Strange but true, it can be quicker to get from the centre of London to a ski resort in the Tarentaise Valley than from one part of the French Alps to the other.
In fact you can pretty well get to Whistler from London quicker. My hop from Puy St Vincent in the Southern French Alps (currently still the snowiest village in France) to Chatel in the Portes Du Soleil took nearly 12 hours. Very pretty and relaxing and all that, rattling along in a train through the mountains – but the French railway system does seem to lose all sense of urgency once it gets lost in the heart of the Alps and the TGV becomes but a distant memory.
But there was a certain charm stopping at so many lonely little country stations – from Argentiere L’Ecrins, near Puy St Vincent, changing at Valence and then some lovely remote places in a big loop taking in Grenoble and Chambery before arriving at last, eight and a half hours later, in Geneva. In rush hour. So the transfer to Chatel, normally 75 minutes, took nearly three hours.
But it was all worth it. Because I’d been invited to join a very special and exclusive little group of skiers at Chatel. The Ski Goddesses. I was honoured to be the only man permitted to join them on the slopes. Does that make me a Ski God? Oh, really? That’ll be a no then.
The Ski Goddess concept is the brainchild of British ski instructor Katie Dobson. She puts together mad-keen and desperate to improve women skiers who are nevertheless weary of having to put up with the macho competitiveness of male skiers. Well yes, I know, we male skiers are shocking aren’t we. I suppose it comes from our history of being hunter-gatherers and even now we feel we have to be the first to reach the mountain restaurant and grab all the tartiflettes (a gimmicky dish invented only in the 1980s by the makers of Reblochon cheese so they could sell much more of their product) before rival hunter-gatherer-skiers arrive. Women possibly just don’t understand how desperate we are to be providers.
Anyway, Katie recognises that many women want to enhance their ski skills in a more caring, sometimes gentler and certainly less aggressive fashion. She combines these attributes with an approach that, while full of fun, is focused and serious. Her ski groups work hard on technique, but in a totally non-pejorative way.
In this case her group of like-minded Ski Goddesses were Tricia, Carol, Suzy and Pauline. And from the moment I walked into their mountain home for the week, the spectacularly-timbered chalet La Ferme du Chateau just outside Chatel, it was obvious they had fully embraced the concept. They were full of it.
A closer look at the trials, tribulations and eventual triumphs of the Ski Goddesses on this website very soon. And on the fascinating La Ferme du Chateau, which, apart from having one of the most amazing vast, soaring, beamed living rooms I’ve seen in a chalet, naturally has Egyptian cotton bed linen. I for one am loathe to sleep in anything less. Did you know that the thread count is the number of threads in each square inch and that this can vary from 120 to 1,000? I did sleep in some Mexican cotton sheets once, but to be honest it really didn’t do it for me.
Anyway, I digress. It has been off to the extraordinarily pretty Super Chatel area to watch Tricia, Carol, Suzy and Pauline elegantly hone their styles under the all-seeing eye of Katie in conditions that were heavenly enough even for Ski Goddesses. Conditions here have been excellent. If snow had a fluffy flake count per square inch then Chatel would be boasting a figure to rival the finest bedlinen.