Usually, the heart soars as the bus from the airport winds its way up the mountain and you catch that first glimpse of a skier on the piste.
This time, I was feeling a little anxious — as, I dare say, are many parents when they take a child skiing for the first time. Except, in this case, we were taking three. I had been putting this off for years. Just going for a walk in winter can be irksome enough, with someone too hot, someone too cold and someone wanting the loo as soon as they are fully wrapped up. Surely skiing would be all that ten times over? But there has to be a first time for everything. And, with our youngest turning six and the eldest nudging 11, the time had come.
The most important question was: where? I wanted to avoid the big-name ski towns. On the other hand, I didn’t want one of those low-lying starter resorts with a couple of drag lifts and no snow. I was planning to do some skiing myself, after all.
Piste perfection: Passo Tonale in the Italian Alps
Then someone suggested Passo Tonale in the Italian Alps, around three hours from Verona Airport. Here, we found a resort that had everything — except queues and high-speed maniacs.
Built either side of a single through road at 1,880m above sea level, it has plenty of snow right down to street level.
We travelled with Crystal Ski Holidays, which offers a range of hotels across the town, and stayed at the Grand Hotel Paradiso, which is right on the piste beside several lifts. It also has a swimming pool in the basement (apres-ski heaven for children).
The whole place centres on families, with in-house Crystal Ski reps to smooth all the inaugural angst over ski lessons, passes and hire.
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I had half-expected a mutiny on day one, but we dropped Matilda, Phoebe and Hal at their classes and off they went without a backwards glance.
In so many resorts, the nursery slopes are more like traffic junctions, where everyone converges at the foot of the mountain. Here, beginners have a bit of the mountain all to themselves. Yet this is a resort for decent skiers, too. There are 70 miles of marked piste, from the Presena Glacier, at 3,000m, down to the neighbouring resort of Ponte di Legno (1,250m) and beyond.
There’s a downhill racetrack and six or so punchy black runs for those who like their skiing on the steep side, but the majority of the 42 slopes are for intermediates. At the end of the week, my wife and I had yet to cover half of the resort.
Crystal Ski’s team of (mainly Italian) instructors all speak good English. Each morning after ski school, our trio would be returned to us having made steady progress.
Hitting the slopes: Matilda, ten, and Hal, six pictured above
Midway through the week, my three were gingerly trying their first red run. By the final day, we were exploring the upper slopes together and my six-year-old was gleefully overtaking me on sweeping runs towards Ponte di Legno.
Our half-board deal included hefty buffet breakfasts and dinners but, come lunchtime, I found restaurants in this part of the Alps were half the price of their chichi counterparts in the smarter areas of Switzerland or Austria.
It was €8 for grilled chicken and chips or a large plate of tagliatelle ai funghi at Da Ragnetto, a village joint popular with ski instructors.
Non-skiers can get to most places, including the panoramic cafe at the top of the glacier, which has a cable car.
Passo Tonale has plenty of old world charm and intrigue, too. There’s a monastery on one side of town and, on the other, a World War I battlefield (with tunnels). New for this winter is a two-seat zipwire down the mountain.
This place has the added advantage of being flat, too — a much underrated quality on a skiing holiday. Vertical resorts can be hard work with grumbling children in tow, but there was virtually none at all from our three.
With the exception of the day their father led them onto a black run in a snowstorm, the trip was a triumph.
The skiing bug has well and truly been caught.
Crystal Ski Holidays (crystalski.co.uk; 020 8610 3123) offers a week’s half-board at the four-star Grand Hotel Paradiso online from £418 pp (with two sharing), including flights from Gatwick and transfers (departure on December 14, 2019).
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