Piste and love: skiing for the singleton
Esther Shaw signs up for a skiing holiday for the single – or 'individual' – traveller in Chamonix
Saturday 08 November 2008
"This is a ski holiday for individuals, not a ski holiday for singles," my hosts explained as they welcomed me into the Cold Fusion chalet in the French resort of Chamonix. I tried to believe it, but setting eyes on the well-stocked underground bar, the Twister board and the hot tub, I wasn't convinced. Uncertain of what I'd let myself in for, I headed to the bar for champagne, canapés and the first real chance to meet the group of strangers with whom I was going to be living – and skiing – for the next seven days.
At the briefing by adventure company Evolution 2, I tried to concentrate on the other activities we could take part in during our stay. Ice-climbing, dog-sledding and snowshoeing are ones I recall. But in truth I was preoccupied with eyeing-up my fellow snow-loving single socialites. For the most part they were an assortment of thirty- and forty-somethings; two were clearly over 50.
I placed myself firmly at the lower end of the age spectrum and began to think that this was less Club 18-30, more Big Brother. It was not until the following morning, over a hearty breakfast cooked by Jude Law-lookalike chef Piran, that the real getting-to-know-you stuff began. A couple of the younger guys, Neil and Jim, took the lead in asking questions and getting people to talk to one another. Meanwhile, I tried to work out how best to shuffle around the dining room in a way that would make my salopettes look half attractive.
For my first day, I'd decided that before skiing with the group I'd go for a private "intermediate refresher" lesson in a bid to polish up my technique. It wasn't a huge success, and after I'd found myself headfirst in a snowdrift for the zillionth time, I was glad to retire to one of Chamonix's many alpine cafes for a vin chaud with Steve Jackson and Nicky Fisher, the people behind the Cold Fusion experience.
The couple, both in their late twenties, met on New Year's Eve in 2003 while Fisher was working in Chamonix for tour operator, Crystal, and Jackson was "doing the ski season". Around a year later, they found themselves working for the same operator. "As time went by in our respective jobs, Fisher was essentially running the back office for the company, while I was running the chalets and dealing with the guests," says Jackson. "Between us, we had a lot of experience, so we decided to set up our own company."
And so began Cold Fusion, a ski company dedicated to the single – or "individual" – traveller. "We'd discovered that while there were a lot of individuals who wanted to travel on their own but ski with other people, there was nothing that catered for them specifically," says Jackson. The couple launched their company in 2005 with a "no children, no families" policy, and the concept struck a chord. It's now entering its fourth season.
"The stigma attached to travelling solo is starting to go away," says Jackson. "We accommodate sociable people looking to enjoy a traditional chalet holiday with a ready-made group of friends to ski and snowboard with during the day – and to socialise with in the evenings."
Cold Fusion now has three chalets which can accommodate up to 37 people in total (a new chalet will open for the coming season in Morzine, just an hour from Chamonix). Every effort is made to ensure a balanced male to female ratio. There are 18 twin rooms and one single room; people are paired up with their "room buddy" when they arrive, according to age and gender (although at extra cost, guests can request a room for single use).
I was staying in a comfortable ensuite room in one of the Chamonix chalets. It had carved balconies, spacious living and dining areas and all manner of facilities including under-floor heating, wood-burner, Wifi access and satellite TV. After spending my first afternoon "group skiing" (or, in my case, "trying to keep up with the rest of the group skiing") it was back to the chalet for our first dip in the hot tub, beer in hand, while watching the sun set over Mont Blanc.
The evening meal was a big affair in the chalet, with all 18 guests dining together. It provided the opportunity for everyone to exchange war stories from the slopes over free-flowing wine and a three-course dinner. Piran proved to be an amazing chef, and went out of his way to cater for my vegetarian fads.
"We pride ourselves on offering a really personal level of service," says Jackson . "We want each of our guests to know who we are – and to feel happy about chatting to us, and asking any questions they have about the chalet, the skiing and the local area." This level of service has certainly paid off: Cold Fusion had nearly 200 returning customers last season, two of them in the week I was there.
They have also chosen well with Chamonix. Skiers and boarders can take their pick of appealing areas, including les Grands Montets, Brevent Flegere and le Balme. For the more daring, the renowned Aiguille du Midi can be reached by cable car. Its summit marks the start of the spectacular Vallée Blanche descent, dubbed the world's most famous off-piste run.
I soon resigned myself to the fact that my level of skiing would not overcome its plateau, and so decided to try my hand at snowboarding. I signed up for an introductory group lesson along with Alice, a retired head teacher. Suffice to say that while Alice (who is nearly twice my age) came on in leaps and bounds during our three-hour lesson, I spent most of the time falling on my hands, or sitting on my backside in the snow.
Thankfully, Chamonix is the place for those who both ski hard and party hard. While I may not have excelled on the slopes, I certainly held my own when it came to the vibrant après-ski in places such as Chambre Neuf, Le Choucas and La Terrasse, all of which were stuffed full of thawing-out local skiers (male), instructors (male), and mountain guides (male).
So was it really just a skiing holiday for individuals, or was there a little love in a cold climate? Well, in our week of "getting to know each other", several games of Twister were played and a respectable number of beverages were consumed in the underground bar. As for the hot tub... well that would be telling, wouldn't it?
Cold Fusion (0870 042 8347; coldfusionchalets.co.uk) offers half-board flexible week stays from £499 and mini-breaks from £349, including transfers to and from Geneva, accommodation, resort orientation and mountain guiding; lift passes and private lessons can also be arranged at extra cost. Flights are not included
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