Whichever way you look at it, skiing is still a pretty chichi sport but there is another level of luxury, as Alex Manson-Smith discovers at Chalet Eagle’s Nest in Val d’Isere.
Even in a no-frills apartment in a glitz-free resort no one’s heard of, you’re still looking at a hefty bill for a family of four who choose to ski, and that’s before you’ve taken into account extras like ski school, salopettes and lift passes.
Once you’ve got children, skiing also involves an inevitable degree of faff. It means schlepping to the ski-hire shop on the first day to get measured up, and lugging everybody’s skis to the lift because, let’s face it, the kids aren’t going to carry them. It means laying off the gluwein and making sure everybody’s warm enough and has been to the loo before the layers go on.
If you’re not careful, it can end up feeling less of a holiday and more an endurance test. You wonder why the wealthy do it, year in, year out. Because as much fun as it is, it’s also kind of a hassle.
And then you realise that the way they do it is completely different to the way you do.
Because it turns out there is another way to ski – one where every last thing is taken care of and your only responsibility is remembering your passport. This is luxury travel operator Scott Dunn’s stock in trade. Their holidays are designed to take all the effort out of skiing as a family, and make it 100% fun for everybody.
Take, for example, a trip to the newly renovated Eagle’s Nest, a chalet that sleeps 12 in French resort Val d’Isère. The chalet itself looks exactly how everybody wants an alpine chalet to look – the kind of place that looks Christmassy even in July. Inside, it’s all antique timber, comfy armchairs and roaring log fires. Outside there are large, south-facing balconies with mesmerising views over the resort.
But it isn’t so much the chalet itself that makes for a relaxing trip – there are, after all, other chalets with alpine views and log fires. What really makes a difference is the attention to detail. Everything has been covered. So, rather than fretting about logistics, you can get on with enjoying yourself.
This starts when you arrive at Geneva Airport, when you’re immediately escorted to your transfer. These are branded vans with names like Snow Patrol and Van Chaud (geddit?) The journey to Val d’Isère is some two-and-a-half hours, so there are beautifully packaged picnics on board to make this fly faster.
At the chalet you’re met by smiling staff and afternoon tea of home-made cakes and pastries, washed down with coffee, tea and as much Laurent-Perrier as you can neck. Instead of traipsing to the ski shop, the ski shop comes to you. You’re quickly and efficiently measured in the boot room, without having to so much as put your coat on. This leaves you with time to wander the chalet and enjoy the offering there.
Because unlike at your no-frills apartment, here you have an outdoor hot tub, where you can take in the views (and more champagne). You can shrug on your Scott Dunn branded bathrobe and slippers and pad downstairs to the wellness area, where you can leisurely alternate between the pool, sauna and steam room.
Or you can forget about wellness altogether and relax by the fire with a cocktail (there’s a well-equipped bar, and someone always on hand to mix drinks.) The kids can venture up to the mezzanine den and watch a movie or play the X-box, close enough to keep an eye on, but far enough away to do their own thing without disturbing you.
You can do all this because the staff are seeing to dinner, a three-course affair devised by Masterchef winner Ping Coombes. The menu is comfort food, but not as you know it. So instead of endless fondue and tartiflette – the novelty of which starts to wear off when you can no longer get into your jeans – there’s a healthy-yet-delicious Asian menu, inspired by the flavours of Coombes’ native Malaysia.
So typical canapés include five-spice pork spring roll with plum chilli, or spring-onion pancake with Sichuan chilli. Mains are hearty – think spiced braised beef ribs with star anise carrots and pomme puree. Desserts include rich chocolate lava cake with black-sesame ice cream.
And it doesn’t matter if your kids are the picky kind, who would no more eat Malaysian-inspired tapas dishes than they would snail salad. If your child wants to have lasagne every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, this can be arranged (it wouldn’t be the first time). For you, meanwhile, there are fine French wines and, of course, more champagne.
And you can handle all this champagne because, better than the food and the mountain views (better than the hot tub and the pool) there is superlative childcare. And this, let’s face it, is what you need if you’re all going to really, truly enjoy this ski trip, and not just pretend you did because it cost so much money.
Childcare at Scott Dunn comes in two forms: there’s the private nanny, who will come to the chalet armed with toys and a list of wholesome activities. Depending on their age, children can go tobogganing or for hot chocolate, or simply be escorted to and from ski school. There’s also the Explorers kids’ club, where your child can meet other kids and muck about in a cheery playspace brimming with books, toys and games.
Which means you get to hit the slopes without feeling guilty, because your children are having a better time than you are. In the afternoon, your driver will reunite you all, ferrying you and your gear back to the chalet for more cake and champagne, or perhaps a leisurely family swim.
What separates this from other holidays is that, for you, there is no admin or labour involved. It’s all about doing exactly as you please.
Small wonder then that, once you’ve seen how the other half skis, the budget apartment starts to lose its appeal.
Alex Manson-Smith travelled as a guest of Scott Dunn to visit the newly refurbished Chalet Eagle’s Nest.
Scott Dunn offers 7 nights at Chalet Eagle’s Nest from £1,575pp based on full chalet occupancy including return British Airways flights from the UK, private airport transfers, private Scott Dunn chef, host and in-resort driver service. www.scottdunn.com/020 8682 5050.