It was, in the words of our Celtic snowboarder, blowing a hooley.
The much awaited snow to end the worst drought for thirty years and turn grey mountains a whiter shade of pale, swept into the French Alps on a chill wind. So what better conditions, after a morning’s skiing and sliding on a mixture of ice, artificial snow and real flakes, to stop for lunch, stocking up on calories to withstand the -5C temperatures that dropped to -10 with wind chill? And what better place than renowned La Folie Douce, where pounding music and crazy cabaret collide with magnums of bubbly and fish ‘n’ chips?
And what better idea, suggested one of our ski instructors from the usually straight-laced ESF Ski School of France, than dancing? Outside. On a table. In a blizzard.
It seemed churlish to refuse. So, with the help of three scarlet uniformed instructors, I was hoisted aloft to boogie on down with a pair of them, our ski boots skittering on icy tabletop.
Our group was in party mood _ decked out in garish, geometric patterned ski suits hired from a vintage fancy dress outfit run by two other ski instructors with an eye to a money-making sideline. Our Celt added a wig, headband and gold sunglasses to the Eighties ensemble but suffered a wardrobe malfunction. Too many moves and raunchy wriggles split his all-too-tight all-in-one crimson suit right where the sun don’t shine.
The suit’s layers of white stuffing framed his natty pair of lime green long johns and signalled a swift ride to our hotel to cover his modesty. My aquamarine onesie survived to rock another day, despite a descent from the table on the shoulders of Jean-Pierre, ex-French air force major turned instructor, followed by a half back flip supported by Armand and Dom. (That would have been a tricky claim for the insurance company).
Alpe d’Huez has much more than après ski fun and games to offer the snow sports fan. An extensive range of slopes to suit every level of skier and boarder – we were a mixed bunch of absolute beginners, nervy intermediates and boy and girl racers who took the challenging conditions in their stride. One even boasted instructor’s qualifications and skied like a dream on speed.
There’s a wide range of accommodation too, from posh hotels to self-catering apartments and even a hostel.
If you have ever stayed in a hostel – and I have from Amsterdam to Aberdeen, Edinburgh to Exeter – you’ll remember those lumpy mattresses, cracked crockery, draughty dorms and greying towels. But think again. I’ve discovered one with the X Factor! X-tremely new and modern. X-tremely comfy yet stylish. X-streamly good value with good food. And an X-tremely innovative way ski resorts could embrace to bring down the cost of winter sports holidays facing post-Brexit price hikes.
This gem, The Moontain Hostel, is to be found in the neighbouring resort of Oz-en-Oisans – the Alpe d’Huez grand domaine ski area also includes Auris-en-Oisans, Vaujany and Villard Reculas. It’s the brain child of Christian Salomon (no relation to the ski manufacturers), a skier from two years old who saw a yawning gap in the market. The result, open just two weeks before we checked in, is uber-flexible, ideal for friends, families, couples or solo and very affordable, with prices from 23 Euro a night.
There are 99 beds in 23 bedrooms from a dormitory for a dozen to premium private rooms for two. The accent is on chummy communal areas for eating, games, TV and even a library. There’s also a welcoming camp fire on the terrace. It’s hyper-connected with free Wi-Fi throughout, a cashless system of stay-and-pay with an electronic wristband, with personalised package of services that can be arranged day by day. In other words, it’s jolly modern, friendly, funky and functional, serving locally produced food. The cheese and yoghurt for our breakfast was from a farm within mooing distance
Christian is a passionate designer and furniture maker whose skill is stamped on the hostel with choices of wood and steel, even scarlet ski netting in place of stair rails. And he’s thinking big. ‘We hope it will be an international brand,’ he beams.
Oz-en-Oisans’ Tourist Board is delighted with The Moontain. ‘There’s nothing like it in the Alps,’ says spokesman Sebastian Pomini over a glass of crémant de Savoie wine.
Well, we had to toast the hostel’s success with bubbly before trying out one of a handful of local restaurants, La Ferme d’Oz. Local specialities such as raclette, molten cheese on boiled potatoes, should carry a health warning. They are irresistible, contain enough calories to fuel an alpine army and must, must, be accompanied with liberal amounts of white wine. Beer, water or even red wine will do weird things to your digestion but white wine, so the locals promise, will cut through the fat.
So much cheese should have given us nightmares, but thanks to blissfully comfortable Moontain beds we slept like babies and were fit to conquer the mountains on skis and boards by next morning.
Our first timer discovered why her boots hurt. The gap at the shin wasn’t a receptacle for used tissues. Her terror of catching a T-bar lift up the nursery slopes was allayed when I explained vertigo wouldn’t be an issue as her skis would stay on the ground. The learning curve of a ski beginner is steep indeed.
Our ski instructor Nicolas, a 25 year old joiner by summer who plans to build his own home, took the more adventurous on the notorious Sarenne black piste, reputedly the longest in Europe at 16k.
Thrill-seekers will revel in its heart-pounding steep start. Once that is mastered, the rest of the run is a comfortable red in difficulty. But it’s worth boasting about. I didn’t. My focus was on food – lashings of rich rabbit stew, poached scallops, duck foie gras, fondue, butternut soup with haddock, celery mousse, passion fruit sorbet – all hit the spot.
We had became accustomed to good French fare from our first meal at Grenoble airport to resort restaurants and snug mountain huts. And in sub-zero temperatures our appetites were keen. More creature comfort came in the shape of a post-ski massage at the Pic Blanc Hotel in Alpe d’Huez. In the calm of the spa masseuse Charlotte worked her gentle but firm magic on back, shoulders, neck and legs. A blissful end to a blissful day on the slopes.
- For more information about Alpe d’Huez visit presse.alpedhuez.com
- For more information about Oz-en-Oisans visit www.oz-en-oisans.com