Sunday 25 February 2018

Ski chums part of the package


GETTING THERE offers a week's stay at the Chalet Bayona in Les Arcs from £539 per person, based on two sharing and including breakfast, afternoon tea, three-course meals with wine, return flights and transfers from Gatwick. Dublin (£50pp supp) & Belfast (£30pp supp)

Ok, I'm slightly ashamed to admit to what I know is an outrageously first-world kind of problem, but one of the petty disappointments of my adult life has been that none of my friends is into skiing.

As I child, I assumed that one of the benefits of getting older would be a more sophisticated approach to winter sports. No more enforced swimming lessons in Baltic weather, edging up to the diving board like a frozen prawn. I believed that a natural corollary of maturity would be glamorous mountainside holidays.

Mostly informed by James Bond movies, I imagined sipping hot wine with tanned men wearing roll-neck sweaters after a long day on the slopes. In my head, this picture, of sporty, boozy sophistication, set against a crystalline snowy landscape, was what fantasy adulthood was surely all about.

By the time I got to university, it was quite clear this wasn't going to be how my grown-up life would look. There was a major obstacle to the plan, which was that none of my adult friends was a skier. In Celtic Tiger Ireland, committed slope-going types became more common, sure, but they were still quite hard to find.

Boyfriends came and went, not one of them ever showed much interest. And to my disappointment, I realised that one can't live out a James Bond mountainside fantasy alone. To be fair, I tried, finding myself on one occasion the sole occupant of a very nice, very large self-catering chalet nestled into the Alps. But tucking into breakfast each morning, alone at a table that could comfortably seat 14, gave my James Bond dream a melancholy edge.

The best ski holidays are done in a group. For both slope-side adventures and night-time excesses, the more the merrier is the golden rule. And a group of skiers (or boarders) has, in my case, been hard to find.

Luckily, I've now discovered a happy compromise. It's called Ski Beat. And it's a chalet-based holiday that offers access to all that that apres-ski sociability as part of the package.

It's perfect for people who are alone, or in a couple, but want to ski without breaking the bank. Who want to feel part of a group without necessarily having one on hand to travel with. In Ireland, where wholesale uptake of winter sports tourism still hasn't happened, I reckon there must be quite a lot of people like me who like to ski, but don't know that many people they can do it with. The great thing about a Ski Beat chalet holiday is that the crowd comes with the package.

Now in my 30s, I've finally found a fella who is as up for a slope-side holiday as I am. Though to do this, I had to find a French one.

We headed off together to Chalet Bayona in Plan Peisey. One of the catered chalets in the Ski Beat portfolio, this rather beautiful lodge is manned by the lovely Becky and Steve, chalet hosts who run it with as much care and attention as if it were their own home.

Plan Peisey is one of a string of resort villages that make up Les Arcs. The village itself has a purpose-built feel, but not at the expense of genuine charm. There are half a dozen cozy restaurants offering divine local fare. Savoie cuisine is, as the name suggests, heavy on the cheese, which is paradise for dairy fans like myself.

The Ski Beat chalets all look pretty high spec on the website and Bayona didn't disappoint. Build into the mountainside, the main dining/sitting room manages to be cosy while still boasting medieval hall proportions. It has a stunning wall-sized picture window looking out over the valley with a vista that's definitely very James Bond.

The chalet sleeps 15 and this time we had a full and very convivial house. Every evening, over another delicious three-course spread cooked by Becky and Steve, the group drank wine and caught up on stories from the day.

It was an eclectic collection of people -- mostly couples -- with a mix of ages and backgrounds. Among our number was a trainee vicar and his wife, the latter in the midst of an ideological rebirth as a feminist. All of this contributed to lively dinner-time conversation.

There's nothing like several hours of physical activity in mountain air to whet the appetite, and the standard of cuisine in a Ski Beat chalet won't disappoint the foodies. The focus is on fresh, local produce, with hearty but imaginative preparations.

The nearest ski lift is 50 meters from the chalet door. The benefit of staying in Plan Peisey is that it's on the launch point for the Paradiski -- a sort of ski-dream axis in which the resorts of Les Arc and La Plagne are linked by cable car. So you've basically got two of France's best skiable terrains joined together, which adds up to a whopping 425km of piste.

There is an extra cost involved if you want to ski beyond Les Arcs, but the benefits are plenty.

It means that even at the tail end of the season, under the blazing sun (we had almost flawless weather) there was still plenty of ground (and snow) to cover with no risk of getting bored.

For the leisurely skiers such as myself, there's absolutely loads of fun, cruisey blues and reds, in Les Arcs, some of them big, wide-open ski-plains, others more engaging, narrow avenues through the trees. There are spills for the dare devils, too.

We were too chicken to try the infamous "water schuss" challenge (basically a long jump over a big stretch of water in which all but perfect technique lands those brave enough to try it up to their neck), but thanks to the of bravery of the more daring members of our party, back at the chalet the rest of us were able to live the experience vicariously, and laugh at the video evidence.

Sunday Indo Living

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