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.