By Jon Clarke
IF there’s one golden rule of skiing, it’s DON’T teach your own children how to do it.
It was a lesson I learnt the hard way when I recently found myself flailing down a green run in the Sierra Nevada with both my youngsters in tow.
Enthusiastic and fearless – like their dad – they had somehow persuaded me to take them up for a couple of runs before their scheduled lesson was set to begin at 11am.
But when we all fell over in the first lift queue I got the hint that I might have been a touch foolhardy.
Pulling them both up again we finally alighted the chair only for Alfie, my five-year-old, to fall off the other side, stopping the lift for him to be scooped up by the lift operator.
Within 30 seconds of moving again came the first cry of cold and then the announcement that he was ‘not going to ski down’.
And after falling over again as we got off the lift, I felt pretty certain he was going to have to be carried down.
However, he suddenly got his ski legs and we took off – well tumbled really – down the slope.
I had tried to get their skies into the classic snowplough position and told them to head sideways not straight downhill.
But, of course, it doesn’t work like that and while Alfie went left, Maia, eight, shot off to the right, screaming blue murder.
A horrible moment having to decide which of your two children to save, I plumped for the youngest, a daredevil, with no fear, but no sooner had I picked him up, I skidded off after Maia, who was by now on a totally different run 100 metres away and in floods of tears.
We regrouped and I attempted to get them to follow me down in a zig zag with promises of bravery medals and hot chocolate at the bottom.
After five falls each and a shout from an angry teacher, when we bombed straight through his class sending the pupils tumbling, they made it to the bottom with, guess what, huge smiles on their faces.
It was a lesson in damage control and I just about passed, but I vowed to leave the job of training them to the professionals.
The rest of the hour before their lesson was spent on the very, very nursery slope (and its bizarre ‘magic carpet’ tunnel), luckily with a Dutch friend and her daughter, who was an equal novice.
Up there on the one degree slope practically nothing can go wrong, and it was a huge relief when I handed them over to the very capable teachers at the EOE ski school, whose patience apparently knows no bounds.
So why on Earth am I so keen for my youngsters to learn to ski?
The unselfish reason is I want them to develop a skill that will keep them fit and that they can enjoy for years to come.
The selfish reason is that I want an excuse to go to the Sierra Nevada as much as possible throughout the season.
For there is nothing as lovely as taking in the mountain air and breathtaking views of the Sierra Nevada. Bright sunshine, a gentle breath of wind and a glass of Veuve Clicquot in the champagne bar on the way down.
Now something of a winter ritual since moving to Andalucia over a decade ago, a day or weekend away in the Granada skiing resort is always great fun.
Heading up with friends, there are usually between 50 and 100kms of runs in a good year and the choice of places to eat in the resort is surprisingly good, not to mention good value compared to the normal skiing resort prices.
Then, of course, you get the health benefits. All that fresh air and movement for hours at a time has got to be good for you. My search engine produces millions of results when the keywords ‘health benefit’ and ‘skiing’ are entered.
A random look at one describes it as such: “Pure zingy mountain air contains lower levels of oxygen than we are generally used to… the body becomes more efficient in its circulation and oxygen delivery… which is great for sluggish desk-bound types!” Quite.
It goes on to talk about stress-busting, facing fears and overcoming frustrations.
Without a doubt few things are as exhilarating as heading to the top of the highest ski lift, at 3,300 metres, just below Mulhacen, where the views make the Mediterranean below look like a small pond, with half the coastline of Morocco clearly in view.
It is an amazing place, although it can be a little nippy up there with the wind whistling past, so make sure to bring a coat and jumper.
From here, competent skiers are spoilt with the amazing runs of the Laguna de las Yeguas area, including the celebrated Olympic run, which is full of twists and turns.
Here, you can sometimes find yourself skiing alone midweek and the sheer nature and landscape are spectacular.
Pradollano itself is a pleasant place to simply take in the air or a spot of lunch, and there is a fair amount for children to do, with entertainers and Disney figures wandering around, particularly at Easter and Christmas.
It has also, rightfully, got a good reputation as being a resort for fun, with the famous apres-ski being some of the best in Europe.
The resort really started to evolve quickly from 1995 when the World Skiing Championship was scheduled to be held there (it actually took place the following year due to poor snow).
“Since then the infrastructure changes were huge and it is now a big resort,” explains Giles Birch, who has run the rapidly-growing British Ski Center for over two decades.
“It has one of the longest seasons in the world, opening at the start of December and often going through to mid May. There have even been snowfalls in June and when the snow and weather are favourable, the openness of the terrain provides some of the most exhilarating off-piste skiing to be found anywhere.”
And so it ultimately came as a lovely surprise that after one of the most exhilarating mornings skiing I could remember, I picked up my kids with huge smiles on their faces.
I proposed lunch down in the resort with their mother, to which they screwed up their faces and insisted it should be a bocadillo and chips at the top, followed by an afternoon’s skiing with dad.
I can tell you it got better. And by the end of the second day, these two tornadoes were hooked.
It made my year.