THE SKI CHALET 2019
12th January 2019 | Jane Peel, Paradiski, French Alps
The traditional ski chalet holiday is on its last legs. Or is it? PlanetSKI spends a week in a chalet in France.
The catered chalet business model so favoured by British skiers and snowboarders is under threat.
The French authorities have clamped down with tightly-enforced regulations.
Other EU countries are going the same way and who knows what will happen after Brexit?
Complying with the rules has already pushed up costs for the British tour companies.
They are either having to pay their seasonal staff more than in the past, or give me them more time off.
Some have responded by reducing the number of catered nights from six in a week to five.
Others have cut back on the number of holidays or raised the prices for customers.
A few smaller operators have gone bust.
So what about Ski Beat, whose Chalet Fleur de Neige in Plan Peisey in the vast Les Arcs ski area I am staying in?
Well, to be frank, as a guest I would have no idea that anything had changed.
Our chalet hosts, Carol and Tony, still only have one day off a week so we are getting dinner served to us on six days.
The food, accommodation and service are just as good (and I mean good) as when I travelled with Ski Beat a year ago.
The arrangement suits Tony and Carol, who tell me there is only one day a week when they are unable to get out on the slopes and that’s transfer day.
They are, however, being paid better than they have been in previous years.
Ski Beat has made a few other changes.
Holidaymakers looking for a cheap last minute deal this season will find that the discounts are not as great as in 2018.
You won’t get a week’s trip for less than £499, whereas last winter, if you timed it right, you could pick up a late bargain for £399.
But this season, there’s been no increase in brochure prices.
There’s been no reduction in the number of chalets.
There are 54 in France serving at least 9,500 skiers and snowboarders.
Laura Hazell, Ski Beat’s Sales and Marketing Director, who has joined us on the trip, tells me that our chalet group is getting exactly the same service as any regular customers, even though half of us are journalists.
But she is unwilling to go into any details about how the company has managed to run its chalets with so little change this winter, citing commercial sensitivities.
What she does say is that lawyers have scrutinised the company’s practices closely and they are within the law.
“What’s really important for our guests is the quality of the staff we employ and the service we provide,” Laura tells me.
“It’s very much a home-from-home, relaxed atmosphere in our chalets.”
“We listen very carefully to guests’ feedback,” Laura adds.
“For example, our guests say they like our chalets to have fireplaces and boot warmers.
“The food we offer is also key.
“We are continually to improve our menus for those with specialist diets, for example vegans, which is a growing trend.”
There’s a high return rate, so Ski Beat must be doing something right.
I’m a great fan of traditional chalet holiday.
I love meeting a wide variety of interesting people from all walks of life.
Sometimes the only thing we have in common is a love of skiing or snowboarding.
And that’s what we’re here for, after all.
So how is it?
We arrive shortly after the peak New Year period – one of my favourite times to ski after the holiday crowds have gone.
It’s certainly looking good in the sunshine.
However, a drought since Christmas Eve, mild temperatures and big numbers on the slopes over New Year have done some damage to the snow base.
For the first few days, the runs are hard-packed and, in places, icy.
On some, there is patchy cover.
But it’s turned cold, so the extensive network of snow cannons across the linked Paradiski resorts of Les Arcs and La Plagne are working to full capacity.
To test the conditions fully I ski from where I’m staying at one end of the Les Arcs ski area – Plan Peisey – to Villaroger at the other end, which is the lowest village in Paradiski at 1,200 metres.
Here’s my video snow report from Sunday 6th January:
The next day I head across in the Vanoise Express cable car and ski from one side of the La Plagne ski area to the other, all the way down to Plagne Montalbert at 1,350 metres.
Almost all the pistes are far better than I expect them to be.
And they’re getting better every day.
A couple of days into the trip, it starts to snow.
It’s not what I’d call a dump, but over the course of 48 hours, enough falls to freshen the pistes.
Conditions are now much more like I’ve come to expect in the high-altitude resorts of the northern French Alps in January.
The group I’m skiing with gets to sample a little of the off-piste through the trees in Peisey-Vallandry, though at most there’s 10 to 15cm of new snow.
An instructor guides us to avoid areas where rocks may be just below the surface.
Then it’s back to a bit of sunshine and a few clouds for our final few days exploring as much of 400km-plus of Paradiski as we can fit in in the time left to us.
It has turned bitterly cold, with temperatures not rising much above minus 15 Celsius at 2,000 metres.
It feels positively Arctic but the cold and the expert grooming is what’s maintaining the quality of the snow.
Frozen fingers and toes are a small price to pay for that.
A week’s chalet board with Ski Beat (www.Skibeat.co.uk) at Fleur de Neige, including British Airways flights from Gatwick to Lyon and transfers, departing 23rd March 2019 from £759.
Thanks to Intersport in Plan Peisey, for the ski hire. The Rossignol Hero Elite Plus Ti skis were perfect for the conditions!