Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Inspired by the Tour? Get yourself on a cycle camp

The one with your mates: Chez Ray
Ray Keighley’s informal and enthusiastic take on bike hosting is a breath of fresh air for anyone who likes a good deal of craic with their cycling. Located in northern Provence, Ray’s is an ideal base for testing yourself on some of the lesser known Tour de France cols such as the Allos and Champ as well as the spectacular Verdon Gorge. You can hire out the entire property – which is best described as charismatic rather than boutique – for the week with Ray providing a breakfast fit for champions, vehicle support, cycle guiding and five nights’ of top-notch dinners. Guests aren’t expected to work for their holiday but the atmosphere is definitely one of mucking in – so save some energy for helping to clear the table.
B&B at Chez Ray costs 20euros pppn. You can rent the entire property for a week from 700euros

The one for all round fitness: Velo Pyrenees
Have a partner who prefers running to cycling? Or just fancy mixing it up a bit while racing around the Pyrenees? Julie Moore and Lee Parish have combined years of experience as bike racers, triathletes and coaches with a rustic farm setting and hearty meals to create a sporty base from which to explore the region and your strength. There are trails for running straight from the door while cyclists have a wealth of thigh-busting climbs to choose from, even popping over into Spain should you feel like it – with maps, itineraries and advice close to hand.
Bed and breakfast from £25 pppn. Additional evening meals at 22euros pp including wine and coffee

The one in the ‘secret Alps:’ Velo Vercors
We all know the Alps are a mecca for road cycling but if you only focus on Alpe d’Huez and the rest of the Haute Alps you’re missing out. The Vercors national park which slides down the western flank of the Rhone Alps, is home to quiet roads, punishing cols and sweeping rides down into the Isere valley – great for the lesser-toned of thigh. At the helm of Velo Vercors is Roger Hart who after years of competitive road racing has turned his attention to encouraging others to the top of the Col du Rousset. Accommodation is in gites, complete with bike storage, BBQs, laundry rooms and WiFi. You can book self-catered but that would mean missing out on Theresa’s home-cooked three-course meals and robust breakfasts.
Seven nights fully catered from £440 pp based on two sharing

The one for aspiring Lance’s: Alpine Cadence

During a torrential downpour on the top of the Col de Forclaz in Switzerland, most people would retreat under a rock and whimper to be rescued. Not the Alpine Cadence crew. Based in Courchevel, the company run multi-day road tours – think stage racing – as well as day training rides from Chalet Nicola. These are not rides for the faint hearted and if you’re looking to test yourself on legendary Tour de France terrain, Alpine Cadence will happily throw down the gauntlet. Never fear – there is always a support car on hand with snacks, water, spare parts and comfy seats if you need a lift.
There is one space left on Alpine Cadence’s Tour de France week 17-24 July which is £825 for seven nights half board accommodation and fully supported guided riding.

The one for people who like a bit of luxury: BreatheBike
Launched this year and based in Chamonix, BreatheBike takes its riding seriously – but also provides those little touches which make a difference after 100km in the saddle. Two words: hot tub. Chalet Annabelle exudes modern luxury complete with a laundry service for your sweaty bike gear, satellite TV, iPods, bike storage, massages, support car, bike mechanic and stunning views of the Aiguille du Midi to keep you inspired. With Italy and Switzerland both a short ride away, enthusiastic racer Mike Booth and his team of guides have the pick of legendary routes which you can ride safe in the knowledge that there’s a posh place to put your feet up on your return.
A six night ‘classic cols’ holiday including half-board accommodation and guided riding is 799euros

Also available on Guardian website

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Tuck and roll ...

I like people who damage themselves for something they believe in.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Need some bike inspiration?

This should do it:

Now get on that bike and ride, goddamnit, ride!!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

View of Mont Blanc from the Refuge de Bel Lachat

Do not ask (it is forbidden to know) what end the gods will grant to me or you, Leuconoe.
Do not play with Babylonian fortune-telling either.
It is better to endure whatever will be.
Whether Jupiter has allotted to you many more winters or this final one, which even now wears out the Tyrrhenian Sea on the rocks placed opposite.
 - Be wise, drink your wine, and scale back your long hopes to a short period.
While we speak, envious time will have already fled.
Seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the next.

From Odes by Horace

It took us three hours and 14 minutes to hike up to the Refuge de Bel Lachat from my flat. I can't admit to being an expertly fit hiker. We ate our sandwiches sheltered against the wind by a cairn which perched on the edge of the mountain - a more rustic setting we felt than the expansive deck of the refuge itself. We soaked up Mont Blanc as we ate. Then we made our way home.
I like to think we seized our day.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Great trips for singles

I got asked by my editor at the Guardian (natch) this week to submit a few words on adventury trips that are good for single people. Which I took to mean trips you can go on solo, rather than in order to find a new fling, sorry long-term love.
Here are five I came up with. The others you can read online at some point.

1) The Orange House, Costa Blanca, Spain
If you are, or aspire to be, a rock climber then the Orange House is the perfect place to meet new people who won't drop you. Located in the village of Finestrat and close to some of Spain's most celebrated climbing spots, the Orange House sports it's own bouldering wall, slackline (never been a fan myself ... ) huge BBQ, swimming pool (just think of all those six-packs on show. Ahem) kitchens and everything else you need to get your fingers aching. You can book a private or a dorm room and there are always loads of people on hand to go out climbing with - or just book on one of their courses. Plus the Orange House has been known to let you stay for free if you help out with the daily chores.

2)  Flow MTB, Morzine, France
I write a lot a about Morzine, I know but that's because it really has the makings of something excellent. At the epicentre of the Morzine mountain bike scene is Flow MTB and its associated MTB shop Torico. Dinnertime at Chalet Musardiere is legendary with the cooking almost as good as the craik. If you can't find a kindred bike spirit over one of their gut-busting mealtimes then I'm afraid there is no hope for you. Sara and Guy know the trails in the area so well it's almost like they built them themeselves, the chalet has its own workshop, TVs and DVDs in every room, Garmins, route planners, the works. Never ride alone again.

3) MountainGirl, Sardinia
Should chicks only climb with chicks? Well no obviously. But if you fancy escaping from the well-meaning clutches of your male counterparts ('foothold there, then drop your right knee, that's it, nice, pull through, great!' 'Dude, its a 4a warm up, back in your box') then MountainGirl offers superb instruction from top climbers and mountain guides in the sunny climes of Sardinia. A mandatory belay workshop at the start of the week means trust is established pretty quickly and after that it's up to you how far you want to push yourself. This year's week is being run by top guide Isabelle Santoire. See her wield an ice axe and you'll want to make her your friend. Or else.

4) Hiking Mount Whitney, California, USA
Mount Whitney is the highest mountain in the lower 48 US states, rising to a regal 14, 495ft. It's summit can be accessed by a gruelling, but achievable day hike and as such is pretty popular (ergo crowded) during the peak season. But the day trail is not the only way up. International Mountain Guides offers a three-day trek up the Mountaineer's Route on Whitney's east side. Expedition camping skills, setting running ropes and hiking in snow shoes are just some of the skills you'll be expected to pick up on the trip. Needless to say the view from the summit - and the smug feeling that you did it the hard way - will more than make up for the calloused hands and pounding heart.

5) Cycle Cote d'Azur, Nice, France
There's always a chance that you sign up for a holiday to meet some new people who share your passion for a sport, only to decide that you hate them all and really don't want to communicate. This is a bummer if you're there for seven long days. But the beauty of Cycle Cote d'Azur is that you sign up for daily rides with difficulties ranging from easy to very hard. If you don't fancy riding one day, or just need some head space, simply don't tick he sign up sheet. Run by Olympic cyclist Emma Davis and super-triathlete Claire Scrutton, you get to ride legendary cold like the Madone, enjoy fantastic Nice nourishment and meet new people, without any pressure to face them again if they blow you off the tarmac on the first hill. Not that meeting new people is all about finding new people to compete with of course ...

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Oh, hello ...

Trail running in the sun - lush. Hooning it down the Aravis without losing your fingers to frostbite - fab. An entire ski season with only two powder days? Not much cop that.
So thank Zeus for the Art of Flight due for release in Autumn 2011. If I watch it every day between now and then I may actually be psyched for the snow again.

I'm not ashamed to say I would die a happy woman knowing there was some footage of me leaping out of a helicopter in slow motion.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

It's not about the spa ...

My sensitive trip radar has been assaulted recently by a few things:
1) A recent edition of Outside magazine reported on the 3G reception now available on the summit of Everest by saying thus: 'now the race is on to see who will be first to update his facebook page from the summit.' Couldn't decide what appalled me most - the thought of people updating facebook from Everest or the fact that Outside automatically assumed the next person on the summit would be a chap. Mind you all those ropes and oxygen tanks are hard to handle when you're filing your nails and applying lip gloss at the same time, so perhaps they're right. Jeez.
2) There seems to have been a mass agreement in the travel media recently that while men will be spending the upcoming long Easter break doing boys weekends away rock climbing, mountain biking, scratching their balls et all, us ladies will be jumping at the chance to go to a spa, drink champagne and eat chocolate with 'our three best girlfriends.' Well, naturally. Seeing as the option of summiting Everest is now out of the question.

So then I thought: where are some funky accommodations in places where you can also be seriously gnarly? You know, for those people who like a few creature comforts after they've shed their bodies' store of adrenaline? Voila!
1) West Coast Wilderness Lodge, Sunshine Coast, BC, Canada
Don't be put off by the fact that people get married here - they do it because the view across the Sechelt Inlet is superb. The accommodation is in wooden suites complete with stonewalled bathrooms with windows opening onto the sea as you shower. The coast is perfect for sea kayaking - which hurts your arms more than you'd think it does. The resort is also 3km away from the Skookumchuck rapids - the fastest saltwater rapids in North America, complete with whirlpools. Gnar. Ly. Mountain biking and hiking de rigeur here but then you are in BC so goes with the territory really.
Gnarly rating: 3/5

2) Velo Pyrenees, Barousse valley, France
If you fancy upping your game in the old trail running stakes or you'd like to be able to enjoy road riding in the Alps without the pressure of climbing Alpe d'Huez every five seconds, Velo Pyrenees is your place. A guesthouse run by Lee and Julie it combines great food and cute accommodation with kick ass exercise. Julie is a triathlon coach (a woman! How does she find the time?!) and Lee has spent many years bike racing. They will provide you with itineraries and maps for your runs and rides along with advice and encouragement to help you reach your potential.
Gnarly rating: based on the altitude it gets a chunky 4/5

3) Bjorkliden, Sweden
Thought Europe's pathetic snow season had scuppered your plans for powder runs? Think again buddy! Scandinavia is where it is at for late-season, knee deep snow and Bjorkliden in the Arctic Circle is possibly the cutest resort on the planet with one of the most eye-crushingly epic vistas. You can stay in the resort's one hotel but you'd feel like you were on a Soviet school trip in 1974 if you did. Better to stay in one of the cabins which are arranged like a little town, with streets and dead ends. View is of Lake Tornetrask with the Lapporten Gap looming in the distance.
Gnarly rating: the remoteness ups the ante from the mellow gradients of the off-piste - 4/5

4) Nuit-Nature, Combloux, France
If you thought ski resorts were like living in a bubble then Nuit Nature is the physical manifestation of that. Literally a room in a giant bubble, with 360 degree views of Mont Blanc, the Chaine des Aravis and the Pont Percee. Combloux has it's own chairlifts in winter although it is close to Megeve and St Gervais as well. In the summer there are, of course, the Alps on your doorstep and you're not far from Les Contamines which has some pretty good sport climbing. But hang on a sec. This bubble is also the height of luxury - with a four-course meal served to you by the chef who arrives in a rugged 4X4.
Gnarly rating: oh if we're honest probably a 1/5. But for you certainly need a sense of adventure for this one.

5) More Mountain, Morzine, France
Morzine is mountain biking when summer arrives. No other resort in France (Europe?) has embraced the sport with quite so much panache. Which obviously is still crap compared to Whistler but hey you gets whats you can right? Rather than jump on the MTB band wagon and create your bog standard chalets full of smelly lads in awful, awful bike outfits trying to do wheelies every time a chick walks past, More Mountain have stayed true to their mantra of stylish and contemporary accommodation while also offering kit washing, bike storage and the services of Jon the most enthusiastic and downright scary bike guide on the planet. Like MTBing but also like a plush leather sofa, massive TV, iPod, room that doesn't smell of trumps and the thought that you might be a bit cool? Best check out More Mountain.
Gnarly rating: depends on you really. But based on my experience of being spat off the Pleney DH run, I'm giving it a chin-in-the-air-even-though-you-looked-like-a-pleb 5/5

Friday, 4 February 2011

Dirt Series and Passportes

Now I'm not one to simply bung up a press release as a way of doing an easy post. So as opposed to the side of A4 from Trek announcing registration opening for the 2011 Dirt Series I will just say this:

Dirt Series registration open for the best weekend of riding any chick can have in North America. Make that as dirty as you will ladies. You won't regret it and I can personally recommend the Whistler leg. Website: www.dirtseries.com. Candace, you rock!

The second bit of info is for this year's Passportes du Soleil which has opened for registration as well. Extra day this time around. I did the Passportes two years ago, had a massive tantrum, acted like a child and got my ass kicked by both Jo Petterson and Petra Wiltshire. To say I have some face to save is an understatement. Website: www.passportesdusoleil.com

What a fun summer of riding this is shaping up to be.

Climbing Mont Blanc - not quite there yet

This appeared in the Guardian last month but I've only just got around to posting owing to some ice climbing shenanigans and taking a little trip back to England. As I marched through Kentish Town in the wind last night, Monte Bianco seemed a long way away. But at least I had a pint of Amstel for under four euros at the lovely Vine pub.

Descending to the Cosmique hut. Photograph: Tom Humpage
The ladder was unstable and covered in ice, fixed precariously into the snow wall above me. Looking down through the rungs I could make out only a void, a yawning mouth of blackness, sucking at my feet. John kept the rope tight, urging me on until my ace axe slammed into the steep slope and my crampons left the slippery metal, instantly gaining purchase on the ice and bringing an end to an intense minute of movement over a gaping crevasse.
I was on Mont Blanc. It was 2am. Passy and Sallanches, two towns at the foot of the Chamonix valley, twinkled a lifetime away below as we made our way up the steep face of the Col du Tacul. Behind us pinpricks of light signalled the presence of other teams following in our footsteps, their headtorches carving a small niche in the heavy darkness.
This was summit day. A storm was forecast to roll in that afternoon. And we still had so far to go.
John Taylor, my guide, had been to the top of Western Europe’s highest mountain more times than he can remember. ‘But it still blows me away,’ he says, keen not to belittle the achievement, or the view, that comes with standing at 4810 metres above sea level. Finding a guide in Chamonix willing to take you up Mont Blanc is not hard. The valley houses around 300 IFMGA (International Federation of Mountain Guiding Associations)mountain guides, the most highly qualified and experienced mountain professionals in the world, each one capable of the task. But with his company Mont Blanc Guides, John has turned the ascent into his specialism, devising a five-day acclimatization and climbing schedule which can lead to an empty summit on arrival – no mean feat on one of the most crowded mountains in the world. ‘Most of my clients are adventure tourists, rather than die hard Alpinists,’ says John. ‘What we’ve done is make Mont Blanc our only goal and we’ve made the programme as good as we can.’
Certainly the aspiring mountaineers who sat around the dinner table in Chalet Prarion in Les Houches, base camp if you like, on the first night owned a diverse selection of experience and skills, ranging from absolutely none to summitting Mount Elbrus in Russia. Since the mountain was first summited in 1786 by Jacques Balmat and Michel Paccard, Mont Blanc has become an achievable jewel in the amateur mountaineer's crown. In good weather the climb isn't technical putting it within the remit of the less experienced if accompanied by a guide and offering up a legendary Alpine summit without the expedition price tag. But while Mont Blanc may be enchanting, it is also a mountain oft underestimated, viscious storms and avalanches an ever-present danger. In 2008 it claimed 100 lives, in 2009 the toll was 68 making it one of the deadliest peaks in the world.
We may not have had a complete idea of what to expect, but we weren’t glib enough to assume it would be a walk in the park. Already news was filtering through of deaths on the Gouter couloir – an essential part of our route – with unusually warm weather causing boulders to shift and fall with lethal momentum.
Despite this, our acclimatization continued as planned. It’s hard to say whether acclimatizing before heading above 4000 metres is essential in order for your body to get used to the altitude, or to the mountain huts. Both impact your faculties with equal ferocity, the close quarters of the huts offering little respite for those suffering the fitful sleep, headaches and bloating of being up high. To get us used to the rope work and movement in crampons which is essential on glaciers, John chose to ascend the Petit Fourche, a modest peak in the massif with striking views of the Eiger and Matterhorn. With this in the bag we rappelled into Switzerland and trekked across the Trient plateau, a seemingly endless swathe of snow, a merciless sun slowing baking us as we ground our way across. The next morning we again crossed the plateau but at 6am, our skin relishing the coolness, the snow taking on the appearance of gentle waves with the sun chasing us out of darkness as it rose behind us. By now we were much more used to the intimacy and teamwork which comes with being roped to four other humans. Need a bathroom break? There’s an unspoken rule that everyone will avert their eyes. Luckily the view of Mont Blanc in the early morning light through a gap in the rock by the Aiguille du Tour provided a beautiful alternative while the necessary ablutions were dealt with. That was where, ultimately, we were headed. It was a thought heavy with tension, excitement and nerves.
None of which were mitigated by sharing the Cosmique hut with a selection of other climbers from different teams who could only be describe as rugged mountain types. ‘Good lord look at us,’ muttered Matt, a consultant from Derby. ‘We’re a bunch of giggling Brits in a sea of hardy men of the mountains.’ It was the evening before our summit attempt. The closing of the Gouter Couloir had left John with the decision of either calling it quits or ascending via the harder ‘Three Monts’ traversee, the longest ascent of Mont Blanc which involves climbing two cols before the final summit ascent. He chose the Three Monts, confident we were strong enough to handle it. The two members of our group who had struggled during acclimatization were not attempting the summit with us, John adamant the safety of the team could not be compromised and setting them the challenge of Gran Paradiso instead (which they went on to summit.)
Two other guides – Mark Pulieo and Yannick Flugi would be joining us and we would ascend in three groups of three to increase the safety and the pace. The problem was the weather. ‘What you don’t want to see,’ said John as we stared at the horizontal wind sock outside, ‘is wind on the clouds, so there’s straight lines through them. Erm, basically like that.’ But there was a chance the wind would drop, so we, and the rest of the people in the Cosmique hut, bedded down for a 1am wake up call.
At 1.24am John, my teammate Andy and I were roped up and beginning the climb up the Col du Tacul, the deep night hiding the seracs which lurked above us. We moved swiftly, aware of the potential dangers of our position underneath them and focused on our task ahead – 3pm was our deadline to be back down otherwise we risked being caught in the forecast storm. Everything had to go like clockwork for us to reach the summit. After the Tacul we faced the Col du Maudit – ‘maudit’ ominously meaning damned in French. Wind tickled my ears. My headtorch carved a column of light into the vortex: outside of it I had no sense of anything. But we were climbing Mont Blanc! One foot in front of the other, relentlessly upwards, ice axes plunging into the snow wall at our side for stability. Nearing the apex of the col, spindrift lashed at our faces, our shoulders instinctively hunching for protection. As I followed John and Andy to the top, an 80kmh wind smashed against my body, knocking me off balance and sending me staggering. ‘This is not a hard decision to make,’ yelled John above the screaming wind. ‘Guys, we’re going down.’ Just like that. We were not destined to reach the summit that day.
There is a saying that the mountain always wins. ‘Not always,’ said John as we sipped sweet tea back in the Cosmique. ‘That’s what makes people continue to go back.’ He’s right. Mont Blanc will be there next year. As will I.

Guardian link here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2011/jan/08/extreme-sport-climb-mont-blanc

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Terrific tarmac

There has been a slight shortage of snow here in Chamonix recently. At first I found this quite depressing. But then I remembered my bikes. Now I enjoy skiing, but I didn't realise how much I loved cycling until I went a month without riding a bike and then finally got back in the saddle. Awe. Some.
And in honour of that feeling, of the wind touching the back of my neck, of the rhythmic swoosh of the pedals, of the 'jesus it's gonna wash out' fear when I take a corner too fast, I've made a list of my top five pieces of tarmac.

1) Farringdon Street to Blackfriars Bridge, London, UK

OK so Farringdon street is a mess - the tarmac is pish. But the corner which sweeps you onto Blackfriars bridge from the traffic lights is fantastic. First it bends left and you get pushed up against the hoarding. Then you crank your legs, overtake the 'style over speeders' on the outside; a cab is close on your right as you swing back round to the right before the pristine tarmac pings you back left. There's a traffic light halfway through this motion where some people stop as they think it's for those going straight on but it's not, so you keep your speed and end up hooning it onto the bridge with a velocity that is easy to maintain right up to the apex. Supreme fun.

2) Servoz to Lac du Passy on the Route de Servoz, Haute Savoie, France

This is one of those brilliant descents which descends slowly so you need to keep pumping the pedals and the result is you feel like you are flying. The corners are mellow so you can get really low on the drops, knee out and take them at speed. It begins on an undulating woodland road then stretches out into a yawning race down to the plain of Sallanches, the Mont Blanc Massif leering at your back. The climb back up is also great - can be taken at a much higher speed than your typical Alpine ride so makes you feel like you are made of steel.

3) The D1212 from Flumet to Megeve, Haute Savoie, France
I ride this on the way back to Chamonix from the Col d'Aravis. You're slightly tired. It's been a long day. The road winds gradually uphill. Then when you get to the public toilets on your left it flattens out ever so slightly. Suddenly the bit is between your teeth again. You thought you were tired. Turns out you just weren't trying hard enough. So you push into a harder gear and start to move faster. By the time you hit the final right hand bend and come over the bridge into Megeve you feel like a freakin champion. And you've left the rest of the gang for dust because they were pacing themselves for the long ride back into Cham. Sweet, if temporary, victory.

4) Highway 12 from Lolo Pass to Kooskia, Montana to Idaho, USA

There is tarmac made for riding and there is tarmac made for living. Highway 12 is the latter. Creeping through the Clearwater National Forest it will bring you back to your senses in a way no other road can. You are encased by trees and traffic is pretty light leaving you free to smell the air, feel the coolness of the natural canopy and hear the sound of rushing water always to your left. Oh my stars it's an amazing road. I could ride this every day for the rest of my life and never feel like I was missing out on anything.

5) St Jean du Bruel to Treve, Auvergne, France
What I love about cycling in the Auvergne is that the region is bloody amazing for bike riding, yet the only people who seem to know this are 80-year-old French men in yellow and purple lycra. This piece of tarmac is 14km uphill - smooth, hairpin and muggy, through thickly carpeted hillside where the view is impossible to see. Then you get to the top, ride flat for a bit then take a left turning. Wow. The road drops away, seeming to carve out a path in the land as the ground opens up into a big chasm. The view from here on in is immenses - steep, jagged rockside that takes on a deep historic feel almost like as you ride you are chasing the centuries back. When you get to Treve you can have a dip in the river before the rest of the loop back to St Jean. The whole ride will see you crank out about 40km - so not long but you'll feel like you've seen all the world has to offer.

6) The bit under my wheels
Being without my road bike for a bit has made me realise that my favourite bit of tarmac is the bit that I'm riding. At any point. In any condition. God I love my bike.

Where's yours?

Monday, 17 January 2011

Le list de super cool

People have said more than once in the past few months that I am 'living the life.' Bit weird that as everyone's definition of 'the life' is different and although my view here is pretty awesome I still battle the same boring things everyone else does: failure to budget adequately leading to sardine pasta for two weeks straight; cardiac arrest after filing tax return; trying to get the car MOT'd except in French; working many, many hours to avoid sardine pasta; suffering deep anxiety over making new friends; failing.
So in an effort to convince myself that life here is as super cool as everyone thinks it is, I've compiled a super cool list of things near where I live. You should try them out next time you swing by this way:

1) Billski and Ski Park Pow, Morzine, France
Blasting the idea of ski instructors as red-clad, aloof, ESF egos right out of the snow, Billski is a new style of ski school. With a lean towards freestyle coaching as well as women-only lessons and sponsored by Armada, this ski school is a breath of fresh - and very cool - air. Billy Clark is a superb skier but his grip on freestyle, honed in the Nyon and Avoriaz parks in the Portes du Soleil make him a really inspiring instructor for those keen to nail those 360s.
Billy works in conjunction with new Morzine freeski shop Ski Park Pow. It's a little hidden in the commercial centre near the tourist office but once you're inside it's a colourful homage to the burgeoning freeski scene in Morzine, with little-known brands and everything from multi-coloured ski poles to the latest Liberty skis on demo.

2) Les Vieilles Luges, Les Houches, France
Absolutely beautiful little restaurant, tucked away down a tree run off the side of the blue Allouds run. It's only accessibly via skis or snowshoes making it something of a hidden joy. We visited on Christmas day for a great vin chaud under twinkling fairy lights and then a few days later where we enjoyed everything from ribs and cheese tart under a twinkling sun. The food is spectacular, the atmosphere cosy and the people watching as everyone skids around the final bend, priceless.

3) Snowpark, Verbier, Switzerland
I'm not sure how many people know anything about Verbier that isn't related to money, rich people, money and rich people. But beyond the poshness and the huge prices (23 euros for a tomato salad?!) Verbier boasts a pretty good park and because it's high up (2260m) it's still nice and groomed even after the paucity of snow all the resorts have been suffering recently. The piece de resistance is the big booter into air bag at the bottom of the park. Class.

4) Restaurant Christiania, Courmayeur, Italy
It's not often a slopeside eatery can offer tasty food at a reasonable price but being Italy the odds are better than elsewhere. The Christiania is a traditional Italian restaurant right at Plan Checrouit making it easily accessible for non skiers as well. Avoid the foccacia (it's pizza base with garlic not proper foccacia) but the coletto Milanese comes recommended as does the minestrone soup. A free shot of grappa after the meal is also possible if you flash a smile and throw some enthusiastic 'buongiornos' around. Another small tip: park your car at the Val Veny car park which is free and only an extra five minutes gondola ride away. That's more money for grappa ...

5) Le Delice, Les Houches, France
Les Houches is the oft-overlooked ski area in the Chamonix which is a shame as it is World Cup standard (the Kandahar run will be hosting just that on 29/30 January) and also because it hosts Le Delice - a restaurant full of great laughs, banter and very little attitude. The food ranges from Asian salmon (fish! In a ski resort!) to great venison stew and decadent desserts. The dream realised of katy McInnes, she and her team have done a fantastic job of giving the relatively quiet resort of Les Houches a reason to stay up at night.