Snow classes are a source of questions and sometimes concern from primary parents, so here below you can find answers to questions that frequently come up.
What are the snow classes (classes de neige)?
All classes in the fourth year primary of EEB1 go to a ski resort for some 7 days in January each year (9 nights with travel). The European Schools of Woluwe, Laeken and Luxemburg 1 and 2 have the same practice, but not Ixelles. The activities include lessons in down-hill skiing, visits to alpine economic activities, and building igloos. The children have school lessons for half of each day.
The trips are organised by the school, in close collaboration with CPAN (www.cpan.be), which organises snow classes for Belgian schools. The children are lodged in hostels run by INTERSOC (www.intersoc.be), which specialises in providing accommodation for children.
Until now, the resort used by the Uccle school has been Leysin in Switzerland. Travel was by overnight train, with coach connections at each end. The school arranged the transport to and from Gare du Midi, ski lifts, transport of luggage and after-ski activities. CPAN provides monitors to assist the teachers, and organises the lodging, ski equipment, lessons and train journey.
The cost to each parent of the 7-day trip was usually about 900€ per child. This price included travel by a dedicated train, food, lodging, ski hire, lifts, ski lessons, and each parent’s contribution to the expenses of the accompanying teachers and monitors and to a modest solidarity fund to support parents with a particularly low income.
What is the plan for the 2022 ski trip?
Due to renovation works, the resort of Leysin is not available for the January 2022 trip, so the school plans to send both Uccle and Berkendael P4 children to Valmeinier Grand Hotel in France, from 27 January to 4 February. CPAN offers transport by coach from the Uccle school to the resort. The basic cost would be 640 €, plus the parents’ contribution to the adults’ expenses and to additional activities (racquets, alpine farm, thematic evening…), some 750 € in total. The coach trip could be overnight (leaving Thursday 27th April in the evening, arriving home on Friday 4 February morning), or else during the day (leaving Friday 28th morning and arriving home on Friday 4th evening). Entertainment would be provided during the day trip.
The coach trip to and from the resort has the advantage of being door-to-door, and the children would be accompanied by their luggage. However, some parents are concerned about the safety of coach travel, and would prefer travel by train. At APEEE’s request, the school is seeking an offer with the alternative travel option of taking the TGV to Lyon, then a three-hour coach trip to the resort. This would increase the total cost to around 1000 € per child, and would involve travel by day (probably from 28 January to 3 February), the hire of transport for luggage and of coaches between the school and Gare du Midi. The actual cost will not be known before September, when TGV bookings open. The children will probably need to travel on two or three separate train departures.
We requested that the school also explore the option of a special train from Brussels to Chambéry or St Michel Valloire, a much shorter distance from Valmeinier than Lyon. CPAN states that the French railways have indicated that this option was not available for the requested dates.
Travel by train is more pleasant and sociable than coaches. The Woluwe school has abandoned the option of the TGV in favour of coaches, due to the complicated organisation involved. APEEE will consult the EEB1 parents concerned on their preferred option.
Why snow classes rather than other activities?
Generations of European School pupils have been to snow classes, and find them to be one of their most memorable experiences during their years at school. Pupils rise to the challenge of learning to ski, or of helping others to learn, in a multi-cultural environment and away from home. They learn something of the alpine economy and way of life. In 2013, the APEEE conducted a survey of parents’ views on the snow classes, and concluded that most parents concerned favoured the snow classes, but sought to reduce their cost. Satisfaction surveys of the parents concerned after subsequent snow classes came to a very positive result.
Surely parents can take their children skiing themselves. Why does the school take them?
Trips to any destination, whether it be the seaside, the countryside or the mountains, can all be undertaken by a family. Going on a trip with classmates and without parents adds the dimensions of promoting independence, self-reliance and cooperation with other pupils of many nationalities. They are a powerful learning experience.
Why have snow classes in 4th primary? The children are so young.
School trips for classes in a secondary year are impractical, as the absence of a teacher disrupts teaching of his or her subject for students of other years. The absence for 9 days of primary school class teachers has little effect on other classes. Trips for P5 classes promote the use of their second language, their knowledge of which would be insufficient in P4. So P4 is the oldest class possible.
Why choose Valmeinier?
Only the higher alpine resorts give a reasonable guarantee of snow cover. The Ardennes or the Vosges, for example, would prove disappointing in most years. It would be impractical and even more expensive to lodge the children in hotels, so only destinations with hostels specialising in school classes can be selected. CPAN and INTERSOC have other destinations in France and Austria, but few large enough to accommodate the EEB1 group of some 320 children and 35 adults. Those which are large enough are booked up on a multi-year basis by other European Schools and by Belgian schools.
Valmeinier has been used by the Woluwe school for many years. Bad Hof Gastein in Austria is another possibility offered by CPAN, but implies longer travel and would cost some 100 € more. A private sector company has offered similar trips for school-children at a competitive price, but could not accommodate the number of EEB1 children, and the EEB1 coordinator of the ski trips has not been satisfied by his past experience with this company.
I cannot afford to send my child. What should I do?
Participation in snow classes is not obligatory, and the school makes arrangements for those who do not attend, in most cases for reasons of ill-health. However it would be a shame if a pupil were left out of the snow classes. Parents with low incomes, especially those who have to finance school trips for siblings in the same school year, may apply for payment by instalment and/or a subsidy from a solidarity fund financed from the snow classes’ budgets.
What happens if my child gets ill or lost?
The school has undertaken an analysis of all the risks of things going wrong, and has prepared an appropriate mitigation action and response. For example, adults were on duty in each coach or wagon of the train all night, nurses and a doctor are in the centre, there is always someone on the slopes to watch the ski groups and to resolve problems, and parents are kept informed of any issue, for example the late arrival of transport. An insurance policy covers medical expenses and repatriation.
Last update: 07/05/2021