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Time to slope off

25 January 2013

Jack Phillips, a former ski-cynic, catches the bug on a Christian ski holiday in the French Alps


Getting hooked: the Lodge, Richmond's luxury chalet at Sainte Foy, in the French Alps

Getting hooked: the Lodge, Richmond's luxury chalet at Sainte Foy, in the French Alps

"LEAN to the left, knees slightly bent, but together; turn your hips to where you're trying to move, and trust. Now the same on the right-hand side, now the left, keep turning. A good skier is always slaloming from side to side."

The voice of my ski instructor, Jean-Pierre, is ringing in my ears. I am heading down a blue run - the second-easiest ski grade - but it still looks scarily steep to me.

I pick out my route, keeping my eyes focused a little ahead of me as I try to navigate the slope, avoid other skiers, and concentrate on keeping my balance. Then I arrive at a flatter bit, and pause to look up: I am on the edge of a glorious Alpine forest, covered in snow and bathed in light from a cloudless sky. Suddenly, I am hit with a rush of awe at the majesty of God's creation.

BEFORE this week, my first ever on the slopes, skiing had seemed expensive and inaccessible. My attitude had largely been: why spend a week getting cold, cooped up in a cabin, with the daily opportunity to break a limb?

But the few days I have spent at Sainte Foy, Tarentaise, in the French Alps - Richmond's most luxurious skiing destination - leave me itching to get out and give it a go.

Rather than be let loose on the slopes to do battle with the elements, the ski lifts, and the frus- tratingly talented children who whizz up and down the mountains, I am advised to begin with a little tuition.

The French ski instructors are fantastically well trained, and, during our first two-hour ski lesson, the three novice skiers in my group fall over a collective total of twice. In the afternoon, we leave the beginner slopes behind us, and try out a few real runs.

After a glorious ascent through trees on the ski lift, we are taken on a route dubbed by Richmond staff as "Narnia". We are not let down: the track winds gently down through a snowy paradise, and at any moment you almost expect to encounter a talking beaver, or Mr Tumnus.

AFTER a slight topple into a bank of snow, much to the amusement of my fellow novices, I am amazed to find myself happily cruising through "Narnia", taking in the beauty and enjoying the sensation of doing something I didn't believe I could do after just a few days, let alone a few hours. Four hours in, I am hooked.

Richmond has three ski chalets in the French Alps: Chalet des Neiges, in Reberty, Three Valleys; L'Escapade, in Alpe d'Huez; and Sainte Foy, each with a unique feel but with a similar ethos.

At the heart of all the chalets is a vast lounge, decked out with comfy sofas, cushions, and a fireplace. With the capacity to take a full house (20 to 40, depending on the resort), this is where people sit, chat, and relax after a day out, aided and abetted by the free tea and cake available every afternoon.

Dinner is preceded by canapés and champagne, a gentle warm-up for the sumptuous feast prepared by our chef, Carl. The food is consistently delicious: Continental breakfast; fill-the-gap packed lunches, €5 extra, on request; and a daily three- or four-course dinner, with a range of dishes to choose from, and complimentary wine.

Before dinner, the lounge is used for an informal, and optional, time of "ministry", which takes place daily in all Richmond resorts. It consists of a couple of songs, a testimony, and a brief time of Bible-study, led by a Richmond pastor/teacher, who is on hand through- out the week to talk, or be talked at, on any subject, spiritual or otherwise.

AT SAINTE FOY, I discover that a skiing holiday is not necessarily just for skiers. I meet one family who have been coming for the past three years (the parents, their three children and partners, and their grandchildren), primarily to spend some family time together.

Even for the most enthusiastic athletes, ski hours run from 9 a.m. until 4.30 p.m., because that is when the lifts run. But après-ski, or alternatives to skiing and snowboarding, include relaxing in the hot tub overlooking the piste, an indoor sauna, tobogganing, or snow-shoeing (where you attach tennis-racket-like things to your feet and go walking), reading, writing, resting, and, of course, socialising.

Richmond's advertising slogan is: "Quality Christian holidays". What I encounter in the French Alps is precisely that, and, on my final night, I find myself poring over my diary to work out my next opportunity to come again and ski. A week in the snow and sun, seemingly another world: my God, how great thou art.



JACK PHILLIPS travelled to Sainte Foy as a guest of Richmond Holidays. A seven-night break for two adults and two under-12s in high season starts from £2247 in a family room; and from £567 for a single traveller in a shared or single room - both excluding flights. Optional extras include transfers, ski hire, lift passes, and ski school. A child-escort service to and from lessons is also available for under-12s. For details, phone 020 3004 2661.





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