Hit the slopes without
breaking the bank...
Jersey Evening Post editor Andy Sibcy says he "found everything his family needed for a fun-filled winter getaway" with Allez Ski. This is Andy's article that appeared in both the JEP and the Guernsey Press in March 2020.
If you want to know what someone sounds like when they suck their teeth, just tell them you’re taking your family of three children skiing for February half-term. The reason for the sharp intake of air is twofold.
First, the cost. Skiing is notoriously not cheap, especially as this is one of the most expensive weeks of the year, when tens of thousands head for the slopes with their kids and a reasonable expectation of decent snow conditions. Flight and accommodation prices soar.
Second, the ‘that doesn’t sound much like a holiday’ hassle factor. Going anywhere with three young children can be, well, challenging – and that’s without having to ensure they are dressed for the mountains and have ski pass, goggles, gloves, helmet, their boots on, their poles and their skis every morning. And, just to spice things up, ski school starts at 9am.
An antidote to the hassle factor is convenience, but that just ramps up the price. Put ski-in/ski-out accommodation on your list and wince at the cost. Fly direct from Jersey and get transfers to the resort (rather than spend a day in a car each way)... ouch. Stick the children in ski school for the morning (...and perhaps the afternoon as well)... you get the picture.
So there’s the rub. Can you have your après-ski cake and eat it? Is it possible to find value and convenience, and still enjoy a great holiday in a modern resort with a good selection of runs?
For islanders, Guernsey-based Allez Ski’s annual trips to the French resort of Chamrousse come about as close as it is possible to get to answering that question with a yes. Read up about it and you quickly discover this little-known resort is hailed as one of the last outposts of budget skiing in the Alps and a family favourite.
This year, the company’s 2020 half-term offering sold out in around June 2019 – with many repeat customers from both Jersey and Guernsey getting their bookings in early. Client feedback is reassuringly good.
We, two adults and children then aged 3, 6 and 8, signed up for the 2019 February half-term week.
In the weeks before departure, we received a load of information from Allez Ski managing director Darren Duquemin and his team. To make things quicker and easier when we arrived, we filled out forms for ski hire and lessons. We also got plenty of information about the resort and tips on what to take – including alpine budgie smugglers required by the Department pour l’Irritation des Rosbifs if you want to use the outdoor pool.
The holiday package includes direct charter flights with Blue Islands to Grenoble and the 90-ish-minute coach transfer to the resort. Door-to-door, the journey took around six hours and was hassle-free.
Chamrousse is not the biggest ski area, but it packs a lot into its 42 slopes, 90 km of runs and 16 lifts. It hosted six alpine skiing events at the 1968 Winter Olympics, including the men’s downhill. Legendary French skier Jean-Claude Killy won three gold medals, including the men’s downhill. You can still test your technique and courage on the Olympic downhill course, which runs from the very top of the resort (2,250m). There are six black runs, 15 reds, 13 blues and eight greens, plus eight ‘freeride’ routes.
As this breakdown suggests, while the resort offers slopes to keep more expert skiers entertained, it really stands out as a superb place for beginners and intermediate skiers – and especially families.
The wide open blues and greens, plus fun obstacle courses for children learning, are complemented by timed ‘tuck and go’ downhill runs so you can race each other against the clock, a ski-cross-type course that snakes down the mountain with banked corners, a long and hair-raising sledge run, jumps, board park, a rubber ring snow ride, natural half-pipes and much more. The designers have worked hard to create a skiers’ playpark. What the resort lacks in scenic half-day routes and olde-worlde wooden restaurants with wood smoke wisping up from their chimneys, it makes up for in fun.
Our two older children had lessons in the morning and afternoon, and were soon shooting around the whole area with their instructors and us between classes. Our youngest went to the ‘pre-school’ Piou-Piou club each morning run by the ESF (Ecole du Ski Français). By the end of the week, he too was snow-ploughing down the
nursery slopes. The Piou-Piou staff are amazing and get young ones’ skiing off to a great start.
Apart from the men’s downhill course, one of our favourite runs was over the back of the mountain down to Lacs Robert, a frozen lake ringed by snow-covered peaks. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful spot. If you are really brave and slightly insane, you can go diving below the ice here too. We saw a few divers trudge to a square hole cut into the ice, before disappearing under the surface. Just watching them made us shiver.
It might have been one of the busiest weeks for alpine resorts, but Chamrousse did not feel overrun, and waits for lifts were pleasingly short. We were blessed with blue skies and good snow all week, but the weather and conditions were not the only reasons why this was such a good holiday.
You don’t have to be in Chamrousse 1700 long before it becomes obvious why Darren chose this resort over the other parts of Chamrousse and the bigger and more expensive resorts nearby, including Alpe d’Huez and Les Deux Alpes.
The apartments, ski hire shop, ski school and lifts are all within a 50-metre radius, which makes life so much easier. Within a five-minute walk there are a few restaurants and a convenience store, plus a games hall with Wifi and the pool.
The water temperature ‘à la piscine’ is not what you would call tropical and the air temperature is Baltic. But you have to do these things and, warmed by the usual jokes that write themselves when British dads wear skimpies, we spent a hilarious hour at the pool one afternoon after skiing.
The apartments are self-catering. We bought all the provisions we needed from the local shop, although you have to get there early if you want to bag a bottle of fresh milk and a few croissants each morning.
The fact that ski school brought the children back to within 50 metres of our accommodation meant that we had lunch in the apartment every day, which kept the cost right down. Most days the sun was so strong that we moved the table onto our wooden balcony and sat in T-shirts enjoying the mountain views.
The apartments are comfortable, if a little basic – functional rather than luxurious. As a group of five we had two bedrooms, a toilet, bathroom and a living room which had a sofa bed, kitchenette and dining table in it. Each apartment has access to a lockable cupboard for skis on the ground floor. You are required to clean the kitchenette before you leave and return the bedding and towels, which are in your accommodation on arrival. You just pick up your key from Darren when you get off the coach and are in your apartment within minutes.
This part of Chamrousse has a village feel to it. If Centre Parcs did ski resorts, it would be quite a lot like this. Everything you need is within walking distance, with a wealth of fun activities on your doorstep. You get to enjoy the great outdoors and adventure sports in a fun, safe and family-friendly environment.
Those who want a bit more nightlife or bigger and more diverse shops can hop on one of the frequent free buses which go to other parts of the resort, Chamrousse 1650 and 1750, a few minutes’ ride away.
And on top of this there is Darren. Customer service can be a bit hit and miss on a ski holiday. While it can be excellent, hotels and chalets are often staffed by gapyear students whose desire to be skiing rather outweighs their work ethic. Darren, on the other hand, is there representing his business and knows how important it is that working families have a good time during their valuable holiday weeks each year. He has also been taking his family skiing for several years. He was around every day in a distinctive blue jacket, helping with whatever issues arose – anything from injuries to lost ski passes, and using his contacts and knowledge of the area to make sure his clients enjoyed their time in Chamrousse. As a Guernseyman, he also knows how word of mouth reviews in a small island community can make or break a business. Getting it right is important.
© Jersey Evening Post. Reproduced with their kind permission.
The Sibcys - Finch, Annabel, Bart and Kate - ready to go
Finch and Annabel tackle the women's downhill
Bart (purple) with his Piou-Piou ski school