Just Desserts in Val d’Isère

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Conor Power gets a juicy taste of how it really should be done when you go on a ski trip with Highlife

Amongst a group of jolly fellow-journalists, we flew in to Geneva Airport and were met by the Highlife mini-bus.

As part of the regular service, we were given what seemed to be the nicest sandwiches in the world as we drove through mountains and countryside devoid of any signs of snow. Annecy and its beautiful lakes still looked beautiful even under the leaden skies as we progressed through valleys that opened out into scenes more and more reminiscent of Heidi.

By the time we arrived at Val d’Isère, the snow was finally in evidence. The resort has a very enviable position, in a valley flanked by towering mountains on either side. The modern end of Deuille is the bit you see first as you enter the town, then the middle bit where the original town and church is, followed by some broad expanse and the hamlet of Le Fornet where we were to be staying.

Our chalet appeared before us amidst other similarly Alpine stone buildings with strong timber structures. Le Fornet is a pretty collection of buildings gathered around a stream with seemingly fresh clear water meandering between banks laden with snow.

God-damn charming. An overview of the traditionally-styled Val d'Isère

God-damn charming. An overview of the traditionally-styled Val d’Isère

On Day Two of the ski trip in Val d’Isère, I was already nursing a sore thumb and a slightly numb left buttock. I slumped gracelessly off the ski-lift and slid slowly to the start of the first piste of the day. This should be easy for me, I thought to myself: I’ve skied on red slopes before and this is just an easy-peasy blue one. The trouble is that I was trembling like a frightened kitten that’s been fitted with kitten-sized skis and forced to ski.

But that’s the beauty of skiing: it’s about riding an ever-present fine line between having the best fun ever and feeling absolutely terrified and/or exhausted.

One minute, you’ve got it; you’re achieving your turns perfectly, swishing down the magnificent mountainside with the menacing grace of a masked Bond assassin.

Then the next minute, you’re tumbling and clattering, wrenching a calf muscle and lying on the snow watching your detached ski skid away in front of you, crying softly…

Skiing is essentially a sport, as someone once pointed out to me (he was a wise French taxi driver). You have to prepare your body for it and you have to get your body to do it. And if your body happens to be 40+ years of age, then it’s just that little bit less willing to do what you tell it to do.

Grrrr! Getting ready for another day of fear and fun in equal measure

Grrrr! Getting ready for another day of fear and fun in equal measure

I’m still standing trying to capture the essence of a Bond baddie before starting to slide. The day before, Alan from Highlife had been telling me how one of their clients last year was an 80-year-old lady from Dublin. There’s no excuse for me then and with a low snarl, off I slide.

“Allez, Conor!” our instructor Olivia encourages. “Go, go!”

I’m with two others in the slower section from our group of six and we’re with Highlife. They’re the specialists in chalet skiing holidays; the ones where you don’t have to wonder about what to make for dinner tonight; where you don’t have to think about packing your pack lunch or your snack bar because it’s already done and the ones where you don’t have to worry about your ski gear if you want to hang out at Chez Jules or Cocorico for a few pints afterwards because you can ring the shuttle bus to come and take it back to the chalet for you.

Back at the aforementioned chalet in the evening, things are always warm, cosy and Alpine, with a timber fire already going, prepared by chalet host Emily.

Next to the boot room where all wet boots and gloves become magically warm and dry overnight are the Jacuzzi and sauna. I’m no fan of the warm bubbling bath but after a day on the slopes, it really comes into its own, gently tickling away at those niggling minor injuries and putting a smile on your face.

After spending some time being bubbled while simultaneously whistling obscure French tunes and leafing through water-spattered glossy magazines, I begin to wonder what chef had prepared.

Enjoying the Sunshine with the gang at La Folie Douce and La Fruitière

Enjoying the Sunshine with the gang at La Folie Douce and La Fruitière

Actually, I already knew because we had been speaking with chef Aoife at breakfast. Tonight, it was going to be braised beef with celeriac puree, creamed spinach and bitter chocolate sauce, with something equally fantastic for starters and dessert. And, this being France, there will be cheese too.

The wine and the beer are available for as long as you can stay awake and you never go hungry between meals, with an array of aperitif snacks within constant arm-reach.

The level of comfort in the chalet is of 4/5 star-hotel level, with slippers, fragrant toiletries and a very handy Hihglife branded water bottle (which I’m still using). There was WiFi that streamed seamlessly. There was a television there too, with all manner of info-tainment satellite news in case you wanted to know what was going on in the rest of the world. But when you’re living in a real-life recreation of Wham’s “Last Christmas” video, why would you bother?

Spring Skiing; Conor Power at Val d'Isère

Spring Skiing; Conor Power at Val d’Isère

Val d’Isère has a great range of skiing and one of the longest winter seasons in all Europe. It has some superb eating options, from the zany cabaret show at La Folie Douce (See main pic: It must be seen to be believed – a Euro-trash-tastic apparition halfway up a huge mountain) to relaxing lunchtime restaurants with a view such as La Grande Ourse and no fewer than two Michelin-starred restaurants. It has some truly brilliant shopping too and an authentic charm that’s rare in French ski resorts. But the experience of the chalet was an eye-opener of how it should really be done. Having all the work taken out of catering for oneself makes a huge difference and a really relaxing experience.

Back on the blue piste, I’ve abandoned all thought of trying to become a black-run skier – not on this particular trip anyway. I’m re-learning the basics of skiing again and finding that I’ve probably learned to ski a bit too quickly. All credit to pushing the limits and dreaming of off-pisting down Val d’Isère’s steep valley walls, but it’s important to remember that you’re on holiday too and it would be a shame not to be able to come back and do this all again tomorrow.

Get Yourself There

Dublin-based Highlife (www.highlife.ie) operate a highly personal service at the resorts of Morzine, Méribel and Val d’Isère, with a comprehensive package that includes shuttle buses at the resort, minibus transfer from the airport, 3-course evening meals on 6 of the 7 nights, breakfast to order and snacks and water for the slopes. 7-night stays start at €840/adult and €686/under-12. For more detail, see www.highlife.ie or call (01) 677 1100

Aer Lingus fly direct from Dublin to Geneva and Dublin to Lyon, with one-way prices starting at €49.99 including taxes and charges. www.aerlingus.com

See also Val d’Isère Tourist Office’s impressive website (www.valdisere.com) or check out the video below to get yourself there in spirit

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