Austria: So this is how the other half skis...
The service and luxuries on offer at a sumptuous chalet in St Anton leave Chris Moran feeling rather pampered
Saturday 19 November 2011
I'm bubbling away in the chalet hot tub wondering how to test the tour operator's "nothing is too much trouble" pledge. Should I ask for some champagne to be delivered to the Turkish sauna? See if they'll cut short that evening's five-course meal so that I can watch some television in the private cinema? Have my room filled with white flowers? In the end, I settle for a cup-of-tea wake-up call (which duly arrives at 7.30am) followed by a cooked breakfast, and even then, I can't help feeling a little like a diva.
Welcome to Scott Dunn's Chalet Artemis in St Anton, Austria, a luxurious four-storey pad with a statue of the eponymous Greek goddess on the top floor and a basement crammed with Wellness goodies.
This is not, by any stretch of imagination, a regular ski holiday experience. Known for their sumptuous service and high-end holidays, Scott Dunn's three "Flagship" winter chalets are architectural wonders, with distinct characters. In addition to Artemis, the company has two more abodes in the French resort of Val d'Isère: a hilltop chateau called Eagle's Nest – the mere mention of which is enough to have you gestured past the VIP ropes in every bar in town – and Chalet Le Rocher, a converted farmhouse where antler chandeliers and cow-skin sofas create an atmosphere often described as shabby chic, but with rather more emphasis on the chic.
Artemis is the latest addition to the Flagship roster. The minimalist steel and pine-clad building has a hexagonal shape and houses a sauna, a pool and a Turkish bath in its angular basement. It's the sort of place you imagine Kevin McCloud skiing to after a hard day on the slopes.
It's probably easier to list the things the Flagship service doesn't include: lunches, ski hire and the nanny service (though each can, of course, be arranged for a surcharge). Everything else – including BA Club Europe flights, luxury vehicle transfers, extremely fine wines, masseuse, cocktails, five-course meals, champagne delivered to Turkish baths, your favourite TV in wide-screen surround sound, etc – comes as standard, provided you can stump up the requisite minimum of £325 per person per night.
It's early season when I visit and St Anton is 15 degrees below zero – and being blasted by a ferocious wind. Snowflakes come in sideways, everything is covered in frost, and the slopes are either light, fresh powder, or bullet-proof ice. Perfect conditions to test legs that haven't had much exercise since last spring.
"It's definitely winter," smiles my guide Bruno, an ex-ski racer whose optimism is trumped only by his knowledge of St Anton's secret runs. "Perfect weather for Christmas."
Testing the theory that there are no bad conditions, only bad clothing, we head up on the gondola before ploughing into some deep, epic powder in the trees.
The slopes are empty, and what tracks we make are smoothed by the wind for the next run. Bruno glides effortlessly through the Arctic conditions, while I follow with the grace of a new-born calf.
On the cable car back to the top, I get talking to Andreas Narfstrom, a Swedish snowboarder who just happens to be cycling from Sweden to South Africa. St Anton is a beacon for such types, its mountains forming a powder trap that ensnares young-yet-hardy types.
Most come to take on the steep slopes and powder meadows, in the process turning one of the Alps' oldest resorts into an outdoor adventure conference-cum-university campus (albeit with the world's most expensive student bar).
Mix in a few multimillionaire winter sports fans and it's little wonder that the producers looking for the perfect backdrop for last season's Chalet Girl film settled on the Austrian town: the Cinderella-on-snow storyline mirrors the real clientele well.
Back at Artemis, chef Rob Daley announces the menu. Pre-dinner drinks and snacks include a Mont d'Or mini-fondue followed by a trio of beetroot (some foam, slices and juice imprisoning a goat's cheese cube). Heston Blumenthal would surely approve. This is Alpine cooking with a twist – and each of the courses is utterly outstanding. The backdrop is a 200-bottle wine wall; I feel pampered beyond belief.
While there are plenty of other high-end chalets in the Alps, they tend be privately owned and run. Scott Dunn's tour-operator status is its ace up the sleeve.
An army of unseen operational staff is able to smooth over enough problems to offer a "protection against strikes and ash clouds" guarantee – a service I have need for when my return flight from Innsbruck is cancelled owing to "great Christmas conditions", as Bruno would have it.
Driver Jim effortlessly reprogrammes the luxury people carrier's sat nav towards Munich, as the behind-the-scenes Scott Dunn team switches my flight.
While the formalities are taken care of, I have the option of cracking open the champagne in the transfer hamper (transfer hamper!). Instead, I sit in the passenger seat and chat to Jim about surfing. I can't thank him enough for what will, for him, be a six-hour detour. "Don't worry about it," he says.
It turns out that the "nothing is too much trouble" slogan really works.
Seven nights at the Scott Dunn Flagship Chalet Artemis (020 8682 5050; scottdunn.com/artemis) start from £2,275 per person including return BA Club Europe flights from Gatwick, private transfers, gourmet half-board including full breakfast, afternoon tea and five-course evening meals on six evenings, an experienced Scott Dunn Flagship chef and chalet hosts, Laurent-Perrier champagne and canapés each evening and in-resort driver service.
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