Simon Calder: A Swiss ski challenge: my fast track to the slopes - Simon Calder - Travel - The Independent

Simon Calder: A Swiss ski challenge: my fast track to the slopes

By tradition, today – the vernal equinox - is the first day of spring. According to the airlines, though, the season will not last long: their summer schedules begin next weekend. But skiers will be revelling in a winter wonderland for weeks, thanks to the best Alpine snowfalls so far this millennium.

Many resorts plan to celebrate their meteorological good fortune by remaining open for another month – which means plenty of ad-hoc opportunities for skiers and snowboarders to get a quick fix over the next few weeks. How to do it, though, in a manner that work colleagues – or family – hardly notice your absence? That was what I set out to test last weekend, with a trip to Switzerland designed to minimise the time from paper-to-piste.

You may have your own views on the best destination for the shortest of skiing breaks. Innsbruck airport is well located for easy access to the mountains that surround the Tyrolean capital, while Bulgaria's capital, Sofia, has easy access to its own private mountain, Vitosha. But no skier's destination has as many options available as Geneva, with flights from 25 UK airports – including a virtual shuttle service from the London area. Which is why I accepted a challenge from Liz and Michael Callis to get my skiing kicks without drawing too much attention to yet another absence from The Independent office.

This enterprising British couple, who operate a boutique B&B in London's Mayfair and a Thirties villa in Cannes, have recently taken over a seen-better-days hotel in Switzerland's Val d'Illiez, the valley that narrows dramatically as it climbs from the Rhône to the roof of Europe. They reckon the Hotel du Repos (00 41 24 477 1414; hoteldurepos.com) is the closest ski hotel to Geneva airport. It links into the Portes du Soleil ski area, the biggest in the world. Could this constitute the optimum location for Brits to get a quick fix of winter sports?

Seventy-five minutes is all it takes to fly from London City airport to Geneva; the same time again will see you drive safely and legally around Lake Geneva to the village of Val d'Illiez, 1,000m above sea level. The Hotel du Repos is set on the village square. Five hours after making some lame excuses to my colleagues as I left the office, I was tucking into a supper of rare beef with, sceptics would say, an even rarer experience – superb Swiss wine.

After an Alpine-air assisted slumber, I awoke refreshed – then looked out of the window and accelerated my morning. The "Teeth of the South", as I shall loosely translate the crumpled jawbone comprising Les Dents du Midi, were toothpaste-white. Soon, I would be ascending another 1,000m to one end of the Portes du Soleil, and revelling in the joy of slithering down a mountain inelegantly yet without the need to invoke the more exotic clauses of my travel insurance policy.

But how soon? A train ascends from Val d'Illiez to the village of Champéry, the last resort as you ascend the valley. Only once an hour, though. Therefore Liz and Michael have recruited a man with a van who will come to the hotel and whisk you away to fit boots and skis.

Christophe made sure I was on an early ascent to the ski area, where I negotiated a guide for an hour for 70 Swiss francs (£40); it is remarkable how being British is taken as a plea of poverty these days. With her help, I was soon relishing the complex relationship between legs, snow and the physical laws of the cosmos, while also trying to enjoy the scenery's dramatic corrugations.

By the end of my trip, I was most grateful to Liz and Michael for their invitation – and their company, because they are the warmest of hosts. Their hotel is, as they promise, seductively accessible from Geneva airport. But were I a more serious skier, viewing sleep as merely a necessary interruption between high-intensity descents, the gap between hotel and . Invest another five minutes on the journey from the airport and you can stay in Champéry, where you can shuffle easily from hotel to cable car. This was brought home when, at the end of my first day, I just missed the train back to the village, and ended up hitching.

I was happy to thumb my way down to the hotel, but you might not be. It felt like a Ryanair flight when you expect to arrive in Frankfurt but actually touched down 75 miles away from Germany's financial centre. It is without doubt the most appealing Swiss hotel I have stayed in, but also the least convenient ski accommodation. With respect to Liz and Michael: close, but no chairlift.

What next for London's airports?

When London City airport opened in 1987, you could go anywhere you wanted so long as it was Amsterdam, Rotterdam or Paris, by prop plane.

Twenty-one years on, the airport has proved almost too successful for its own good. But its owners may be rattled by this week's demand from the Competition Commission that the cosy near-monopoly of BAA should end. The Spanish-owned airport group has been told to sell off Stansted as well as Gatwick, while retaining its key property, Heathrow.

With the capital's three main airports under separate ownership, they will each do their utmost to wrest airlines, and hence travellers, away from their rivals – as well as from London City and Luton.

One more effect of the break-up of BAA's stranglehold will delight environmental campaigners in Essex. The new owners of Stansted will have no interest in investing billions of pounds in a new runway and terminal, and instead will want to squeeze every last drop of capacity out of the existing facilities.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week