“Would you go back to Passo Tonale? We would. Hey, perhaps we’ll all end up back here together next year!”
So said Wei, a friend I made in my ski school at Passo Tonale, Italy. Crystal Ski had invited our family of four (including Austin, eight, and Gwen, five) to try out their childcare, as well as find out what we thought of Passo Tonale as a family ski resort. We arrived in Italy with a mixed bunch of abilities: Austin and Gwen had only skied once before, in Austria, while I’d been on three ski holidays. D skis well, after starting to learn when he was six.
Our verdict? Passo Tonale is brilliant, with something for skiers of all levels. Crystal’s Whizz Kids club (now renamed Beanie Bear) was a huge hit with the children – and it gave me and D a chance to relax, and unwind our way onto the slopes.
Travelling to Passo Tonale
Flying off on holiday only a couple of days before Christmas is possibly the most exciting experience for a young family. The excitement carried us through the early morning flight (6.25am from Gatwick), and the three-hour coach transfer from Verona airport. At one and a half hours long, the flight was quick and painless. A relay of cheery Crystal staff directed us from the airport exit to our coach, where we met Jess, one of our reps for the week. More coaches were lined up for holidaymakers arriving on different flights – D’s parents, plus his brother and family, were flying from Bristol a couple of hours later, to join us for Christmas. After our reps had made sure all the families were on board, we set off on the drive, past Austrian-influenced churches, the beautiful Lake Iseo and up narrow, winding mountain roads, whose verges became more snowy the higher we climbed.
Checking in to Passo Tonale
The Grand Hotel Paradiso was to be our home for the week. It was turnaround day and five coaches had arrived at once, so there was a queue to check in. Rather than waiting, Jess suggested we stash our cases in the luggage room and walk the five minutes into Passo Tonale’s centre. It’s a small place with only 300 inhabitants off-season, but there were plenty of eateries along the resort’s one main road. We chose La Botte, a cosy bar/restaurant with a roaring fire and a 10% discount for people who buy the Crystal discount card (€5).
Several hot chocolates and tasty paninis later, we headed back to explore our hotel room. Greeting us was the most magnificent view of the setting sun, framed like a painting by our balcony window.
Our stay included half-board accommodation. After meeting up with the rest of the family, we headed to Paradiso’s restaurant, where a buffet dinner was served an hour earlier than usual (6pm Italian time). This was so the youngsters could have an early night after the journey, and wake up fresh for the piste. Passo Tonale is exceptionally snow-sure. Sixty cm of snow had fallen the week before, and at least eighty cm more fell while we were there. But just in case, the latest snow-making technology was there to give nature a helping hand. There was no need for it while we were there, though.
Crystal Ski kids’ club
Crystal suggested we sign our Pigeons up to their childcare for the week. For our stay, this was the Whizz Kids club. It’s since been renamed the Beanie Bear club, for children between three and eight (a separate club, Pepi Penguins, runs for younger children).
It was a good call. Sammy and her team of childcare staff really looked after our family while we were away, from the cheery text message before we’d even arrived at the resort, through to the presentation ceremony at the end. Gwen was crowned Whizz Kids Picasso, for her artistic talents, and Austin was named Piste Prince, after he wowed the team with his smooth moves on the blue runs. The staff really ‘got’ our kids, and did everything they could to make the stay a fun, happy time.
This was the first year Passo Tonale offered Crystal Ski’s specialist childcare. It made all the difference to our trip. The club was based in our Grand Hotel Paradiso, so it was an easy journey, from bed, to breakfast buffet, to club HQ. We took the children in at 8am, padding along in their ski socks and base layers. After drop-off, the patient staff dressed them in salopettes, jackets, jumpers, ski boots, skis, goggles and helmets, ready for ski school at 9am. The kit all stayed in Whizz Kids HQ and the heated locker room, so we didn’t have to carry it at all, unless we wanted to take the children out skiing ourselves. After ski school ended at 11am, the staff took the children back to the HQ for a child-friendly hot lunch – like chicken nuggets and vegetables, pizza or spaghetti bolognese. Indoor play, with arts and crafts, brick building or soft play, was usually followed by an outdoor excursion: gondola rides, snowball fights or bum boarding.
If we’d wanted to, D and I could have taken off for the whole day, skiing from 8am until 5pm, when the club ended. There was even an evening childcare service, for an extra charge, from 7.30 till 9pm. We decided to take advantage of the flexible sign-in, sign-out system, and kept the children with us on the afternoon of Christmas Day. Father Christmas had found us Italy, so there were presents to open! And our son was poorly half-way through, so he didn’t ski on the last few days. But once he was contagion-free, we put him in Whizz Kids just for the afternoon sessions.
Passo Tonale is blessed with 100 km of ski slopes, including plenty of quiet, wide pistes for beginners. Unsurprisingly, it has one of the busiest ski schools in Europe. I signed up for six days of two-hour lessons. On our first day, the Italian ski instructors took the complete beginners off together in one big group, and we ‘intermediates’ – people who could just about do a snowplough, through to those who’d skied black runs – took it in turns to ski down a gentle slope, so the instructors could group us based on our ability.
My group was led by Tiziano, a young local who’d lived in the area all his life. The teaching was excellent. Over the week, we graduated from very gentle slopes, to an easy red and on the last day, we even skied down part of the 3,000m glacier overlooking the town.
The children’s ski school followed the same pattern. My daughter was in the group for complete beginners. She learned how to whizz down a very gentle slope without falling, and travel up on the button lift. My son, who’d already picked up how to snowplough and turn when we were in Austria, went up the mountain on a chairlift with a handful of other slightly older children. If he hadn’t been struck by the bug halfway through, I have no doubt he’d have been a better skier than me by the end of the week. As it was, I did see him zipping past me on a blue run, all cool and nonchalent in his bright orange jacket.
In a presentation ceremony on the last day, the ski instructors gave us all booklets showing which skills we’d mastered. The children received medals. My daughter, who isn’t the most sporty individual yet, was so proud of hers (as were we!).
Travelling to Passo Tonale with Crystal Ski was loads of fun, and hassle-free. Because of all the services Crystal offered to families, D and I could enjoy ourselves without having to worry too much about keeping the children happy. Although we didn’t pay for this trip, we’d definitely book to go away with Crystal. Both children adored the kids’ club, and were genuinely clamouring to go back. If our son hadn’t been unwell we’d have put the children into a couple of evening sessions, too. Then we could have taken advantage of Passo Tonale’s night skiing, or Crystal’s evening trip to sample local food and drink in a monastery. As it was, the extra help from Crystal meant that Austin’s bug was nowhere near as tricky to manage as usual. Let’s face it, those of us with young children are familiar with holidays where someone or other is ill. If that holiday’s still a fun, happy time, despite the lurgy, then someone’s doing something right.
If you’d like to read more about our time at Passo Tonale, check out my post on the Grand Hotel Paradiso. There’s more on Crystal’s Kids Club here and on Passo Tonale and the Pontedilegno-Tonale ski area here. In the meantime, here’s a video with some highlights from our trip.
Check out these other posts I’ve written about Passo Tonale:
Family holiday deals to Passo Tonale are available on the Crystal Ski website. We were sent to the resort on a press trip for the purpose of this post. All views are my own.
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