Bite-sized breaks out on the slopes

Even if the weather lets you down, there’s plenty to enjoy on a quick getaway, says Mary Novakovich

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.

Travel Essentials

Getting there

Ski Weekender (0845 557 5983; 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.

More information


The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Robyn Lawley
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
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
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star