Winter sports: It's good to be back on the ski slopes
New year, new hobby? Try an old favourite again instead. Kate Simon had another go at skiing. She's glad she did...
Sunday 13 January 2008
The body's memory is incredible. I've been on these skis for less than 10 minutes and yet I'm ably, if gingerly, sliding down a slope and now, almost instinctively, pointing my toes inwards and skidding to a halt. Yet the last time I snapped on a pair of skis was 30 years ago.
What a tonic for parental guilt. All that hand-wringing about whether you should push your little darling – and fork out the cash – to acquire a non-essential skill that may at once be embraced and rejected. At least now my mum can know that it was worth paying for that school trip to the Cairngorms in 1978. It may have taken three decades to get me back on the piste (the Scottish weather is the clue here), but I'm enjoying myself.
This time I'm in the French Alps at Méribel, the resort at the heart of Les Trois Vallées, the largest linked ski area in the world. I don't anticipate seeing too many of those pistes because I'm here with my partner and son, both of whom have never skied. My partner isn't doing so well thanks to his unfeasibly wide feet – every ski boot he tries on is agony – but my eight-year-old son is taking to it like, well, a child to snow, picking up the basics with predictable speed. And I'm flabbergasted by my progress, which is instantly making this a more enjoyable experience than the Scottish sojourn. Plus, it helps that the sun is shining, there's a hinterland of snow, pines and the cutest wooden chalets, and the restaurants at the bottom of the slopes serve escargots.
But I'm also having quite a different experience from before, because we're staying in some considerable comfort as guests of Meriski, which specialises in catered chalet holidays in Méribel. For catered read cosseted. At our cosy chalet we are cared for by our host and chef, Vicky and James, who make our beds and our breakfast, bake cakes for afternoon tea and turn out a gourmet four-course meal every night. And when we want to go to the slopes, a five-minute drive away, Toby the driver turns up in the minibus to take us there and is at the end of a mobile phone ready to bring us back. It's all so easy – and a far cry from bunking up with your schoolmates.
Service is the selling point for Meriski. The company was bought three years ago by Four Winds Holidays, owned by the founders of Luxury Family Hotels, the UK family friendly country house hotel group best known for its flagship Woolley Grange. The ethos of good service that built the reputation of those hotels as among the best in Britain has been transferred to this Alpine landscape.
Hence the quality of the chalets, standard of catering and helpful extras such as the minibus transfers and the crèche that it runs (the only one in the resort). But what makes it work is the recruitment policy. Vicky, an ex-radio journalist, and James, a former internal auditor and chef and aspiring musician, are career-gappers. Toby will start practising as a barrister once the season is over. These bright people are more than able to deliver excellent service without the atmosphere becoming servile.
But we're here to ski, not to slob out. By day two our instructor, Patrick, from the Magic Snow Sports Academy, has taken us up to 1,800m to make our first descent. The last time I scaled these heights on skis I lost my nerve. This time I'm twisting and turning across the mountainside with confidence. I'm persuaded – I think I'll do this again.
HOW TO GET THERE
Meriski (01285 648518; meriski.co.uk) is offering catered chalet deals this season including a week in Chalet Bambi, sleeping eight, for £420 per person starting 27 January; a week in Chalet Nant de Morel, sleeping 10, for £795 per person starting 10 February; and a week in Chalet Virage, sleeping 16, for £925 per person, starting 17 February. Flights, transfers, ski hire, lift passes and childcare cost extra.
3 Valley Transfers (3vt.co.uk). Magic Snowsports Academy (magicinmotion.co.uk).
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