Travel: Val d’Isere, France

Snow sculptures in Val d'Isere. Picture: Jane Barlow
Snow sculptures in Val d'Isere. Picture: Jane Barlow
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WHEN I was 15 my school organised a skiing holiday to Austria. I jumped at the chance to visit another country with people other than my parents.

A week in the snow in Austria seemed magical to me, and after just two days of ski school I was learning to parallel turn and ski down the blue runs with ease. My parents could see I loved skiing, so generously invested in a ski jacket and salopettes. I was all set to ski every year, if I wanted to. After a fun-filled second ski holiday I should have gone every winter, but alas, being 16 meant I was too busy spending my money and time on other things.

Then, early this year, I found myself taking a few refresher lessons at Edinburgh’s Hillend dry ski slope, buying a new ski jacket and asking friends if they had any goggles and ski gloves I could borrow. I was frantically preparing myself for a short two-day trip to Val d’Isere in France with ski holiday specialists Powder White.

The Alps had just had the best snowfall since 1981. A late dump of snow turned 2012’s mediocre ski season into a winter wonderland. Everything was coming together and what better place to re-learn my skills than at the linked ski area of Val d’Isere and Tignes. There are 300km of piste and 10,000 hectares of off-piste, two glaciers, a 1,900m vertical drop and 99 lifts that can shift 135,000 skiers an hour. It’s little wonder the resort’s fans are so devoted and because of its unique topography, Val d’Isere always gets the first hard hit of snow, holds it and sometimes keeps going well into May.

Our accommodation for two days was Powder White’s luxurious Chalet Appaloosa, just a stone’s throw from the main ski lifts and the bustling high street.

Acquired and refurbished two years ago, the chalet accommodates 12 people in six rooms (five of which are large suites and can fit extra beds), all with private facilities. There’s also a Jacuzzi and hammam for soaking weary limbs after a day on the slopes.

We arrived at dusk to a welcome glass of champagne and a cosy seat by the log-burning fire. It was the perfect Alpine retreat in which to prepare for our impending exertions.

Exclusive Skills Sessions are designed to help skiers whose prowess has plateaued due to lack of regular time on the slopes, covering everything from mastering moguls to off-piste skiing and even skiing on ice.

On our first day we start on some blue and red runs focusing on elements of turning, pressure, edge and rotation. It’s basic, but a proper understanding of these fundamentals is crucial to progress. My instructor quickly identifies how one thing I thought essential – thoroughly bending your knees – is overdone to the point of unnecessary pain and loss of control. Deficiencies in my technique are made woefully clear at the end of the lesson when we watch videos the instructor has shot of us skiing. My illusions of speed and finesse are somewhat shattered. I don’t know what I can do to improve, bar ditching the bobble hat. But my instructor has kind words – the worst skiers can make the biggest improvements. I need to begin by straightening up, standing taller and relaxing my upper body. And it starts to work – with only six of us in the group we get a lot of individual attention.

The following day after a hearty breakfast we squeezed into our ski boots and shuffled up the mountain for our second session. Despite the bitterly low temperatures the snow was powder perfect, the sun was shining and the views over the French Alps across to Mt Blanc were breathtaking.

After skiing through gullies and going a little off-piste, I’m feeling more comfortable on terrain I would never have ventured anywhere near before this trip.

We returned to the chalet to find afternoon tea complete with delicious home baking. And in the evenings, while our skis and boots were drying out in the boot room, we were treated to a beautiful three-
course meal.

I’m definitely not going to leave it another 20 years before seeking snow again. And for that added touch of luxury, a catered chalet is top of my list.

THE FACTS Powder White (0208 8778 888, offers seven-nights at Chalet Appaloosa in Val d’Isere for £649 per person on a fully catered basis (based on 12 sharing in January 2013). easyJet ( flies to Geneva from Edinburgh, one way starting 
from £27.99.