Freeze Frame
Tymon Smith
Friday, June 08, 2012

Throw yourself headlong — and face first — into the fantasy of a picture-book escape in the French Alps. Welcome to Valmorel

We are at the opening weekend 
of Club Med’s Valmorel resort in the French Alps. After making our presence felt on the dance floor and at the watering-hole on opening night, our South African contingent have decided to cement our reputations as 
the fun, party-going, ski-badly bunch among the hundreds of journalists from around 
the world invited to the launch of the resort.

A chocolate box village of chalets high on a hill (no lonely goatherds in sight, though) full of various levels of ski slopes, upon which our more seasoned European colleagues show off all day, Valmorel is a total Club Med experience aimed squarely at families who want to spend time together without being cooped up and wanting to murder each other two days into their holiday.

There are plenty of things for both parents and kids to do, together and alone.

A group of childless journalists such as us are content to take full advantage of the all-inclusive facilities while evaluating our lack of skiing prowess. I, predictably, turn out to be the worst skier in 
the group.

After having to negotiate fittings for clunky, life-threatening ski-boots and then trying to understand our instructor’s heavily French-accented orders to “waddle like a dook” and “snow ploo”, I spend most of my morning on the nursery slopes hurtling towards inflatable barriers that break my fall while pulling off layers of expensive 
ski gear because it’s far too hot to handle.

Everything about skiing, except for sliding uncontrollably downhill while trying 
to remember the counter-intuitive instructions to bend 
my right knee when heading left, is a lot harder than it looks when you watch the Winter Olympics on television or, for that matter, the European journalists gliding perfectly down the higher slopes above. After careening into 
a poor fellow journalist minding her own business, I retire not so much hurt as embarrassed and decide to stick to what I know.

The girls stay behind ogling the ski instructors, who are all from Brazil and other places you wouldn’t think ski instructors came from.

In the bar, Sebastian, the barman who has figured out what we mean when we ask for a “shot”, serves up some Belgian beverage, which goes down very pleasantly on the balcony with its view of the adult slopes.

While there’s no actual snowfall during our stay, the warnings about a possible snow shortage in Europe have been false and the slopes are maintained regularly by ploughs and snow machines, so that every morning they return to their brochure-ready state.

In the lounge behind us, a group of young, really good-looking young people practise their synchronized dancing in preparation for tonight’s party. These are, in Club Med lingo, the GOs or Gentils Organisateurs , Club Med’s heartbeat — who look good, smile eagerly at you and get the party started on any given night.

In the morning, when I miss my wake-up call and then miss a presentation about how, for just over 500,000 euros, I can own a piece of a two-bedroom luxury chalet — I blame the GOs for managing to use their cheesy charms to get me dancing on the stage, doing what we decide to call the squashed mango, a far less stylish imitation of the tango.

I am, however, in time for a trip to the luxury chalets — three- storey abodes complete with wi-fi, 24-hour Mauritian butlers and the option of a visiting chef. You also get bubbly, which isn’t covered as part of our four-trident packages.

Once we’ve done admiring these palatial accommodations, it’s time to return to the buffet, which serves everything from croissants and cold meats to roast chicken and a very pungent German cheese, that most of us are not brave enough to try.

If skiing, cross-country skiing, snow-walking or 
ice-skating on a rink made 
of a green-friendly plastic don’t thrill you, you can always take a bus down to the village below the resort. 
As its mayor and some bigwig French government officials informed us at the opening ceremony, the village relies on the resort and tourism for its survival, and it has the same postcard-esque, wooden-cabin design — here you can visit a restaurant, buy ski gear and walk in knee-deep snow or take a ski lift to the top of the slopes and watch in envy as five-year-olds arrive and expertly jump off down the hill like Jean-Claude Killy. It’s all very picturesque, but has the same real-world isolation that abides at the resort in order to preserve the fairytale pleasures of the enterprise.

When the British journalists arrive, presumably because of shared language, we’re grouped together and taken on a tour of the facilities available to kids and teens as well as the spa, where you can get everything from stones to creams put on your aching body, enjoy the steam room and take a swim in an impressive pool that looks like something out of a Russian oligarch’s mansion.

For kids, there’s a playroom where a scarily butch-looking lady (who will later this night be seen in a black blazer, pumping her fists in the air to the cover band’s rendition of Highway to Hell) is in charge of taking care of the little ones, who are given plenty of opportunities to exercise, learn to ski and generally enjoy themselves while mom and dad glide down the hills above. In the teen room, your surly adolescents can DJ, play video games, make movies and watch them in the dark of the screening room.

For those tired of the buffet, there is an à la carte restaurant, where preference is given to chalet and five-trident residents, but if you book you can get a place and enjoy some fine French offerings.

Tonight ’s party is a gala, all-black affair, replete with GOs dressed and dancing like swing kids, bars made of ice, the opportunity to have a funky group shot taken against a snowy background,

dressed in goggles, hats and other comic props — an opportunity we take full advantage of because it’s all linked up to a photo printer, where we jostle with the Japanese waiting for our postcards to pop out.

Outside in the cold, a wall of ice has been constructed encasing several hundred souvenir T-shirts from the lobby boutique and we’re encouraged to grab hold of a pick axe, lay waste to the ice and grab a shirt. This is not as easy as you might think and, of course, the prizes have not been protected, so in the morning I will wake up with five many-holed, soaking wet Tshirts of various colours drying in my bathroom.

In the end, while I’m sceptical of the projected elegance of Club Med’s latest resort — red carpets, funky lights and deer antlers in the dining room make more of a James Bond set than create a comfortable ambience — and less-than-impressed by my skiing abilities, I have to admit that this all-inclusive, brief retreat to the picture-book Alps has been thoroughly enjoyable.

If you let go of your reservations, buy into the escapism and throw yourself headlong into the possibilities of the fantasy it offers, you will have a great time, wherever you come from.

And it’s this attitude on the part of our group that gets us the vote of favourite guests of the weekend from the staff of Valmorel.

Gallo Images

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