This month’s “for kids” article is a team effort between Laura, our kids’ columnist, and I, Alexandra, certified non-expert in children. My close friends know that I don’t much care for children, so when Laura proposed taking a week’s ski holiday together in the mountains, at close quarters, with 3.5 year old Francesco, to be honest, I hesitated at first. But the fact is that Francesco is a smart and pleasant child whom I quite like, and in fact the holiday turned out just great and we are all still friends.

We went in February 2012, and are publishing our experience now to help people plan for their winter holidays. Before leaving, Laura did research to find out what to do with a three year old child in Corvara. She does not ski, but wanted Francesco to start (aged 3 years and 4 months), and intended to place him in ski school while she would relax, read, and enjoy spa treatments. Unfortunately, things did not work out as planned. Here is what we ended up having to do, and our advice for anyone traveling to Alta Badia with a child under five years of age. The rest of this post is team written.

Can he ski?

As you know, Laura does a lot of research to find fun activities to do with Francesco (see her Florence for kids articles summarized here), and traveling is no exception. She wrote to the Corvara ski school for information in advance and found he could be signed up for classes, but upon arrival we were told a different story. Here’s what happened in her words.

Laura explains:

I wrote in advance to the ski school in Corvara (close to the Boe ski lift), and told them not only Francesco’s age but also his height, weight and shoe size (as I know that he’s smaller than average). They told me he would be able to attend the ski school every day, Monday – Wednesday – Friday from 10.00 to 12.45 and Tuesday – Thursday from 10.00 to 16.00 including lunches. I planned my own activities accordingly.

We arrived on Saturday and went to the ski school to book but, surprise, they say Francesco is too little to start skiing. The next day,  I went to get information about the Ski Kinderland (day care service) but they told me children would stay indoors and as Francesco is always at school I felt sorry to be on holidays and leave him at a school similar to the one he attends every day in Florence. So on Monday we went shopping around Corvara together but coming back home I noticed that actually children having ski lessons were as little as Francesco.

An attempt to ski. See how he can’t hold a snowplow?

We decided to take matters in our own hands – after all, I taught kids to ski all through high school. Towards the end of the day, we got a set of rental skis for me and a little pair for Francesco, whose feet were a size smaller than the smallest boot available. And we did a little test on the bunny hill. And the big, bad grooming machine started cleaning up nearby and scared little Francy to death. And he cried, and cried, and cried. Here is what that looked like.

I tried taking him down in a snowplow hug, but he was quite hysterical. Ski boots are hard and uncomfortable, and skis are scary. And although he trusts me, he could not be comforted until the skis were put away and he was moved away from the noisy machines.

In general, it’s possible to start skiing at age three and up, though it depends on each child. Francesco is small for his age and may not have the muscles and coordination necessary to hold a snowplow position. If your child is in this situation, try enrolling him or her in tennis or basketball, two sports that require very precise movements and develop hand-eye and muscle coordination. Next year Francesco will be ready!

Another important step towards skiing is getting the child used to snow and outdoor sports, especially if you live somewhere warm. This was Francesco’s second trip to the mountains; last year Fabio and Laura took him sledding (which he didn’t like much either). Try sledding, carrying the kid in a backpack, short walks outside, snowman making and any kind of games in the snow to get them used to being bundled up and outside.

Laura: “Alexandra was so sweet as she made a test to see if actually Francesco was too tiny to have ski lessons!”

Finally, it’s useful for kids to see their parents ski equipment as they want to imitate mommy and daddy. So we placed Francesco on Fabio’s snowboard and guess what? He LOVED it. Maybe it is a sign… can we skip skiing altogether? Check out the video – at the end he shouted “ancora” (again)!

Too small, try day care

If your child is too small to ski, most ski areas have a day care center that takes advantage of being in the mountains by having kids play outside, part of the important “getting used to the snow” process. So Francesco went to the all day day-care (asiloneve) center at Corvara. And here’s how that went.

Laura: The second day of our stay, I brought Francesco to the day-care center, as another person guaranteed that they would, in fact, go outside to play in the snow. At the end of the day, we went to pick up Francesco and the teachers complained that he’s too vivacious and had bit another child. Then they told us that the day after there would be 50 children with only two teachers, so Francesco was not welcome to return. Nonetheless we brought him back on the last day of our trip, and while they refused to take him, I insisted, and left him there! This time he behaved and the teachers did not complain.

I was very disappointed about the service in Corvara for children of this age. I planned my winter holidays thinking I would  have three morning and two whole days on my own relaxing, having massages, going shopping, etc. but then  not only Francesco could not learn how to ski, but I had to find things to do with him all day long! In Corvara itself we did our best to walk around, have tea and cakes, and use the public playground in town, where we had fun on the slide, swings, etc on the snow.

Supervised play area

Having failed at ski school and day care, we tried taking Francesco to a supervised play area that I discovered at the top of Piz la Ila. It’s a privately run center (Dolomites Fun Park Piccole Canaglie) and owner Gian Carlo is a ski instructor specialized in working with small kids (he also confirmed my approach of trying out a pair of skiis with Francesco). Parents can accompany children aged zero to ten for 6 euros an hour in the enclosed play area (or 12,00€ unlimited time). A babysitter (15€ for 1 hour or 35€ for 3 hours) can usually be reserved if parents want to ski in the meantime, but this needs to be done in advance. Francy played in the snow for 3 hours and liked that.

Family hotels

We came to a conclusion: Corvara is not the best place for small children. If you have a child who is just about to start skiing, we would suggest staying at La Villa and using the ski school there because it has many more children and more possibilities for each age group.

If there is a chance, like in our case, that your child is not going to be able to ski (due to undeveloped muscles or simple dislike!), make sure you have other options to keep him or her busy. Staying at an apartment rental may not be the best option, although it does have a kitchen for family meals. If your budget allows for it, consider staying at a Family Hotel with day care and organized activity services as well as a good spa for mommy.

Laura: In the post “January events for kids” you will find a couple of suggestions for family friendly hoels. We tried a few with nursery facilities like the Biancaneve at Selva in Val Gardena, a 4-star luxury design hotel where you can leave your children in the morning and see them again after dinner! Try also Bad Ratzes at Alpe di Siusi with a nursery where children play, eat, etc and there are special walks and activities for families.

Restaurants and food

Francesco liked the local cuisine! Here is Laura to tell us about what he eat, and where we found good, child-friendly service.

First of all Francesco really appreciated Alexandra’s vegetarian lasagna that we had as first dinner in our flat (he got that for leftovers too the next day!). We discovered Seppi Bakery in Corvara and every day I bought bread (very good with muesli, cereals, etc) and Francesco had a couple of crispy breadsticks (while I had coffee at L’got Bar – tiny but posh.

For a sweet break don’t  miss Hotel Villa Eden chocolaterie and Tablè Hotel bar. For take-away close to our flat we tried delicious apple strudel and cream krapfen at the Konditorei on the way to Boe.

For dinner, Alexandra already wrote about the restaurant at Armentarola hotel, where children were welcome and were given an embroidered bib; Francesco really loved the soup with speck canederli.

We also loved La Sieia in strada Berto 61 – San Cassiano (Fanes hotel group, the same as the posh Las Vegas located on the hill) a beautiful historical sawmill restored according the Ladino tradition (with modern touches). Here is a photo of Francesco eating his ragout pasta while Fabio had a special cheese plate and I had a knuckle of pork with potatoes. The meal ended with a ricotta cheese canederlo with hot chocolate inside and raspberry marmalade!

A local Museum for children

We visited the Ursus Ladinicum Museum in San Cassiano where Francesco had fun taking pictures close to brown bears and skeletons. This Ladino Museum is dedicated to the prehistoric bear of the Dolomites and opened in July 2011 with a permanent exhibition of remains and skeletons found 24 year ago and also explains the geological formation of Dolomites with fossils of each rock layer. The museum is open from Wednesday to Sunday 15-19 (different days and times according to the different months of the year). The ticket, 8€ for adults, can also be used to visit the Museum Ladin Ćiastel de Tor in San Martino in Badia (on the way back to the highway).

If you’re still thinking of going to Corvara – if your child is older, for example, check out our related posts:

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