Category Archives: Skiing

Courchevel ski trip

Just back from our annual pilgrimage to the ski slopes of Europe. To Courchevel in the French Alps this time, part of the wider classic Trois Vallées ski domain.

I say annual, but Gill and I did sneak in a cheeky additional week on the pistes this year, at Champoluc in Italy with old friends Nigel & Julie Cripps.

Courchevel was with our usual group of alpinistes, whose ageing process I wrote wistfully about after the St Anton expedition a year ago. Sadly prophetic, the Gang of Eight was reduced through poor health to the Team of Six for this year’s outing.

Not wanting to betray the gang’s ethos – just us being pampered in a catered chalet, with a list of priorities longer than an EU summit’s – we stayed at Robin & Maggie’s own apartment in Courchevel. My brother Paul and sister-in-law Carol completed the reduced team.

The delightful village of Courchevel Le Praz sits at 1300 metres, lower than the bling-tastic resorts of Courchevel 1650 and 1850, but more of a living, breathing local community. And you don’t have to speak Russian.

Thanks to intense pre-tour negotiations, we managed to agree an interesting array of catering solutions: each couple would conjure up a feast one night; we would celebrate both Gill’s birthday (first night) and Robin’s (last night) at local restaurants; we would trial a catered meal, delivered to and eaten in the apartment; and for the remaining night, we might buy a ready-prepared meal from the excellent boucherie in the village.

It all worked so well that perhaps we should copyright and market the concept to self-catering chalets throughout the world. Mix & Match Catering Solutions? Smorgasbord Ski Meals? Courchevel Catering Concepts?

We splashed out on the celebratory meals, at Le Bistrot du Praz for Gill’s birthday and at the Michelin starred Azimut for Robin’s. In the end, we had a decadently long and late lunch – rather than dinner – at Azimut, leaving the slopes early in anticipation of deteriorating conditions and fading light.

This was sadly the story of our skiing week….clouds, limited visibility, and constantly changing conditions, with occasional bursts of brilliant sunshine and huge dumps of fresh powdery snow. Essentially as varied as the catering package.

Still, as Gill always says, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Which nearly happened to Robin one day. Dying, rather than adding muscle to his slight frame.

After impressing us for days with his Zen-like affinity with Courchevel’s vast network of pistes and lifts, guiding us safely down the mountain in clouds as thick as Gérard Depardieu’s accent, towards the end of the week he promptly disappeared from amongst us.

In limited visibility and in the teeth of an icy blizzard, we all headed down the well-known blue track to the appointed meeting place, right of a large rock.

I passed Robin and stopped at the rock. The others arrived. Robin didn’t. We waited 10 minutes. We considered our options. We waited some more.

Half an hour later, we were finally reunited, further down the mountain in Courchevel 1850.

Robin had contrived to ski away from the marked track, falling head-first into deep snow and losing his skis. And if you’ve ever fallen in fresh powder, you’ll know that finding a ski is like looking for a cup of coffee costing less than €6 in the 3 Valleys.

He found them. He lived. He’s another year older, if not wiser.

In imperfect conditions, we still had a great week. But hopefully next year, the Gang of Eight will be reunited.

Champoluc ski trip

Just back from a very enjoyable week skiing in virgin territory for us, Champoluc in the beautiful Aosta valley in Italy.

A group of local friends went there last year and enjoyed the village and the skiing. So when old Kentish friends Nigel & Julie Cripps mentioned at a recent reunion that they were heading there in early January, it somehow seemed like fate that we should join them. Whether they wanted us to, or not.

Nigel & Julie are old Champoluc hands, lauding its quietness, beauty, friendliness and good value.

And now we’re converts too.

The skiing domain – even when fully open – is not vast. comprising 45 lifts, 95 slopes and 4 valleys in the total Monte Rosa area. And after the warm snow-free start to the season, hardly any of that capacity was accessible over the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Fortunately for us, the white stuff began to fall early in 2016….and at the moment, it just keeps on coming. So we went from the sublime – skiing on decent snow in bright sunshine and good conditions on our first day – to the frankly ridiculous. On our last day, so much fresh powder had fallen overnight that we had to push our way through a snowdrift as we jumped off the chairlift from the base of Frachey.

In a continuing blizzard, on-piste was off-piste and goggles fogged up faster than Sepp Blatter’s memory.

In decent conditions between those extremes, we loved the long intermediate red runs – and occasionally more challenging black ones – spread out above the Champoluc, Frachey and Gressoney villages

It’s hard to find words that capture the simple pleasure of skiing on a quiet mountain in such a beautiful area. Whatever the conditions.

It’s easier to describe the gluttony we indulged in, every night during our hotel’s challenging 4 course dinners and, during the day, at some buonissimi mountain restaurants. Enjoy a freshly baked pizza and a couple of glasses of local vino rosso for lunch, at 2,700 metres, whilst a blizzard rages outside, and somehow your senses feel sharper than the edges of an Italian suit.

And back in Champoluc, the village is a charming enclave of local artisan shops, traditional houses and friendly people, sitting happily alongside the tourist bars, hotels and ski lifts. Long may that comfortable marriage remain…it would be a shame if over-development spoiled the essence of this gentle place.

St Anton ski trip – age shall not weary us

Can you remember what were you doing in 2004?

Jose Mourinho was appointed manager for his first spell at Chelsea. M&S turned down a bid from Philip Green. Thousands of people were killed by a tsunami in the Indian Ocean. And our ski gang went to St Anton for the first time.

We’ve just got back from our second trip to this Austrian skiing Mecca…and goodness, how life has changed.

Just 11 years ago we queued for the first lift every morning. We hurtled down the pistes all day, and danced on tables at the infamous Mooserwirt apres ski venue, clutching our oversized beers and singing along with the oompah band. We abused the all-the-wine-you-can-drink policy at our chalet, and still had enough middle-aged energy to go out and explore the town’s many late-night fun-spots.

That was then….this is definitely now.

The chatter was more about replacement hips and knees, dodgy hearts, tummy bugs and the current pension reforms.

We started late, lingered over long lunches on the mountains, and retired early to the chalet for tea, cake and a pre-supper snooze.

We had a token apres ski effort at the Krazy Kangaruh towards the end of the week, but we were struggling to stay awake beyond 9:30 every night, without some sort of contrived entertainment. Or a discussion about medication.

More pills were popped than in a 1980s rave at a disused factory on the outskirts of Croydon. But for pain-killing purposes rather than Ecstatic dancing and trancing.

Where did it all go so wrong…..can the ravages of time really have worked their evil magic that quickly?

Of course we had fun. How could you not in a cosy catered chalet, waited on hand and foot, gorging on cooked breakfasts, fresh cake in the afternoon and a hearty 3 course dinner every night, lubricated by unlimited wine?

And whilst we might not have slalomed our way down the slopes as energetically as we once did, just being amongst the towering snow-clad mountains is as rejuvenating as an ageing politician shacking up with a young researcher. Emotionally, if not physically.

In 2026 the ages of our ski team will range from a mature 78 to a positively youthful 64.

By then, we’ll probably have a token run each day – around 11:30 – but only after the nurse has handed out the drugs, and the masseur has rubbed everything down. Then we’ll hunt down the gluhwein and goulash soup on a sunny verandah, reminiscing about those glory years of our Franz-Klammer like escapades, before heading back to the chalet for tea and cake at 3, and an absurdly early night.

But you know what? The camaraderie and joie de vivre of the group generated over more than 20 years of epic ski holidays will outlive any human frailties.

And I bet Jose won’t still be managing Chelsea.