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Opinion: A week on the pistes is sweet but there's no place like home





We enjoyed our best family holiday (so far!) over the midterm when we went skiing to Andorra.

We were all first-timers and thus quite apprehensive. We knew so little that we didn't even know what we didn't know.

What we had done was book an all-in package with the Irish-owned company Topflight and it worked out well. Skiing is not a cheap holiday but, once booked, there isn't much more expense.

We picked Andorra because it was the least expensive option - about two thirds of the cost of elsewhere - and also because it's supposed to be well geared towards beginners, which it was.

Just over half the size of Louth, Andorra is a land-locked 'co-principality' - the world's only such entity - being governed by two 'princes' from its bordering countries, the President of France and Spain's Bishop of Urgell.

A prosperous tax haven, Andorra has a population of 85,000 but every year welcomes 10m tourists, 7m of those for skiing.

It is comprised almost entirely of mountains, the Pyrenees, with Coma Pedrosa the highest peak, at 2,942m. Average elevation is almost 2,000m, nearly twice that of Carrantuohill. Only 2pc of the land area is agricultural and this is mainly used to grow tobacco.

Andorra has no international airport and no train line so getting to Arinsal was a 3.5-hour bus journey from Barcelona.

I had only ever seen a snow-covered mountain in a movie but it was every bit the fairytale I had imagined; my lungs swelled with fresh air and my heart with pleasure, as the pine trees poked their noble heads through a white carpet that glistened under a bright sun.

At ski school the following morning, we learned the basic leg position called a snow-plough. The hard bit for me was the leaning forward. It's counterintuitive - but it works!

It wasn't nearly as cold as we feared, with daytime temperatures regularly breaching 10˚ Celsius. Some people were skiing in t-shirts!

The girls took to it from the outset, me more slowly and, unfortunately, Robin not at all. He hurt his knee playing sport years ago and his desire to learn to ski was superseded by his fear of getting hurt.

Farmers try to avoid getting hurt, if at all possible. Whatever about an injury while working, one from a leisure activity would be just irresponsible.

I am married to what must be the nicest man in the world. He spent the week on a nursery slope… and looking out for us, lugging equipment around, etc. And relaxing a bit, I suppose.

But he never complained. Had it been any of the rest of us, I doubt we would have been as stoic. He big-heartedly said it would have meant nothing to him if he was zooming down the black (hardest) slopes by the end of the week and one of the rest of us hadn't taken to it.

It was lovely to see the girls' enjoyment and independence, as they went off in their own groups. Though there were big crowds around, we never had any fears for their security. They returned beaming, thrilled by the adrenaline rush and the satisfaction of achievement. No different to many families, there can be a fair bit of rivalry between them but they have never got on so well.

Going higher up the mountain later in the week, in the chairlifts, the quiet stillness was celestial. By then, we had progressed into a bit of parallel skiing. It's not many activities that you can learn well enough in few days to be able to enjoy it.

As for the après-ski, neither of us is a big drinker and anyway we were wrecked so we stayed in our hotel most evenings. There were a lot of Irish people around, from a range of backgrounds and they were great company.

The WiFi was poor but there was a considerable upside to this, in that the girls ended up playing cards and pool with kids from their respective classes.

We all need an occasional break. But one of the best things about going away is how good it feels to get back home.

Indo Farming