I was 18 when I set foot on a ski slope for the first time. While the cool kids always headed to the snow in winter, the only mountains my family visited were the Blue Mountains.
It wasn't until I was backpacking around Europe that friends of friends invited me skiing for the day at Zell am See in Austria. These boys decided it would be amusing to introduce me to the sport by taking me down a black run (yes, the most advanced) after a five-minute lesson in the basics of snowploughing.
It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I skidded down the mountain, toppling over every few metres (the only way I could stop), certain I was about to snap a leg. When I finally reached the bottom I stumbled to the cafeteria, where I spent the rest of the day nursing hot chocolates and a serious case of ski trauma.
It was another seven years before I attempted to ski again, and many more years and snow trips (thanks to the patience and encouragement of my super-supportive husband, Ben) before I truly overcame my fear and learnt to ski adequately.
Like surfing, skiing is one of those sports that is quite easily learnt as a child, but far more difficult to pick up – let alone master – as an adult. As ski instructors coaxed me down the mountain, I envied the tiny tots snowploughing past me with pure joy
Yet when you can ski properly, nothing compares to the exhilaration of whooshing down through fine powder, surrounded by spectacular alpine vistas, the crisp air tingling on your face.
I was determined that my children would learn to ski before they were old enough to develop the debilitating fear that had gripped me. As soon as our youngest child, Daniel, turned four and was up to proper ski lessons, we headed to Thredbo. Less than three hours' drive from Canberra, the Snowy Mountains resort is nestled at the base of Australia's highest peak, Mount Kosciuszko, and is brilliantly set up for families, particularly first-time skiers.
Thredbo's ski hub is Friday Flat, with equipment hire, cafes and a nice wide, gentle slope for beginners and those wanting to re-acquaint themselves with skiing. It's protected from the winds higher up the mountain and gets plenty of sunshine. For a snow resort, it felt positively balmy.
Friday Flat is also home to the resort's ski school and adult lessons. Four-year-old Daniel was booked into Thredboland, a ski school for younger children where they alternate between skiing and indoor play. Ten-year-old Polly and eight-year-old Charles, our daughter and older son, were off to Freeriders, which caters to kids aged seven to 14, and has them out on the slopes for the best part of the day, stopping only for lunch. Freeriders aims to progress students up a level (or two) each day.
Polly and Charles were pumped to learn to ski, while Daniel confidently assured us that he would be doing "cool tricks" by the end of "ki kool". If all went to (my) plan, this snow holiday would lay the foundation for a lifetime of skiing.
It wasn't looking so good when we picked them up after their first day. Tired, aching and wrung-out from the exertion of learning a new skill, all three were pretty fragile. But a few piping-hot cinnamon doughnuts from Donut Hut and whipped-cream hot chocolates all round restored their spirits, and they were determined to give it another crack the next morning.
Ben and I quickly developed a routine – drop Daniel at Thredboland, Polly and Charles at Freeriders, then head off to our respective lessons (he's the more advanced skier of the family). We'd reunite for lunch at Merritts Mountain House on the slopes, and spend the afternoon exploring the mountain while honing our ski technique before collecting the kids. The instructors were all good fun, knowledgeable and excellent teachers, but we discovered we gained the most when we stuck with the same instructor for the duration of the week.
Thredbo is a beautiful place to ski, its runs lined with gums, plump snowdrifts criss-crossed with animal tracks, and rolling peaks to the horizon. While it can get a bit icy up the top when the wind whips off the summit, there's always an on-mountain cafe close by in which to thaw out.
Of course, there is life in Thredbo beyond the slopes. It's a true alpine village with plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants for après-ski action. The Black Bear is the quintessential cosy mountain restaurant – all timber booths, low-hanging lights and fogged-up windows. Order the schnitzel and leave plenty of room for the decadent chocolate waffles. Burger Bar is a hit with families, serving enormous portions, or you can curl up by the fire in the lounge at the Thredbo Alpine Hotel with a pre-dinner drink.
Ideally located in the centre of the village, our Snowman apartment was bigger than our inner-Sydney semi, and the kids immediately claimed the second lounge area in the loft for themselves, dubbing it the "chill zone". For families who need a break from the mountain, the Thredbo Leisure Centre has a water slide, rock-climbing wall, trampoline and 50-metre indoor pool.
But skiing was our mission, and although I felt some pangs about sending the kids off to ski school all day, the instructors assured me they would learn faster.
By week's end, our older kids had graduated to the resort's intermediate runs and ski jumps, while Daniel was snowploughing with ease. (His nightly meltdowns seemed a small price to pay for each glorious day in the snow.)
Our week at Thredbo confirmed what I've always thought: that skiing is one of the best family holidays. You're outdoors all day, learning a new skill that pumps adrenalin into your body. The kids experience the unique alpine lifestyle and make friends at ski school, while the adults get some rare couple time lunching and skiing together. Then everyone's hard work on the slopes is rewarded with a slapup dinner together before tumbling into bed exhausted.
Skiing is also a fabulous mental break from the stresses and strains of modern life – you literally can't think about anything else but navigating the mountain.
On our last evening in Thredbo, Polly, Charles and Daniel skied the weekly Kids' Flare Run. At nightfall, the instructors took all the children up to the top of Friday Flat, while we parents waited at the bottom.
As stars began to appear, the children skied down by themselves, glow sticks twinkling in their hands or stuck to their helmets. Even little Dan managed the whole slope – a feat his mother didn't achieve until she was in her late 20s – while fireworks exploded above our heads. It was a fitting celebration of both the children's achievements and a great holiday.
Cosima Marriner travelled with the assistance of Thredbo Resort.
This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale August 19.