Fred, our instructor from ESF ski school asks: “You ready to go off-piste again?” I nod excitedly. At the start of our week’s skiing in France, I would have been petrified but a few days in and I’ve discovered the thrill of leaving the neatly carved slopes behind.
We’re on a week-long trip with Ski Beat, who have been organising high-quality ski chalet holidays to the French Alps for 33 years.
Our chalet, Fleur de Neige, is in Plan Peisey, a laid-back village with breathtaking views of the Vanoise National Park.
Just a few minutes’ walk away are both the high-speed six-seater chairlift, the Peisey – which takes you towards the Les Arcs ski area – and the Vanoise Express, a cable car that zooms you to La Plagne resort.
There’s a lot of variety. Together, Les Arcs, Peisey-Vallandry and La Plagne make up an area called Paradiski, which has 425km of pistes – 70% of which are located at an altitude of more than 2,000m.
My pal Libby and I are confident skiers, but decide to do intermediate ski school. And it’s a decision we don’t regret as we end up being pushed out of our comfort zones.
Our first off-piste expedition takes us off the edge of a red run (that’s intermediate level to non-skiers) on the way back down to Plan Peisey and through the middle of pine trees, finally exiting the forest breathless, our legs like jelly.
We are challenged even further on the day we head over to Arc 2000, and climb up to our highest point yet – 2,832m – on the Grand Col chairlift.
The snow is thick – about 40cm – and Fred explains that skiing in powder requires a different technique. It’s certainly tricky not having skied in snow this deep before. Luckily, we just follow Fred’s path.
There are a few (many) hair-raising moments, and it’s intensely exhilarating.
For our last lesson, we head down a black run and I realise how useful the off-piste skiing has been. Our apres-ski feels well-deserved, and Fred drops us off at La Folie Douce.
The latest venue to be opened by the legendary chain, it’s found at Les Arcs 1800, and is accessible by gondola, ski or on foot. There’s a DJ and it’s bustling with people busting moves in fancy dress or bright ski suits. All of our group – who are a range of ages – enjoy the atmosphere and beautiful sunset, before taking a gentle ski at dusk back to our chalet, where hosts Tony and Carol await with our dinner.
Over the week, we’ve been spoilt with three-course meals – the highlight being tartiflette. A local delicacy, it is a bacon and potato casserole loaded with Reblochon cheese.
Things do, however, feel a little different this ski season as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Guests have to abide by social distancing rules in the communal areas of chalets, and need to wear face coverings, unless in their bedrooms or seated at the dining table.
There will be additional cleaning and disinfecting throughout all Ski Beat properties, and there are stricter arrival times, so chalets can be cleaned and left empty for a designated period.
Also, ski hire shops will be following all the increased safety precautions; all hired equipment will be thoroughly cleaned and hand sanitising gel made available.
Face masks will be compulsory while waiting for, and riding on, all ski lifts, which will also be regularly cleaned.
Ski Beat’s “Book with Confidence Guarantee” means three things – customers can book now and pay their balance 28 days before travel; they can postpone or change their holiday, free of charge, up to 28 days before travel; and there’s protection should your holiday is impacted by Covid-19.
“Maybe it will be a bit different with après-ski and the restaurants,” says Laura Hazell, Ski Beat’s sales and marketing director, “but people tend to like to sit outside. And it’s an outdoor sport. You’re in the fresh air – really fresh air!”
Well, I for one can’t wait get back on the pistes…or off them.
Ski Beat (01273 855100; skibeat.co.uk) offers a week’s fully hosted ski holiday to Plan Peisey from £639pp, including flights from London (Manchester + £20), transfers and most meals. A week’s stay at the Fleur de Neige costs from £709pp.
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