The half-term holiday is a wintry rite of passage.
There will come a moment. There always does. Usually it’s at about 5pm, when you’ve spent the best part of seven hours hauling 90lb of ludicrously expensive gear, a rucksack full of child-related clobber and one or more impossibly ungrateful little twerps. Your thighs are burning, the road back to your apartment is slushy and crowded, and all you can think about is that snowball martini you’re never going to taste.
Then, from deep within a ski suit that took 34 minutes of aggressive zipping to fasten around your youngest, comes the trigger: “I need a wee.”
That’s your moment. Right there. And right after you appal yourself by saying “Just go”, a thought will enter your mind: “Is all this really worth it?”
The answer is yes. Yes, it is. The family ski trip is one of the great rites of passage: a memory-searing, horizon-expanding, life-affirming institution.
What is child-rearing if not taking your offspring to the metaphorical higher ground and showing them what lies beyond? You’ve done that and then some. And the view, once you do manage to get your mob kitted out, into the gondola and up the mountain, is pretty darn special.
What are your offspring’s peers doing this half-term? Hiking one of Machu Picchu’s less familiar trails? On safari in a remote corner of the Serengeti? Of course not. They’re at Nando’s. Meanwhile, your brood, thanks to your selfless masochism, are cruising down red runs, sucking in mountain air, wrestling with fondue savoyarde and growing in confidence by the minute.
Yes, it will involve nights sitting on your chilly terrace drinking industrial-runoff supermarché plonk in the most dismal approximation of après-ski imaginable. (The babysitting prices are ruinous.) There will be tantrums and searches for lost lift passes. But you won’t remember those. You’ll remember their cherubic grins on sunlit slopes.
Think of it like childbirth, only with salopettes. As with childbirth, there are ways to control the pain. For starters, keep it short-haul: that flight to the Rockies is awfully long for a five-year-old. Pick a high resort where snow is all but guaranteed; there are few disappointments as crushing as brown mud when they expected sparkly white snow.
Did you know: the network of pistes in the Three Valleys, France, is a total of 600km long
Above all, opt for a family-friendly operator. Esprit Ski is a good bet (espritski.com); Crystal Ski has an entire segment of its website devoted to everything from tuition to childcare (crystalski.co.uk/family-ski-holidays); and Family Ski will ensure that your digs are never more than 200yd from the main lift (familyski.co.uk).
All of them, crucially, understand that you’re poor (you’re parents, for goodness sake) — and that you’re getting poorer by the second. Gear, ski passes, lessons, grub, drinks, childcare, Brexit. Skiing is scarily expensive, if you think about it.
Which is why you mustn’t. Instead, work out a strategy. Try doubling your expected spend before departure, then counting every pound “saved” as a victory. I sometimes like to pretend my entire family has been kidnapped, and this is the ransom that will have them released.
In the bleaker moments, I just like to pretend my entire family has been kidnapped.
Get all this right and you’ll create skiing converts for life. They’ll insist that the holiday becomes an annual event and threaten to go hitchhiking in Colombia if you don’t agree.
But it’s the most satisfying of financial own goals. You’ll have given them a life skill and a sense of achievement, and introduced them to an active, healthy, outdoorsy, entirely screen-free world.
Wholesome, too. Well, until they discover après-ski.
Carnival in Rio
The biggest shindig on the planet, with more than 2m dancers, drummers and spectators, begins on February 24 and continues for a frenetic five days. Anything goes. Anything at all. You can watch the astonishing parades, live it up at the Cinelandia street party and join some of the more than 500 blocos, or neighbourhood parties. If you’re so inclined, you can even take your place in one of the parades at the Sambadrome: Bespoke Brazil offers this as a £500 extra on its five-night package, which includes carnival tickets, guides, transfers and flights. You’ll get to keep your costume, too. The trip starts at £3,100pp, B&B (bespokebrazil.com).
Vermeer at the Louvre
The Louvre’s blockbuster for 2017, Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting, runs from February 22 until May 22. It departs from the usual depiction of the Sphinx of Delft as a brilliant loner, recasting him as the leader of a hugely talented mutual-admiration society that included Jan Steen and Pieter de Hooch (£13; louvre.fr). Eurostar returns from London St Pancras start at £58.
Orange-chucking in Italy
Imagine the Tomatina festival of Buñol, in Spain, but with oranges, and in Italy. The annual Battaglia delle Arance, in Ivrea, outside Turin, goes back to an event in the 12th century when a miller’s daughter is said to have refused the local baron his droit du seigneur and decapitated him, sparking stone-throwing riots that saw off the tyrant’s troops. The citrus-pelting, involving nine teams comprising some 5,000 locals, and 400 tons of oranges, takes place on February 28, and you’re welcome to join in. Fly to Turin with Ryanair.
World Cup skiing in Switzerland
See St Moritz turned into an adrenaline-fuelled sea of flags as the 44th FIS Alpine World Ski Championships come to the resort’s pristine pistes. The Swiss speed merchant Patrick Küng will be defending his downhill title (February 6-19; day tickets from £33; fis-ski. com). Fly to Zürich with Swiss.
The cycling specialist Saddle Skedaddle’s newest holiday is a 13-day spin through the lush landscapes of Laos. Starting in the capital, Vientiane, on the banks of the Mekong, it takes in Nam Ngum Lake, the Plain of Jars, the standing stones of Hintang Archaeological Park and the magnificent Khuang Si waterfall. The trip departs on February 25, when it’s relatively dry and humidity is high, rather than very high; prices start at £2,495pp, including flights (skedaddle.co.uk).