In January, I was fortunate to enjoy a stay at the beautiful ski chalet Blackrock in Les Houches, Chamonix. Read about my time skiing in the French Alps in this Sunday Mail travel piece. Or read the full copy below.
Ski Chamonix with Blackrock
It’s the first morning of our ski break and we are standing outside the chalet in the dark.
It’s cold enough to see large balloons of breath above our heads and I am wearing two pairs of gloves to prevent my fingers freezing.
I know that all too soon I’ll be annoyingly hot and sweaty but as we clip up ski boots, set our touring skis to walk mode and faff about adjusting and re-adjusting kit I start to shiver.
I think about my warm and comfortable bed back inside Blackrock Ski Lodge, here in the French Alpine village of Les Houches, near Chamonix.
I question my sanity.
Looking around at the rest of the group, including my partner Gordon, Julie and Andy, Russell and Lizzie, who owns the chalet with her husband Paul, I worry they will be fitter and better skiers.
The plan is to “skin up” for about an hour and then ski downhill on freshly groomed pistes. We will be back in time for breakfast at 8.30am.
I like the idea of earning my breakfast, especially after hearing what the chalet chef, Emma, of ChamChef, had on this morning’s menu.
And as we set off on a snowy path, heading up immediately behind the chalet, I feel a growing sense of inner calm.
The pace is fairly relaxed and I find that I soon settle into a skinning rhythm.
“Skins” (fabric) fixed to the underside of the skis allow you to slide forward as you ski-walk. The one-way pile of the fabric prevents slippage backwards.
I look around and although it is still dark our head torches light up the scenery as if we are travelling through a fairytale world.
I can see the pretty outline of shadowy trees ahead and the brilliant white of snowy hills and fields.
Our skinning line of people snakes upwards through a small patch of woodland and then on to open hills beneath the higher reaches of distant mountains.
These are the foothills of the majestic Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain and a dominant sight from across the Chamonix area.
Every so often our group stops to peel off layers and I undo the zips on my ski trousers to cool my rising body temperature.
Skinning is a very aerobic activity even if you are taking it steady. Gordon and I are also new to the high altitude – we started at almost 3300ft – and this causes us to work harder.
At a wider trail we are able ski uphill side by side, which allows us to chat while we ski,
Lizzie tells me that she moved with Paul to Chamonix with the shared dream of building a chalet that would offer luxury accommodation for skiers in the winter and for walkers, cyclists and triathletes in the summer.
As well as beautiful accommodation for 14 to 18 people, a hot tub and a dedicated chef, the couple offer a bespoke and personalised “memorable holiday” service.
Lizzie and Paul help guests to decide where to ski each day according to ability and experience.
They will then organise a daily drop off and pick up at different areas in Chamonix.
The couple are often available to show guests around the slopes and will take them to the best mountain restaurants and après-ski locations.
If you want to join them each day for a ski tour then that’s fine, too. We did so twice.
On that first morning as the sun came up, our group reached the high point of the morning’s ski tour.
With glowing faces and big smiles, we stopped to take off our skis and remove the skins.
Swapping walk mode for ski mode, we headed on to the nearby ski slopes.
We were the first people to ski the pistes that day before the ski lifts opened – and we enjoyed carving new lines in the groomed snow.
Gordon and I quickly re-discovered our skiing legs after a year away from the slopes and whizzed downhill.
With energy restored by a superb cooked breakfast, we still had a full day of downhill skiing to come at legendary Chamonix Mont Blanc ski area.
Chamonix is just an hour’s drive from the airport city of Geneva and offers a wealth of options for skiers and snowboarders.
There are numerous different areas to ski including Argentiere, Brevent-Flegere, Balme-Vallorcine, Les Grands Montets and half a dozen valleys, such as Les Houches.
The potential for off-piste skiing is vast, such as skiing the famous Vallée Blanche, a 22km descent on a glacier, or heading to Les Grands Montets at high altitude.
During another fabulous ski tour we climbed an elevation of 2600ft to Prarion ski station at 6250ft in Les Houches.
From here the views were magnificent taking in Mont Blanc at 15,780ft, and other peaks of the Alpine massif, Dome du Gouter, Aguille Bionnassay, Aiguille de Tre la Tete and Domes de Miage.
Without the Blackrock chalet vehicles we could have used a network of buses to travel between the various locations.
We also had a snow-friendly Jeep Wrangler at our disposal, so we were spoilt for choice.
We decided to try Brevent first because it’s on the sunnier south-facing side of Chamonix valley and close to the town.
We skied picturesque blues, flattering reds and a couple of superb black runs all set amid a superb mountain panorama.
Another day we explored Les Houches, acclaimed as a family friendly resort thanks to many delightful blue graded runs.
The area offers a good selection of red and black-graded runs, too, including our absolute favourite, the Kandahar.
The professionals ski the famous two-mile long Alpine Skiing World Cup slope with a vertical drop of 2850ft in just two minutes.
We took a little longer and had to stop a few times to rest our tired legs.
The Blackrock hot tub also has amazing restorative powers, especially when combined with a glass or two of champagne after a long day on the slopes.
With so much more to ski and discover, we felt a little cheated to be leaving after our short break but with such easy travel from Scotland we will be back in Chamonix soon.
We hope we will be able to treat ourselves to a stay at the high quality Blackrock Ski Lodge again.
Stay at Blackrock Ski Lodge. There is still availability for this season or book ahead for next year.
In the summer, the chalet is a great base for activities such as cycling, running, walking and triathlon training.
Fly direct to Geneva from Glasgow or Edinburgh with Jet2 or easyjet.
Door-to-door airport transfers offered by www.mountaindropoffs.com
Ski hire with www.skiloc-chamonix.fr
Ski pass information at www.chamonix.com