Last Ski of the Season: Family Fun in the French Alps

13 Apr

We’ve only one night left of our two-week stint occupying the top half of Chalet Saint Louis, a renovated grey stone and wood Savoyard house in quiet St Marcel halfway between St Martin de Belleville and Les Menuires. We don’t know its age but the construction employs wooden pegs to secure very old exposed wood beams. On fine days its austere facade is enlivened by between three to five elderly local gentlemen who sit on the two wooden benches outside and comment on the comings and goings of villagers and blow-ins like us. I have to take care not to run into them when I park our rented ‘ski bus’, an eight seater Peugeot.

First impressions of our apartment weren’t entirely positive as Stuart almost concussed himself on the low doorway bringing my skis in. We have a wide view of the church steeple, the river valley and Les Menuires-Val Thorens’ snow covered mountains, plus a great fireplace and well-equipped kitchen, but some rustic elements border on the dilapidated and downright dangerous. Maybe I’ve become too used to Australia’s ‘Nanny State’ health and safety standards but an antique ladder does not a secure railing make. And I don’t like our chances of surviving a fire should one break out between the bedrooms and the downstairs entry as that’s the sole access point. Strangely now we’ve lived in it a while I’m more appreciative of its quirky charm.

The other feature of St Marcel is La Bouitte, a small luxury hotel and gourmet restaurant run by the Meilleur family. Menu items start at 89 euro so we were content to just look. Our favourite restaurant this trip was Chez Alfred, a small mountain restaurant our friend Martyn introduced us to. The total lunch bill for seven people was less than 100 euro and everyone was well fed and watered. Clou Clou, wife of Chef Alfred, always offers a complimentary shot of Genepi digestif and we were happy to accept!

Our sons, Cameron (based in Brisbane), and Tristan (based in London), along with Tris’ girlfriend Jenny, joined us for the second week. Both Cam and Tris had winter seasons in North America so they’re advanced skiers/boarders and Jenny is a well-travelled hiker and a very plucky, novice snowboarder. We had to lift our game to keep up with them!

We hadn’t expected more snow so late in the season but the Three Valleys often pulls surprises and we had several good falls that turned the boys into powder hounds. It wasn’t all sunshine though as we had a couple of days with such poor visibility that at one stage Martyn, followed by Tristan, disappeared off the edge of a piste. Both were fine eventually but we had a worrying hour.

The high point for me was our picnic on the mountainside after almost reaching our destination, the Col de la Fenetre at 2131 metres. We hiked through masses of snow but the risk of avalanche stopped us short.

We’ve had so much fun this week we’re already planning our next family ski trip to Japan in January. Powder here we come!

(The photos start with the drive from Montgenevre through the Frejus Tunnel – 13 minutes of mild anxiety at 70 k an hour – via Albertville and the Belleville Valley.)

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