So you’ve finally got to your resort. The chalet is great, the snow is deep and the sun is blazing down. You step out on to the mountain only to find that the hordes have got there before you – the cable-cars are groaning and the chair-lifts are so busy that it looks like you’ll need to pre-book seat 4D on chair number 32 just to get to the top before lunchtime. What on earth do you do? Well, if you’re staying anywhere near Courmayeur here’s some top tips for beating the holiday crowds.
1. Do something different
This can include hiring yourself a guide and some touring skis and heading off into one of the beautiful, deserted valleys that surround the ski area. Whether it’s a gentle traverse or a stroll up a summer road with skins on the soles of your skis, you get away from the crowds into the perfectly silent, snow-filled forests where the only sounds you’ll hear will be swishing of your skis as you slide out into the wilderness. At this time of year there isn’t a huge amount of daylight, but if your guide plans and times the outing well, you’ll get a good few hours of sunshine and feel relaxed, energised and a million miles from the carnage of the racetrack pistes and packed cable-cars.
2. Try one of the nearby ski resorts
During the Christmas and New Year break the Mont Blanc region’s main resorts of Courmayeur, Chamonix and Megeve have reported record numbers of skiers on their slopes, yet I skied empty pistes with some friends in the nearby resort of Vallorcine in the Chamonix Valley on one of the busiest days of the year. A good ski instructor or guide show know all the quietest places and it just takes a little extra travel (car or bus) to experience the pleasure of being able to look at the stunning views whilst cruising down the runs, instead of trying to develop eyes in the back of your helmet as the latest set of wannbe Alberto Tombas practice their slalom technique on the tails of your skis.
Often small resorts as Vallorcine can provide fabulous off-piste too. In fact the descent from the top of the Vallorcine/Le Tour lift system down the Nant Noir valley to the picture-perfect Swiss hamlet of Peuty is well within reach of any reasonably competent group of red-run skiers with a guide. Again, no people, no stress and the ever-efficient Swiss bus service to bring you back over the border into France for a well-earned lunch.
3. Take a ski lesson
It always surprises me how many people have regular tennis and golf lessons at home and yet get to a moderately competent level of skiing and never go near a ski instructor again. The better you get the more you enjoy skiing and the more amazing places you can go. Given that instructors and their guests get priority on almost all the lifts and can safely improve your off-piste technique, why not invest some time in taking your skiing to a higher level in the peace and quiet of the resort’s powder fields.
4. Do lunch properly
If all fails there’s always lunch! Courmayeur has 28 separate mountain restaurants that provide every type of cuisine, from gourmet to goulash. One of my favourites for both the food and the views is La Grolla. Imagine a sophisticated restaurant in a gorgeous chalet with huge picture windows looking out onto some of Europe’s most spectacular mountains and you’ll get an idea of La Grolla. Book well in advance and enjoy a long, lazy lunch in one of the best restaurants in the Alps.