I love chalet holidays but I've discovered they have a definite downside: the chalet staffs' day off.
It was all going so well at Chalet Christophe in Morzine until yesterday. The chalet, one of several in France run by young, funky British operator Rude Chalets, was very comfortable, our fellow guests easy to get along with, our children had bonded with theirs and we'd enjoyed several fantastic meals served up by super-happy chalet girl Hannah and her able assistant Sam.
Despite the quite frankly rubbish weather – a mixture of fog, rain, sleet and only a smattering of sunshine – the skiing in the vast Portes du Soleil circuit had been fun, the snow was holding up well for the time of year, and all in all we were having A Good Holiday.
But Wednesday morning arrived and we, Chalet Christophe's guests, were left to fend for ourselves. There was no cup of tea waiting by my bedside when I came out of the shower, shock horror, and although there was fresh bread on the table we had to help ourselves to breakfast. Boo-hoo. We coped – somehow – and even managed to stack our plates in the sink, but it was such an effort.
Somehow, as if by magic, our picnic lunch appeared as usual in the kitchen, but without Sam on hand to drive us to the lifts we had to walk up the hill. It only took us 10 minutes, but still.
In the afternoon when we staggered back from skiing, there was the usual a homemade cake on the table (phew) but no Hannah and Sam around so the kids just grabbed a fistful each and ate it in front on sofas, without plates. There were crumbs everywhere and no-one to clean them up.
Worse though, far far worse, was the fact that we had to go out to dinner. The kids didn't want to leave the chalet's Xbox 360, us adults didn't want to drag themselves from the cosy living room, but Hannah was out somewhere having a good time so we had no choice but to head down the hill to Morzine to eat.
It was hideous. Even though Sam had thoughtfully booked us a family-friendly restaurant, written down where and when to catch the bus and drawn us the map, it was still a disaster. We caught the wrong bus, got off at the wrong stop, Sam's map got soggy in the rain and we wandered around the town centre wet and miserable. By the time we found the restaurant we were damp, grumpy and cross with Rude Chalets for giving their staff a day off, even if they did deserve it.
The (chilly) restaurant was packed with other English families, who presumably had been turfed out off their chalets, the food was edible but the children were anxious to get back to the Xbox, I was irritated at paying €125 for a mediocre meal which was not half as good as Hannah's, and by the time the taxi (booked by Sam) arrived two hours later we were all relieved to head back up the hill to our chalet for a nice cup of tea.
Thankfully Hannah and Sam were back on duty before 8 this morning, but yesterday showed me that nothing in life is perfect. Unless there's a chalet company that doesn't allow staff a day off?
I am never going to leave it until the last minute to book ski flights again. The cheapest flights I can find from London to Geneva are with Swiss. It's not the price that's the problem - but the fact that I've got to fly via Zurich on the way there. Tut, what a drag.
EasyJet has already put flights for next winter season on sale and I'm tempted to bag a few flights to Geneva now. Cheapest return fare for next February is £22 (exluding baggage, ski carriage etc), although I reckon over half term you'll end up paying about £100 return, if you book now.
Look out for Monarch's flights too - they say they're going to be offering a range of ski routes for the first time next winter with routes and fares due to be announced early next month.
Four more sleeps till the annual family ski holiday, though it's weird to be packing thermals when its scorching outside!
It'll be our first holiday in Morzine, in the Portes du Soleil, France. Can't wait, although we'll be skiing against doctor's orders as my eldest has broken her index finger. "She absolutely definitely must not ski," he said on Monday.
Yeah right. It is, after all, only a teeny weeny break. Couldn't even see if on the x-ray.
We'll be staying with Rude Chalets. Heard great things about this boutique chalet specialist so really looking forward to giving them a road test. Just need to cross our fingers for more snow before the weekend.
Psss....here's a resort that offers skiers something special
Looking for an Easter ski trip for a group of beginners or a family? There's a resort you'll probably never have heard of called Kappl, in the Austrian Tirol, which may well fit the bill.
You won't find it in any of the mainstream operators' ski brochures - which makes it that bit more special - but this chocolate-box village in the Paznaun valley has everything a novice needs.
The ski area offers 40kms of sunny slopes, mainly blues and reds which are ideal for first-timers. Once they've found their ski legs, there's the odd modest black run and a fun park to stop them from getting bored. Lots of the runs in Kappl are below the tree-line, which provide plenty of shelter in bad weather - although when I was skiing there last week I was blessed with perfect snow and clear blue skies.
Children can be dropped off at the Sunny Mountain Adventure Park, situated in a beautiful sunny bowl at the top of the main gondola, where they'll learn to ski in a relaxed and fun environment. Parents can watch their little ones find their balance on the ski carousel from the adjacent restaurant, or leave them to romp around it the snow at the Ski Kindergarten while they go off and ski.
Kappl-Sunny-Mountain boasts that it's "one of the most beautiful ski areas in the Silvretta region" and it’s hard to argue with that, but equally important is the fact that it's reasonably lofty altitude, extending up to 2,700 metres above sea level, means that it's snow-sure from the end of November to the end of April.
Apart from the skiing and snowboarding, there are cross-country trails and almost 300kms more skiing down the road at the much larger resort of Ischgl. Further along the Paznaun valley is Galtur, another lovely bijoux ski resort, and a fourth resort, See, is also included on the same area pass.
Kappl wouldn't suit skiers or boarders looking for a vast terrain, but it's a great alternative base to Ischgl for families or those who want something quieter, more peaceful.
France, with its plethoria of cheap, self-catering apartments and British-run chalets attracts the bulk of the family ski market, but prices in Kappl are also pretty reasonable. Certainly your clients will be pleasantly surprised if they stop at the Almstuberl restaurant for lunch on the mountain; they can sit on the sunny terrace and enjoy a bowl of spaghetti bolognaise for €8.20 or a bowl of soup for less than €4. The same food, same scenery would cost at least twice as much in France.
Prices are even lower in the self-service restaurants and huts dotted around Kappl's slopes.
The village offers a variety of accommodation, much of it just a short stroll from the lifts, which can be booked via Incoming Paznaun, an arm of the tourist office which works with travel agencies. Innsbruck is the closest airport.
Galtur: The small but perfectly formed ski resort
When you're searching for a winter sports holiday for complete beginners or young families, you don't necessarily need a vast ski area with oodles of pistes or a well-known resort where your clients will spend longer in lift queues than they will on the slopes.
What they want is a hidden gem, a compact resort with easily-accessible nursery slopes, plenty of confidence-building green and blue runs for beginners and children to progress to, and a reputable ski school.
Galtur, a charming little village in the Austrian Tirol, is small but perfectly formed for first-timers and families. Its ski area is split into six separate zones dedicated to toddlers, teens, freeriders and downhill skiers, starting with a snowpark for little ones who can move on, when they're ready, to Adventure Land, which includes an Enchanted Forest mini slalom through the forest.
There's a funpark for teens, plus 40kms of downhill runs. Most are fairly easy reds, but there's also a smattering of more testing black runs.
One of the problems of finding a resort to suit young families is that the parents are often already good skiers who want an extensive and varied ski area. While it's true that 40kms isn't enough to keep even intermediate skiers entertained for long, the resort also boasts lots of easily accessible off-piste, a picturesque cross-country track and snow-shoeing trails.
For those who itch for more action, the much larger resort of Ischgl is only about 15 minutes' away by bus, giving access to another 238kms of runs. Further along the Paznaun valley is the resort of Kappl, which offers 40kms more.
You can buy a Silvretta Ski Pass that covers all three resorts plus See and Samnaun in Switzerland (accessible from Ischgl). The liftpass gives free access to a regular bus service that links all the resorts. However, beginners can save a lot of money by simply buying the local Silvapark Skipass that covers only Galtur.
Skiing in Galtur last week, one of the things I enjoyed most was the fact that pretty much all of the runs caught the sun all day long but, due to the height of the resort, the snow quality was excellent. True, some of the lowest runs were getting slushy by mid afternoon, but you could still ski all the way down to the village.
It's a great choice for an end of season break and you can be confident that if you send clients there, there will still be snow right up to when the lifts close at the end of the Easter holidays.
Packages are available via a handful of UK tour operators including Crystal, Inghams and Neilson. The lifts in Galtur close on April 15 although you can ski in neighbouring Ischgl right up till May 1.