Taking your own private helicopter to the top of a mountain and racing back down on unspoilt ‘powder’ is probably as good as it gets for ski-lovers. But for most it’s an extravagance too far.
It doesn’t help British skiers that most heli-skiing is done across the Atlantic in the US and Canada, where the sport was developed. But now there is a serious European alternative.
Pook Heli Lodge is high up in France’s Tarentaise Valley, nestled among famous Alpine resorts such as Val d’Isère. Although heli-skiing is banned in France, husband-and-wife team Tom and Claire Jeffery have exploited a kink in the rules that allows them to take skiers to the Italian side of the Alps.
One advantage of this set-up, as I found on my first day, is choice. I was with a party of experienced skiers who couldn’t stop badgering the local guides with queries about snow conditions. However, not having skied for 20 years, I didn’t feel quite ready to jump out of a helicopter in search of pristine slopes.
Fortunately, the lodge has something for everyone. We all went up in the helicopter together, but I was whisked away to the nearest resort – there are six within close striking distance – while my more adventurous compatriots were choppered to the side of a mountain.
Another perk of the lodge’s unique set-up is that the helipad is on the front lawn. So after a hard day’s skiing, you can laze in the back of the helicopter and enjoy getting dropped off at your front door – no getting cold or stiff in the back of a van twisting and turning its way across the area’s notoriously winding roads.
Back at the lodge, sitting in the hot tub and gazing out at the snow-capped mountains, we swapped ski stories. I doubt my tales of re-mastering the snowplough and other beginners’ skiing techniques had as much impact as my companions’ “epic powder” jaunts, but with the lodge’s wine and beer in full flow I was in no mood to argue.
Dinner was almost as enjoyable as the skiing. The lodge’s chef, James, knocked up a three-course meal of typical French dishes, including tomme de Savoie cheese, produced at a neighbouring farm. Throughout our stay he surpassed himself, bringing us the best in French and local Alpine cuisine, such as raclette.
On our final day – by now I’d left the snowplough behind, but still wasn’t quite ready for heli-skiing – we made the most of the après ski. A boozy lunch led to more drinks and some unsteady progress to the bottom of the slope.
It was almost time for our flight, but no need to worry – helicopter to the rescue again. It sped us from the slopes to Geneva airport in less than 40 minutes. The only downside, perhaps, is that it doesn’t give you much time to accept that your holiday is over.
• Val Heli-Ski (www.valheliski.com) offers a week at Pook Heli Lodge from £1,495pp half-board with transfers, unlimited wine and beer and a lift pass. Heli-skiing from £299pp for one drop, with a guide, safety equipment, transfers and lift pass.
British Airways flies daily to Geneva from Heathrow, from £130 return, and in winter from London City and Gatwick, from £96 return (ba.com).
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