There are many great things about visiting Europe in winter: cities blanketed in snow, magical Christmas markets and fewer tourists. One of the biggest winter attractions for many people, however, is hitting the slopes on a skiing holiday in the Alps. But with literally hundreds of ski resorts to choose from, the decision on where to go can be overwhelming to say the least!
Val d’Isere in France is one of the best-loved ski resorts in all of Europe and, while still sophisticated, is a popular choice for those wishing to avoid some of the more snobby ski destinations. I had the chance to spend a ski weekend in Val d’Isere with Powder White, a bespoke ski operator offering tailor made ski holidays, a few weeks ago. But there was one little problem… the last time I skied was over ten years ago! Despite a few awkward falls, I ended up having one of the best weekends of my life. Here’s a look at how my luxe ski weekend in Val d’Isere unfolded…
The Val d’Isere township (1850m) is an alpine lover’s dream. This delightfully authentic ski village is surrounded by chalets built from wood and stone, all blanketed in snow. The many pine trees in the village are wrapped in twinkling lights, which give the whole town a magical, year-round Christmassy feel. There are plenty of bars, restaurants and shops dotted around town, not to mention the most incredible French bakery to take you to pastry heaven!
But the real attraction is of course the skiing. With over 300 km of pristine slopes and with guaranteed snow cover from the end of autumn right up until the beginning of May, Val d’Isere has the reputation for being the most snow sure resort in Europe and one of the most famous in the world. As a backup, it also has the largest snowmaking facility outside of North America. To make the most of your time in Val d’Isere, your best resource is the new app, which provides live webcams of the slopes, weather updates and restaurant listings – definitely something that comes in handy!
A short flight from Berlin delivered me to Geneva in Switzerland, the closest airport to Val d’Isere, despite being in another country! From here we took a 3-hour private Powder White transfer deep into the Alps to Val d’Isere and to The Marwari Chalet, our home for the weekend. As soon as we stepped in the door, we were greeted with champagne and canapés by the fireplace and the delicious waft of dinner being cooked by our resident chalet girls who were there to look after us all weekend.
My room was cosy yet luxurious, with a big, fluffy bed, views of the snowy mountains outside as well as my own ensuite bathroom with the biggest walk-in rain shower I have possibly ever seen.
Powder White manages ten chalets in Val d’Isere (and many more across various other ski resorts in the French, Swiss and Austrian Alps such as Courcheval, Verbier, St Anton and Meribel). Each chalet is available on a self-catered, part-catered or fully-catered basis, a flexible and tailor-made approach that makes for an unforgettable chalet experience.
We all know that one of the most important elements of any holiday is the food, right? Powder White knows this too and organised a fully catered chalet experience for us including a hot breakfast, afternoon tea and coffee (with home baked sweet treats of course) and lavish 3-course dinner with wine daily. The girls that cooked our meals really were incredible cooks. From boeuf bourguignon to roast lamb with all the trimmings, it was comfort food at its very best and the perfect hearty food we so craved after a long day in the mountains.
Learning to ski
I have to admit, when I first received the invitation to attend this ski trip to Val d’Isere, I felt a mixture of excitement and anxiety. I hadn’t skied for a decade and was pretty sure I would be spending the weekend rolling down the mountain like a snowball rather than staying upright! I would find out soon enough. After a big breakfast on the first morning, it was time to get our skis fitted and start ski lessons.
We headed directly for Snowberry, one of Europe’s leading ski hire specialists, to get kitted up. The team were so attentive in fitting our boots, skis and helmets and only offer brand-new equipment, which is replaced every season. Snowberry also offers in-chalet ski fitting so you can get your gear sorted from the comfort of your chalet. Before we knew it, we were (awkwardly and slowly) walking in our ski boots to the slopes where we would meet our ski instructors.
Although I had skied before, I had no confidence in my abilities whatsoever and so chose to start from scratch with a beginner’s group. On Powder White’s recommendation, we took lessons with New Generation Ski School, a British ski school that prides itself on providing small-group lessons with supportive and encouraging instructors. Our instructor, Danilo, was gentle, funny and positive and he guided us every step of the way. We started with the very basics: how to put on our skis, how to snow plough and how to walk with our skis on (much more difficult than it seems).
With Danilo’s encouragement and individualised attention, before we knew it, we had graduated from the nursery slopes and were hitting our first green runs by the afternoon of day one and blue runs by day two! Normally it takes almost a week to be able to ski blue runs and our fast progress really came down to the small-group instruction and personal attention we needed for our skills to develop so quickly. I won’t lie – I was pretty proud of myself!
Being active on the mountain all morning makes you hungry. Fortunately, there was a great range of restaurants both on the mountain and at the bottom of the slopes to fuel up at for a big afternoon ahead. On day one we ate at La Grande Ourse, which serves fine French cuisine and on the second day we dined at La Tête de Solaise, located at the top of the Solaise chairlift, for more international food. Of course, I couldn’t say no to a glass (or two) of Rosé at lunch, which provided some extra confidence for those afternoon blue runs!
There’s nothing better than ending a big day on the slopes than with après ski, which basically translates to ‘after ski fun’. After our last run, we would head directly to one of the many après ski bars dotted around the Val d’Isere town for a mug of mulled wine. Everyone would still be in all of their ski gear and the atmosphere was buzzing with everyone excitedly chatting about the thrilling day they’d had on the mountain. My favourite après ski bars in Val d’Isere were Bananas and Le Coin des Amis.
Planning a ski holiday can be an overwhelming prospect. With so much to organise, from accommodation, lift passes, ski hire and lessons, the planning process can be stressful — exactly the opposite way you want to be feeling in anticipation of a holiday! Powder White completely takes the stress out of your ski trip by arranging a completely tailor-made trip to suit your needs. Every aspect of the trip is customisable, which means that no matter your budget, skiing experience and taste, you can have an incredible ski tip. Even though the prospect of skiing made me nervous at first, after my ski weekend in Val d’Isere I can’t wait to hit the slopes for round two!