Vive la France! Get your skis on with Club Med in Val d'Isère
Club Med in the mountains? Our visitor says there's a lot more to the all-inclusive brand than pools and cocktails...
My first experience on a black run is entirely unintentional.
The idea is simple enough - in order to access the green run, we first have to cross the black, inching horizontally over the horrifyingly steep incline.
"And we're not going to accidentally start skiing on the black?" I ask the instructor.
"No, we go across, like this," he gestures, inching slowly forward on his skis.
I'm very suspicious altogether. And rightly so, it turns out. Seconds later, I've picked up a ferocious amount of speed, and am hurtling towards my presumable demise. I skid with the grace of a drunken giraffe and fall, legs akimbo, sliding arse- first down the run as skiers gracefully swerve around my remains.
As I sit, scooping fistfuls of snow out of my knickers, I look back and see the rest of my group edging slowly across the run, like a gaggle of ducklings.
My inability to slow down becomes something of a theme throughout the day, much to my own frustration and the chagrin of my instructor. Whenever I try to slalom across the slope, I lose my way and end up plummeting down the mountain, leaving echoing screams in my wake.
This is how I find myself sitting in a snow bank, staring down the mountain, the rest of my group nowhere to be seen. There's only one way down, and I'm trying with all my might to summon the courage I need to get back on my feet. I try to embody the spirit of every powerful woman I know - Beyoncé, Oprah, Mulan.
But Mulan ultimately fails me (or I her) when, moments later, I spin around again, skiing backwards for three terrifying seconds, before falling and smacking the back of my head so hard, my vision blurs. It's a handy reminder that you'd be catastrophically idiotic to ski without a helmet.
I call it quits soon after, nursing a bit of a bruised ego (and a very bruised bum). I'm not sure either can take more of a battering, so I make my way back to the resort.
I'm staying (and skiing) at Club Med Val d'Isère, an all-inclusive resort in the middle of one of the chicest skiing areas in Europe. You might associate Club Med with swimming pools and daiquiris, but here you trade your sun lounger for a pair of skis. The Club Med ethos remains - everything is included, from your lift pass to your evening beer - so you could easily make it the week without putting your hand in your pocket.
Despite the concept coming along leaps and bounds in recent years, I'm always a little apprehensive at the thought of all-inclusive buffets.
Thankfully, the food on offer is a smash. Think juicy, rare beef cut into thick slices upon your request, doused with a red wine reduction and served with a creamy gratin dauphinois. There's a raclette station too, where you can swathe whatever you please with oozing, smoky, melted cheese. Each meal is accompanied by a never-ending flow of excellent house wine.
The all-inclusive element is made super easy - there's no confusion about what you can get, or complicated beverage packages to decipher. Instead, you just wander up to the bar whenever you please.
Your lift pass and lessons are included, which is worth considering when you're comparing prices with other operators. All those extras can really rack up, adding a good few hundred euro on to the price of your trip.
The only thing not included is your ski gear, though this can be rented on site.
And Val d'Isère? There are 300km of runs to play with: 26 black, 41 red, 67 blue and 20 green. I'm told that in this region, the greens are like blues elsewhere, the blues are like reds, and so forth. I choose to believe this because even the greens seem pant-wettingly scary from the top.
On my first day, I succumb to the hideous cliché of fancying my instructor, a George Clooney type with twinkly eyes and a smattering of grey in his hair. I find myself desperately seeking his approval throughout the day. At one point, I think I call him 'Dad', but it's probably best to gloss over that.
"Frank! Frank! Look at me! I'm doing it!" I cry, as I make my way down the bunny slope at approximately one mile an hour.
He does an excellent impersonation of someone impressed by such a pathetic run, which gives me the confidence I need to graduate to a steeper slope. To do so, I conquer my fear of the leg-dangling ski lift (having previously stuck with the heated gondolas or magic carpets).
The views are incredible, with off-piste skiers careering over fresh powder, daredevils tackling the black runs and Mont Blanc shimmering in the distance. It all comes to a shuddering halt when I fall gracelessly off the lift, hitting the ground so hard that my thigh will be bruised forever more.
The good news? The sight has lifted the spirits of everyone who saw it. Even better? It's Frank's job to pick me up.
What to pack
As well as the usual (ski pants, jacket, long socks) you'll need warm, breathable gear, some good base layers and a fleece. Take a high SPF for your face (goggle tan lines are not a good look) and casual clothes for the evenings. Keep an eye out in Aldi for ski gear: they often have decent sales.
Nicola travelled with Club Med ski holidays. Val d'Isère starts from €1,639pp all-inclusive, departing January 14. Trips include direct flights from Dublin, transfers, lift pass and ski or snowboard lessons, accommodation, all meals and drinks. See sunway.ie.
Tips for Beginners
Don't push yourself too hard - you'll only wear yourself out early and get disillusioned (or injured). Make the most of the included lessons and only head off on your own when you're safe to do so and feeling confident. Oh, and do some squats in the run-up to your trip: your thighs will thank you later.
Though children are welcome at Club Med Val d'Isère, ski lessons aren't included for the under-12s (though lift passes are) and there's no kids' club. The vibe at the resort is more groups and couples than families. If you want to get your children on the slopes, Club Med has other resorts that fit the bill nicely.
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