I feel like people fall predominantly into two holiday camps – those who were put into skis at 18 months and relish weeks spent in snow-laden wooden cabins, and people like me.
I lay the blame at my mother’s feet, actually – her view on holidaying is ‘why on earth would you chose to go shiver up a mountain when you could spend two weeks savouring the sun?’ Hence she has groomed me into a sun-worshipping paella aficionado with a karaoke repertoire any Brit abroad would be proud of.
Having skilfully avoided all snow filled frolics until my late 20’s, this year the FOMO (fear of missing out) got the better of me. All those red wine-fuelled chats with friends rambling about how magical the whole experience is and how I simply must join next year got too much. The après ski, the actual ski, the mountain air, the fondue, (especially the fondue…) – even in a novice’s ear it does all sound pretty marvellous. If I am completely honest, what has really held me back is FONBVG (fear of not being very good), possibly an acronym of my own making. I am the first to admit I am horribly competitive. Ask my traumatised family members who lived through the reoccurring childhood ordeal of playing Monopoly with me, I hate not being good at something and the frustration can on occasion get the better of me. I needed to tackle the slopes and for the sake of my friendships before I join them, I needed to call in the professionals.
Enter stage right the team at Les Grandes Alpes Courchevel, who assured me that given a long weekend in their care I would find myself more than at home on the slopes. So I packed my bags (Topshop’s SNO collection was a godsend for the fashion forward at reasonable price points) and made my way to Courchevel (via Lyon and a 1 hour 30min transfer by car).
Located in the 3 Valleys, the largest ski area in the world, Courchevel is the jewel in its crown. Speaking of crowns this is where Princess Charlotte took her first family holiday so I knew I would be in good company. Nestled in the heart of Courchevel 1850, Les Grandes Alpes Private Hotel offers a mixture of chalet inspired suites; think wholesome alpine vibes with the welcome sparkle of luxury flourishes. Thankfully ski in and ski out and fully equipped with all the amenities of a 5 star resort (plus some added flourishes including a Japanese style toilet that comes with a full instruction manual) and our wonderful butler Laura who was on hand at all times and happy to answer all my stupid questions – I was a ski virgin after all.
My ski instructor Florence had the right mix of mollycoddling and tough love to get me out of the hotel’s cosy warmth and hitting the slopes. Each small milestone was celebrated – my first successful snowplough, my first chair lift, my first fall and by the end of my second day I managed to complete my first green run solo. To any other ski novice, this is of vital importance as it is pivotal to get you to the bar to join the before mentioned après ski activities. I am not going to lie to you, I did spend a considerable amount of time on my bum, especially the second day as my confidence grew and I started being a little bit braver. But a little bit of courage did pay off tenfold in terms of what I picked up. The beautiful surroundings, snowy peaks as far as the eye can see and blue skies can rival any beach sunset in terms of wow factor. Every gain in speed was exhilarating and the small wins of mastering new techniques kept the niggles of frustration at bay. Quelle surprise, I was truly enjoying myself! Although every time I got a little too cocky, as if on cue a snow school of agile 5 year olds would whizz past me to ensure I didn’t get too big for my snow boots, and I would subsequently whisper a silent curse at my mother and her sangrias.
Importantly Courchevel is not just about the ski. To other newbies, I would recommend only doing half day lessons for your first few days, as it appears the muscles utilised in skiing lay dormant the rest of the year and take some warming up. Even better, book in for a massage at Les Grandes Alpes to soothe tired legs, where they spoilt you with the sumptuous Valmont range. Determined to fit the ski break into my usual holiday schema, I extended my spa time by languidly reading round the pool, my natural habitat. Given your exclusive location, the shopping is pretty aspirational, I could see Louis Vuitton, Bvlgari and Dior from my balcony and many of these full looks on the slopes patrons, making for great people watching.
Considering the calorie expenditure of skiing (and falling) we took nightly recommendations from Laura and enjoyed the gluttonous amounts of red wine and fondue that we had been promised. I am proud to say I can cheese-load with the best of them, but even I need a break on occasion, so I was happily surprised to discover the Le Bizan restaurant within Les Grandes Alpes. Contemporary Japanese fine dining at its best, a beauty of a menu curated by new executive chef Paolo Bianchi.
Après ski did not disappoint my high expectations, its true Aperol spritz does taste better at altitude. I am aware I must move away from the party commentary to avoid sounding like a highly functioning alcoholic, so let me focus on the more child friendly pursuits. Indeed if Disney did snow holidays, Courchevel would be it, tobogganing, horse drawn sleigh rides and the Aquamotion water park provide more than enough off piste entertainment for the whole family.
Learning how to ski as an adult I was warned was at best optimistic and at worst foolhardy. Although I am under no illusion that I am now a champion skier, the combination of my naive determination and the lashings of luxury made me ultimately realise that a ski break is made up of so much more than just your time spent in salopettes. Sorry mum – I’m converted.
Prices at Les Grandes Alpes Private Hotel start from €950 per night based on two adults sharing a Deluxe Room, inclusive of Breakfast, grandesalpes.com
Review by Lucy Coghlan