Beginners get their ski legs

Sarah Maguire heads to Falls Creek to give her four-year-old son a cushy introduction to the slopes.

Something's wrong with this picture. Outside, the snow is falling, and our just-four-year-old is out among it in the subzero temperatures. It's not only his first time in the snow, but his first moments on skis. And where are we? Throwing back flat whites in the comfort of the Cloud 9 cafe, jackets slung over seat backs because it's warm in here, thanks.

He is in good hands, the teachers at the Falls Creek Snow Club 4 Kids knowing a thing or two about keeping kids upright and moving in the right direction, generally speaking, for most of the time.

But it feels a little like abandonment of the first-born to retreat to the cafe, on the orders of the snow club, so as to be out of sight of the children who will otherwise be distracted.

We watch the absolute beginners in bright-pink vests negotiate a course that they'll take all day, and the next: up the travelator, down the slope, up the travelator, down the slope, knees slightly bent, hands on knees, skis forming a triangle and away they go, a conveyor belt of elastic little learners, many of them not very happy in these early, clumsy minutes out in the cold.

Ski school gives grown-ups the chance to hit the slopes.

The compensation: they won't be miserable for long. This skiing business, after all, is a load of fun.

To get to Falls Creek, we've flown from Sydney to Albury in a twin-propeller aircraft and taken a 90-minute bus ride, on which I make a discovery about the four-year-old.

While the child behind is throwing up on the winding route to the ski fields - and he's not the only one feeling queasy - things are going in the opposite direction with my kid: his peanut butter sandwich is going in, to stay. Hooray! This can only augur well for the ski holidays that I can only hope lie ahead of us, expensive as they are.

Ski fields in Australia are rarely straightforward to get to. I am sure the four-year-old is going to love skiing - I did, and I want to pass the love along - and more's the better that he'll be hardy enough to survive the journeys to get there.


Granted, once he arrives at Falls Creek it's going to be cushy all the way, thanks to its ski-in, ski-out arrangement - indeed, once you've experienced ski-in, ski-out, it's hard to contemplate going back to off-mountain lodgings; rather like turning right on the plane after having had the designer pyjamas and flat-beds that lie to the left.

As a child, our family ski trips were economy class: there was no accommodation on the mountain, so a ski day involved getting up in the dark, dressing so we were slope-ready, and piling half-asleep into the car. Once there, parking was at a premium and a slog from the slopes. It was a good three hours between waking up and taking your first ride on an antediluvian poma lift to the top of a negligible slope.

In contrast, in this picturesque Victorian Alps village, any hardship pretty much ends at the car park, especially if you stay, as we are, at Quay West Resort & Spa, which is on the main road through Falls Creek and at the base of the main ski run.

Sure, the four-year-old's two days will be well spent at ski school and he'll tumble exhausted into bed each night, but I will still be able to give him, when the time is right, the I-lived-in-a-brown-paper-bag-in-a-septic-tank speech about the differences in our childhood skiing.

Right now, our first stop after check-in is the ski-gear hire shop, where the four-year-old is fitted with boots, skis, a jacket, gloves and helmet. I, too, pick up gear: one of the excellent things about ski school, of course, is that it gives grown-ups the chance to hit the slopes unhindered.

The rest of the afternoon is spent building snowmen before dinner at Quay West's upmarket restaurant, ALTA, its modern-Australian menu featuring aged-beef steaks and pizzas. The four-year-old is welcome and, as he flags towards the end, they are happy for us to take our cheese platter back to our room.

The Cock'n'Bull English-style pub up the road, where we dine another night, is not so accommodating: when the $20 bowl of kids-menu spaghetti bolognaise (the exorbitant price is relative, given a rib-eye steak for grown-ups is $52) is barely touched, we figure he might have another go back at the hotel, until our waitress bluntly informs us they don't allow food to be taken off the premises.

But we are here to ski (which does require a lot of fuel, although in this case it won't be spag bol) and at 9.30am, after breakfast in our self-contained, two-bedroom apartment, from provisions bought at the on-site FoodWorks supermarket, our first job at snow club is to extricate ourselves from a distraught child.By lunchtime, though, with the kids stripped down to their thermal underwear and seated around long tables, a festival of cute as they tuck into chicken sausages with vegetables and gravy, the four-year-old has settled in. One of the instructors doubles as a top-hat wearing magician, eliciting abracadabras and applause. Old MacDonald tinkles away over the sound system.

It's a warm, cosy scene but the main game is out in the cold and the kids know it: they are eager when it's time to get the gear back on and head back to the travelator.

After school, we head to the Village Bowl for the Pete the Snow Dragon show, the resort's big, blue children's mascot and his perky singing minders proving masterful at exploiting the last bit of energy left in knackered kids. Ours can barely raise a smile, but he still wants to shake Pete's hand. As a child learning how to ski at Falls Creek, that small act is close to compulsory.

Fast forward a spring, summer and autumn, and we have a nearly five-year-old asking when we are going to the snow again. He loves skiing, he tells us. Absolutely loves it. I guess that's mission accomplished.

The writer was a guest of Falls Creek Ski Lifts and Quay West Resort & Spa

Three other things for kids

1 Enter the snowman-building competition held every Wednesday and Saturday from 4.30pm in the Village Bowl.
Learn tumbling tricks and aerial manoeuvres on the Village Bowl bungy trampoline; $12 for one session.
Go snow tubing in the purpose-built park, for ages five and over; $21 for 30 minutes.

Trip notes

Getting there
QantasLink flies three or four times daily from Sydney to Albury. Falls Creek Coach Service operates between the airport and the ski village, adults $95 return, children $80. (03) 5754 4024.

Staying there
Quay West Resort & Spa, 17 Bogong High Plains Road, Falls Creek. (03) 5732 8000. One-bedroom apartments with hot tub from $688 a night with breakfast, minimum two-night stay.

Skiing there
Snow Club 4 Kids (ages three to five years) and junior workshop programs (ages six to 14) cost from $144 for a full day (10am to 3.20pm) to $816 for seven consecutive days. Rental packages start at $184 for a full day.

More information
1800 453 525, For activities, 1800 204 424.