November 11, 2011 9:54 pm

First tracks

The little Austrian village of Alpbach is the perfect place to teach children how to ski

Skiing has been part of our family life since I discovered it at the grand old age of 24. My new, young, athletic husband had been before with his Cambridge mates and was doing what I imagined were infinitely glamorous things on the high mountains while I floundered away on the nursery slopes.

I was fired up by envy. It was a brilliant way to start. I was going to be up there with the grown-ups if it killed me. It nearly did (another story) but, by the next year, I was slipping and sliding down the reds and the greens and not long after that, as is the way of things, the children came along and soon we were skiing en famille. Glorious days, going with great gangs of other families to St Anton, to Verbier, to Val d’Isère, sharing chalets in Courchevel and Méribel, doing the classic big runs, my husband leading up front, the children in the middle, me bringing up the rear.

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Looking back I only remember blue skies, air that seemed to fizz, and mounds of snow, inviting as soft meringues. There must have been blizzards, ice and fog but they don’t seem to register in the memory.

And then, as is also the way of things, the children left home, they each married non-skiers, leaving my husband and I to embark on more sophisticated skiing ventures with our own grown-up friends. Aspen, we discovered, was perfect; roomy apartments, uncrowded pistes, polite queues, fluffy snow, great restaurants, slightly risqué cabarets, local ambassadors who guided us round the mountains out of a simple love of skiing. For years it did us proud. And then, as more sadly is the way of things, the friends began to give up; “knees” and “backs”, and other more serious ailments began to intervene and the happy band of friends started, from a skiing point of view, to fall apart.

Just as we mourned the loss of this companionship, a new prospect opened up – a little flurry of grandsons, five in all, eager, young and all revved up by tales of snow and fun. But the problem was where to take them? We needed somewhere that would cater for us all – small children who had never skied before, one grown-up son-in-law who was a novice, a son and daughter who hadn’t seen a piste for 20 years and myself who had been spoiled rotten and skied on almost every lovely mountain the world has to offer.

But it wasn’t just the skiing that mattered; I also saw it as cosy bonding family time. What I had in my mind’s eye was a small family hotel, warm and friendly with good food, nice but not grand rooms, and a great big family room where we could gather at the end of the day to chat or to play cards. As for the resort, I got carried away with visions of a charming alpine village, all picturesque wooden chalets and churches. There needed to be good nursery slopes close to the hotel, pistes that would cater for our very mixed ability levels. And, since it was my treat, it shouldn’t give my bank manager the vapours.

Alpbach

The centre of the village, often voted the most beautiful in Austria

In spite of years of skiing, I hadn’t the faintest idea if such a place existed or, if it did, where it might be found. A good friend in the travel business sent me to Ski Solutions, which chooses ski holidays from across a wide range of tour operators. It came up trumps. Alpbach in Austria, the company said, was just the ticket: a little place of just 2,600 people (though 21,000 pour in for the skiing season), famous for its traditional timber buildings and regularly voted Austria’s most beautiful village. It had 34 miles of groomed runs and 13 of cross-country skiing trails, not to mention skating, curling and paragliding.

We arrived – five adults and three children – for February half-term and, to begin with, my heart sank. The village was pretty all right but the fields were green and swathed in sunlight with scarcely a snowflake in sight. But the rep said there was snow up on the mountains, where most of the pistes were to be found, while the nursery slope, by the hotel, where the beginners would start, was kept in good shape by the snow machines.

And so we came to the Romantik Hotel Böglerhof. Boasting a mere four stars, it was a minute from everything we needed – the nursery slope on one side, the ski-hire shop and the bus stop to the ski lifts just opposite. It was perfect, as gemütlich as I’d dreamed of. Four stars in Austria, a German friend had told me, was pretty much like five anywhere else. And so it proved. The bedrooms were simple and comfortable but the hotel had a heated swimming pool where the children romped after a day on the slopes, a great big drawing room where people gathered for post-skiing hot chocolate and apple strudel and where families sat around playing cards and other games. The dining room was a triumph – it had proper white tablecloths, a sense of grandeur the children loved, making them feel grown-up. There were full-scale serious breakfasts with everything from fruit salad and yoghurt to eggs, bacon, umpteen different breads and muffins. Every night there was a huge salad bar to start with, good main courses to choose from and an ice-cream buffet to finish. We met families who loved it so much they came back every year.

Alpbach location map

The first morning we awoke to find the village transformed by a thick layer of fresh snow and so began one of the happiest multi-generational family holidays we’ve ever had. My daughter had had the sensible notion of taking her children to her local dry ski-slope to learn how to snow plough so, within a couple of days, they were up on the big mountain with all of us. The son-in-law, the only adult who hadn’t skied before, took private lessons and by the end of the week felt he’d got the hang of it and was longing to come back for more.

For our own two grown-up children, one of whom hadn’t skied for more than 20 years, it was as if they’d never been away. We were off tackling all the runs the mountain had to offer at full speed in the mornings. In the afternoons, we’d join up with the children to marvel at the startling progress they were making. It had taken me three 14-day holidays to learn to do parallel turns – they were doing them on day three.

Are we going back? Actually not, but entirely because the adults, reminded again of the glorious days to be had on the ski slopes, want a new terrain to explore. At Ski Solutions’ suggestion, we’re off to Söll this winter for we now have a new generation with a serious snow addiction to feed. It had better be good.

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Details

Lucia van der Post’s trip was organised by Ski Solutions (www.skisolutions.com) and cost about £1,250 a head, including half-board, flights from London and coach transfer. For information about Alpbach see www.alpbachtal.at. The closest airport is Innsbruck, followed by Salzburg and Munich. The Romantik Hotel Böglerhof (www.boeglerhof.at) has double rooms from €180 per night, half-board

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