4km track in Serre Chevalier. It’s a friendly, uncrowded and down-to-earth resort with tree-lined pistes and a vast network of runs, including plenty for beginners and great terrain for intermediates.
• Six nights’ B&B from £729pp in April, including return flights and transfers, afternoon tea and three-course evening meals with wine, with a reduction of £150 per child sharing an adults’ room, skimiquelholidays.co.uk
Set around a wooded, unspoilt village, Champoluc is an uncrowded resort, especially on weekdays, and a top choice for families taking their first ski holiday. Unusually, the resort has its own British ski school and nursery, Ski 2, who also run Adventure Ski Courses for kids over eight. Pistes are linked to the larger Monterosa ski area, though there is enough in the resort for beginners and early intermediates. Non-ski activities include a new swimming pool and spa, and winter snow-shoeing.
• Half-board packages in April at the Hotel de Champoluc from £1,347 adult, £630 child, including lift pass and transfers, excluding flights and ski school, ski2champoluc.com.