What a difference twelve months makes: last year conditions were poor with ice and wind, but in 2016, after a snow-deprived Christmas and New Year, the snow gods delivered. Tina and Claire who travelled with me last year could not make it due to other commitments, but I was joined by Ann-Marie, a graphic designer, Caroline, a maths teacher and Kirsten, a police officer. Between us we have six children. After a near miss with a diversion to Basel airport, caused by a snow-covered runway at Geneva airport, we finally made it up the Prodains Valley, Morzine in the Portes du Soleil area of the French Alps ready and excited to begin our holiday. We packed a lot into our week away: from pounding the pistes to riding powder; eating crepes, cakes and croque monsieur to drinking vin chauds, Jagermeister and hot chocolate; lounging in the hot tub to shopping in town; meeting up with old friends Katrina, Emma and Suzanne to making new friends in the chalet. How did this all play out, and how much fun did we actually have?
Conditions: we arrived in the snow and it continued to snow all night. Despite our fears of a whiteout first day we woke to sunshine and clear blue skies: a Bluebird First Day. How lucky were we? Caroline only had two full days on the slopes as she had to return to her part-time work which meant we hit the slopes hard in the first two days covering over 60km (we used the Ski Tracks App) in Avoriaz, Morzine and Les Gets. Caroline and Kirsten are skiers and Ann-Marie and I are snowboarders, so we had a balanced group with the two skiers cruising the pistes and the snowboarders riding the powder. The snow conditions on this holiday were some of the best I have had. One of my goals and aspirations for 2016 was to get more experience in powder, more of which later, and the snow conditions were perfect to allow me the experience of steeper and deeper.
Hospitality: We stayed with Mountain Mavericks at Chalet Atelier where we were looked after extremely well by chalet hosts Bill and Saoirse. Not only was there a driver service taking us to and from the lifts and town but there were Neal’s Yard products in the bathroom and Teapigs in the kitchen. The beds and pillows were so comfy that many mornings it was hard to get out and onto the slopes – always a good sign of a well- run chalet. The food, both on the mountain and in the chalet proved somewhat problematic though: too much of it and at times too rich. Our UK stomachs were not used to the dairy-based ingredients and we learned, to our cost, that too much lunchtime tartiflette results in early retirement from the slopes.
Instruction: after Caroline reluctantly left to return to work, Ann-Marie and I had lessons with Tammy Esten from Mint Snowboarding whilst Kirsten, as a skier, teamed up with ESF to have some one-to-one instruction.
Kirsten’s young, male instructor told her, ‘You ski like my mother’ (she learned back-in-the-day on long parallel skis), to which she replied, ‘As a Frenchman called Kevin you do not come from a position of authority’! Luckily they both liked a bit of banter. For Ann-Marie and I the teaching experience was rather different. During our lessons we covered technique on the piste, riding switch, flatland skills, powder-riding technique and how to ride tree lines. Ann-Marie was unsure about lessons but after her experience with Tammy she felt it was worth it; she did things she would not have done otherwise. Kirsten, as an accomplished skier, was reluctant to pay for instruction but she gained a lot from it. She was pushed out of her comfort zone and was riding powder and trees more confidently.
Holiday highlights: for me it included the camaraderie, laughter and fun plus I thoroughly enjoyed blasting around the pistes and covering more miles than normal. Caroline texted us when she was back to say she was missing the vin chauds and relentless skiing. Spending time with Tammy is always fun, and despite some flailing in the powder I did enjoy the knee deep fluffy stuff, plus the tree-riding was a bonus. For Ann-Marie the highlights were the snow conditions whilst for Kirsten it was the off-piste tree skiing. We really were blessed with the snow and weather which included a Bluebird day and very little whiteout.
All this was enhanced by staying with a company who really looked after us at the beginning and end of the day. A huge shout out to Mountain Mavericks and Mint Snowboarding. As holidays go it had a bit of everything with day-long activities which we all loved, pampering, relaxation and wonderful food which we never had to cook ourselves. What is not to love? Long live the girls’ holiday and we’ll be back next year! Checkout the post-après ski home to the chalet along the street below.