Catherine Scott and family spent the first weekend of the ski season in the French Alps and discovered the advantages of being among the first skiers.
It is always a risk booking a ski trip for the first weekend of the ski season. First, and foremost – will there be any snow? It is a question definitely on the mind of my husband in the days and weeks preceding our pre-Christmas trip to the Portes du Soleil area of France which would see us skiing from December 14.
His daily browsing of the many webcams showed green fields where he was hoping to see white snow-filled slopes.
But he needn’t have fretted. The week before we embarked on our journey the snow started to fall and the day we departed half a metre of snow fell on the French Alps – sighs of relief all round.
Second thing on our mind was just how much of the resort would be open. We were staying in Les Prodains, a hamlet in a stunning valley on the way up to Avoriaz from Morzine.
It’s a short walk to the super quick Prodains cable car which whisks you up to the purpose-built resort of Avoriaz that sits at 1,800m and where the snow was plentiful.
From here, skiers of all abilities are spoilt for choice with an abundance of red, blue and black runs and even a snow park known as the Stash which keeps the children (and big children) happy for hours. One benefit of early season skiing was clear – virtually empty slopes and no lift queues, especially after the weekend trippers left on Sunday.
From Avoriaz there is easy access to the stunning slopes of Chatel which links with Switzerland (covered on the full area lift pass) and the infamous Swiss wall which was not open during our visit due to high winds (phew!).
That is another risk of early season skiing. The weather can close in as the winds pick up and the higher lifts run the risk of closing. Although to be honest that can happen at any time of the year – it is the Alps after all.
There was more than enough skiing for our four-day trip, although there was more limited access to the lower resorts of Morzine and Les Gets which didn’t fully open until the week after our visit.
Portes du Soleil, which has a total of 650km of pistes, is popular with Brits with the short 80-minute transfer from Geneva a bonus. We stayed at Chilly Powder’s luxury chalet hotel, Au Coin du Feu, and had our two teenagers in tow.
Chilly Powder was the brainchild of Francesca and Paul Eyre who moved from England, opening their first chalet in 1996.
The hotel features a massive fire, hence its name, with family snaps adorning the mantlepieces. There is a cosy residents’ bar with a free coffee machine which went down well with my eldest who has just discovered the joys of a latte. The hotel has impressive on-site childcare facilities, making it popular with families, although evening meals are reserved for adults and teenagers over 16 – everyone eats together and is encouraged to mingle.
There may be an air of informality around the place but the hotel is run like a well-oiled machine with well-trained and friendly staff.
There are all the facilities you’d expect in a high-end establishment – outside hot tub with drink brought to you while you soak your aching bones, saunas, and a masseuse in a cosy yurt in the garden. There is an adults (and older teen under supervision) library which has a pool table and computer.
Chilly Powder is the perfect base to explore the Avoriaz Morzine ski area and they have thought of just about everything, even your skis are brought to you thanks to the aptly-named doorstepskis.com.
Here we experienced another benefit of being the first skiers of the season – brand new kit. The labels even had to be taken off our skis and the kit was high-end stuff.
Transfers, lift passes and ski lessons can all be arranged through Chilly Powder so you really don’t have to do anything except book your flight and get yourself to the airport.
We organised our own transfers through the company MV Transport which offer private transfers from Geneva, Chambery, Grenoble and Lyon. Our driver James was friendly and a super safe driver on the slippery alpine roads, helped by the fact he lives in nearby Morzine.
It may be seen as a family resort but there is definitely plenty of life for those who like a bit of ‘apres’ off the slopes. The recently opened Folie Douce, in Avoriaz was a draw for my two. With the obligatory dancing on the tables and skiing back down to the Prodains lift in the dark, which luckily doesn’t close until after 8pm. They were gutted to have missed the Love Islanders who had been there the day before.
If you don’t want to stay and strut your stuff on the apres scene, then conditions permitting you can ski back down virtually to the hotel’s back garden ready for a quick hot tub and sauna before enjoying the sumptuous evening meal and convivial conversation.
Chilly Powder operates all year round. There are extensive winter holiday packages, with prices starting from £795 per week (two adults sharing a standard bedroom) or £2,195 per week (two adults and two children sharing a standard family room). Childcare facilities available with prices starting at £270 per week and ski school for £240 per week.
To book, contact Chilly Powder on firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7289 6958 or visit www.chillypowder.com