A surprisingly big chunk of the ski industry is locked into the idea that one size fits all: a seven-day holiday running from Saturday to Saturday. But not everyone can manage a whole week of skiing time – or would even want to. My fellow dinner guests at Hôtel Les Aravis bore witness to that: among them a couple of dads with their sons on a short boys'-own holiday; parents giving their kids a relatively inexpensive introduction to skiing; and a woman on her own with loads of annual leave to use up.
We were all here to spend as much time on the slopes with as little hassle as possible – and without spending a fortune for the privilege. A 60-minute transfer from Geneva airport took us to the hotel in St-Jean-de-Sixt, halfway between the two French resorts of Le Grand-Bornand and La Clusaz. Most of us arrived in time for afternoon tea offered free to guests every day, with scrumptious cakes made by a former chef at Bettys Tea Room in York. A few had gravitated to the bar, while those of us who were hiring equipment waited our turn to get kitted out in the downstairs bootroom. Our ski passes were handed to us on arrival. We had nothing to do but gorge on cakes, sink a beer or two and wait for our three-course dinner.
It was a relaxed, efficient introduction to a quick fix of skiing. Ski Weekender has been running midweek and weekend breaks in the Aravis mountain range for 13 years, and its simple formula works beautifully. Choose an area with a short transfer time, run a hotel as if it were a catered chalet, offer stays during quiet times early in the week, have everything at your guests' disposal – all at an affordable price.
On the first morning, most of us joined the group led by two of the Ski Weekender ski hosts, John and Dougie. Rather than waste your precious three days trying to find your own way around, let the ski hosts do the work for you. They also sort out transport to and from the resort in time for afternoon tea. The only catch was the weather. The big drawback of a short break is the possibility of three days of heavy snow, zero visibility and leaden skies.
Our hosts took us first to Le Grand-Bornand, a family-friendly resort with a multitude of gentle slopes where we could get our ski legs back at the start of a new season. It was just as well the ski hosts were there: the relentless snow made it extremely difficult to see where we were going. We were happy to dispense with piste maps on these wide, quiet cruising runs and be led like sheep. When visibility did improve a bit, I could spot some of the small farms on the mountain where cows are kept during the winter to produce reblochon, the delicious Savoy cheese.
A stroll through the village was a pleasant way to end the afternoon, admiring the 19th-century church and traditional Savoyard buildings draped in a heavy coat of snow. Building in Le Grand-Bornand is kept within strict guidelines, preventing the kind of horrors seen in many purpose-built resorts. The same is true of La Clusaz, Le Grand-Bornand's slightly smarter neighbour, where I headed the following day.
By this time the snow had eased. Connected to La Clusaz's Massif de Beauregard is Manigod, after La Clusaz, Le Grand-Bornand and St-Jean-de-Sixt the fourth resort in the newly created ski domain of Lake Annecy Ski Resorts. The wide slopes with plenty of tree cover were practically empty. Even during half-term, I was told, you won't find the hordes on the Massif de Manigod at 1,650m. Perhaps they're not aware that the Aravis mountain range has its own unusual microclimate that gives it a lot more snow than its altitude would suggest.
Back at the Hôtel Les Aravis, it was the kitchen staff's night off. We were given the following options: we could try one of the village restaurants; a Ski Weekender staff member could drive us to La Clusaz or Le Grand-Bornand for dinner; or we could troop down the road for a takeaway pizza. By this time, our group had bonded into one big genial bunch, and almost everyone plumped for a lazy pizza supper in the comfortable lounge. I, however, had an Alpine cheese obsession to feed, which had to be satisfied with raclette at Le Mazot Délices (00 33 450 02 35 28) directly across the road.
By the third and final morning, I felt as if I had been there for a week – and I still had a whole day of skiing ahead of me, thanks to my evening flight. This time I could go back to Le Grand-Bornand and see what was hidden from me on that first snowy day. The skies were still resolutely grey, but the powdery snow was glorious. There was just enough time before I left to say hello to the new arrivals. That's when the envy crept in, knowing they were going to spend the next few days in this warm and convivial place.
Ski Weekender (0845 557 5983; skiweekender.com) offers Mon-Thu breaks at Hôtel Les Aravis from £280 per person, including transfers, lift passes, breakfast, two dinners, wine, afternoon tea and two days' ski hosting. Flights and equipment hire costs are extra. Thu-Mon breaks start from £455 per person.
Geneva airport is served by airlines including easyJet, BA, Flybe, Swiss and Jet2.
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