"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
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,
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.