'The best ski conditions we have ever experienced' - Why we would recommend Easter skiing in Claviere
Our list of demands from a ski holiday is getting longer - value for money, short transfer times, school holiday availability, challenging terrain, plenty of fresh snow and British-standard childcare, writes snowboarder Natalie Sadler.
The answer, it would seem lies in Italy, in the tiny resort of Claviere to be specific.
Crystal offers nursery care through their Pepi Pepi club for children aged six months to four at five locations around Europe and my husband and I, together with our girls - aged 10 and 11 months - travelled with them to Claviere at Easter to find out more.
We did think we may be chancing our luck with the conditions considering it was the very last week of the season but the snow started to fall midway through our trip and it just didn’t stop.
For 24 hours we had a full-on white-out, giving us the best ski conditions we have experienced in our 10 years skiing and boarding.
I could barely see my husband (who despite my protests opted for a plain navy ski jacket when he last upgraded his kit), and as for making out the relief - I had no hope.
But having that cushion of freshly-fallen snow beneath you bolsters your confidence, and suddenly the struggles of being a boarder in a skiers world is forgotten. I just floated over the thick powder and let my board glide in and out of my loose, sweeping turns. Heaven.
We repeated the same three of four runs around our hotel – Crystal’s Grand Albergo - all afternoon, learning where to pull speed through and when to ease up. So thick was the snow that by the time we reached the top our trails from the previous run had disappeared - never did we dare to imagine we would be making fresh tracks at lunchtime during the last week of the ski season.
Claviere sits within the vast Milky Way ski area and is right on the Italian-French border.
But while those travelling by road have to pass through border control, skiers can freely hop between the two countries – that is once you have mastered the lift pass system.
A local pass covers just a handful of runs around the village itself, a morning’s skiing at most for anyone other than a complete beginner. Then you can buy a Vialattea pass allowing you further into Italy, to bigger resorts such as Sestriere and Sauze D’Oulx. But, here comes the complex bit, you cannot go more than a few runs in the other direction unless you have a full area lift pass or pay the daily upgrade fee to the French.
If that wasn’t confusing enough, as we were approaching the end of season some of the key connecting lifts on the Italian side were closed – leaving us no option but to cross over into Montgenvre and ski with the French.
This was no hardship, in contrast to Claviere, Monty offers a bustling resort centre, wider runs and some tougher terrain.
Back at the hotel, our one-year-old, Violet, was busy painting snow, watching the bigger kids from the Beanie Bear Club have a snowball fight and generally keeping the nursery staff on their toes.
We could not fault the standard of care they offered, she was well fed and we had a daily diary as we would from nursery at home.
The Grand Albergo operates on an all-inclusive basis, an unusual concept for ski holidays but one that works well when your evenings are hotel-centred (our après days are on ice for the time being).
The buffet breakfast was plentiful with porridge offered on alternate mornings, the perfect start to a day on the slopes.
Packed lunches were provided on request and these were functional but filling – ideal on a bluebird day when you don’t want to waste precious ski time eating but we skipped them some days and sampled the mountain restaurants and French eateries while we were out touring.
Dinner is served at 5.30pm for little ones and parents can either dine then or wait for the main evening meal at 7pm.
Children have two options each day, chosen at breakfast, and one of the dishes was always pasta – a sure fire win for us.
Violet lapped it up and we credit the hotel chef with helping her discover her appetite – ravioli, lasagne, seafood linguine – she tried it all, and conquered most.
The later meal consisted of a salad buffet followed by either pasta (standard) or a meat option. The food was hearty but there were some more refined options (our favourites were the giant langoustines served on the salad buffet most nights).
Our only criticism was that the main meals tended to be over-salted.
Local spirits, beer and wine are on tap at the bar – the perfect solution to the lack of après-ski. We were not the only ones who were forced forgo this holiday rite, the resort is extremely quiet and there is no real après scene but late afternoons were spent sat on the terrace with a cool beer watching the kids build snow forts, launch an attack on the kids’ club hosts and bumboard down the slope.
Claviere has a distinct family feel, and with the facilities on offer at the Grand Albergo, it is ideal for those with very young children.
That was a winning combination for us, throw in those glorious conditions and the opportunity to nip across the border once we had re-discovered our ski legs and we were in our element.
Crystal Ski Holidays offers a week’s all-inclusive at the three-star Grand Albergo Claviere from £490 per person when booked online (based on two sharing) including flights from London Gatwick to Turin and transfers (price given is for departure on 23rd December 2018. Direct flights available from all major UK airports.