My first blog for MadDogSki includes food, skiing, snowshoeing, vipers, racing, snowmobiles, swimming trunks and travelators. So, here we go…
I’ve just returned from a three-day trip to Courchevel staying at Chalet R, one of Powder White’s newest properties. It’s a spacious and modern chalet with dark wood beams set against white walls and furniture – not your usual alpine cabin. On entering it’s not the huge TV screen or central wood fire that dominates the room, but the view from the wall of windows looking out over the valley with barely a house in sight. Spectacular.
With a hot tub and sauna in the basement along with hot and powerful showers (there are few things worse than a shabby shower after skiing), it’s exceptionally comfortable, and it’s less than a five-minute walk to the lifts in Courchevel Village 1550 to get you up on the slopes.
A little bit about Powder White.
Over 11 years of operating Powder White have developed a portfolio of 52 properties across many resorts. They provide whatever accommodation and extras you want for your holiday – you choose the number of nights, the board, the extras. Flexibility is the word here – it’s your holiday and you can have it however you want (do check out their Easter offers for 2014).
It’s a 2.5 hour transfer from Lyon (you could come into Geneva, Chambéry or Grenoble if preferred) and after a quick lunch we are treated to in-chalet equipment fitting (a first for me). It’s an equipment epiphany, taking away the boredom of trudging to the hire shop, fighting for a space on the bench while wondering all the time what you’re going to do with the shoes you’ve come in. The chap from White Storm rental arrives with boots and skis for the sizes you’ve already provided, along with a range of others. I have unfeasibly wide feet and a head the size of a small planet so this was a good thing for me – the extra kit available was a perfect fit. The equipment is good quality and the service professional, efficient and hassle-free.
To the slopes.
Les 3 Vallées is a vast area to ski, the largest in the world, but today we’re staying in Courchevel. As it’s Saturday the pistes are quiet and the skiing is surprisingly good considering there’s been no snow for a while now. Everyone’s waiting for more snow…
We après-ski at the Fire & Ice bar attached to Le Portetta hotel at 1650. Boasting the largest terrace in Courchevel, we sit outside around the log fire tucking into our drinks. When it’s too cold to be outside (today it’s a balmy 2°C, normally it’s around -20°C in January), the covered bar is cosy and has the genius addition of knee heaters so while you sit at the bar taking on the shots served in glasses made of ice your bottom half is toasty warm. Get there early for the happy hour to enjoy cheap drinks and free pizza!
Back to the chalet for canapés, Champagne and a superb three-course meal. The food is great – all Powder White chalet hosts have cookery training – and the wine is too, all personally chosen by Powder White Director Fraser Ewart-White. You can stick with the house wines or upgrade to some very reasonably priced options from the menu.
Glorious sunny Sunday
Ah, le soleil, je t’aime. Sunday arrives with a glorious clear blue sky. After a few hours of great skiing, we stop at the legendary Folie Douce for lunch. As we eat the world’s largest black pudding (it made my massive head look tiny) at La Frutière restaurant we see a fashion show (Folie Douce onesies on show, but sadly out of stock), a flautist, a guitarist and a lady in a tutu lounging on the bar singing. The location can’t be beaten, the food is great and the atmosphere slowly grows as the afternoon goes on, though sadly we had to leave just as the dancers appeared…
Off the Beaten Track
If you’re after an afternoon and evening away from the crowds, Powder White can arrange a guided trek to Refuge de la Traye, a secluded cabin at 1650m. We attach our feet to snowshoes and huff and puff for the next hour and forty-five minutes up the mountain, following a track with our guide Mark Tennent from Simply Savoie. It’s a tough walk at times, ascending around 400m, but it’s all worth it once you reach the rustic (read: basic) refuge, its view and its owner, Pascal.
He offers us his home-made apéritif, viperine, which, at at least 70% proof, is potent stuff, and is made all the stranger by the viper in the bottle. A viper? Yes, a viper. A live viper is added to the hooch just before it’s closed up and the alcohol preserves the body of the snake (though not its life). ‘Surely that can’t be legal!’ I hear you cry. Well, I’ll leave that for Pascal to explain when you meet him.
Once we’ve recovered from the viperine, an enormous fondue is served with bread and (ridiculously thickly) sliced meats. Warning: potential for cheese overload.
Although the refuge has accommodation, our adventure continues on the way down the mountain back to the chalet. My transport is sitting in a trailer attached to a snowmobile – it’s hairy stuff, but zipping through the trees with the bright stars above is certainly an experience.
Another activity to try is ski racing with New Generation ski school. We had a two-hour taster session, throwing ourselves around the gates of a simple slalom course on our very own piste.
The standard course is over two days with video feedback throughout. It’s a great way to force yourself to ski harder and, of course, it brings out the competitive side of your fellow skiers. Get your game-face on, it all gets very serious, very quickly.
L’Apogée is a brand new 5* hotel in Courchevel and is a stylish new-build set just off the piste at 1850 offering outrageous levels of comfort. The trend for high-end skiing seems to be to remove any of the actual effort that comes with skiing. Here you’re given slippers to wear during lunch to get you out of those pesky ski boots. When you’re a resident, your skis will be laid out for you on the piste each morning, your boots will be warmed and placed on your feet and, to top it all, there’s a short travelator to save the minute or so walk up from the piste to the ski room. It’s quite something.
As a 5* hotel, it has all the amenities you’d expect and a ski shop where you can treat yourself to an €8200 pair of swimming trunks if you feel the need. The food is superb, from traditional Savoie dishes to pasta to truffles – just be prepared to re-mortgage when you get home.
The snow Gods answered with around 30cm of fresh snow overnight so we’re up early making new tracks wherever we can. An exhausting (I’m no expert in deep snow) but enjoyable morning’s skiing with the weather giving us pretty much everything it can, from cloudy to whiteout to bright sun.
And that’s it. After three packed days in Les Trois Vallées enjoying the skiing and some less conventional pursuits, we transfer back to the warehouse that is Lyon’s temporary terminal 3 and head back to rainy England.
Getting there: easyJet fly to Lyon from London Gatwick daily from £29.74 per person (one-way, including taxes and based on two people on the same booking).