Michael Cranmer put on a pinny – well an apron actually – and travelled to La Rosiere in France to find out just what it takes to become a chalet host
Picture the scene. You’ve saved up, trawled the web for the perfect chalet for your precious week’s skiing or snowboarding, checked and re-checked what you’ll get for your hard-earned money, and finally booked it. The flight was pre-dawn, transfer slow and traffic-bound, but as you arrive, snow is falling and you begin to unwind.
Two possible scenarios now present themselves.
- The host is waiting outside, smiling, welcoming you to a warm, brightly-lit chalet, log fire crackling in the corner, the smell of coffee in the air. They know your names, take your bags, and instantly you know this is going to be a good week. Or…
- No host waiting, you carry your own bags, the chalet is cold and smells of cheap air-freshener. Eventually the host appears wearing an apron and rubber gloves. You fear this is definitely going to be a bad week.
Chances are that your Chalet Host in Scenario 1 was trained by Green Rides Chalet Cookery School in La Rosiere, France. Over seven intensive days, highly skilled instructors guide wannabes through every aspect of hosting.
They cover food and recipes, table-laying and ambience, knowledge of cheese and wine, shopping and budgeting, hygiene and housekeeping, spa maintenance, time management, wood chopping, fitting snow chains, customer service standards, client handling and basic language skills, job assistance, advice and interview techniques, and CV writing. Phew!
The Green Rides courses attract a wide range of students. When I was there my training colleagues included a middle-aged-woman looking for a new challenge, an inner-city school-leaver looking for excitement and snow and a former Harrovian cool-as-cucumber 18-year-old.
All students are treated the same. All will chop onions and wood, clean worktops and floors, taste and learn about French wines, create eye-catching plates of food they have cooked, and all will be up at 6.30am to cook breakfast and will not finish until around 10pm each day.
Some have been known to falter under the relentless workload: “Mop the floor, please! “Don’t put that back in fridge without covering and dating it!
“Wash your hands – you just touched your hair!”
But when I visited nobody cracked. As the week progresses our disparate group start to coalesce into a team. What were shapeless lumps of food on plates start to be given love, care, and little bit of the creator’s personality. A wedge of bland cheesecake is zapped with a silhouette of a skier. Hey Presto! Now we’re cooking.
Outside we attempt some down-and-dirty snow-chain work. Try again, try again. Good, you’ve got it. Try against the clock. The record so far? One minute 30 secs. Next, wood chopping without injury. Students start to enjoy the pure physical act of using an axe. A 10-minute break and then it’s back inside for Food and Hygiene Cert. Level 2. After some extra coaching everyone passes. Smiles all round.
Students are constantly assessed by Martyn Hanley the Course Director. A big former rugby playing Yorkshireman, who dominates the kitchen, cajoling, laughing, repeating his mantra until the would-be hosts get it.
“Failure is not an option,” he booms.
Shy egos are coaxed out, rough-edges smoothed. “97% of students looking for chalet work are successful after doing this course” he says. “On the penultimate day I arrange for face-to-face, or Skype, interviews with companies like Alpine Elements, Ski World, Skibug, Skidazzle, Ski Beat, and Skivo 2. We helped 745 students to get jobs last season alone.”
Many students join courses with companies such as Green Rides because they have been skiing or snowboarding, love it, and want to spend more time in the mountains. Plus there is usually the extra bonus of a season-pass, free food (and drink) and a place to crash out.
But what they have to get to grips with is that they are no longer on holiday, they are at work. Some do fall by the wayside, but if they’re well-trained, it will help them get organised: get up, get breakfast, get cleaned up, get out on the snow, get back, get tea, get the meal, get cleaned, and get out.
Stories and legends abound, like the Chalet Host who got to bed for an hour before having to make breakfasts. He got up, put his uniform on, completed his tasks (somewhat blearily) put his ski gear over his uniform, went skiing, got back to the chalet and took his ski stuff off, cooked and cleaned up, and took his uniform off to get ready to go out for the night.
It was then he realised he still had his pyjamas on as he had forgotten to take them off when he put his uniform on in the morning!
He was certainly NOT a graduate of Green Rides Chalet Cookery School.
Green Rides Chalet Cookery School operates for 10 weeks, July to mid September. Prices from £599 (DofE discounts available)
The company also has serviced winter chalets in four resorts – La Rosiere, Val D’Isere, Morzine and La Plagne.
Call: +44 (0) 203 286 2218
It might be one of the hottest months of the year, but most of the talk was about skiing and snowboarding last week when representatives from the Savoie Mont Blanc area of France visited London to spread the word about new attractions in the their resorts for the coming season. Here are some of the highlights (for more info on the resorts, click on the names):
Visitors to Avoriaz this season will find a huge igloo in the heart of the resort complete with an ice bar and bedrooms.
Families with children under 12 years old can take advantage of the ‘Free Kids package’ on Christmas week.
A baby snowboard class is available for children from three years old and for teens there are freestyle camps.
One of the area’s historic buildings, The Grand Hotel du Montenvers (1913m), which was originally built in 1880 has been restored to its former glory. The luxury mountain refuge has 20 rooms, suites and dormitories and overlooks the Mer de Glace and the Drus peaks.
The Via Ferrata des Evettes offers an exciting Alpine route in the Aiguilles Rouges mountains, overlooking the Mont-Blanc Massif.
Club Med has unveiled plans to open a new resort in Les Arcs 1600 in December 2018. It is part of a stepping up in the pace of the company’s global development which in the next three years (2017-2019) will see Club Med open 15 new resorts worldwide and upgrade nine existing resorts.
This also includes the opening of Grand Massif Samoens in December this year.
The Haute Maurienne Vanoise valley includes the five ski resorts of Val Cenis; Aussois; La Norma; Val Frejus; Bessans and Bonneval sur Arc, plus 10 picturesque villages. It is sheltered, to the north, by the beautiful glaciers of the Vanoise National Park and, to the south, by Mont Cenis, a gateway to Italy.
The 360 is a new restaurant at the top of Plagne Montalbert where Michelin-starred chef Jean-Michel Bouvier will be creating a menu based on local products.
The ski-in ski-out 4-star family hotel, Araucaria, in Plagne Center is changing to a new modern style and offering new services this season.
La Plagne is formed of 10 resorts and is part of Paradiski. The ski area claims to have the only bobsleigh track in France plus it offers a wide range of après-ski activities including fatbike, zip wire, sledging, and dog sledding.
A new Hyatt Centric in La Rosière will be the first of its kind in a ski resort and in fact the first of its kind in France. The hotel will have 69 rooms and guests will be able to take advantage of the resort’s link to La Thuile in Italy.
Other new attractions for this season include VIP first tracks with the pisteurs and during Christmas week, it skiers and snowboarders are not happy with the quality of the snow they can get their money back.
Looking to the future, there will be an extension to the La Rosière ski area in 2019 which will include two new chairlifts and five red slopes.
The family friendly resort of Les Carroz, which is in the heart of the Grand Massif, will have plenty to keep children entertained this season.
During school holidays, families can use the Kid O Ski service which includes having your children taken to the ski school at Les Loupiots Club and back. Les Carroz’s creche takes children from six months old.
And the ‘icing’ on the cake is the Ice Age Experience which is unique in France. The heroes of the Disney film can be found around the resort and children can get photos with the different characters. Sid and Scrat are in the luge area in the Bardelle sector while Diego and Manny host tubing sessions.
New attractions this season include Le Lac du Lou, a new mountain hut, and a new blue slope called Les Bouquetins which enables intermediate skiers to ski down from La Masse, the highest summit in Les Menuires.
Les Saisies, which is linked to the Espace Diamant ski area, uses Snowfarming, an eco-friendly technique involving sawdust to keep the snow. The resort will stay open until 27 April thanks to the quality of the snow in this part of Savoie Mont Blanc
The resort, which has a wide range of chalets for all tastes and budgets, will open for the ski season on 16 December this year.
Tignes, which offers skiing and snowboarding for 11 months of the year thanks to the Grande Motte glacier, has some unique activities for visitors this winter. These include Bun J Ride and Ice-Diving
The resort also stages several events during the year. Halloween festivities will be held in October, Sport Values in November, Tignes Sprint & Jump in January and August, and Live in Tignes by Francofolies in April.
Why is there no Sunday Ski Train? The direct daytime Eurostar Ski Train, which runs every Saturday from London to the Tarentaise region of the French Alps, is now so popular that at February half term it sells out within hours of going on sale.
But with nearly 40% of ski holidays now operating a Sunday changeover, a petition has been launched to encourage Eurostar to introduce a Sunday Ski Train, backed by widespread support from the ski industry (https://www.change.org/p/eurostar-we-need-a-sunday-sunday-ski-train)
“Back in the 1990s, when Eurostar launched the Ski Train, almost all ski holidays were Saturday – Saturday,” says James Box, Head of International Product at Travel Agency Iglu.com. “But since then the ski-holiday market has shifted dramatically.”
According to research by Iglu, the ratio last season was 63% Saturday vs 37% Sunday. “Every season, more than 800,000 skiers and snowboarders head to the Alps from the UK,” says Box. “Many live in the South East, while others travel from all over the country to London or Ashford, just to take the Ski Train. That’s a large potential market for Eurostar to get a slice of.”
“Rail travel is a fantastic way for skiers to make the journey part of the holiday,” says Daniel Elkan, founder of rail-ski information guide, Snowcarbon, who created the petition with Graham MacMahon of skier forum, www.snowheads.com. “A Sunday Ski Train would spare thousands of skiers airport queues, cramped flights, and tedious transfers. We need more rail alternatives.”
Currently, skiers wanting to travel on Sundays to the Tarentaise, for ski resorts such as Les Arcs, La Plagne, Meribel and Val d’Isere, need to take Eurostar to Paris and then change station to take a TGV train. “Skiers whose holidays start on a Sunday can still reach ski resorts by rail,” Elkan says. “But no direct option? It’s the equivalent of keeping supermarkets closed on Sundays.”
Independent chalet company, Ski Bonjour, is one of many accommodation providers keen to see the introduction of a Sunday Ski Train. The company, which has catered chalets in the resorts of Tignes and Val d’Isère, has holidays that start both on Saturdays and Sundays. “Skiers coming by train on Saturdays arrive more relaxed and clearly enjoy the journey,” says Becky Coates, Marketing Manager at Ski Bonjour. “The shorter transfer – minutes instead of hours – is a huge advantage, with none of the delays of airport transfers.”
VIP is one of many tour operators that offer chalets on a Sunday – Sunday changeover. “Many tour operators would love to offer guests a direct rail-travel option,” says managing director, Gareth Crump. “There’s no doubt it would be a popular choice, especially if sold as part of a ski package.”
With rail access an important factor in the destination choice of many skiers, ski resorts stand to benefit too. “We would love to be able to welcome more skiers by train,” says Xavier Feuillant, director of the tourist office of La Plagne, a popular destination for skiers from the UK. “From a sustainability point of view, rail travel is important for the Alps because if you measure the carbon footprint of a ski resort, the majority of the emissions are the result of transport of holidaymakers to the resort.”
Follow this link to the petition
Help solve this mystery
Valloire seems to have everything a British holiday skier or snowboarder could want. So, asks Editor FRANK BALDWIN, why is it not that well known?
The expression ‘hidden gem’ can often be overused when it comes to ski areas. It seems to cover every resort that does not appear in the mainstream holiday brochures.
But the reason not many people from the UK go to these places is because these ‘hidden gems’ are usually quite small with a limited lift system.
There’s nothing wrong with this of course. In fact, at the Skier & Snowboarder magazine, we love trying out these smaller ski areas and they usually all have their own individual charm, but the size of the area will only keep you interested for one or two days at best.
The same cannot be said of Valloire Galibier in the Maureanne Valley. If you are having trouble placing the location, think of a line between Grenoble to the west and Turin to the east and you’ll find it just left of off centre along this line.
Valloire is linked with the neighbouring resort of Valmeinier and between them they offer 150km of piste – plus plenty of off piste – all served by a modern lift system. A six-day lift pass will set you back around £145 making it one of the most reasonable around.
It really is a mystery why this area is not better known to the UK market as it so well suited to British skiers and snowboarders. It started developing into a ski area in the mid 1930s when the Le Ski club de Paris chose it as a destination for the first time.
In those days skiers would skin up the mountain but within two years of the club’s arrival the first lift was put and in the next decade another four had been added.
Today here are more than 30 lifts and as well as the extensive skiing, Valloire has plenty going for it. It is a traditional and historic Savoie village, the slopes offer stunning views, and there are loads of great on and off mountain bars and restaurants. It has an ice skating rink, a bowling alley and a full winter calendar of interesting events such as the annual ice and snow sculpting contests when entrants from all over the world create gigantic pieces of art.
And if that wasn’t enough, Valloire has its own brewery run by former French junior snowboarding champion Brice Le Guennec where you can enjoy a variety of beers and wines.
It is less than an hour and a half transfer from Chambery airport or a ski drive will take you about nine hours from Calais.
There are several comfortable hotels and chalets plus loads of high quality self-catering ski apartments to rent which are tucked away in hamlets around the main village.
A handful of British tour operators have already discovered the attractions of Valloire and include the ski area in their brochures and we asked a couple of them what they think of the place.
Francesca Williams from Peak Retreats said: “Peak Retreats has featured Valloire for over 10 years. The ski resort is a genuine, traditional, French mountain village, which benefits from sharing a very decent sized ski area with Valmeinier.
“Skiers have 150km of slopes to explore, of which 70 % are above 2,000m. Pistes are snow-sure thanks to the high altitude but there are still over 400 snow cannons.
“The village combines charm with excellent skiing and plenty of options for après-ski, our clients really love it.”
Her sentiments were echoed by Jane Bolton, managing director of Erna Low. She said: “Valloire is one of those special places that many of our clients love but so many people have never even heard of.
“It actually has a very good snow record but this has not stopped them investing heavily in snow making over the years.
“We think this is a great choice for families as it is a bit off the beaten track, and a very traditional, pretty resort.”
One of the main complaints about larger better known ski areas is the cost of eating and drinking in the resort and on the mountain. But in Valloire prices for lunch, après ski, or a night out are refreshingly reasonable.
So, we are pleased to award Valloire the correct title of ‘hidden gem’ but one that really should be shared with a larger audience.
Frank Baldwin travelled to Valloire in the French Alps as guests of the Valloire Tourist Office.
British companies that offer Valloire include Erna Low, LaGrange UK, Mainstage Travel, Peak Retreats, Zenith Holidays, and Skiline.
In most cases you will have to arrange your own flights and transfers.
For more information and to book lift passes and ski school visit www.resavalloire.net where a variety of discounts and offers are available.
- Lift Pass: 6 day pass in Valloire area from €190 per adult (€161.50 per child 5-12yrs)
- Ski equipment hire (skis, poles, boots): 6 days from €85 per adult (€45.50 per child)
- Ski School: 6 mornings €126 per person; 6 days (morning/afternoon) €190 per person
Access to Valloire:
Fly/drive: Chambéry 1¼ hrs, Grenoble 1½ hrs, Lyon 2 hrs, Geneva 2¼ hrs.
Direct transfers to/from Chambéry and Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airports: www.altibus.com
Train: St Michel Valloire (17km): 7 hrs 20 mins from London via Paris (two changes); 8hrs 20 mins via Lille (two changes).
For connecting bus transfers see www.valloire.net (€12.30 each way)
After months of tasting, French Alps specialist Ski Amis has announced that their brand new and vastly improved menu has been finalised for the coming season. The team have been working extremely hard to create a more focused collection of new dishes whilst keeping a few of their old favourites.
Ski Amis decided on the improved menu after getting the opinions of their guests and the company now offers a healthy option breakfast, which includes fresh fruit, natural yoghurts and cereals – but do not fear their infamous traditional English breakfast is still on the menu.
All products served at breakfast are imported from the UK ensuring guests are served the ‘real McCoy’ especially when it comes to the English breakfast.
Peak Retreats is offering its clients a brand new luxury 4* apartment for this season. Chalets de Layssia is situated in the heart of the very attractive, traditional resort of Samoëns.
Plus, another addition this season in the recently built Kalinda Village in Tignes is the Kalinda Flocon apartment extension located within two new buildings.
This accommodation is ideal for families as it is located at the foot of the 8-seater Boisses telecabine. It also has leisure facilities that includes a large paddling-pool with slide.
All of the self-catering apartments offer a very high standard of comfort and convenience where visitors can relax and enjoy great views from the free private indoor heated swimming-pools with Jacuzzi, sauna, steam room and fitness room.
You may also find time to be pampered in the Spa and Beauty Care Centre.
Agony and ecstasy were served up in equal measures when NEIL ENGLISH attended a gourmet ski week in Courchevel
In the two seconds or so it took to rotate 360 degrees in mid-air – my care-free world of powder-filled hedonistic pleasure transformed into a stressed-out world of nauseating pain!
My anticipation of this late March day could not have been higher. The previous evening thick snowflakes began to fall from the chilly night skies over the affluent French resort of Courchevel 1850 and when I peeked through my bedroom curtains at the luxurious Chalet Montana the next morning there was a fluffy blanket of boot high powder.
My excitement was compounded by plans for dinner. A degustation of 10 courses prepared in our chalet by Michelin star chef Richard Phillips and served with local wines. This is all part of Supertravel’s Gourmet Ski Week during which guests in selected chalets are treated to one such feast.
But how did Matt, our regular chalet chef, feel about this celebrity chef sprinkling star dust on his already fine culinary parade. Matt said humbly: “It’s valuable for me. Richard’s already passed on some excellent tips and I love watching great chefs at work.”
Matt’s diplomacy matched his cooking skills that morning when he asked how many of us might like full English breakfast. All said yes including one slim lady who asked: “But can I have mine without egg, sausage or bacon!”
With only the faintest trace of a wry smile, Matt politely enquired, “beans and mushrooms with your toast then”? to which the young woman replied, “just tomatoes please”. All in a day’s work as chef in a luxury chalet where the clients’ are always beyond, direct reproach!
Calories now on-board, the more experienced skiers in the group set out to plunder the powder with Sam, our instructor, from New Generation Ski School.
After a few gentle cruising runs on piste, we headed for the Creux Noirs bowl. The steep drop below the cornice looked ominous. Eventually I took the plunge and quickly found my rhythm, scooping out delicious turns through the giant pillows of powder, only stopping when my lungs hit bursting point.
Next up was the Saulire cable car to check out the well-known couloirs. They were already skied out so we opted for the untracked snow underneath the top section of the cable car. The snow here was far deeper than Creux Noirs and the turns were just as rewarding.
But my terrific morning was about to change. Our off piste group decided to catch up with the other chalet guests whom we found inspecting the Family Park below Verdons. Here, there are multiple kickers, rails, tables and a protected area where young children can launch into the air from a take off ramp, sat in inflated inner tubes, to land on a huge airbag.
I had zero intention of going anywhere near this children’s facility until adult skiers in my group decided they would like to try flying off the ramp on skis. Well, why not? I found myself skiing towards the kicker to attempt a helicopter jump (horizontal 360 rotation) to impress my new ski friends.
It all went well – until the landing. An instructor called Lorenzo ran up to help me off the bag saying if I’d landed on snow I’d have skied away. That ‘praise’ meant very little since the folds of the bag had snagged my outstretched arm whilst the rest of my body slid forward. I was suffering searing pain. When the girl videoing my jump on my phone came bag-side to capture what she hoped would be my celebratory wave, I was in fact trying not to vomit as my right arm spasmed freakishly.
Four hours later, x-rays and consultations confirmed that the force of my right shoulder dislocating had snapped off a chunk of my scapula meaning surgery, down the line, was inevitable.
Back in the chalet with my shoulder relocated and right arm in a sling, I faced a new test. Would I be able to taste Richard Phillips’ culinary masterpieces having had so many pain numbing injections and pills? I was so furious with myself that if I wasn’t such a klutz with my left hand I’d have given myself a good left hook!
Mercifully, it was better than expected. Each dinner course, from canapes’ onwards, was served with a different, carefully paired wine by Roch Braillon, founder of Le Verre Gourmand, which supplies fine vintages to premium chalet operators throughout the Alps.
The combination of strong meds and excellent wines nullified residual pain and I could still appreciate Richard’s stunning food – though kind dinner companions’ had to cut it up for me.
Of particular note were the diver caught scallops with golden raisins, black garlic puree and shavings of cep mushrooms.
Probably my favourite was the beef fillet, served ‘Rossini’ style, crowned with ballotine of foie gras and in this case a foie gras mash for extra texture as well as slivers of feather blade steak in red wine jus.
To fully review every painstaking feature of each course as well as give due adulation to their taste sensations – not to mention the wine – would fill this magazine. Suffice to say, if I could derive that much pleasure on that much medication, and wine, then please Messieurs’ Phillips et Braillon, take a bow!
Happily, all Supertravel ski chalet chefs are now personally trained by Richard Phillips’ Head Chef, Will Devlin, effectively meaning that gourmet week is a winter long affair.
* To see a video of Neil English doing his ‘heli’ onto the airbag click here
Supertravel (supertravel.co.uk/ski – 020 7962 9933) offers 7 nights in Chalet Montana at Courchevel, from £1,299pp including Champagne reception on arrival, breakfasts, afternoon teas and four course dinners with wines, port and cheese, as well as chauffeur service to and from ski lifts.
Flights and transfers are extra.
For more information on Courchevel go to:
The off-piste ski area of La Grave in the French Hautes-Alpes has a unique atmosphere that attracts skiers from all over the world. But, as British ski instructor CHARLOTTE SWIFT explains, a question mark hangs over the future of this French mecca. March 2014
NEWS began to emerge recently that the current lease for operating the lift at La Grave will run out in 2017.
Denis Cressiels whose company currently runs the system is hoping to retire, and this will present all sorts of problems for the continued running of the La Grave lift.
From the perspective of someone living and working in the neighbouring resort of Les Deux Alpes, the addition of La Grave on our doorstep, just across the summit of the Lauze is a huge
It’s a truly magical place.
While we already have a massive amount of lift accessed off piste skiing on our side of the mountain, the whole landscape and ambiance changes the minute you arrive over there.
Les Deux Alpes is all about ‘resort’ skiing – The pistes are groomed and marked and most of the off piste is avalanche controlled, and with 35,000 beds it’s bustling, noisy and brash.
La Grave is the opposite. It’s not what you would call a traditional resort. It has no
more than 5,000 beds, it’s quiet, a bit hippy-ish, and filled with passionate, experienced skiers and boarders. In short, it’s a wonderful contrast!
Of course La Grave is not all powder fields and steep couloirs, although you do have those; the Vallons de la Meije, although very long, is not terribly difficult and it’s possible to take fairly moderate skiers down it. I do this fairly regularly.
This enables many good intermediate skiers can taste the magic of La Grave, see the avalanche chutes, and revel in the sheer size of the place. It’s truly a different skiing experience for anyone who goes there. If we were to lose the ability to sample this magic the world would be a poorer place.
The idea that the lift and the mountain at La Grave might be turned from the last unpisted, ungroomed, unpatrolled but lift served ski area in the world into a regular ski resort style place is in my eyes truly appalling!
It’s great as it is, it’s like skiing was when I was a kid in the 50s and 60s – quiet, not many people, and those skiing have to be able to ski well enough to cope with all sorts of conditions. Sadly, this might be the reality in the future.
The reality is that the Telepherique lift itself is old and will probably need replacing before too long, which would, of course, be incredibly expensive. There are also rumours of liability issues. This means that whoever takes over the lease will need deep pockets – deeper than the small village of La Grave can manage, even though almost everyone who lives there makes their living in some way from the Telepherique.
The likelihood is that the only people with deep enough pockets will be a large lift company like the Compagnie des Alpes who now own Les Deux Alpes.
Not all the extra investment on our side of the mountain has been sympathetic to the ‘feel’ of the resort, and the idea that a very large company like this might get hold of La Grave and make ‘improvements’ which could change the unique atmosphere of the place is very sad indeed.
I seriously doubt that any large company would leave La Grave as it is – it’s simply not profitable enough.
All we can do is hope that in the meantime something or someone happens to allow La Grave to continue as it is for generations to come. I am richer for being able to ski there, and so is everyone else who has this privilege.
* Charlotte Swift is a professional British National Ski Teacher who has been working in Les Deux Alpes for the last 22 years and independently as Easiski for the last 14 years. For more information go to:
Editor FRANK BALDWIN test drives the new Subaru XV down to the French Alps.
DURING a British university championships in Tignes a few years back a couple of students embarrassed themselves when, after a night time snow storm, they spent all morning digging out their car – only to find it was the wrong car.
I had this in mind when I made my way to where I had left the Subaru XV I had driven down through France to Les Deux Alpes a couple of days before.
After a week of sunshine before Christmas, the lift operators had been getting a bit worried in the French resort. There was still snow on the slopes but it was starting to get a bit thin in places. Plus the windy hairpins on the roads up to the village at 1300m were completely snow-free which was a bit of a disappointment for me as I had been looking forward to seeing how this new Subaru all-wheel drive car, the company’s first foray into highly competitive C-segment crossover market, handled the icy conditions.
But the day after I arrived, it bucketed down with snow for a whole day and night which is why I now found myself wondering if I would be able to recognise the Subaru’s new stylish shape under the snow which had completely buried the line of cars I had parked in.
Just to make it worse the snowploughs had already been out and had pushed piles of snow off the roads and up against the parked cars creating a wall of white stuff.
A couple of Frenchmen had already started digging their cars out and one had managed to get inside, but with wheels spinning like mad he was making no progress out of his parking space.
I got my bearings on where the Subaru was parked and after clearing off the windows I managed to climb in with the car still surrounded by snow. My plan was to get it started and let the 2 litre Boxer Diesel engine warm up while I cleared away more snow from around the outside.
But then I caught sight of one of the French men still struggling with his spade and working up a sweat despite the cold. All I had was a couple of bits of cardboard as tools.
Well, I thought, here’s a chance for the Subaru to show what it’s made off. I put the automatic transmission in low gear and depressed the accelerator slowly.
I would have liked to have painted you a picture in which the Subaru fought valiantly with wheels spinning
and engine screaming before bursting out through the wall of snow that was holding it prisoner.
But it was nothing like this at all. The Subaru simply moved out of the parking space with absolutely no fuss while the Frenchmen looked on enviously. Driving around the snow covered roads was equally uneventful as the Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC) system complements the symmetrical all-wheel drive, which is standard on all XV models. This makes it as sure-footed – or is that sure-tyred? – as a mountain goat.
However, I don’t want to give you the wrong idea. The new Subaru XV is fun, spacious, great to drive, packed with gizmos including a flirty sat nav – and very safe to.
The XV was awarded a five-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating and scored 90% in the ‘child occupant’ category – the best of any car on sale in the UK. It also received maximum points for its protection of 18-month-old infants, and as this Subaru model is aimed in particular at young families, this shows it is as well suited to the school run as it is snow covered mountains.
I drive down to this part of the Alps at least once a year and usually in one hit – a 10-12 hour stint of about 700 miles with a few stops for coffee and petrol. I judge a car on how tired I feel at the end of the journey. With the Subaru I felt as fresh as a daisy.