Snow Business

In search of a cool winter break? Look to Les Arcs where quality snow, top notch accommodation and array of activities come as standard, says Kaye Holland

credit: Kaye Holland

Winter holidays have a glamour all of their own. Perhaps it’s the thrill of swishing through perfect powdery snows, the apres ski or the gossip (guessing which celebs are on the slopes, where they’re staying and, crucially, with whom).

However attempting to select the best ski resort to visit this winter is akin to pick the spottiest dog in a kennel full of Dalmatians: nigh on impossible.

Fortunately for you, dear reader, TNT has a suggestion for the 2018 ski season - regardless of whether you’re in the process of finding your ski legs or a wannabe downhill champion.

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Les Arcs credit: Kaye Holland

Say hello to Les Arcs - the popular French winter sports destination that is part of the huge Paradiski area and caters to everyone from casual skiers (like yours truly) to experienced skiers and families alike.

Regardless of your ability, you won’t be short of options. For Les Arcs is home to a huge network of groomed pistes, 70 per cent of which are situated at above 2,000m and rising to 3,250m - a height that virtually guarantees snow - meaning that Les Arcs remains open even when other European resorts struggle.

Day one of our trip to Les Arcs saw me awake excited, yet with a certain amount of fear and trepidation in my heart, about hitting the slopes. (It had been three years since my first and last foray into the white stuff).

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credit: Andy Parant

First though I had to be fitted out with ski boots and I won’t lie: I had forgotten that they’re heavy, hard to put on and, yes, can hurt (10 days down the line, I’ve still got welts on my calves from where the boots cut into my skin). It was all a bit of a faff to be truthful so I couldn’t help but hope that skiing in Les Arcs would live up to my great expectations.

Happily, however, it did. Skiing, I soon discovered, is a bit like learning to ride a bike: once mastered, the basics don’t desert you.

And so it was that, to my delight, I found myself slaloming - albeit a little shakily - down the slopes against the backdrop of the breathtaking Mont Blanc (aka the highest mountain in the Alps) with the wind whipping my face.

Coming from London, where I have had to train myself to block out the cacophony of daily life, there’s something incredibly special about swishing through the snow and drinking in the blue skies, mesmerising mountain views and late afternoon sun in silence. (Our group went early in the season, ahead of the crowds, which meant that often we felt as though we were the only people on the pistes).

On day two, in a bid to be able to end the trip effortlessly gliding down the mountain like US skier Lindsey Vonne, I signed up for a lesson with ESF Ski School (France’s largest ski school). If you’re short on confidence - or serious about improving your skiing - than a few hours of tuition with an EFS instructor will certainly help you brush up your skills.

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credit: Andy Parant

Our instructor Thomas dispensed advice such as “don’t look down at your ski tips” (tougher than it looks, as having long planks attached to your feet isn’t exactly the most natural feeling in the world) and to “always bend the knees” (the tendency is to want to straighten them) with good humoured patience.

And, after a few hours under Thomas’ tutelage, our entire group had swapped snow ploughing for parallel skiing (the sort of skiing that looks good on the slopes) and learnt to side step - a key technique to have in your arsenal, when you find yourself on challenging terrain.

After a long day on the slopes, we invariably looked forward to returning to our accommodation, Chalet Panda - which mixes the comfort of a hotel with sociable aspects of a hostel - shattered but elated.

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Esprit de Lours Chalets, Les Arcs credit: Kaye Holland

If you want to stay in the thick of it, to be an easy stroll from both the slopes (the nearest ski-lift is just 250m from the front door) and Les Arcs’ array of apres ski bars, then Chalet Panda covers these bases and adds the kind of delightful touches you hope for but don’t always get. Think friendly chalet hosts who will welcome you back every afternoon with a warming cup of tea, served with a slice of heavenly homemade cake. It’s hard to think of a better way to top off a day on the slopes.

Guests can also enjoy a swim in the large pool in the neighbouring Altitude residence or, if that seems too much like hard work, indulge in a sauna at Chalet Panda’s own private sauna before dinner.

You’ll find a menu filled with dishes so delicious, you’ll return a dress size larger - despite all the exercise you are doing. The cuisine is accompanied by a wine list that is compact but well chosen.

After dinner, it’s time to soak up the buzzing atmosphere of the resort at night. There’s plenty to do from pub quizzes every Sunday at Red Rock Cafe & Restaurant to swapping ski boots for dancing shoes at Whistler bar (which promises the best night you will never remember), before somehow staggering back to your bedroom.

Speaking of the rooms, each one is furnished with natural wood to create a cosy, rustic atmosphere and boasts a private balcony (to make the most of those magnificent mountain views). And with twin beds, they are well suited to single skiers as well as couples and friends. What’s more, every morning your chalet hosts arrive to crisp up the sheets, fluff up the towels and replenish the shampoos.

All told, this is a place that guarantees a good time - I defy even the most tightly wound city worker not to feel the tension slip away after a spell in Les Arcs.

Sure after a costly Christmas, money is no doubt tight but Ski Total offer plenty of budget friendly packages. And at the end of the day, you can either look back on the start of 2018 and say “I spent it skiing in a stunning French resort” or you can whack on the heating at home, hunker down and watch Celebrity Big Brother.

Ski you there?

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Les Arcs credit: Kaye Holland

IF YOU GO

Ski Total (www.skitotal.com / 01483 791 935) is offering seven nights at the four-diamond plus Chalet Panda in Les Arcs, France from £499 per person this season. Price includes flights from London Gatwick to Geneva, resort transfers and chalet catering (daily skiers breakfast, afternoon tea with homemade cake and three-course evening meals with complimentary wine). For more information please visit www.skitotal.com