Days full of activity and evenings dining like royalty, Morzine has it all, writes Claire O’Sullivan.
“Pah-dee, Pah-dee, think Pah-dee,” Julien yells with ever such a tiny hint of frustration.
A rather austere looking English man marching his children up the beginner slopes at Portes du Soleil in Morzine gapes and looks from Julien to me and back, shocked.
I fight my urge to burst out laughing as if there’s anything that’s going to send me whizzing down the baby slopes, it’s a fit of the giggles.
(We don’t want to whizz you see. Whizzing means we’ve lost control).
“Don’t worry he’s not being rude,” I yell out to said gentleman.
“He’s not calling me a Paddy. Paddy’s my dog, I’m supposed to imagine that I am rubbing Paddy.”
English gentleman still looks singularly unimpressed but I’m roaring laughing.
Lovely, lovely, patient ski instructor Julien has been charged this Monday afternoon with trying to make some kind of a skier out of me.
I’m apparently “stressé”, need to relax and won’t trust my core balance. I’m disgusted.
Having watched a shameful amount of two-starred Netflix movies about skiing in the weeks previous, I had, of course, been harbouring secret dreams that I would be discovered as a natural talent, that I would stop seasoned skiers in their ski-tracks with my brilliance.
That I would be jumping and looping, that I would be a ballerina on skis. Fat chance.
As a kid, I was hopelessly uncool on skates and so I shall remain on skis.
But in what must be the universe guffawing at me for my ‘notions’, my fellow beginner on the nursery slopes’, Aoife has actually turned out to be a one in 10,000 beginner skier.
We both started this morning with our tutor, Francesca. But by late afternoon, Aoife had cast me aside and had marched up to join the seasoned skiers in our group who were literally stopped in their tracks by her natural ability. I kid you not.
But if the afternoon was dominated by “Pah-dee, Pah-dee”, the morning was “Pizza, Pizza, Big Pee-za” as the “one in 10,000” and I learnt to control skis, namely how to stop quickly so I didn’t end up with a leading role in the tragi-comedy where a woman in her forties is stretchered off the beginner slopes.
It sounds ridiculous but it’s not even noon and after just three hours of ski school, I’m aching.
I’ve discovered that my left leg is pathetically weak and I have burning pain in the soles of my feet as for the first time ever, I’ve had to use the muscles on either side of my feet to direct the skis from left to right.
Francesca looks at her watch: “Time for lunch?”
I practically somersault. No more embarrassment for a few hours and more of the glorious food we have been devouring since our arrival.
We’re here with Highlife Ski and Snowboard having flown in to Geneva from Dublin.
The High Life minibus collected us at the airport, driving us through densely forested mountains, past shimmering lakes and picture-perfect wooden chalets to Morzine and our alpine home for the next few days, Chateau Delphine.
The bus transfer only took an hour and so with early morning flights from Dublin, you can be cruising down the slopes that afternoon as equipment and passes are all pre-ordered.
As soon as we arrived in the 1,000m high resort of Morzine, it was straight to the Caribou ski shop where we were measured up for boots and skis.
Over the years, I’ve heard people rave about apres-ski but when you have Mena, an enormously talented personal chef back at Chateau Delphine, a hot tub in the basement and a log fire that hangs in the middle of the living room, getting yahoo-ed with a load of Hooray Henrys may hold less appeal.
We dined like kings at Chateau Delphine. For starters on the first night, the menu read whipped goat’s cheese with burnt pear puree, walnuts and celeriac with truffle velouté – for starters.
Our main dish was a coq au vin with mange tout and sautéed potatoes that demonstrated why, in the right hands, this dish can be divine.
For the rest of the night, we chilled by the fire enjoying the complimentary bar that comes with the Highlife package.
After my first morning skiing, Francesca directed us to Le Vaffieu, a quaint little restaurant near the top of slopes. As we sat outside, all around us people whizzed past gracefully.
You can’t truly savour the Alps without eating fondue and in these parts, each hostelry’s recipe is a closely guarded secret.
At Le Vaffieu, its version of the hearty melted Comté cheese, garlic, wine and mustard dish was glorious after an intense morning of fresh air and suffice it to say, we researched a few bottles of local wine too.
But then it was back to the slopes. After a few mega falls on the way to Le Vaffieu, my confidence was waning.
Truthfully, I’d have faced anything rather than strapping those skis back on but I was here to learn how to ski.
Soon I was back on the magic carpet at Pleney and bit by bit as I vaccilated between determination and despair, I started to trust the mechanics of skiing.
Both of my instructers were superb but it was the ‘Pah-dee’ rubbing my dog trick that finally got me swerving from left to right using my body to balance.
All around me were kids who were taking part in kids clubs for the afternoon.
If you are a group of friends with young children, a Highlife trip would we heaven-sent.
The kids do ski school in the morning, lunch with their parents and then can do kids club with treasure hunts on the slopes, tobagonning, pizza making and snowman making in the afternoon.
Had I mentioned that the mezzanine of Chateau Delphine has a kids chill-out area complete with Wii?
Anyway, we were ‘sans enfants’ so apres-ski, we knocked back the Aperol spritzs at the Haka bar in town. My afternoon had been far better than my morning and the bar was buzzing with people aged 18-70, high on having fun.
When we arrived back to Chateau Delphine later that evening, Mena and Ciara, our chalet manager, had homemade snacks and hot chocolate out for us and after a quick shower and a lie down, we sat down to chicory marmalade with blue cheese and apple, followed by pan seared salmon and caramelised cauliflour puree with balsamic potatoes.
There were some of the most enjoyable dinners of my life as there is just something so satisfying about great food and wine after a day of physical exertion followed by a hot power shower.
The following morning, after a breakfast of poached egg, avocado, crème fraiche and bacon, I couldn’t wait to climb into the gondola that would bring us back up the mountain at 8.15am.
Francecsa and I spent the morning working on my turns as I was turning too sharply, not bending into my turns and so gathering too much speed.
By the afternoon however after eating an indecently good cepe mushroom risotto at L’Etale, I found myself up on the blue slopes parallel skiing, doing the teeny-weeniest jumps with Julien and beaming like an idiot. (Trust me, this was like winning gold at the Olympics to me.)
When I eventually got home, the kids fell around laughing at the videos of me skiing (tiptoeing on skis was how one of them described it).
But when I saw them watching it repeatedly with friends and weeping with laughter, I threatened to delete it.
But would I go again? Spend my days 1,500 metres up in a white wonderland and my nights feasting on the most gorgeous food and wine with great company?
Go on a holiday where every little detail has been looked after by your hosts? Where my only challenge was trying to work out where I stood in the subconscious battle between my determination and my terror?
You bet I would.
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