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Our ski weekend Whatsapp group was abuzz with notifications as we all made our way to Gatwick airport for our Easyjet flights to Geneva. Our ultimate destination was the Chilly Powder chalet in Morzine for a four-day, four-dads fact-finding mission. We had pre-booked a shared airport transfer through Chilly Powder and with the precision of a Swiss watch the driver was waiting to greet us just beyond the arrivals doors at Geneva. An hour and a bit later we were dropped off at the front door of the main Au Coin du Feu Chilly Powder building. A very smooth and efficient start to our Saturday-Tuesday long weekend.
Chilly Powder has become a Morzine institution since opening in the mid-1990s. Built from the ground up by English owners Francesca and Paul, it feels more like you are staying in their home than in a 16-bedroom chalet hotel. While their children are more often elsewhere now - including one playing professional ice hockey in France and another back in Brighton playing for the Seagulls' women's football team - when you stay at Chilly Powder you get to chat with Francesca and Paul and learn all about how they moved to Morzine and built a hugely successful holiday business.
After dumping our bags we grabbed a beer and sank into the sofas around the central fireplace. You get anything but a chilly welcome at Au Coin du Feu - from the start the staff were friendly and attentive, and by the end we knew the food was high-quality and full of flavour (with suitable wine to accompany it). All the bedrooms have en-suite bathrooms - we were sharing two twin rooms. There is also an outdoor hot tub, sauna and a massage room. And crucially for families with very young children, in-house childcare is provided on site in Chilly Powder's own crèche.
When you are on a weekend ski trip, efficiency is crucial. So we pre-arranged ski hire with All Mountain Rental - a regular provider to Chilly Powder guests. They offer a variety of rental packages depending on your needs and ability, all delivered to your door. An intermediate rental pack of skis, boots and helmet for six-days is €140. It was a bonus not having to make a trip to a ski hire shop to collect or drop off gear.
Whirlwind winter weekend
Finding the best resort or a new spot to take your family skiing to can be a challenge. So if you have the chance to spend a long weekend on a recce, it can provide real insight into whether a resort will suit your family's skiing needs. Parallel Trails' Ben Moore took three other skiing dads - Rob, Andrew and Alex - to Morzine in January to road test what the Portes du Soleil area can offer.
SKIING DAY ONE
To get everyone's legs going we had agreed to start cruising the wonderful runs in Les Gets - a hugely popular family resort. We could have jumped on a bus from Prodains to the main Pleney lift in Morzine, but opted instead to head up and ski through Avoriaz and Super Morzine instead.
When the pistes run out of mountain at Super Morzine you take a gondola down into the centre of the Morzine valley. There is a little tourist train that scoops up skiers and takes them to the Pleney lift. Instead we choose to walk through town – but I would advise waiting for the train, especially if you have little ones in tow!
At the top of the Pleney lift we hit the fairways - yes, at this part of Les Gets you are skiing on the golf course. Les Gets was a huge hit – all the dads enjoyed the tree-lined blues and reds in the bowl, while the two pistes at La Turche were among their favourites of the entire weekend.
We also made the extra effort to get over and up on Mont Chery. This standalone hill is one of Les Gets' best secrets. And sure enough we pretty much had the place to ourselves. The backside runs were deserted, leaving Rob to exclaim on the chairlift back up: "This is what it must feel like if you have your own private ski resort".
After ending the day with a final top to bottom blitz of the Chamossiere red, it was time to head back into Morzine in the fading light and jump on the free bus to Prodains. Great food, wine and conversation with other guests over dinner completed a near perfect first day.
ALEX is a dad of two who normally skis with his family in Austria
"I had the great good fortune to go on a four-day dads on tour ski break with a group of ski-mad friends to the Chilly Powder Au Coin du Feu chalet in Les Prodains, about 10 minutes up the valley from Morzine.
The weather was kind. Even better, the snow, which at one point looked like it might not materialise at all, had rallied magnificently just days before we left and blanketed the entire area with the glorious white stuff. Plus, my poor old back and my poor old knees had also had a change of heart and pulled themselves together just in the nick of time.
The Portes du Soleil ski area is truly palatial. There are hundreds of lifts, covering miles and miles of well groomed, hugely enjoyable pistes, ranging from gentle schusses to terrifying black mogul runs.
For the most part, however, it consists of long exhilarating red runs sweeping down from chilly peaks to wooded valleys. There is something for every ability here, and for your average British seven-days-a-year dad skier, it is a complete winter wonderland - ten times the size of the London Borough of Bromley and about ten thousand times more fun!
We stayed at Au Coin du Feu, run by husband and wife team Francesca and Paul. The last time I stayed in a chalet (20+ years ago) it was all spag bol and chilli con carne. Not anymore! Just as your local gastropub has moved on from ham, egg and chips, the modern chalet catering team has, it seems, been binge watching Masterchef.
We were royally catered for each night with wonderful food, though I’m afraid I do not have the vocabulary to describe it! The humble cow, pig and chicken had been rendered into extraordinary confections accompanied by brightly coloured vegetables and smears of jus. It tasted fabulous.
Better still, the vin de table had moved on markedly from the stuff I remember from yesteryear. And best of all, the dining room - a magnificent affair with open fire and vast windows looking onto the mountains - made every evening feel like a very special night in a classy restaurant, whilst cleverly preserving the comradely ambiance of a college refectory.
What did I like? Almost everything – the skiing, the scenery, the eating, the drinking, the Chilly Powder staff and the company. Would I go again? You betcha!"
SKIING DAY TWO
Now fully warmed-up, it was time to stretch our legs further around the more demanding runs in Avoriaz. We headed to the runs around Col du Fornet, which were steeper and longer than most of the pistes we had experienced on day one.
On the recommendation of Francesca, we had made a lunch reservation at Chez BaBeth in Plaine Dranse, an area between Avoriaz and Chatel in the Portes du Soleil. I've read some negative reviews of Chez BaBeth, but we absolutely loved the cramped and chintzy feel of the place. Inside it is festooned with lights, decorations, cushions and sheepskin throws. And the tartiflette and mountain burgers hit the spot perfectly. Before we knew it, two hours had passed us by. If you want a lunch spot that is quirky and chaotically fun, then this is the place to head.
With some of the dads more reluctant than others to click back into their skis, we headed off to cruise around the varied red and blues pistes that criss-cross the Plaine Dranse and Lindarets areas. We found plenty of choice of terrain, with some lovely, endless reds.
SKIING DAY THREE
On departure day we still had time to cram in a solid four hours of skiing. So we headed once more through Avoriaz to dip into Switzerland for a few runs. We found Les Crosets an impressively open bowl of easy to intermediate blues. It was drenched in sun and we could imagine no better spot to spend a week with young skiers or new-to-skiing children than here. On the loop home to Avoriaz we managed to ski by the edge of Chatel.
It was a morning to underline that even when you are skiing hard the Portes du Soleil is an enormous area, with miles and miles of pistes. Its beauty is how close it is to Geneva (or Calais if driving) and the sheer range and variety of skiing on offer. Families with younger children will love the tree-lined runs and friendly feel of Les Gets - plus you don't need to buy the full Portes du Soleil lift pass for a week there. And then as your children advance in ability the more challenging terrain around Avoriaz opens up in front of you for years to come. This four-day trip had whetted the appetite of four skiing dads and I am sure we will all be back with our families.
ANDREW is a dad of two who last skied when he was a teenager on family holidays
"Situated just 90 minutes from Geneva airport, Chilly Powder in Morzine is an ideal location. It is at the end of a long blue run coming down from Avoriaz and being able to literally ski to the back door was a huge bonus when we were staying there.
Portes du Soleil is a massive ski area. Our party of four went for three days and barely covered the same run twice - over 50 miles of perfect skiing were covered from our base. As well as Avoriaz and Morzine we also visited Les Gets, Châtel and Morgins - venturing into both France and Switzerland.
And after that amount of skiing for me, recovery at the chalet was required. Each afternoon we enjoyed a cake or three from the homemade selection followed by a soak in the outdoor hot tub. Surrounded by mountains and snow-covered pines, and bathed in spectacular sunsets, I could feel my muscles relax and life return to tired limbs.
Our rooms were cosy and perfectly formed. They boasted powerful and hot showers, a large balcony and a solid construction that ensured no snoring from our room passed through to our friends next door! The food, served up on communal tables, was superb and plentiful. Slow-cooked beef cheek set the standard for the rest of our time there.
Chilly Powder's staff were attentive and happy and the owners enriched our evenings with stories of how they built their place from scratch. It’s never going to be particularly cheap to take a family skiing. But if you’re going to take that plunge, you could do no better than this little slice of luxury in the French Alps."
ROB is a dad of two who usually skis with his family in La Plagne
"I had a great time skiing the Portes Du Soleil and staying at Chilly Powder. I had no idea the ski area was so massive – we had three completely different days skiing, covered a huge number of miles and still barely scratched the surface of the place.
I’m a pretty reasonable skier, but starting to slow down a bit compared to my hare-brained children so I loved that there were so many fantastic pisted reds to enjoy and kid myself I can still push it. I’d love to come back with my hare-brained youths (Charlie is 16, Grace is 13) so they could prove to me that they are better than the old man (which they are) but I’m still confident that the extra gravity I have on my side would keep my nose in front.
However, when it comes to off piste or doing The Swiss Wall, they would have a whale of a time. Then you’ll find me in the bar!
Chilly Powder was a great base to stay at. The food was really good – not too fussy, plenty enough of it, and some very interesting menu choices. I liked the fact that they went out of their way to make sure there were alternatives for the kids if their palates aren’t very adventurous yet. I also really appreciated the tea and cakes in the afternoon.
The location works well also. It's just yards from the big lift up to Avoriaz, and a good fun ski to get back down to the apartment. You can literally almost ski into the hot tub at the end of the day. The room was cosy and comfortable – and while French plumbing can often be quite challenging, the shower was full bore and hot as you like. Good stuff.
I enjoyed the chance to open up new conversations with other guests when we were sat down for the evening meal (we managed one night where Brexit didn’t crop up at all) and we made full use of the pool table. I have to concede to not winning many games on it, but it’s the taking part that counts I’m told. All in all, it was a fantastic spot – I’d relish the chance of coming back en famille. Top marks!"
Fact Box: Chilly Powder operates all year round offering extensive winter holiday packages for individuals, groups and families looking to hit the slopes and experience the vast ski terrain of the Portes du Soleil region. Winter prices start from £795 per week based on two adults sharing a standard bedroom or £2,195 per week for two adults and two children sharing a standard family bedroom. Prices are based on a half board basis with wine included in the evening meals. Childcare facilities are also available with prices starting at £270 per week and ski school for £240 per week. The chalet also run a summer program and are available for weddings and events. To book please contact Chilly Powder on email@example.com or 020 7289 6958 or visit www.chillypowder.com