Snow joke: altitude with a touch of attitude
The man who skis all day
What's your agenda for a winter-sports holiday? Possibly little more than skiing or boarding, a few associated snow-sport activities, eating and sleeping, plus socialising in bars and nightclubs. But if you fancy something different, perhaps some film screenings, evenings of stand-up comedy or live rock music out on the slopes, there are ski resorts where you'll find each of those things, and more.
Mayrhofen has the Altitude Comedy Festival, which ran for three years in Méribel but has now relocated to Austria. It will present a stellar line-up, including Jimmy Carr, Al Murray and Tim Minchin, from 26 to 31 March.
Méribel still has a music event (previously the Little World Festival, now Méribel Live), taking place from 19 to 23 March; and the Portes du Soleil ski domain, on the French/Swiss border, will Rock the Pistes from 24 to 28 March. (See page V for more details.)
And film screenings? Look out for the 2012 Festival of European Cinema at Les Arcs – the 2011 festival took place this season from 10 to 17 December.
You will see, from that small sample of a fast-increasing number of events at winter sports resorts, that they take place mostly late in the season, during the off-peak period. That's when resorts have empty beds for entertainers, organisers and festival-goers.
The Les Arcs festival is unusual in that it is largely a trade event, devoted to distribution deals, production-funding and the development of the European market during the day, with screenings, open to the public, in the evenings. For the local authority, which provides funding, its virtue lies mainly in the attention the resort gets from the French media, especially when popular actors and directors attend. And it takes place in the early season (also off-peak), when publicity is likely to stimulate immediate ski-holiday bookings.
Did it seem strange going to a screening at a ski resort? Absolutely not: it's a perfect fit. Skiing finishes soon after 4pm, which leaves time afterwards for dinner followed by a film or two. The cinema at Arc 1850 is a stunning, all-wood conference venue which easily accommodates an audience of 500. The films are subtitled – in English and French for the German film, which was the only one I managed to see. Next December my attendance will not be so brief.
More surprising than the notion of a film festival in a ski resort was the discovery I made in Val d'Isère, en route to Les Arcs. The new, upmarket chalet company Consensio (consensioholidays.co.uk) put me up for the night in one of its luxurious properties where, over dinner, I learned that British guests only just outnumber their Russian counterparts; by 43 per cent to 41 per cent.
Once upon a time, my assumption that chalets were almost exclusively a British thing was correct. But the days of mucking in, sharing washing-up duties, and queuing for communal bathrooms are long gone. Now chalets are mostly well appointed and comfortable and, at the top end of the market, they offer a degree of luxury comparable with that of five-star hotels and much greater privacy, plus the possibility of bespoke food and service, which is where the affluent Russians come in.
Consensio's managing director, Ceri Tinley, gave me a run-down on why chalets appeal to Russians. They like instant service, she says, and they don't like the word "no". Nor do they like waiting for the housekeeping round for the chalet to be cleaned. And they want to be served their vodka of choice, whether it's Absolut, Grey Goose or Belvedere, even if that involves the staff going out to negotiate the purchase of a couple of bottles from a nearby hotel.
Tinley says that the firm "embraces" its Russian clientele, with a local representative in the country and a Russian-language website, computer keyboards with Cyrillic script in the chalets and a database of Russian nannies and ski guides. It has the properties to suit, too. New this season in Val d'Isère is the extraordinary Chalet Marco Polo (pictured); its jet-stream disco/pool is served by DJ equipment and a projection screen, and its reclaimed fixtures and fittings have been imported from Afghanistan, India and Thailand.
The chalets sleeps 12 adults; and on the back of a large envelope I worked out how much each guest would have to pay to stay during the most expensive week. The answer was almost €6,000.
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