SO what's the attraction of a ski chalet holiday? Chic – certainly. Charming – you bet. Cheerful – absolutely. Cheap – no, but worth every euro. You get what you pay for, and good chalets come with super service, fabulous food and all the creature comforts your fatigued, famished body yearns for.
Like skiing on ironed sheets rather than a crumpled duvet
On an early season trip to the French Alps when folks were bemoaning the lack of snow the chalet option came up trumps, providing distractions when the collision of weather systems shut wind-whipped lifts and sent us scurrying for warmth in our chalet havens.
For the outdoorsy types there were walks with a somersaulting dog around a frozen lake and snowshoeing. For stress-busting there was relaxing massage in spacious bedrooms or flutes of bubbly while wallowing in gurgling hot tub, steam rising in the mountain mists.
And there was always the prospect of afternoon tea with home-made Victoria sponges cake, gooey brownies and finger-licking flapjacks. And the joy of curling up in front of a glowing fire, good book in hand.
And then canapés, flowing wines with delicious dinners, chatter and party games before blissful sleep with downy duvets and plump pillows guaranteeing sweet ski dreams until the waft of sizzling bacon and fresh coffee heralded a full English breakfast. And who cared if the Wi-Fi wasn't quite up to speed?
We'd all come to ski and board, and ski and board we did when the weather gods eventually smiled.
La Ferme a Jules interior
My first venture onto the slopes in the New Year was to Morzine, in France's famed Portes de Soleil ski Mecca. Rather than stay in the bustling town we chose the little sister of Montriond and one of the biggest chalets in the area: the 10 bedroom Chalet La Ferme à Jules, a stylishly converted 1808 farmhouse run by AliKats Mountain Holidays.
Al (he hates being called Ali) and his 15 year old wife Kat Judge (OK, she looks teenage but admits to 35) run another two chalets in the hamlet and have stamped all three with their passion for exceptional food and service.
And is the happy disposition of willing staff – including chalet hosts Edinburgh-born Ross who met his partner Emma in Aberdeen – down to generous time off?
“I never knew so many Scots skied till I came here,” said Ross as he chauffeured us to the slopes – another great advantage of chalet service.
Al, who works for an international bank in Geneva a 40 minute drive from Montriond, splits time between advising billionaires, providing tip top accommodation and cuisine, and being doting dad to three-year-old Ivy and toddler Wilf. Having mastered skis, she's moved on to snowboarding.
“They are both high-octane, adventurous children. Even if they are really stupid they can speak French, ski and be fit and healthy,” said Kat, whose family obsession with good food inspires her award-winning menus
Perle de Neige – a converted farm building
Our next chalet heaven was in the hamlet of Villaroger, another beautifully converted farm building called Chalet Perle de Neige, complete with Edelweiss the donkey. Rather jealous of her space, resenting our forays to the hot tub, she could be pacified with an apple.
Chalet hosts Johnny and Sammy whipped up delectable dishes to fuel our mountain adventures in Les Arcs. A huge dump of snow meant ski in ski out conditions, thanks to a double chair lift on our doorstep and spectacular runs home – including part of the challenging Aiguille Rouge, at 8km one of the longest black/red pistes in the Alps. Big treat: glimpsing a golden eagle with two meter wing span, wheeling above.
When the weather closed in at one resort the obliging Johnny whisked us over to family-friendly La Rosière for a day bathed in sunshine that lit up sparkles of humidity. We were treated to a lesson with Vincent, an adorable Italian instructor with the reliable ESF ski school. He tempted us into powder before finding a just-groomed piste which felt like skiing on ironed sheets rather than a crumpled duvet.
Rustic dining furniture at Perle de Neige
For such a tiny resort, we enjoyed fine live music and dancing at the La Ferme bar next door where mine host Michel demonstrated an ancient firearm (thankfully not loaded) and related how in this home of the rare Black Grouse each family was allowed to shoot one a year for Christmas lunch.
Food on the mountain was mixed, pricey and nothing like the quality back in the chalets. (I braved the wrath of Madame to return a watery and tepid vegetable soup, and got my eight Euros back).
More chalet hedonism came in the shape of a chocolate making lesson by Clive Millac, who combines passion, hobby and business. “It's very therapeutic,' said the chocolatier, whisking and folding the velvety mixture, tempering it to a perfect sheen. He uses extraordinary fillings: advocaat, saffron, even Marmite and his signature shape is a chocolate ski-boot. Best of all: we got to taste his wares.
One word of caution about chalet hols is the increasingly common practice of side-stepping the ski rental shop in favour of a selection of equipment brought to your accommodation. It sounds convenient, but my experience was a painful helmet, too short poles and – most dangerous of all – a pair of children's skis and bindings that saw me crash on a turn when we parted company. A shop is the safer option for me.
Hot tub, Perle de Neige
Chalets are still my default setting, friendlier, comfier and much more fun than hotels or self-catering. As I sipped bubbly in the frothy hot tub, admiring snow-capped peaks, a little verse came to mind.
“The mountain is beautiful
The more it's beautiful the more I watch it
The more I watch it
The more it's beautiful”
It sounded better in French. But ski chalets are beautiful in any language.
SEVEN nights in AliKats'La Ferme a Jules (or sibling chalet Chalet De L’Ange) start from £475 per person based on December 10, 2016 arrivals. Price includes: 6 days fully catered AliKats service (champagne and canapés on arrival, full English breakfast spread, afternoon tea with cakes, savouries, hot chocolate & vin chaud, pre-dinner aperitifs and canapés, 4-course evening dinner with good quality unlimited wine), use of the hot tub (& sauna in La Ferme a Jules), and private shuttle service to and from the slopes. Visit www.alikats.eu or call +33 (0) 678104092 for more information.
Transfer Skiidy Gonzales – Price from €51 per person. For more information visit www.skiidygonzales.com
Ski Mobile Equipment rental Ski and Snowboard hire with free delivery and collection. Price for an adult with intermediate skis and boots for 6 days from €119 (20% discounted) when booking online. Visit www.ski-mobile.com
Lift pass 6-day Portes du Soleil pass costs €299; 6-day Morzine-Les Gets pass: €196. Visit http://en.morzine-avoriaz.com/skipass.html
SEVEN fully catered nights in Butler & Lloyd’s Chalet Perle de Neige (sleeps 16) start from £500 per person, based on 10 sharing. Butler & Lloyd are UK-based bespoke travel specialists. Visit www.butlerandlloyd.com for more information.
Les Arcs Resort altitude from 1200 to 2000 metres; top lift at 3226 metres with a total 200km of piste
Links to the rail station at Bourg St Maurice with services from London and Paris. Visit http://en.lesarcs.com
Transfer Arranged via Mountain Express. Visit www.mountainexpress.co.ukSki
Ski and Snowboard hire Ski Set – from €71.40. Visit: www.skiset.co.uk/ski-resort/arc-1800
Lift pass 6-day Paradiski Unlimited Lift pass from€227 Visit: http://en.lesarcs.com/ski/skipasses.html
Transport not included for either destination. Flights via Easyjet.