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“I just hit one of the babies in the face!” laughs Rosie, aged six. Her friend Harry, five, wants no more of this dangerous snowball fight and skis off as fast as he can. “Their mum is going to eat you,” he shouts back.
This is the Moon Wild piste in Méribel, France, which winds – half ski-run, half snowshoe trail – through the forest. It is dotted with convincing life-sized models of alpine animals, which my son and his friends have been delightedly pummelling with snowballs for the past 10 minutes.
We are on a south-facing plateau above Méribel Village – one of around 25 settlements that make up the Trois Vallées, the world’s largest linked ski area. In summer the plateau is home to the resort’s golf course, dog-walking area and wildflower park. In winter it’s the landing slope for tandem parapente flights, and is now the setting for a number of pistes specifically designed for children. “On that far side is the Moon Wild piste,” says ski instructor Greg Jones, pointing with a ski pole as we head back to the top on the eight-person chairlift. “And this side is the Inuit piste. It’s been open a couple of years now and you just can’t get a better spot for kids to learn.”
On the far side of the mountain, in Courchevel’s sector of the Trois Vallées, there is more to delight the kids: the Parc des Indiens, a Native American-themed kids’ area, with hot drinks in tepees, dressing-up and the chance to try archery. It may not be politically or anthropologically correct but children seem to love it.
“Méribel saw it and built an even bigger version,” says Jones, whose ski school Marmalade is one of a dozen independents thriving in the Trois Vallées, many of them offering small classes, native English speakers and young, engaging instructors.
We take Harry and Rosie down the Inuit piste and see what he means: every few metres there’s a themed ski challenge: clang your ski pole on hanging metal sun-charms, high-five a totem-pole penguin (they spin if you make good contact), bang a drum stretched with animal hide or ski through a blue whale. As we pause by the slope-side, a man in a narwhal costume skis past, chased by 20 kids. However bizarre, I can’t think of a better place to learn.
Photograph: David Andre