Leave your brain behind on an all-inclusive ski holiday in France
‘Just try it’ is the philosophy at Club Med in Val Thorens, from the slopes to the dancefloor
Guests have to pay for skis and boots separately – the rest is all-inclusive, from food and drinks to lessons and lift passes.
“Club Med is like. . .” I ventured as I sat with my ski-class mates on a chairlift, “A big hug,” says one. That’s extraordinary, I think, as it is exactly what I was going to say. That cosseted feeling is communal.
It’s day two of my stay in Club Med in Europe’s highest resort of Val Thorens, and I’ve already left my brain somewhere in the mountains. All the thinking has been done for me and, apart from clipping my skis to my boots and sliding downhill, I’ve barely had to move either.
The minute I arrive in reception I am in Club Med land and on a convenience-conveyor to get me slope-ready. First up are skis and boots (the only bit you have to pay for separately – the rest is all-inclusive, from food and drinks to lessons and lift passes), which then go into a slope-side locker (with the same number as your room) allowing you to just pad up a gentle few metres to your class. Should you feel a tad lethargic – all booze is free, after all – grab a coffee from the line-up by the door and tap into the buzz of the enthusiastic, smiley staff, sending you on your way: with loud music, a génépi and/or words of encouragement. The emphasis is very much on fun.
At night those same staff take to a stage, wearing far fewer clothes, and perform to various levels of competence and co-ordination in not entirely rehearsed musicals. “That is the point,” a Club Med veteran tells me, “it is not supposed to be a polished performance; that is part of the fun.” When staff lash on large helpings of cheesiness, the atmosphere becomes very give-it-a-go, and all but the most reticent leave their lack of confidence at the bar and hit the dancefloor.
I’ve checked myself into the second-highest ski class. Assessing your own ability is quite the psychological test: some people are modest, others over-reach. The class levels at Club Med rise higher than the upper intermediate plateau offered in many ski resorts. Soon we are off piste and dropping from ledges on to deep, steep slopes. I’m out of my comfort zone, but in the good hands of two teachers; a joker and a straight man. “Just try it,” they say to anyone who stalls. So time after time I get a new sense of achievement.
Skiing is often scary, awakening muscles you forgot you had, and is very tiring, but however close we go to our edge – or even beyond it – we know there is free drink and food in abundance back in the Club Med hug.
Since being taken over by a Chinese company in 2015, Club Med has been heading upmarket – a long way from the company’s first resort in the 1950s, comprising tents in Mallorca. The Val Thorens property has four tridents – part of the company’s “star” scheme – and is even built in a loose trident shape. In fact, the only part of my brain I use while staying here is for getting to know the complex layout of the building.
But it is not long before I work out where the buffet room, waiter-service restaurant and cafe are. A day at the resort typically involves getting up and grazing your way around a buffet breakfast, skis on for class, buffet lunch, class, après-ski drink and snacks, and then dinner, before going back to the bar for drinks, entertainment and dancing. Wallets are never needed.
On the last day we descend too low down a valley with half an hour to go before the last lift back to Val Thorens. We throw our skis on to our shoulders and set off on a 2km walk through deep snow. Even the cool instructors start to fret, because some people in our multinational class are complaining of pains and look as if they are about to give up. But that is definitely not an option. We can’t spend the night or, indeed, the rest of our lives in this valley – you have to trudge out.
The instructors implore the stragglers (not the oldest in the group by a long way) to keep going. We make the ski lift with seconds to spare and, exhausted, flop back into the land of plenty. I have been pushed out of my comfort zone, only to land back in extreme comfort.
Emma Cullinan was a guest of Club Med and Sunway. A seven-night stay at Club Med Val Thorens including return flights from Dublin, transfers, lift passes and five full-day snowboard or ski tuition or guiding, departing on December 8th, costs from €1,870 per person sharing. Price includes an early-booking discount of €595. Ski equipment not included. Sunway are agents for Club Med in Ireland. Clubmedsunway.ie