My grandkids are taking the Piste!


We find out what it is like to create two mini ski monsters as Editor-in-Chief Kevin Flanagan travels to Schladming in the Austrian Alps for his annual ski pilgrimage with Topflight

Kevin with his grandkids, Kuba and Maya

When I was growing up, I did not have parents – or grandparents – that were interested in skiing. In the mid-1960s, skiing was the reserve of the super-rich and the baddies in James Bond movies. 

It was only years later in the early noughties that I got the chance to ski. It was with Topflight, who have been my constant companion on my skiing adventure. And though I didn’t know it on that first ski outing, a tremendous love story was being born!

I was into my early fifties and learning to ski at that age was a BIG (and some would say crazy) challenge. But for seven years, I persisted and learned the basics on the slopes, supplemented by my visits to the amazing Ski Club of Ireland ( in Kilternan, where I took lessons on the artificial slopes. 


Kevin and the family with Frank Honan of

So when my first grandkid came along some eight years ago, I was well into my ski love affair. It was then that I decided to give first Kuba, and then Maya, the gift of skiing. 

It was always my intention to enjoy time together on the slopes, once they had learnt to keep up with me of course, and this year seemed to be the year that would happen.

We headed to a new destination – Schladming in the Austrian Alps – after three happy years skiing in Westendorf.

Schladming is very different. If you are new to skiing, it is more challenging than the gentler slopes of Westendorf. But if you are a keen skier, Schladming is the place to go. 


My friends in the Ski Club of Ireland – all very accomplished skiers – had visited the week before we arrived. I was talking to an instructor from the Club and she told me they all loved the fact that Schladming had such brilliant and challenging slopes. Slopes that you can literally get your teeth – and your skis – into! 

Indeed, since 1973, the Planai has been a regular location for Alpine Ski World Cup races. Since 1997, the race has been called a “Nightrace” because it takes place at night. In 1982 and 2013, Schladming hosted the Alpine World Ski Championships.

And talking about Night skiing. there is a slope open for skiers on the Hochwurzen, on the freshly prepared 3km-long slope, No. 33. Modern flood-lighting equipment guarantees great visibility but you have to buy a separate evening ticket.

You can also go tobogganing on the Hochwurzen, which at 7km is one of the longest toboggan runs in the Alps and great fun. Just wear good snow boots! Click here for more information.


You can also enjoy sports activities in Schladming apart from skiing. There’s cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, tobogganing and trekking. And there is plenty to see as the four ski mountains above Schladming are all connected to each other.

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If you visit in summer, you can relax on hikes or bike rides through nature. A popular destination is the Dachstein, the highest mountain in Styria. Those who like it faster will find routes for mountain-biking and downhill. 

The Planai, which is Schladming’s local mountain and ski run, has an e-kart track. And the Hochwurzen, the ski mountain in the neighbouring town of Rohrmoos, offers a non-motorized mountain go-kart route from the summit down into the valley.


Schladming boasts one of the steepest slopes in the Alps, so it has all you need for the accomplished skier. It is also unique in having the famous Black final run that brings skiers right into the heart of the town. (Not for the faint-hearted!).


Another change we found from Westendorf was the fact that the ski school for the kids is at the very top of the mountain. You need to take the gondola right up to the top station to get there. So if you are taking your kids to ski school, it is important to factor in the added time.

But once you emerge from the gondola at the top station above Schladming you will have some very exciting views. You will also have some great slopes and fun parks to ski on – even a timed slalom run. 

On the first morning, I joined my ski school. And so began three days of exploration. 


As we visited in March, the weather was warmer, so we experienced some slushier conditions in the afternoon. But being late in the season has its advantages too – the slopes were reasonably clear of crowds.

I had a fabulous teacher, Hans, for the three days of ski school (for some reason they only offer three-day adult ski schools and the usual five for kids).

Under Hans, I made remarkable progress. Hans has 38 years of experience and it shows. He was able to get me to find my centre and by the end, I was skiing well. So much so that for the first time in my 15 years on the slopes, I finally learnt to let the skis “do the work for me” – a sort of Zen moment! Suddenly, I thought ‘I’ve beaten this – I can ski!’  

Well, that was until I joined my grandkids on our final free Friday. I was imagining I would lead them out and about on the slopes – imparting my hard-won wisdom. I could not have been more wrong! 


It started badly. Kuba led me and Maya off for our first run of the day. But he soon diverted to the small ski jumps of the ski school fun park and I ended up skidding sideways, smothering curses as I just about avoided falling on my face. 

Things did not improve as Kuba headed off-piste – off the Blue run to a small section of fresh snow between the trees. I tried valiantly to follow only to end up literally on my backside. By the time I had staggered up and reattached my skis, the two grandkids were nowhere to be seen. I finally caught up with them at the six-man lift at the bottom of the run some minutes later.

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And as I sat on my seat catching my breath and trying to ignore the kids’ questions as to what was keeping me so long, I began to understand the gulf that had emerged between us. I am a competent skier. I could, with care, get down a well-groomed Black run. It would take me time and I would need to stop to reassess the descent but I would get there safely in the end. 

Kuba and Maya on the other hand, would not hesitate or need to stop. They would head straight down and be waiting impatiently at the bottom with a “Why did you take sooo long?” grin. 

Not only do they have little fear they are also both very well-schooled with a sturdy technique. This comes after weeks spent in ski school on the Alpine slopes. This is backed up by days training with Eddie and Kathryn on the artificial slopes of the Ski Club of Ireland. They intuitively know what to do. In fact, I noticed Kuba was skiing with the same confidence and ease as his instructor Agnes – a very accomplished Austrian ski instructor – who has been skiing since she could walk. As a result, the grandkids do everything instinctively and that is the big difference. 


I, on the other hand, have to think before I ski down a slope. I also have to weigh up the risks. I realised that myself and the grandkids are not on the same page at all.


I am exhausted, bruised by two falls, but also filled with amusement and pride at the two mini ski-champion skiers I see effortlessly skiing before me. That morning we rowed, laughed, screamed, cried and finally skied together to the bottom of the slopes of Schladming. And that is what I had wanted all along. I may be getting on in years, over-careful, a tad nervous and cantankerous but I have helped create two little skiers. And what’s more, they will be able to enjoy that skill for life. And that feels fabulous! MISSION ACCOMPLISHED


Schladming, a small former mining town, is now a popular tourist destination. It has become a large winter sports resort and has held various skiing competitions. The shopping area has many cafes, restaurants, and various shops. It is a charming place to walk about.

Winter sports

The local peak for winter sports is the Planai. A 10-seater cable car with a middle station takes tourists up the mountain. The Planai is, as we have seen, an intermediate to expert mountain. The Hochwurzen is the other mountain in Schladming. It has three main red runs off the four-man chair lift and a sledge run. This mountain is better suited to more experienced boarders and skiers. 

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Non-winter months

The surrounding mountains are popular with climbers and hikers and country lovers. In the summer, downhill toboggan runs and an outdoor swimming complex are open.

Swimming We enjoyed a brilliant afternoon swim at the excellent local baths. ( There’s a whirlpool and lots for kids to do. Tickets range from around ten euros for adults with 50% reductions for kids. It’s a great way to get the stiffness of skiing out of the legs!


We stayed at two spots. The Aparthotel Ferienalm

(, which is a bus ride outside of town, and the Hotel Neue Post in the city centre. I personally enjoy city centre living. With two easily distracted grandkids, it is much easier. But the Aparthotel Ferienalm is clean, modern and popular with skiers. While the Hotel Neue Post has a cosy restaurant – the Jägerstüberl – and ease of location. 

We also eat at the modern Brunner restaurant opposite. This has modern architecture and an easy vibe with yoga rooms and an oriental tea room at the top – which the kids loved! (


While away in Schladming, myself and Kuba fell ill with stomach and sore throat complaints. We attended the local doctor (the kids were delighted her name was Maria, same as their mum), and she was great. We only missed one day of not skiing and it was mainly down to her. One thing that really impressed me as an Irish citizen is that the doctor was FREE! Yes, I repeat, free! But you did have to produce your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). It lets you get healthcare when abroad for free, or at a reduced cost. And you can use the card in any European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) country, or Switzerland. It covers you if you’re on holiday, or on a short-term stay of no more than three months. Each family member needs their own EHIC. (Luckily, I had mine with me and a photo of Kuba’s was sent on by his parents.) So that saved me over €100 in doctors fees and THAT made me feel better all at once!

The card is free and there’s no charge. Apply by clicking here. 


I cannot end without a mention of Frank Honan of Topflight. He was there every step of the way and amazingly helpful. Frank, together with Michelle Anderson back in Dublin, ensures that Topflight, a family-owned company founded by my old ski friend Tony Collins, are still No 1 in providing first-class ski holidays in Ireland!

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