Valloire, a friendly, low-key and traditional Alpine ski resort
PUBLISHED: 16:00 21 November 2016
Ski novices Bridget Galton and her son Joe headed to a low-key French resort for their first foray on the slopes, with varying success
Anyone foolish enough to learn to ski in middle age will recognise the humiliation of three-year-olds whistling past as you nervously wobble down the nursery slopes.
Their natural fearlessness, downright bendiness and low centre of gravity makes it a doddle to throw themselves down a slippery mountain on fibreglass blades.
But the very opposite is true for us oldies whose ever present fear of being stretchered off the slopes by a rescue squad makes us seize up.
I only properly understood this when I took my novice 11-year-old to enjoy the last gasp of this year’s ski season.
After a week of ski school, I was managing to potter cautiously down green runs, while Joe was flying down reds with the wind in his hair and a big grin on his face.
Annoyingly I’d never learned as a child and had been about to work a season in Chamonix 20 years ago when I met his father and well..that was that.
I’m eternally grateful that my skiing debut was somewhere as friendly and low-key as Valloire, a traditional village in the Savoie region of the French Alps that’s neither hideously expensive nor full of wealthy poseurs.
In fact there’s lots of school trips and Belgians wearing grey all in ones that wouldn’t look out of place in a prison yard, which made me feel better about my borrowed gear.
In my new ski bum enthusiasm I’d obsessively checked the weather hoping for what buffs disturbingly refer to as ‘a dump’.
It was disappointing to land in Lyon to find everything brown. Well it was early April.
With its traditional wooden shuttered houses Valloire is pretty but seemed to be patiently awaiting a snowfall. ‘Not a chance’ predicted our instructor Titus on our first day.
The town couldn’t have been easier to navigate around. Our cosy self-catering apartment (lots of 80s pine) had a pool in the basement, an all important bath and a balcony overlooking a ski lift.
Nearby you could grab a pizza and glass of local wine for Eu10 or the walk into town took you past a handy mini Carrefour that stocked local cheese, sausages and wine.
A ski bus shuttles anyone with tired legs back and forth to collect gear or return from the bar but as this was more of a mother son bonding trip it mattered not one bit that it was more of a family friendly than party resort.
Non skiers can visit the ice-rink, old church, market stalls, or even the Galibier micro-brewery run by Alpine hipster types. Avalanche brew anyone? And kids can spend the afternoon on a llama safari, but Joe and I enjoyed taking a swim, playing pool or snuggling down with a movie.
Every morning we strapped on our boots and took the lift up to where the temperature drops by several degrees and the snow machines keep everything white and bright.
Thanks to our tutors Titus and Pierre-Louis I mastered the basics and didn’t fall too often on my face. A French speaker, I helped translate any difficult terms, but really it’s all about watching, getting up and doing it.
Gliding silently up a mountain on a chairlift, or easing off your boots to wrestle a cold beer on a sunny terrace surrounded by stunning ranges it’s not hard to understand what drives people back to the slopes each year.
The weather veered between overcast and bright sunshine but by Friday it was warm enough to ski in a t-shirt – the rays turned the lower slopes slushy and slow which boosted my confidence and helped me relax. I was finally enjoying myself.
Then overnight the temperature plummeted and we awoke to a winter wonderland. The pines and peaks were smothered in snow, lights twinkled in chalet windows and we had a riotous snowball fight on our way to enjoy fondue and vin chaud before a roaring fire.
It was as magical and perfect an end to the holiday as you could wish.
Even if the ice made it too treacherous for my limited skills I practised a few faltering parallel turns and headed back down the mountain for the last time.
Glancing at Joe I could see he had the bug badly.
So even though it’s too late for me to ski like Valloire’s local downhill hero Jean-Baptiste Grange, I’m sure we’ll both be back.
Bridget travelled as guest of the Valloire Tourist Office and Erna Low.
Erna Low (ernalow.co.uk; 0207 584 2841) offers self-catering weeks at Lagrange Prestige Les Chalets du Galibier from £431 (for up to 4 people sharing. Flights from 21 regional airports available or Eurotunnel can also be booked. to book lift passes and ski school visit resavalloire.net where a variety of discounts and offers are available.
• Lift Pass: 6 day pass in Valloire area from £190 per adult (£161.50 per child 5-12yrs)
• Ski equipment hire (skis, poles, boots): 6 days from £85 per adult (£45.50 per child)
• Ski School: 6 mornings £126 per person; 6 days (morning/afternoon) £190 per person
Access to Valloire: Fly/drive: Chambéry 1¼ hrs, Grenoble 1½ hrs, Lyon 2 hrs, Geneva 2¼ hrs. Direct transfers to/from Chambéry and Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airports: altibus.com Train: St Michel Valloire (17km): 7 hrs 20 from London via Paris (two changes); 8hrs 20 via Lille (two changes); for connecting bus transfers see valloire.net (£12.30 per journey)