As the coach weaves us out of Val d’Isère I suffer a pang and tears threaten. I don’t think it has anything to do with my aching legs or the grey clouds that have appeared – as if to mark the occasion. No, this strange homesick feeling is more about the end of a beginning. For this was not just a holiday, not merely a week of hanging out with the family, away from the chores of laundry, the routines of school, and the demands of work. This was a first in my children’s lives – a whole raft of incredible firsts, and it was my privilege to be there for such discoveries.
Their first walk on the mountain: after a day of travel, an arrival in the dark, and a delicious first dinner, we took them out, across the little town, to the sparkling lower slopes, snow twinkling in the moonlight. Cold little faces lit up as they spotted Christmas trees, and marvelled at the majestic Alpine scenery. “This is way bigger than Hemel Hempstead!”
First ride in a cable car: “How did they even build this?!” First mountainside cafe: “Is it really ok to have Crepes with Nutella for lunch?” First white-out on the mountain: “Mum the snow feels like needles on my face!” and a hot chocolate stop to thaw out numb fingers. First cheese fondue, served with the typical gruff demeanour of a French waitress, declared awesome.
It was this holiday that saw my 9 year old lover of nursery food progress to a more grown up palate, relishing Confit Duck, Boeuf Bourgignon, and Dauphinoise potatoes. Perhaps she simply needed French cuisine. And The Bug, ever the adventurer where food is concerned, progressed to new culinary heights with Salmon Tartare and a caper mayonnaise, declaring chicken liver terrine yummy.
First realisation that skiing is something they adore. My home boy who likes to chill out, loves his everyday things, goes along with most things but rarely gets excited; he thrilled to every day, approached every slope with calm confidence, and his stock phrase each time we paused for breath was “Shall we go now?” My fearless girl, so proud of her progress in lessons, secretly so pleased with her status as ‘demonstrator’ to the rest of her group that she wouldn’t move up to the next level when her teacher suggested it. And who learned the limits of her fear on a nasty fall – but got back up and tried again (after a long chillout in our favourite bar).
But it is over. Pristine snow turns to slate grey earth, and finally to the lush green of spring valleys as we complete our descent, and I wipe away a final tear. For my children are the skiers I hoped they might be, and behind me Actually Daddy is leafing through the Rough Guide to skiing, already planning for next year. The adventure has only just begun…