During the Easter school holidays we spent three days in Chamonix, picking out the best places to ski as a family. And April is a good time to go – Mont Blanc looks sensational in the bright sunshine and blue skies you normally get during a Spring skiing trip.
We drove the 550 miles from Calais to Chamonix in just over seven hours - a remarkably quick run, probably our best ever. And I wouldn’t recommend doing Chamonix as a family without your own wheels.
The skiing areas are spread along the valley and being able to get yourself to your chosen area each day takes the hassle out of your holiday. Chamonix is well connected with buses, but you will all have a more enjoyable time if you don’t have to rely on them.
Our ride for the trip was the Kia Carens. It’s a seven-seater MPV but the rear two seats fold down flat to create the floor of the boot – this was essential to give us the maximum load space for all our bags.
There is plenty to like about the Carens. The spacious cabin and supportive seats ensured a really comfortable road trip and while the acceleration won’t set any records it proved an incredibly smooth motorway cruiser, happily sitting at 80mph on the peage.
The large wing mirrors were great for changing lanes in France, the touch screen sat nav was easy to use, the fold-up tables on the backs of the front seats were handy for games of Uno on the go and the reversing camera was really useful when the rear window was blocked by a boot load of ski gear.
We were staying with the British accommodation company Chamonix All Year. The owners set it up after initially buying their own place in Chamonix. Now they have 90 properties spread throughout the valley. Our base was the two-bedroom Ginabelle 14 apartment - which is located close to the train station and a short stroll to the shops and restaurants of central Chamonix.
It is a very well equipped apartment with two good sized bedrooms, two bathrooms, very comfortable beds, a spacious lounge/kitchen area and free Wi-Fi. We loved the branded towels - a nice touch we have not come across often in self-catering apartments. We would recommend it to any family considering a Chamonix trip either in the winter or summer.
One of the best ski areas in the valley is Les Houches. It only goes up to 1,900m so there is no high altitude to worry about and you will find plenty of welcoming gradients for beginners to enjoy. In fact it was the first place our eldest son Seb went skiing – ten years ago this April. So we couldn’t resist returning to the very piste he first clicked into skis a decade ago.
Les Houches is also home to the Kandahar black run, which has been used for World Cup races and takes you all the way down to the Bellevue lift station at 1,000m (when the snow cover allows).
While at the opposite end of the valley, Le Tour is one of our favourite spots to ski. Here there are some great blue and red pistes and an amazing snow park for young freestylers to play around in.
It is also a real sun trap in April - the nursery slopes down near the car park had succumbed to the high temperatures when we were there - so it is best spending the morning in Le Tour before heading elsewhere when the slush sets in.
If you have more advanced children, then Grand Montets in Argentiere is a must. There are more challenging runs and good snow cover. This is a better afternoon bet though as the steeper gradients can be hard-packed and icy for longer in the mornings. The ski cross course will test the best young skiers' ability.
Le Tour and Grand Montets can both be skied on the less expensive Chamonix Le Pass lift pass - which is probably the best bet for a short stay with children. However you might want to consider the more expensive Mont Blanc Unlimited pass if you want to get up close and personal with the famous peak.
This pass gives you access to the cable car up to Aiguille du Midi at 3,842m. Buy a family return separately and it will cost you 186 euros for two adults and two children.
The experience is well worth it. Being at Aiguille du Midi is literally breath taking for all the family. Our two boys will never forget standing in the thin air looking one way to the summit of Mont Blanc and the other to the start of the famous off piste Vallee Blanche area.
It sealed a rather special short stay for us in Chamonix, which offers more family skiing than you might first think.
A two-bedroom holiday package for four, including passes and airport transfers with Chamonix All Year starts from £1,900. There are early bird offers of 20% off these rates (certain dates and conditions apply)
Family skiing the Chamonix valley
Chamonix is an extreme playground. Home to Europe’s highest mountain. A place where hardcore skiers sit around in cafes and bars waiting for the next big dump of powder. So you might think the Chamonix valley is the last place you should consider going for a family skiing trip. Actually it can be incredibly family-friendly if you know where and when to go. So don’t rule out sharing the magic of Mont Blanc with your children.
Sebastian, aged 14, says: "It was pretty cool to go back to Chamonix and find the first place I ever skied. I really enjoyed skiing in Grands Montets, while the town of Chamonix has a real buzz to it. Going up to look at Mont Blanc was very memorable - I definitely want to do the Vallee Blanche next time we go!"
Ollie, aged 12, says: "Chamonix is a special place. It is amazing to wander around the town and look up to Mont Blanc. The skiing in Le Tour was really fun and even though it was during the Easter holidays the snow was in a good condition. I liked our apartment - the Wi-Fi was cool and even sharing a bedroom with my brother was ok."