Best for reluctant downhillers: Sainte Foy
Saturday 06 February 2010
I have to admit that I'd never enjoyed skiing. So the prospect of our first "family" trip to the Alps, with all its potential for hellish whingeing from frozen, bruised children, left me feeling distinctly – well – chilly. And why blame the children? Let's face it, zooming down icy mountains at breakneck speed just isn't my thing. With a string of disaster stories behind me I was horrified I'd be unmasked to my offspring as a quivering, lily-livered wreck, at least when faced with a snow-covered slope, unable to subsume my own fears and grumbles for the benefit of their holiday enjoyment. After all, what kind of a mother am I?
It's April – and as we board the plane to Grenoble, memories of my frightened 14-year-old self, side-stepping tearfully up a red run as screaming gangs of boy racers whistled past my ears, came flooding back to haunt me. But fast-forward a decade or three, and here I am, creaky of limb and fearful of heart, on my way to Sainte Foy, the picture-postcard village in France's Haute Tarentaise, which friends had recommended as the perfect place to cure my long-running snow-phobia.
And within a few hours, even I can see that they are right. The charming, relatively new resort is certainly easy on the eye, with wooden and stone chalets built in traditional Savoyard style. In the centre, a raised wooden platform makes up a sort-of village square, where you can nurse a quiet vin chaud in the late-afternoon sunshine as the children play safely below. It helps that it is a small resort but the friendliness feels very genuine indeed.
We were staying with Venture Ski, an inspiring British company which has carved out an enviable niche here providing luxury family-friendly breaks at realistic prices. The next morning, after a delicious cooked breakfast, it was time to hit the slopes – or at least to saunter the few yards to the lifts, where our skis awaited.
The first thing you notice about a holiday here is the lack of queues – and astoundingly, the lift operators even had smiles on their faces as they helped our nervous children on to the chair for the first time. The near-silence as we ascended to the slopes boded well, too, with just the occasional swoosh as a skier went by at a safe and elegant pace. It was starting to feel like my kind of place.
The resort, which sits at 1,550m and rises to a high point at the Col de l'Aiguille (2,620 m), has about 20 pistes, at levels to suit all abilities – and is a noted centre for heli-skiing for those feeling more adventurous. Two great nursery slopes with magic carpets (gone are the jerky button lifts of yesteryear) got our young children off to a great start, and they quickly graduated to greens and blues. For them, the great highlight was the "Fox Run", a narrow track through the woods with a big bump every few yards – producing squeals of delight as they came bobbing down, emerging from the trees with huge grins across their faces. My rather keener husband headed for the upper slopes – though I have to admit that I was supremely happy pootling around on the blue runs.
After a successful first day – and with a warm feeling of triumph – it was back to our spacious and smartly fitted-out chalet for tea and homemade cake served up by the charming young staff. Could things get any better, we asked? Well, yes. Just a few paces from our door was Venture Ski's wonderful private spa, with its swimming pool and hot tub built behind glass walls to take full advantage of the awe-inspiring mountain views.
After a week of this – and the wonderful cooking of our supercool snowboarding chef Luke – I could hardly believe that I didn't want to leave. Maybe next time we'll even come for two weeks. Say it loud and proud: my name is Maria and I now love skiing.
Prices start from £660 and rise to £1,397 per person per week. See ventureski.co.uk
# New this year, flights with Danube Wings ( danubewings.com ) link Luton, Manchester and Dublin to Poprad-Tatry in Slovakia. This is less than an hour's drive from Jasna, the country's largest on- and off-piste ski area. Flights from £150; see accommodation listings at jasna.sk .
# Cypress Mountain ( cypressmountain.com ) is half an hour from Canada's big Winter Olympics downhill events in Whistler, a perfect base for hassle-free daytrips. Freestyle skiing and snowboard half-pipe events take place here, so expect plenty of Olympic buzz. For packages, contact Inghams ( inghams.co.uk ) or see vancouver2010.com.
# This year's challenge to the glitzy Snow Bombing party in the Austrian Alps is the Big Snow Festival ( thebigsnowfestival.com ) in Arinsal, Andorra (14-21 March), with headliners including DJs Calvin Harris and Eddie Halliwell, and sets from Judge Jules and Micky Finn. Oh, and there will be some snowboarding/skiing, too.
# Discreetly located just 100m from the lift up to Schwarzsee and Klein Matterhorn, Zen Chalet ( chalet-zen.com ) has traditional Swiss ski- retreat aesthetics but all mod-cons: under-floor heating, Jo Malone bath products, outdoor hot tub, chef – plus champagne handed out like candy. From £2,250 per person per week all-inclusive.
# The world's largest ski network covered by a single lift pass: the Dolomiti Superski comprises 450 lifts serving 1,220km of piste. This season, the region has a gastro-ski theme with 11 rifugi (traditional hotels) offering dishes exclusively created by Michelin-star chefs from across the Tyrol at realistic prices. For details, see altabadia.org .
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