The dragon slayers

After two days of lessons and high-fives from a giant blue mascot, Debbie Neilson-Hunter's children are conquering the slopes. Her parents are, too.

THEY'D never seen snow before - yet it isn't the biting cold, the day-long journey across three states or even layer upon cumbersome layer of static-friendly clothing that seem to be bothering my two under-fives.

"Pete is a friendly dragon?" my two-year-old tentatively asks during dinner one night as I regale her and her four-year-old sister with snowy tales from my childhood in a bid to prepare them a little.

Once upon a time the most famous resident of the Victorian ski resort of Falls Creek was former Winter Olympian, Steve Lee, who now runs guided back-country tours of his alpine home.

But my two were more excited about meeting a certain Snow Dragon on the slopes - the resort's ice-blue ambassador of fun who, I quickly reassured them, loves kids, not to eat but to hang out with and entertain on the beginners' slopes where they were headed.

The next set of nerves to overcome were those of my retired parents, who hadn't crunched through snow for 30 years; not since they'd last pushed and pulled my brother and I up and down Lake Mountain's slopes in the 1980s. They weren't keen on the cold, having lived in the tropics for more than two decades, but the children's excitement proved contagious and they were soon looking forward to reviving old memories.

While I looked forward to their company and was grateful for the extra pairs of eyes, ears and gloved hands, at 63 (going on 64 on the trip), dad's age was not going to diminish a long-held desire to finally learn to ski, either.

Once we'd juggled the logistics of keeping both juniors, seniors and myself happy, arranging not-so-early flights and fast-connecting transfers, finding accommodation to take us all comfortably and then factoring in clothing and ski rental, lessons and lift tickets, the ultimate success of our trip was left in the hands of Mother Nature. Snow can never be guaranteed in Australia. But, then, that's just a small part of Falls Creek's charm. Famous for its great range of cosy ski-in, ski-out accommodation to cater for large groups and families like ours, as well as wide, open terrain offering gentle beginner slopes, it also boasts the best alpine position (adjacent to the Bogong High Plains) to catch natural snow when it falls.

And while the resort's extensive snowmaking facilities avoids disappointment when it doesn't snow, Mother Nature came to the party, providing 40 centimetres of fresh snow to make the Christmas card scene compare admirably with anything Dickens or Disney could have imagined.

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The youngsters' squeals of delight at seeing their first snowflakes put everyone in a festive mood.

We were up early on our first morning, eager to put our ski legs to the test. We piled nervously on to the Falls Express Chairlift to reach Cloud 9 where the Snowsports school, including the Snowclub for Kids (ages three to five), can be found.

Familiarity with the kindergarten-type atmosphere, where games and stories and lunch (for full-day students) are part of the relaxed learning environment, soon gave Miss Four enough confidence to conquer her first tiny slope.

Inspired with a high-five from her new best friend, Pete, by the end of the second day she was ready to tackle her first green run.

After just two (back-to-back) beginner lessons, dad was already planning his next trip. "I don't know why I didn't do it sooner," he revealed at lunch, revelling in his new-found skills (proof you can teach an old dog new tricks).

Even mum, who'd happily captured the action from the sidelines, was convinced to give it a go next time around.

"Me too," chirped Miss Two, as she pulled on her gloves and picked up her tiny strap-on skis, like a pro.

"Again, again," she said, pulling me towards her favourite slope with its magic carpet ride.

The writer travelled with assistance from Falls Creek Ski Lifts.

Trip notes

Getting there

Falls Creek is about a 4½-hour drive from Melbourne. Alternatively, fly to Albury and transfer by coach, taxi or car to Falls Creek. The Falls Creek Coach Service is the best way to travel, (03) 5754 4024, www.fallscreek coachservice.com.au. Mount Beauty Taxi Service provides transfers in a four-wheel-drive with trailer. Child seats are carried and park entrance fees are covered in the cost. (03) 5754 4735. The trip from Albury is about two hours.

Skiing there

Falls Creek Reservations can arrange everything from flights to transfers, car hire, accommodation, lift passes, rental, lessons and meals. Phone 1800 453 525.

Register children early (from 9am) to ensure a place in the Snowclub. Rates start from $101 for a half-day, $132 for a full day, including lunch. Children must be toilet trained.

See + do

Falls Creek excels in family-friendly attractions. Pete's Fox Trail Park, through the snow gums near the Drover's Terrain Park, has beginner rails and jumps. Try night skiing down Wombats Ramble (2.2 kilometres).

Don't ski or board? Try snowshoeing, snow biking, tubing, snocce (bocce on snow) and tobogganing.

TOP TIPS

Time your flight into Albury with scheduled coach transfers heading to the mountains to reduce travel delays and keep costs down. Discounted entry fees into the Alpine National Park are included in the bus ticket. My family enjoyed the country scenery through the panoramic windows. Just be prepared if anyone in your party is prone to car sickness, especially on the windy roads up the mountain.

As an experienced skier who'd visited Falls before, a fully self-contained two- bedroom apartment with double bunks suited us nicely. It gave everyone space and allowed us to cater for fussy eaters and economise with home-cooked meals. But for first-timers, the comforts of a lodge, where local knowledge is always at hand, is the way to go.

Children grow fast so it makes sense to hire ski clothes first time around.

Hiring before you go ensures you get the size and style you want (prices were

similar on and off the snow) and you'll be able to make snow angels on arrival. The big upside of hiring when you arrive is less luggage to carry.

Write your phone number in black permanent marker on your child's arms. If you are separated you can be immediately notified. Ensure your mobile signal has good range.

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