Skiing is a grueling full-body aerobic workout, and regularly puts thousands of calories to good use every single day… However, in my younger days, I can only remember it as an uncomfortably awkward experience for the unfortunate, suffering mountain-goer. As a skier, you’d have to tolerate some serious unpleasantness to survive the week; the sweaty boots would imprison and crush your feet and always inflict shin splint, the skis weighed a ton, chairlifts were slow and unreliable, the clothes weren’t really weatherproof, the food was terrible, the chalet beds were paper-thin and yielded a pitifully un-restorative night’s sleep… and I shan’t touch upon the neon all-in-one “fashion” monstrosities! Thankfully, times have changed unrecognizably, for ’skiing’ has radically upped its game, and nowhere on the planet has this alpine art de vivre been more finely honed than Courchevel. I ventured to the warmth of Hotel Le Saint Roch in Courchevel 1850, to deliver the first Alpine Active Escape I’ve covered on this blog, and the refined experience I discovered there has transformed my understanding of pure joy on the pistes! Click MORE to see the full experience…
As ever the review shall be structured in 4 parts, as follows: 1) The Fitness Activity, 2) The Hotel Facilities & Service, 3) The Food, and 4) The Summary Thoughts…
… But before I start, perhaps a little background about this magical resort. Courchevel is the jewel in the crown of Les Trois Vallées, a vast interconnected realm of 8 resorts, with 600km of skiable runs, and range of altitudes troughing at 600m above sea-level, and peaking at 3400m. It has 183 ski lifts that can move 260,000 skiers about every hour. It is simply cavernous, which makes it a total playground for winter sports. Courchevel itself has a degree of glamorous repute, with its own Bond-villain style airport, the unusual concentration of designer stores, and even higher concentration of Michelin-starred establishments. Ski resorts often look ugly, adorned with gargoyles of 1980s construction; unimaginative concrete blocks clustered in towns that protrude garishly from the snow. Courchevel however, is the prettiest ski resort I’ve ever seen, with a gorgeous traditional village, immaculately well kept public amenities, elegant and charming architectural structures both new and old, a wonderful aspect to catch the best of the day’s light, and stunning shoulders of fir trees that run down the mountains creating the unique backdrop that identifies this place at a glance. It is then, quite a special thing to spend time here and I savored every moment of it; here are my thoughts in more detail.
1) FITNESS ACTIVITY – THE BENEFITS OF SKIING:
As I sat on the chairlifts and bubbles, I kept a set of notes recalling my fresh reactions to the Ski experience unfolding around me; here are some of the undiluted thoughts I penned:
- THRILL: Skiing as a sport is simultaneously thrilling, exhausting, exhilarating, uplifting, and perilous. If nothing else, it is a workout for all of the emotions! The thrill of tearing down the slopes means worldly troubles could not seem further away; adrenaline and endorphins flow freely in this pursuit!
- CORE BURN: You’re engaging the muscular ‘core’ to stabilize yourself, for hours on the trot. As a result, this activity hones and refines the agility and balance.
- CARDIO: It is a superb aerobic workout; an hour of skiing clocked up c.450 calories of energy consumption for me, though it would be more than double that should you go cross country skiing! Poling along on the flat, something I did quite a fair bit of, is a real leg-burner, and I loved it!
- LEG BURN: The entire leg complex benefits from the lunging and squatting silhouettes adopted during a day’s skiing; the glutes, the quads, the hamstrings and the calves all feel the benefit of moving on plains they rarely otherwise do, and bearing stresses as you go; you feel it after day 1, no matter how much you prep! Likewise, the joints and bones take the impact of the shock absorption required to navigate the piste, so are being strengthened too.
- FLEXIBILITY: Given that you’re constantly stretching and moving at extreme ranges of motion, skiing naturally improves your flexibility as the week goes on.
- MOOD BOOSTING: The mood is elevated; soaring amidst vast majestic mountains just fills you with renewed life. The air is crisp and pure, restoring strength to the lungs and constitution; the colors are divine, with an inky darkness of blue possible only at extreme altitude, cutting deliciously against the fresh white of the groomed snow, and the contenting effect of the sunshine amplifies it all with a sprinkling of vitamin D.
- CONCENTRATION & FOCUS: It’s also a mental workout, focussing the mind on spatial awareness as there’s a complex radar to monitor; other skiers, your own immediate and future path, your speed, pitch, altitude, incline, and overall technique! It’s a proper challenge for cognitive function.
- LEARNING & EXPLORING: I took a few hours of tuition with a legendary instructor from the ESF, Patrick Bayle (who’s been skiing almost as long as Courchevel has existed, and is also a world record holder for Paragliding), who showed me the farthest flung parts of Les Trois Vallées, whilst helping iron out the kinks in my technique with classic Gallic finesse.
- REST & RECOVERY: Sleep gets a huge boost, for, at the end of the day, you’re utterly shattered, leaving no alternative but to seek restorative shut-eye!
2) THE HOTEL FACILITIES & SERVICE
If you’ve ever visited this resort, you’ll have encountered the Maison Tournier group (consciously or otherwise) operating both in front and behind the scenes. The Tournier family’s roots run deep in this village, stretching back to the late 1940s when Courchevel was first established, and their dynasty has spawned a unique hospitality collection fusing heritage and modernity in equal parts. My home for the trip, Le Saint Roch, is a part of that group, and has a unique character I found totally compelling and fascinating…
With 19 suites, 5 rooms and 2 apartments, this is an intimate hotel; it feels discreet and subtle in many ways, yet charismatic and indulgent in others. Overseen by the venerated General Manager, Valerie Mansis, there is a dedication to anticipate guests wishes and a service ethic which is quite differentiated from anything I’ve encountered before. Whilst ski accommodation is often just a necessary ‘means to an end’, here it is elevated to an art form where detail is the life-blood of the Saint Roch. There’s a signature scent that just works for this hotel in this resort, which subtly drifts through the communal areas and rooms, an evocative touch which helps to carve out the memories more clearly; there are indulgences such as custom bed sheets and bespoke toiletries from Maison Kurkdjian; the distressed-wood ceiling is hundreds of years old and preserved from the original structure that once stood here; there’s always jazz and bossa nova playing from some of the coolest ceiling-hung speakers I’ve seen; the day service is in white and the night service is in black; they print you a custom newspaper edit on their signature silvered paper each morning in your language; the rooms boast a host of warm and endearing touches like a fresh chamomile tea heated by candlelight beside your bed after turndown, a plate of bon bons upon arrival, and an interior scheme with lush cozy flourishes of leather, fur and velvet. And a personal favorite touch; every single room has a private hammam in its bathroom, great for facilitating assisted stretching!
But the most remarkable aspect of Le Saint Roch is the service. I have been fortunate to travel extensively and enjoy some of the worlds finest hospitality, but this has been amongst the most consistently professional, attentive, subtle and effectively delivered service I’ve encountered, true of the entire staff. Ever present, yet seemingly absent, they quietly observe and anticipate what you might like without you ever having to trouble yourself too much, judging what’s appropriate for each guest, and thereby promoting pure cognitive ease. Your preferences are discovered – never intrusively so – learned, and remembered for tomorrow or equally the next trip. And this is the genius of Le Saint Roch, and of Maison Tournier; surrounded by a comforting cocoon of support, the guest need never suffer during the ski experience. For those who have had to tolerate discomforts on alpine excursions, it needn’t be the case here; the staff will remove your ski boots for you (usually quite an ordeal at the end of a tiring day); they will relieve you of your skis / boots / helmet & gloves and dry/warm them for tomorrow morning’s use when they’ll deliver them back to you; they arrange for your ski pass to be routed to your room, your transfers to and from the airport, your instructor to meet you at the hotel, your lunch venues to be booked (with priority, many of them are also Maison Tournier operations!), and their shuttles are always available for you to be transported around the village. And every member of staff knows you by name, a small personal touch, but a clear differentiator of world-class execution.
I would be remiss not to mention the Spa as a place to unwind in silent tranquility at the end of the day. This became part of my daily ritual, as I stepped across the centerpiece swimming pool and rested in quietude upon the far side of the facility for an hour or so, to rehydrate and decompress in equal measures.
3) THE FOOD
Burning 450 ‘active’ calories per hour, for 5 hours each day, means that you’ll need to fuel up so as not to fall into deficit. Luckily for you, Savoyarde cuisine doesn’t shy away from calorific bombs such as cream, cheese, butter and sugar. Whilst mountain restaurants are light of what I might deem ‘healthy’ options, there are still options at some sublime restaurants. Here are my 4 top picks for slopeside lunch:
Back at Le Saint Roch, the cuisine which they deem Bistronomic, is worthy of decoration, as the hotel’s eye for detail is at work again. The truffled cashews and amuses bouche to accompany an aperitif are exquisite productions in themselves. To accommodate my pescatarian preferences, the chef re-purposed anything on the menu with deft, and rather than describe it in words, I can show you a host of images we shot. The food was, quite simply, beautifully executed.
4) SUMMARY THOUGHTS
Skiing is not cheap, and Courchevel even less so. Many places in this resort charge the wrong price, simply because they attract customers who actually prefer to overpay; Le Saint Roch is not one of those venues. It is a 5* establishment which plays to the beat of its own drum; its personality is distinctive and unique – both quietly understated and charmingly gregarious at the same time, yet always below the radar, and fabulously welcoming. It is the solution to alpine hassle, and enables you to pursue the optimal mountain break for a price which, whilst expensive in absolute terms, is inexpensive relative to almost all of the comparable hotels surrounding it, especially when one considers the sheer quality of the half-board offering here. More broadly, the village of Courchevel, being located at the pinnacle of the world’s largest ski area, is too good a draw to refuse; for those seeking an unconstrained retreat to the Alps, this is quite simply the only combination you need.
MY SKI FASHION CHOICES:
- OUTFIT 1
- J Lindeberg Jacket, Moffat Dermizax Top, HERE
- J Lindeberg Bottoms, Watson Pants, HERE
- OUTFIT 2
- Helly Hansen Jacket, W Whitestar Jacket in Graphite Blue, HERE
- Helly Hansen Bottoms, Meribel Pants HERE
- SNOW BOOTS:
- Penelope Chilvers Incredible Boot in the GinTonic colour HERE
- Sweaty Betty merino body map thermal top HERE