All posts by Shannon Williams

Avoriaz and the Portes du Soliel, definitely kid-friendly

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I recently tacked a kid-free weekend of skiing at Avoiraz in France onto a business trip, and found myself in a family ski paradise.  With hundreds of lifts and more than 400 miles of runs across 12 linked resorts, the Portes Du Soleil is an amazing destination for a dream family ski trip.

With only two days to explore the area, I focused my first day on exploring Avoriaz itself, which lies at the heart of the region.  If possible, I’d highly recommend staying in the village of Avoriaz itself, a modern car-free town full of condos and hotels that all have ski-in/ski-out access, and cater almost exclusively to skiers in the winter.

The village has lifts pointing in all directions once you get settled in, and even a few that run between the hotels and through the middle of town.  There are ski tunnels to zip under hotels,  lots of restaurants and cafes, and even ski-up banks, pharmacies, bakeries and a swim center.

Accommodations in Avoriaz are some of the most expensive in the region, and with no notice, I couldn’t find weekend rooms for less than 300-400 euros per night.  I reached out to the tourist office, and they helped me find a 180 euro room at  Hotel Niege et Roc, in Les Prodains,  a tiny village just below Avoriaz.  The hotel was charming, had a wonderful breakfast (included in the price), and was just across the street from a brand new cable car that led to Avoriaz, and the finish of the 4-5 km long “Coupe du Monde” (world cup) decent.

Avoriaz is heavily focused on families, they have a Children’s ski school called the “Village des Enfant,” which looked like it would be awesome for young children between 3 and 7.  I saw lots of older children in ski school classes that seemed to have between seven and 12 children, often with more than one instructor.

There are many green and blue runs that extend through and around the village for new skiers, and if your kids have been skiing for a while, there are some great long descents, and some relatively easy ungroomed red  runs (in Europe, red runs are between blue and black) which can act as a nice introduction into moguls. I especially enjoyed the red Pschott Snowcross area, which was not especially steep, but full of challenging little drops, bumps, and crevasses.

Avoriaz by itself would rival all but the largest North American resorts, but the real joy of visiting the region is touring from village to village.  On my second day in the region I went on a grand loop from Avoriaz  and Châtel (which are both in France), and into the Swiss resorts of Torgon, Morgins, Champousin and Les Crosets, before returning to Avoriaz.

It was an amazing experience, though I would not recommend it with beginner skiers, or even intermediate’s under 9 or 10. It requires a reasonable comfort with black runs and a lot of stamina and enthusiasm.

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Top of Siberia at Squaw Valley, now which way down?

The Siberia chairlift at Squaw isn’t as famous as KT-22, Granite Chief or Headwall, but for my 9-year-old it must have felt like the top of the world.

Coming up the lift we had a great view of the main run down the face of the hill, and I could tell Ben was a little nervous. He is a solid intermediate skier, but this was definitely steeper than anything he had done before.

As we stood at the top, I asked him if he thought he wanted to ski the face, or if he would rather take the ridge trail down, which was a bit easier.

“Whatever you want,” he answered a bit too quickly.

I wanted to rip down the face as much as anything in the world, but while I was pretty sure he could handle the hill, I didn’t want to push him into an uncomfortable situation.

“Why don’t we take the ridge this time, and maybe we’ll try the face next time up,” I answered.

“OK,” he answered, and took off down the ridge run.

I am constantly struggling to find the sweet spot between pushing him to try new challenges on the mountain, and trying to keep him comfortable and having fun. Sometimes the hardest part is quieting my selfish inner voice that is desperate for a thrill in the middle of a family ski day.

Later in the morning, we found ourselves over at Shirley Bowl, and he started pushing himself to try tougher and tougher lines off a long traverse. This time when I asked him where he wanted to go, he was confident and excited, without any sign of tentativeness.

We ended up having an amazing time skiing the Shirley Lake area for the rest of the day. We never got back to Siberia that day, but he brought it up again at the end of the day.

“Dad,” he said, “how much harder do you think Siberia is than the far run we did on Shirley Bowl?”

“Not much. The top is a little steeper,” I answered.

“Next time lets try it.”

“Absolutely.”

– Posted on the go.

Location:Squaw Valley, CA

Boreal: Free season pass with three lessons

Learning to ski at Boreal in Lake Tahoe, California.

With snow finally coming down in Lake Tahoe, Boreal’s “Take 3, Ride Free” program might be an interesting option for families looking to expose kids to skiing before this season ends.

The program provides a free 2013-14 season pass to anyone who takes three lessons.  Surprisingly, they don’t make you pay for all three lessons up front, you can try one lesson, then come back and take the next two whenever you want.  Even better,  the second two lessons are offered at more than a 50% discount on normal rates, so the overall cost is very reasonable.

They are offering two flavors of the program. For new skiers the “1-2-3 program” includes a 3 hour lesson, plus rentals and a limited lift ticket (only good on the beginner runs).  The first lesson costs $79 and subsequent lessons are only $35.

For intermediate and advanced skiers, the “4-5-6 program” includes a 90 minute lesson, rentals and full resort lift ticket.  For this program the first lesson is $89 and subsequent lessons are $45.

At $149 for beginners and $179 for intermediate and advanced skiers, the price is pretty reasonable for three lessons, three days of rentals and a season pass. By comparison a single-day lift ticket at Squaw Valley is $114 for adults and $66 for children 5-12.

Boreal has great access for families in Northern California, as it is just off Interstate 80 before you get to Truckee.  It doesn’t have much in the way of luxury (the lodge is dated, and the food is what you’d expect at a high school football game),  but it has very good terrain parks, good snow making, six chair lifts (1 high-speed quad) and night skiing until 9:00 most nights, if you’re not much of a morning person.

When the kids are getting worn out from the lessons and early growing pains, there is also a pretty fun tubing hill on site.

More info on the program is available on Boreal’s website.

New Dakine Tracker gloves for my four-year-old

Dakine Tracker Gloves in Pinyon Color
Dakine Tracker Gloves in Pinyon Color

For about a year my four-year-old son has been wearing a pair of  mittens that have been driving me absolutely crazy.  I’m not sure what brand they are, but they feature a zipper on the side of each glove, which makes it easy to fit a young child’s hand into the mitten, zip them up and then stuff the cuff of the glove under the kids jacket to keep out the snow.

At first this seemed like a great design to me, as it avoided the painful struggle required to get little fingers into the right holes. However, because the mittens are very stiff, and my son’s fingers were rarely in the right part of the mitten, he pulled them off every time he wanted to do anything.

At the beginning of our last ski trip to Squaw Valley I stopped by the fantastic Granite Chief Ski Shop in Truckee and upgraded his gloves to a pair of Dakine Tracker Gloves in size KS (kids small), which are recommended for 4-6 year olds. The gloves look and feel just like an adult pair of gloves, and fit his small hands incredibly well. He was able to easily get his fingers into the finger holes, and the elastic cinch draw string made it possible to tighten the gloves at the bottom, keeping any stray snow out.

Most importantly, the gloves were flexible enough for him to easily pick things up, so he wasn’t taking them off every time he needed to grab something. The gloves, which retail for $30, use Dakine’s own “DK Dry” waterproofing technology, which performed well over the course of the week.  For $10 more, you can upgrade to Dakine’s Avenger Glove, which has a Goretex, and should be more breathable if your child has hands that get hot easily.  The Dakine kids glove website has a sizing chart as well to help figure out what size fits best.