Ski Feature

STRESS. Work. Life. Trump. The remnants of the Festive Season. How to cope?

Here’s a thought; make your way 11,000 feet up to the top of a snow-blanketed mountain, reach up on tippy toes to become as close to the heavens as you will ever be this side of life - then push those same feet into a couple of painted planks and start to slide at an impossible angle - with only technique as a break from disaster.

When you do this, all cares will be swept away, like a light snow covering on an exposed windy ridge.

That’s the theory; but would it work on a trip to Val D’Isere, in the heart of the French Alps?

It all looked promising. The glorious little 12 century village offered a perfect base point, all relaxed and gentle but busy and modern enough not to be boring.

And the start of the journey up the mountain on the Solaise 10-person gondola with heated seats and wi-fi was fast and so easy. It also offered the chance to look down on the town with it’s 17th century church and wooden chalets it looked every inch the classic French winter town.

It’s easy to see why, unlike other French resorts, the number of visitors to Val d’Isère has steadily increased in recent years, despite Brexit fears and devaluation of the pound. But there are other reasons. Val’s guaranteed snow cover from late November until the beginning of May plays an important role in its popularity. Val is also linked to neighbouring Tignes, the two resorts combining to form the Espace Killy ski area.

On the Val side, the mountain is split into four sectors, two of which can be reached direct from resort. It is easy, depending on your skill level, to move from one sector to another on pistes, and the links to Tignes are seamless.

In high season, when lifts are at capacity, Val also has a huge advantage over other major resorts in the Alps: there are no less than seven main mountain access points, from Le Fornet to La Daille. Some resorts have queues so long you’d think free alcohol was on offer. But in Val D’Isere the rush hour queues are easily avoided by a clever choice of lift.

At the top of the mountain, the senses were assaulted by a sky so blue David Hockney would have been sick with envy. All around the fresh white snow gave the impression of a covering of fluffy cotton wool.

And yes, the cares of the world disappeared in an instant. But then came the hard part. Two years on from the last ski trip, and knees two years older, it’s not like riding a bike. The knees wobbled, the mind panicked slightly that the skis wouldn’t turn when they had to. But they did. Somehow.

And from there on in, the Blue run beckoned. And it was glorious. And the powdery snow offered just enough traction for nice turns, and if you should fall, the perfect cushioning.

All in all, a perfect day, taking in the views, breathing in air that somehow breathes fresh life into tired bodies and minds.

And then back to the hotel, VIP Ski Club Aspen, just 250m from the piste, for tea and homemade cake, prepared by a team of chalet maids.

VIP Club Aspen is a club-hotel, perfect for those who don’t wish to rent a whole property and would prefer to meet other like-minded skiers or families.

Chalets are reserved by the room, have chefs (incredibly accommodating and flexible) and an even more flexible menu plan. The club-hotel has all the intimacy and exclusivity of a private chalet, with a cinema screen, pool table and coffee bar and hot tubs.

And as at all VIP Ski Club chalets, food arrives with a wide range of choices. Guests at Club Aspen are gently eased into the day with a wake-up drink followed by a breakfast to suit all tastes.

Later in the day, a daily canapé reception before dinner allows guests to share tales of their day’s skiing adventures over a drink from the free bar.

Club Aspen also has a chef and hostess on hand to ensure guests’ every wish is met. Luxury or what?

But even though Val d’Isere is the most popular ski destination in Europe, and offers guaranteed snow (it’s snow-making facility of 900 cannons cover 40 percent of the entire ski area) it’s not protected from the ravages of weather.

The afternoon of the second day was a challenge. A blizzard had blown up overnight and the morning’s skiing was a challenge to the intermediate. But instructor Jean-Jacques of Oxygene ski school managed to feed in just the right technical info and reassurance to make sure we enjoyed the run. And learn how to ski better in the process.

After lunch, the world outside looked like the inside of a snow globe. Time to stay in the cosy restaurant? That would have been the sensible thing to do. But no. What the heck. A last run with Jean-Jacques. And we took to a fast Red run, with the idea being the trees lining the narrow slopes would prevent the blizzard from blowing us (me) off the side of the mountain. This was a good theory. But by this time the wind and the other (determined) skiers on the slopes had pushed the snow into boulders, two foot high moguls hard to negotiate by those bold (daft) enough to take to the slopes. I seemed to fall more often than the post-Brexit pound.

At one point I found myself sliding down the side of a mountain, on my back, upside down. But I could smile because I wasn’t too worried. I knew if Jean-Jacques didn’t catch me, it wouldn’t be too long before my helmeted head hit one of the two foot snow boulders that dotted the mountain. And luckily, that proved to be the case.

The descent proved to be, if not fun, then hugely rewarding. Skiing a Red run in a blizzard? Box ticked. It all added to the experience. And there was a sense of being well looked after. Jean-Jacques offered the confidence to believe this mountain on this challenging day would never get the better of us.

But it wasn’t just the fabulous skiing that invigorated. What surprised about Val was the range of clubs and restaurants, many on the mountainside such as La Folie Douce, with an afternoon dance club scene – replete with DJ (not for my age group of course) but with more sedate restaurant areas as well.

Val D’Isere, it seems, is also the ideal holiday centre for the family. The range of runs offers a challenge for every level of skier and the children’s runs are perfect, the starting age for the skiers of the future beginning at just three.

Meanwhile, the village is dotted with bars and restaurants, some with live bands such as Cocorico, at the bottom of the home run from Solaise, which younger ski enthusiasts found magnetic.

What the trip reminded was skiing is an almost perfect escape. It’s a glorious challenge to the body and to the mind. It’s a chance to escape and put life into perspective. It’s the ideal adventure challenge offering an immediate world that The Donald or life back home can’t begin to impact.

It doesn’t cost the earth to plant ski poles on French snow and when you bite into that piece of homemade sponge cake at the end of the ski day you believe it to be entirely earned.

Val D’Isere is just about the perfect ski destination. The town became famous when it featured in sitcom Absolutely Fabulous as Edina and Patsy’s favourit ski holiday. But don’t let that put you off.

For more information on VIP Ski

A seven-night stay at Vip Ski Club Aspen is priced from £709 pp and includes return flights from Glasgow to Friedrichshafen (small supplement for flights from this airport, date dependant), coach transfers, accommodation and catered chalet board.

Lift passes: A one-day adult lift pass for Espace Killy is priced from €57/£51; a six-day adult lift pass is priced from €285/£253.

A full price list for lift passes can be found at

Ski school: An adult beginner group ski lesson costs from €265/£234 in Val d’Isère with Oxygene; an adult intermediate group ski lesson costs from €245/£216; an adult ‘Steep & Deep Off-Piste’ lesson costs from €375/£331.

A full price list for ski lessons can be found at

Ski hire: Ski hire can be booked with VIP SKI. Advance bookings save up to 25% on resort prices. Six days’ ski hire is priced from £91

and six days’ ski and boot hire is priced from £154

A full price list for ski rental can be found at