Chalet holidays for grown-ups

Snow's up by Chris Gill
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The Independent Travel
My favourite form of ski holiday is what you might call the chalet holiday for grown-ups: catered chalet holidays in properties that offer something like the comfort of a hotel holiday, rather than just the informal simplicity (to adopt a charitable description) that was the main attraction of the chalet holiday 20 years ago.

My November survey of the best chalets in Courchevel, Meribel and Val d'Isere revealed some splendid properties run by a range of companies. But there's no doubt about the outfit that made the greatest impression: although only one or two Ski Company chalets made it into my top six, a top 10 would have included several of their properties.

In mid-January I spent a few days at Chalet Gueret, in the backwater village of Essert-Romand, just outside Morzine. Gueret was among the first Ski Company chalets, and remains a sort of mother ship for the Alpine team. More importantly for the visitor, it is an exceptionally attractive place to stay: spacious, warmly welcoming, comfortable, tastefully furnished - and splendidly atmospheric, with creaky floors that testify to the building's 200 years.

Like all the SkiCo chalets, Gueret comes with all mod cons - hi-fi, hairdryers, minibus - and other ephemeral extras that create something like a home from home - flowers, books, newspapers. The wine is bought centrally with great care, evident enjoyment, and a budget that would make your average chalet girl weep. Even more important, though, is founder David Kemp's approach to the day-to-day running of his chalets.

Mr Kemp's policy is to hire couples (at least 25 years old) to work as manager-cook teams, usually for a spell of two or three seasons. They are, as he puts it, "professional couples on a career path to running their own hotel or restaurant". Some work year-round, either providing summer holidays or preparing the chalets for the next winter. All three teams I have encountered this winter have seemed amiable, sensitive, committed, calm.

The cost of all this - surprise, surprise - is high. Even in low season, a week in a Ski Company chalet costs pounds 730 to pounds 930 (Val d'Isere chalets stay open to the end of April, dropping to pounds 680), and in the February peak it costs pounds 1,030 to pounds 1,330. These are amounts that will buy you a pretty swanky hotel holiday; and holidays in other upmarket chalets can be had for much less - for example, Meriski's Iberis is pounds 820 at half-term, Simply Ski's Brames is pounds 950, Scott Dunn's Cristal de Roche is pounds 995. But no hotel holiday gives you quite the satisfaction of gathering privately with friends before the log fire of an old chalet, champagne in hand and dinner aromatically imminent. And I haven't encountered in other chalets some of the extras you get with a Ski Company holiday - champagne or aperitifs before dinner, digestifs after, babysitting every night.

The Ski Company currently has space in all its resorts at different times in March and in late April - and a couple of rooms free in Vail in mid-February. Contact Abercrombie & Kent 0171-730 5551

There was some snow last weekend in many resorts in the Alps, but nowhere near enough to transform rocky and icy resort-level runs - and quite a few resorts have had no fresh snow since the first week of the new year. Switzerland has had a particularly thin month, with the lower slopes now closed in many lowish resorts and icy in higher ones, and the upper slopes mainly hard; the extremely high skiing of Zermatt and Saas Fee is among the best to be found. In constrast, practically all Italian resorts had a share of snow last weekend. Austria and France present a more mixed picture, with resort runs open except in a few resorts in northern France; some of the best skiing is to be had in the southern French resorts of Serre-Chevalier and Montgenevre. The Pyrenees remain in good shape, while eastern Europe is getting by. In the US, resorts in California, Utah and Colorado have all had worthwhile snowfalls. New England is recovering from its thaw, with snow forecast this weekend.

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