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?
10 best ski goggles
10 best ski goggles
1/10 Poc Iris Flow
These slick goggles from the Swedish company renowned for its premium ski accessories are comfy and have great anti-fog and anti-scratch properties. “Poc Iris are a good choice for both resort skiing and back-country touring,” says Rupert. £49.99, totalcycling.com
2/10 Smith Cascade
Snow sport expert Smith’s aggressively priced, classically styled goggle is “lightweight and helmet compatible, plus it comes in several bright colours”, says Rupert. £31.99, rxsport.co.uk
3/10 Adidas Originals prescription
Bad eyesight needn't be a barrier to going for it on the mountain. This slick-looking prescription pair has a minimalist frame, so you’ll have wide vision on the mountain. The price will depend on your prescription and treatment of the lenses. From £205.99, rxsport.co.uk
4/10 Anon Helix
Anon goggles are made by Burton Snowboards and are popular among boarders and skiers alike. “The Helix is their lower-end model but is probably the best goggle on the market at this price,” says Rupert. “And they fit really well with a helmet, too.” Available in a range of colours. £49.99, surfdome.com
5/10 Oakley Shaun White Airbrakes
Shaun White is tipped to take gold in the halfpipe contest in Sochi. This fluro pair with interchangeable lenses, a collaboration with Oakley, will serve you in a range of conditions, in and out of the snow park. Ideal for larger faces. £210, uk.oakley.com
6/10 Sinner Fierce Double lens goggles
The spherical lens in these ice cool-looking goggles mean you get a wide field of vision on the slopes. They’re a great fit with a helmet and you can change the lens if conditions take a turn for the worse- ideal for whiteouts. £55, johnlewis.com
7/10 Wed’ze Evo Snow OTG S2
Decathlon is known for stocking good-value sports kit that does its job well. These bargain goggles from the Mont Blanc-based brand are ideal for beginners – not flashy but they’ll serve novice skiers well on their first trip. £12.99, decathlon.co.uk
8/10 Roxy Sunset Art Mirror
Boarders know they can rely on Roxy to come up with funky, high-performing eyewear. The lenses in this pair have had anti-fog and scratch-resistant treatment and fit well with a helmet. £46.90, roxy-uk.co.uk
9/10 Salomon X-View
Wearing rimless goggles means you get an extra wide field of vision when you’re flying down the piste. This sleek pair have mirrored lenses that will block bright light and let you focus on the sport in hand. £65, cotswoldoutdoor.com
10/10 Smith – I/O Recon
“If you love your tech then you’ll like the I/O Recon,” says Rupert. “With an in-built computer display you can view stats such as speed, temperature, and GPS location, and link to your smartphone for calls, to read texts and track your friends.” £465.95, smartbuyglasses.co.uk
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.
"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.
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.