Reach your skiing peak in Swiss serenity
With the pistes as stunning as the views, novice skier Aidan Lawlor has been won over to invest in his own gear
Having been on just one skiing trip prior to this holiday, I can safely say that I am a novice skier.
My ski pants and jacket are borrowed, and all other paraphernalia is rented, so I had yet to commit myself to being a skier.
I had been in Switzerland once before years ago, but nothing in my memory prepared me for the awesome sight that is the Swiss landscape.
Our trip took us to two separate resorts over the week: the beautifully scenic and world famous ski slopes of Verbier and Villars, Topflight's newest additions to its already impressive collection of winter holiday destinations.
First stop was Verbier, and getting there was a straightforward affair. We landed in Geneva after a short flight from Dublin and took a connecting train conveniently located in the airport. After one quick change in Martigny, we were on to Le Chable, where you can take the cableway ski bubble directly up to Verbier. All told, travel time from Dublin to Verbier is about four hours.
Despite my relative lack of ski experience, I do have some practical advice -- several thin layers, long johns, thermal vests and thick ski socks will make your experience far more pleasant.
Considering I was such a whizz-kid my first time (according to the instructor), I naturally assumed I would be turning pro by the end of my second trip. This soon dissolved into a large slice of reality pie, when I arrived at the top of the slopes and realised I'd forgotten how to turn and stop; essential components.
A very pleasant aspect to this predominantly French Swiss region is the people, who are like the French but without the rudeness. We were given a perfect example of their hospitality in Topflight's ski instructors.
Having worked as a driving instructor, I'm aware of the difference a good teacher can make to your progress and confidence levels in the early days of learning a new skill. There were no long, boring lectures, just simple, encouraging instructions, punctuated with bouts of free skiing, which kept things interesting.
Verbier is a gorgeous village, home to a wide variety of restaurants, bars and shops, and a handful of night clubs. Almost every building is wooden, which creates a lovely, traditional atmosphere.
For food, everywhere we ate was enjoyable, and none more so than the restaurant in the beautiful Nevai, the hotel and wellness centre available through Topflight. I had a delicious steak; just what you need after a day on the slopes. Le Caveau, in the centre of the village, provided a more traditionally Swiss fare, such as raclette, a cheese and potato dish.
We stayed in the Kings Hotel. The suites were very comfortable and included a bath, which I used for unwinding every night. The lobby area was also a nice spot to enjoy a glass of wine, with its open fire and comfy leather couches.
When it came to the slopes in Verbier, you could spend a whole day skiing and not visit the same piste twice. For the more accomplished, I'm told a large part of the attraction of Verbier is the easily accessible off-piste straight from the lifts. For snowboarders, there is a dedicated snow park.
Villars, our second destination, provided stunning views of Lake Geneva to Mont Blanc, with 125km of ski runs and a snow park for snowboarders. The village ambience has been carefully protected, with lots of old chalets. Our hotel, the four-star Le Bristol Hotel, had amazing views from each bedroom's balcony. As with Verbier, there was a wide selection of apres- ski restaurants and bars.
Our penultimate night saw us enjoy the apres-ski possibly too much. The next morning saw me at the top of the slopes, mind blank of all I'd learned in the week, faced with a terrifying vertical drop.
I wobbled over the edge, my instructor's cries of "commit to the turn" echoing in my ears and sounding scarily like "commit to your demise" as I side slipped -- a skiing term for an undignified shuffle -- down the side of the mountain. I eventually arrived safely at the bottom, where I promptly fell over. Momentary memory loss aside, my second ski trip left me in no doubt I'll be giving back the borrowed trousers and investing in ski gear of my own.
Topflight features Switzerland for the first time, using its direct charter flight to Geneva and transferring by train to the resorts of Verbier, Villars and Saas-Fee. Prices start from €649.
Call Topflight on (01) 240 1700, or visit your local travel agent or www.topflight.ie.
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