Group skiing: Friends in high places

Daniel Elkan does his bit to get more Brits skiing by taking a group of 21 to Alpe d'Huez

The prosecco on the 11am Eurostar may have gone to my head, but I can still do the maths: five million people in the UK consider themselves skiers, yet each season, only one million go on a ski holiday. That's four million who don't go each year. Why? Conventional wisdom says it is the cost. Throw the travel, accommodation, food and lift pass together – plus ski hire and lessons if you need them – and it's a challenge to get change out of £1,000.

Money, then, is a huge concern. But could it also be that most skiers simply don't know enough other skiers to go on holiday with, or don't know someone who is prepared to take on the challenge of organising a trip? Many a potential ski holiday never makes it from pub conversation to the slopes and, in consequence, a high proportion of skiers miss out each year.

This time around, I'm doing my bit to change this. On the Eurostar with me are 21 friends (including friends of friends) that I've invited to a chalet in the French resort of Alpe d'Huez, which I've chosen because – on paper at least – it ticks some important boxes: a large ski area, a variety of slopes for all levels of skier, chalet accommodation, some lively bars and convenient access by train from the UK.

We switch station in Paris, have lunch at a restaurant opposite Gare de Lyon and board a TGV train to Grenoble. Most people in our group only know a few other people, so the relaxed journey is a great chance for them to start getting to know each other. The dynamic is working, fuelled by the rising excitement as our train speeds towards the Alps. Secretly, however, I'm still apprehensive. Will they like the resort, accommodation and slopes – and will our group continue to bond?

It's dark when we arrive in the village. We crunch our way to the chalet on fresh snow – always a good thing to be greeted by. I'd prepared a room plan in advance, so there would be no ambiguity once we arrived. Inevitably, a couple of people question the room that they've ended up with. My riposte is a smiling: "OK, you organise the ski holiday next time!"

There are an impressive 250km of runs here, spread across five sectors: Vaujany, Oz en Oisans, Villard Reculas, Alpe d'Huez and Auris en Oisans, each with its own unique and inviting topography. Because it is central and is the site for most of the accommodation, Alpe d'Huez is the busiest sector, and also has the Sarenne – the longest black run in Europe, something that clearly quite a few skiers have on their bucket list. Villard Reculas, with its accessible off-piste, is wonderful on a powder day. And, remarkably, Auris en Oisans is so quiet that it feels like the unused "east wing" of a huge mansion.

With a big group, the only practical way to really make the most of the slopes is to split into smaller units at the start of the day, based on ability. The wisdom of this quickly becomes obvious, because eager skiers waiting for others get twitchy, especially when there is a snowfall and fresh powder tracks to be carved. Each morning, however, we nominate one of the many mountain restaurants as that day's lunch spot for each unit to home in on after a morning exploring the slopes. The mere fact of eating together on the slopes gives those of differing abilities a sense of having skied together, even if they haven't actually spent much time on the same runs. With a large group, you increase the likelihood that each person will have at least a few other people of a similar level to ski with. And you can take sole occupancy of a chalet, which becomes a home from home.

The Big Six: French ski retreats

"Everyone comes back to the chalet to swap stories from the slopes," said Nancy Mcdonnell, one of our group. "The energy is great, because it is so relaxed and people are bonding over an activity they love."

Each night feels like an animated dinner gathering at the least – and often becomes far more of a party, with dancing on sofas becoming a common occurrence in our case, without the risk of inconveniencing other guests. At the end of the week, it's clear that everyone is pining for more. Six days' skiing for 22 people in Alpe d'Huez is clearly not enough. That's simple maths too.

The writer travelled to Alpe d'Huez with Zenith Holidays (0203 137 7678; zenithholidays.co.uk) which offers a seven-night break with trains from London St Pancras and catered board at the Chalet Hermione from £575pp, based on a minimum of eight sharing. Lift passes are also bookable through Zenith Holidays from £190 per adult, and ski/board hire from £69.

More information: www.alpedhuez.com

How to keep it together

1. You can't please everyone

There's no such thing as the perfect ski holiday – everyone's ideal is different. Choose a holiday that appeals to the majority of your friends.

2. Consult in advance

Group emails that say: "Hey, where shall we go and when?" will only lead to indecision. Consult just a few friends, privately, before choosing a holiday to suggest to everyone.

3. Present the trip as a fait accompli

Once you've chosen a holiday, send it to your friends with the date of travel, location, chosen accommodation and price. Since people need a week or more to decide, or get permission for time off, make sure the price will be stable. Overestimate the price, so you don't have to say it's gone up later.

4. The details can wait

Give essential information, with a few photos, so people can assess whether they're up for it. Details will only distract at this stage. Sending emails bcc is vital – otherwise everyone will get swamped with inevitable "reply all" emails. This also means that questions or suggestions go through you first, rather than be raised to the whole group.

5. Over-invite

Even friends who say they're definitely coming may unexpectedly have to pull out, so over-invite to make sure you get the numbers. Encourage them to ask their friends too, both to get the numbers and to make the social dynamic more interesting. You'll be together for a week, so don't invite friends who could prove to be too intense on holiday.

6. Set deadlines

Give clear dates by which they need to commit. Make the holiday deposit refundable only if someone can be found to take their place. And don't allow people to dither.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    Day In a Page

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate