Stylist’s Helen Bownass loses her skiing virginity at the swishest new lodge in Courchevel 1850
Standing on my private balcony, gulping in mouthfuls of fresh Alpine air, I burst into laughter. Gliding right past me is a huge close-up of Karl Lagerfeld’s face, plastered on a Chanel branded ski-lift bubble.
It’s a fitting welcome to Courchevel 1850, aka ‘the St Tropez of winter sports’, but it only amps up the intimidation factor for me. I’m 34 and have never been on skis. I’m convinced I’ll crash into William and Kate, wipe out the Beckham clan or land in a crumpled heap at the feet of Giorgio Armani (all Courchevel 1850 regulars).
But I’m told that Courchevel 1850 is ideal turf for a beginner. There are four allocated ZEN areas (it actually stands for Zones for the Evolution of Novices, but I appreciate the sentiment) and the famously queue-free magic carpet lift system means minimal embarrassment at the bottom of a drag lift. Still, the prospect of eating snow all weekend while more advanced posers swish past doesn’t exactly appeal.
To compensate, I’m staying at the most haute (it’s literally at the top of the 1992 Olympic ski jump), new ski-in, ski-out joint in town, L’Apogée Courchevel. Owned by the Oetker Collection, who count the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc and Le Bristol Paris among their portfolio, this is luxury 2014-style: attentive (three staff members to every guest) and contemporary with minimal ostentation.
The 52 bedrooms and suites are spectacularly tactile – not ideal when you’re expected to go outside and hurl yourself down a mountain, but very welcome afterwards – all sheepskin, marble, oxblood leather and plaid carpets. My giant bath has mountain views and I’d happily sit and drink the complimentary minibar dry, but I’ve got a date with a ski instructor.
My teacher has the patience of a saint and is unwaveringly encouraging, but when he takes us off the nursery slopes and has me snowploughing down what feels like a black run, he pays no heed to my crying and sulking and tells me I’m lucky I’m not in the equally upscale Verbier, where beginner-friendly slopes are in shorter supply. In the end, his attitude makes me knuckle down and after starting to make some progress, I head back to the hotel giddy with excitement.
That night we dine in Le Comptoir de L’Apogée on meaty, hearty French soul food, complete with retro dessert trolley and fromagerie, before bypassing the champagne lounge and its 19,000 euro bottles of bubbly for the livelier Le Bar de L’Apogée. After all the day’s terror, the Love cocktail featuring vanilla ice-cream and beetroot (the cocktail ingredient of 2014, it seems) feels soothingly medicinal.
The next morning it’s back to the slopes before exploring the tiny town – where Louis Vuitton, Hermès and Prada stores nestle at the bottom, fur-clad women swishing through their doors.
Spying a helicopter coming in to land at the helipad, I wonder if it’s someone headed for L’Apogée’s 12,600 euro penthouse. Despite not quite finding my ski legs in a weekend, I couldn’t be more jealous.