Catching a horse-drawn sleigh to the Village des Enfants ski-school was as good as it got for Gillian Thomas’s two grandchildren, aged five and seven, on a multi-generational winter sports holiday at Avoriaz in France.
Avoriaz is a car-free village, so instead of tramping or skiing around it, you simply summon a horse-drawn sleigh. The ski-school sleigh had bench seats for about a dozen children and, conveniently, called at 9am each morning at the Amara apartments where we were staying.
Skiing is a fun activity at any age and at all levels of skill, as long as you enjoy the snow. So I was delighted when my daughter and son-in-law suggested we should have a family ski holiday before my skiing days ran out.
Even when the age range spreads over some 70 years, as in our case, and encompasses beginners as well as speed-mongers, there are ski resorts that fit the bill. But they need seeking out with care.
In our case Avoriaz ticked all the boxes. Purpose-built in the 1960s, it is situated above the much older resort of Morzine and is at the centre of the extensive Ports du Soleil network of lifts which links five villages in France and four in Switzerland.
Its height ensures good snow as late as the Easter school holidays and it is traffic-free with a large choice of apartments, as we reckoned self-catering would be the most flexible option with young children.
From a broad central expanse of snow called Le Plateau, a choice of easy pistes leads either straight down beside the long village centre.
There's a choice of blues, reds and a few challenging black runs, or, in the opposite direction, slopes lead down towards Morzine through a pleasantly wooded area.
More experienced skiers can go directly up from the Plateau to slopes on the Mossette area which leads into Switzerland. For a full-day’s tour, there are circular routes in either direction, the anti-clockwise one being the more challenging.
Altogether it is well-placed for multi-generational and multi-level skiing. In addition this winter there is an entertaining new activity called ‘Gaming’ which includes ‘human bowling’, paintballing and organised snowball fights.
Music events from rock to jazz take place throughout the season, though there is little else by way of distractions for non-skiers as Avoriaz has only a handful of shops and one top-range hotel.
The nursery slopes proved to be commendably near the centre of the village so were convenient for pick-ups at the Village des Enfants which celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2016.
The two boys were put in different classes and settled in well despite initial moans about all the paraphernalia that skiing involves - boots, helmets, goggles, gloves, sunscreen, etc.
By the end of the week they were thrilled to be competent enough to ski a few of the slopes with us adults and I suspect it won’t be long before they can overtake me.
Most lunch times we all gathered at one of the slope-side cafes on the Plateau, either the Yeti where we could pick from 18 sorts of savoury pancake or Chez Lenvers where tartiflette, a cheesy potato and bacon casserole, was a sustaining favourite.
As lunch is an option at the ski school, adults can have a whole day to go off and explore further afield. Also to enable my daughter and son-in-law to head off in search of blacks and moguls, I was pleased to do some of the picking up at the end of their day. Indeed I decided that sledging, building snowmen and playing snowball-granny games with them was just as much fun as skiing itself.
By way of apres-ski, a priority was accommodation with a warm swimming pool. Personally I am not a keen swimmer but the Amara also offered a steam room and sauna for soothing away the aches of the day and a spa offering facials and massages.
For a change one afternoon we all went to the Aquariaz indoor water park. The only one of its kind in the Alps, it has a ‘river’ which bubbles through lush tropical greenery to a large pool, a giant slide and exotic paddling pools with tipping buckets, dripping flowers and hoses that children soon discover are perfect for squirting adults.
With a choice of child-friendly places to eat near the Amara as well as a supermarket, we alternated in the evenings between home cooking and eating out. The main village street, a 15-minute walk - or a sleigh-ride - away, is lined with more restaurants and bars for those without small children and grannies looking for later nights.
Having chosen to spend a couple of days less in Avoriaz than the rest of the family, I travelled there by train - relaxing, scenic and flexible by comparison with flying. The nearest station is Cluses, a 30-minute drive away, and the options include overnight trains from Paris, a TGV on Friday evenings and, new this season, connections from Lyon to direct Eurostar services from London which cost £142 return (www.voyages-sncf.com or 0844 8485 848).
Accommodation for a week at the Premier Residence L’Amara in a six-bedded apartment for three adults and two children costs from £575 per person including Gatwick/Geneva flights and transfers; www.inghams.co.uk or 01483 791 114.
Information on Avoriaz including ski hire and lift passes: www.avoriaz.com