Discover the best places on Earth to ski
Britain's number one Alpine racer, Chemmy Alcott, believes everyone should have a go on the slopes. She tells Mark Rowe her top resorts
Sunday 27 January 2008
I started skiing when I was 18 months old and took part in my first race when I was three. I come from a sporty family – my dad played rugby and my mum was a swimmer – and though neither were great skiers, one of my brothers, who is eight years older than me, was said to have talent, so skiing was what we did.
We spent family holidays at Flaine in the Haute-Savoie region of the French Alps. That's where my roots are, where I learnt to ski. The place is atypically French – not snooty towards you if you don't speak the language.
I love the beauty of the place: the views of Mont Blanc – on the side that you don't ski on – are breathtaking. And the skiing is phenomenal. You don't have to waste time hiking uphill: you just step out of your apartment and ski from your doorstep. The resort also has a great ski school, so I would recommend it for families. But it does have some very taxing runs, too. My favourite is the Demon Noir, one of the hardest runs there; it's very steep, a great powder run. When there isn't much snow, they lay on these massive moguls. I'm not much good at them but they are great fun.
In contrast to Flaine, St Anton in Austria is tough. But I like it for all sorts of reasons. The women go there to look pretty and sip cappuccinos and a lot of guys go on the slopes to test their machismo. There's a bar halfway down the slope called the Krazy Kangaroo where you can sit at midnight and watch people whizzing past who have had far too much gluhwein.
I like skiing through the trees at St Anton. It can be quite dangerous, so you need to be accompanied by someone who knows what they are doing. It's about knowing when to be sensible. I broke my neck skiing when I was 11 but I don't have that in my mind when I ski. As a racer, I go down the slopes at 90mph but not on public slopes. Yet, I see people trying to go at speed without regard for others or for the possibility there might be a kid below them.
Outside Europe I'd recommend Whistler in Canada. I love the way they do skiing over there. Everyone is just so enthusiastic about the sport – it's really catching. There's a lot of terrain at Whistler, with big jumps that fall away. The ski slopes have a very open face, the higher up the mountain you go, the more difficult it gets. You can also go heli-skiing in the back country.
Whistler is about tree runs. That's a bonus because when the weather is bad they give the landscape contrast so you can keep skiing. The snow is also different. Runs in Europe get really icy at the end of the day, whereas at Whistler and elsewhere in Canada and the US it gets crunchy. We call it "hero snow" because it makes skiing easy and can make skiers look quite good.
The other place to ski in Canada is Banff, where the 2010 Winter Olympics will take place. I competed in a race by Lake Louise and the place is breathtaking – the mountains are in your face. That's a big part of skiing, it's so inspiring. The landscapes of skiing never fail to get to me.
I'm a mountains and water kind of girl. For that reason I love Queenstown, New Zealand. I've spent eight seasons there. Skiing is one of the things you go to New Zealand for, not the thing. They don't have the lengths of slope that you get in the US or Europe, but I rate the place highly for pure enjoyment. They prepare the slopes very well and it is great for racing because they have really good snow – huge crystals – and good glaciers. For most of my life, the glaciers in Europe have been retreating, so you end up skiing on yellow snow.
One of my favourite ski resorts is Verbier in Switzerland. The whole experience is simply a lot of fun, much more so than St Moritz, which can be a bit stuffy and attract people who want to be seen skiing rather than to ski. If you have a Prada ski outfit and aren't that bothered about becoming a better skier then go to St Moritz. Verbier is the opposite end of the spectrum. You go because you are serious about skiing and it attracts very good skiers. Historically, it's a place where Swiss people without much money would go, which may explain the different attitude. The snow and mountains are not so different from St Moritz, except that there is a big steep bowl that has been left to nature. Verbier also has a good spectrum of runs.
Skiing is inclusive. It's all about fun, whether you are racing or on holiday. I'd encourage people to have a go. It doesn't matter if you are clumsy or don't think you have balance – I'm the original bull in a china shop. You can learn or get better whatever your age – I taught a 78-year-old man on the artificial slopes at Sandown who never thought he would be able to do it.
It's a beautiful sport. I'm a very sociable person and the only two times that I don't talk are when I'm scuba diving and skiing because I love just gliding down the slopes with the snow glistening – it's a chance to be at one with nature.
Further browsing You can follow Chemmy Alcott's fortunes in this season's Alpine Ski World Cup at fis-ski.com
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