skiing lessons for young children-is ESF OK?(16 Posts)
We want to take a 6 yr old and a 4.5 yr old skiing for the first time. Does anyone have experience of group lessons for these ages with ESF? Or of the Jardin des Enfants in Avoriaz?
Our children have done ESF several times, only in Les Houches, Val Cenis and Pelvoux. They have done from the youngest level jardin des Enfants up totop level Compétition. 3 out of 4 of our children are French speakers, but even the eldest who speaks French only from lessons at school has had no problems.
There have always been children in their groups who do not speak French, the instructors or other children have translated, the non French speakers are usually placed in the liddle or back so they can copy the others if they haven´t understood.
Groups can be large in the French school holidays, especially the weeks Parisian children get off. Pick your weeks carefully if you want smaller groups.
I would double check but Jardin des Enfants in Avoriaz tend to have smaller classes and english speaking instructors.
It's been 5 years since I've been to Avoriaz but they would be my first choice.
Often I have found that despite being promised a French speaker my children have been placed with instructors who speak at best poor English and the kids have had an unhappy time and on a few occasions we have withdrawn them.
The last few years we have gone with smaller English only ski schools and the kids have come on much better.
We used ESF in La Tania last season. Ds (then 5.5) was supposed to ski in the morning and be with the ski nanny in the afternoon. He ended up skiing all day and we used ESF lunch on one day - ski nanny fed him other days and took back to ski school in the afternoon.
Instructor nice but typically French - very direct and not very friendly. Told ds on the Wednesday that he would fail his test on Friday. Ds did fail one element and frankly I was a bit cross as it seemed the instructor had no intention of ensuring ds was competent completing the elements. Others who saw ds ski were very surprised he failed. From the comments the instructor made (in French to a colleague thinking I wouldn't understand) he really didn't like young children. We would have gone back to La Tania next season but the thought of encountering this instructor again has put me off. Contrast the year before at Ardent when the instructor (older chap) was completely fab.
There are some English Ski schools based in Morzine. I'd check them out first. Try these: www.mintsnowboarding.com/mint-recommends.html
When I rang ESF in Les Orres (not the same I know) they were unhelpful and offered no guarantees re English speaking instructors. In contrast, the independent Ski Ozone School was great and said of their 15 instructors, 10 spoke English, so no problem.
It wasn't, and DS1 (5) had a fab time!
I remember one year when dd was about 6 she spent the week leaving one 'crocodile' of children and joining on the back of another random one effectively group jumping from one ESF class to another. She never seemed to be where she was supposed to be and was left up the mountain one evening. The groups were all huge (approx 20 children) and the instructors really didn't seem on the ball - I'm not even convinced they really knew between them which group she was supposed to be in.
Small is better (especially with a child that gravitates to the back) and our experience is that usually that's not with ESF. I don't actually think the language matters too much as they learn by copying as much as anything. I'd advise your children to stay as close the the instructor as possible and try to copy exactly what they do.
In La Tania ds's morning lessons had 6 children and the afternoon lessons varied between 3 and 4. The beginners classes were bigger but still not 20 with one instructor. You need to ensure wherever you book that the instructor does speak English. Ime of La Tania the ones that sold themselves as English speaking spoke English no better than ESF but charged a lot more.
We are going to Morzine this year and will use ESF.
The class size depends hugely on when you go. Half term week and all the classes will be much larger than an out of season week. We've had classes as small as 4 or 5 and the children really do learn so much more than in a big group imo.
Good point. We go early Jan - ds misses 3 days of school [delinquent parent emoticon].
I have worked as a nanny in the Alps for many years, which involved collecting and dropping children at ski school, and staying with the youngest ones. I have found ESF to be the least suitable for English children, and would always try and find a smaller independent school if you can.
ESF just don't value child care during their training, but focus solely on ski instruction. You will often find the least experienced instructors get put with the children's groups despite a total lack of child care experience, and are therefore resentful rather than keen on teaching children.
I'd also recommend calling the ski school around 5pm (or finding out when the lessons end) and asking if you can have a quick chat with the instructor you've been allocated as he has just finished a lesson. You'll learn a lot about the school by their reaction to your request, and if you do get to have a quick chat you can see how good the instructors English is.
Do PM me if you'd like any further advice.
We booked our 3 and 4 year olds in with ESF in Samoen. Despite being reassured that they would be taught by an english speaking instructor they were not. We observed the class for about an hour by which point both our children (and a couple of others including a very young child) were crying. There appeared to be a complete absence of care and communication with the children. They were treated as mini adults. We took them out & lost the money we had paid for 2 children for 1 week. We did ask for a refund, without much hope, and didnt get one. Would never recommend ESF for young children and have met other parents who have reported similar experiences.
I can see that not everyone has had such a positive experience of ESF. Maybe our children flourish there because there is not an enormous diffence in culture between French and Belgian French and our kids speak French.
ESF does have adult-child ratios, for under 6s it is usually 6 to 1, 8 to 1 during school holidays. I've only seen groups of 12 maximum even in the older levels, with 8 to 12 year olds who are competent skiers.
Many ESF schools let you reserve just the first lesson, then if there is space, you can pay for the next 4 or 5 days. This is a practical option if you are skiing outside French school holidays, ie Jan and especially Februay. That way, if your children hate it, you have not lost a whole week of fees. But my friend (Belgian) got a full refund when her son refused to ski on his first lesson, so it's definitely at the school's discression to refund or not.
Do remember that ESF is French instructors, we can't really expect everyone to learn and speak English competently. French culture is very geared towards children conforming and doing what is told, it can be more of a culture shock to the parents than the children. French people are no less caring than any other nationality, they simply express themselves and act according to the culture they are brought up in.
From experience of the ski school in les Houches where we are going to again this year, the instructors there rotate around all age groups, except for the most senior instructors in the school who can avoid the yonger children, meaning a few instructors spend the entire season with the little ones. Our 5 year old is flocon/1ere étoile this year so she'll not be with the lovely instructors she skied with last year, I found them all personally very caring towards the little ones, ratio was about 4 to 1 in mid April, lots of attention, daughter could have stayed there all year.
We have done ESF in ALpe d'Huez and La Plagne for the last 4 years, starting when the DCs were 4 and 8 and have not had problems so far. We have booked the lessons through the ski company we holiday with (mostly crystal) and have asked for English speaking groups and the instructors have always spoken a reasonable amount of English and the other children in the groups have been mostly English. The children have been well taught and been happy. They are expected to behave and pay attention but It seems only fair, the instructors are there to teach not to nanny the children. The children all wear bibs to show which level and which ski school they are with and the instructors seem to keep an eye out for stranded children on their own which can happen.
TBH if I'd read mn before we first went I would have been worried about using ESF but I didn't and from experience now I would recommend them.
I would also say be aware of the french teaching style when bookimg ESF. In my experience it is usually "Here's how you do it, now get on with it". Which is great if your kids are responsive to that type of instruction. BUT if want more "how are feeling about your skiing today?" try the smaller more english schools. We've used Evolution in Tignes and New Generation in the Three Vallies and would recommend both. They are more expensive than ESF but I prefer to put my money into lessons than fancy accomadation.
The ESF groups I've been involved with have had higher ratios then natation states. Good tip about only booking first day only though.
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