Once upon a time – perhaps a year or so ago – a group of friends decided they could do better. After many winters working for chalet companies with slapdash standards and uninspiring food, they spotted a considerable gap in the market.
So they took the same principle and transformed it into something rather different. The aim? To provide guests with a chalet experience every bit as unforgettable as the mountains surrounding them. And so, Ski Bluebird was born.
Ski Bluebird nests amongst the fairytale slopes of Courchevel – the easternmost resort of France’s legendary Three Valleys. They have three chalets across three different tiers of the resort, each with its own distinct character and capacity. The chalets come with everything you’d expect, and a few things you mightn’t: hot tubs under the stars, boot-warming rooms, four-course meals prepared nightly by an expert chef, impeccable interiors, fresh-baked afternoon teas, champagne and canapés by a roaring fire. With such delights on offer you could be forgiven for forgetting that’s only half the story; the other half is the stunning scenery and world-renowned slopes of the resort itself. You’d be mad to decline an invitation to spend a week with these guys… which is how I find myself en route to France in mid-December.
I fly into Geneva airport, where I’m met by a transfer company organized by Ski Bluebird – just one of the many small touches they provide to take the hassle out of your holiday. After a two-hour drive through landscapes so stunning I could happily stay a week just about anywhere en route, we arrive amongst the crystalline conifers and snow-hatted chalets of Courchevel 1650. I’m delivered right to the door of Chalet Mollard and warmly welcomed by Marcus, our host for the week. He shows me around the chalet and brews me a fresh pot of hot coffee – the perfect antidote to my 4am start.
If anything, Chalet Mollard looks like a beach house: pale shades of wood, cream, mauve and mint predominate, set off with large feature lights. The lounge is generously furnished with couches, the wooden floor adorned with fluffy rugs. There’s a keyboard and stereo system in the corner, and a guitar waits patiently on the wall. By night a wood stove snaps and settles. There’s also a huge kitchen with marble bench-tops and up-to-the-minute appliances – not that you’re likely to need them as Ski Bluebird is fully catered for breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner.
After settling in I realize I have absolutely no idea what to do. I’ve never been skiing before and I’m really not sure how one goes about it. Within minutes of this thought there’s a knock at the door: it’s Gavin from the Boot Lab, here to fit my boots, poles, and book me some classes. In ten minutes I know how to put on ski boots, where to pick up my equipment, what time to catch the bus in the morning, and how to find my class when I get off. This isn’t special treatment for the confused journalist – just a regular old part of Ski Bluebird’s service. They can also order your lift passes in advance so they’re ready to go the moment you arrive.
For anyone not acquainted, Courchevel is a picturesque resort comprising five villages scattered by altitude. All in all, the resort boasts over 150km of pistes, linked by more than 60 lifts and suited to all levels of ability. Courchevel Saint Bon is the only village without lift access, but not to worry – if you’re staying in Chalet la Grange, Ski Bluebird will personally chauffeur you to the nearby slopes of Courchevel la Praz. With my subtropical upbringing and virgin ski-legs, I’m a little out of my depth when it comes to judging snow – but luckily I’m staying with a group of four seasoned snowboarders, who tell me it’s some of the best they’ve ever encountered.
There’s a certain rhythmic imposition to ski holidays. After forking out for equipment hire and lift passes, you feel more or less obliged to spend your daylight hours on the slopes; come nightfall, despite the best of intentions to check out the local bars, you often find you don’t really want to part from the couch and the crackling fire. But if the days feel somewhat repetitive, the food at Ski Bluebird is anything but. With a variable menu drawing on the best of French and British tradition with an inspired twist or three, it’s not long before I catch myself wondering about tonight’s dinner in all kinds of places: the ski hire shop of a morning, on the draglift, halfway down a stunning slope flanked in snowy pines…
At Ski Bluebird’s culinary helm is Jimmy Garcia, known in London for his summertime pop-ups, most recently the sell-out success that was Jimmy’s Supper Club at Annex East. A few of his signature dishes make regular appearances on Ski Bluebird dinner tables – the Trio of Pork with braised pork belly, confit pig’s cheek and pancetta crisp has such a reputation that the Boot Lab staff flash knowing smiles when I mention it. Equally adept in the kitchen are Marcus and Sam, who whip up such delights as the Goats cheese panna cotta with crispy pancetta, roast cherry tomatoes & aged balsamic; Poached pears with homemade white chocolate ice cream; Slow-roast shoulder of lamb with couscous & salsa verde; and a sticky toffee pudding that takes us all to heaven and back. I can safely say the Confit Duck with puy lentils, roast vegetables, savoy cabbage & bacon is the best duck I’ve encountered yet – and so tender it’s practically pullable. Ingredients are sourced locally (the wild mushrooms are a particular highlight) except for some homely touches like HP sauce and golden syrup. There’s also a twice-weekly cheeseboard (if you can possibly make room), and Ski Bluebird’s hand-picked wines flow freely each night. Vegetarians fear not; with dishes like Jimmy’s Wild mushroom brioche bread & butter pudding on the offing your taste buds will be purring like a pile of tigers in the sun. Breakfasts are similarly hefty, with a daily cooked option like sausages, eggs and beans alongside porridge, cereals, yoghurts and fruit. And did I mention there’s a fresh-baked afternoon tea awaiting hungry skiers every day?
Also awaiting skiers every day are the hot tubs. Chalet Mollard’s is on the upstairs balcony, bedecked in fairy lights and generously endowed with valley views. There’s nothing quite like easing your weary snow-legs in a warm, steaming tub of an afternoon – or after dinner, with champagne. It’s so good that two of my chalet-mates get engaged in it on our first night.
All in all, I can’t really recommend Ski Bluebird highly enough. With beautifully-presented chalets, fantastic food and down-to-earth, friendly service that consistently goes above and beyond what you’d ever expect. It’s with a heavy heart indeed that I jet back to reality at the end of the week… but not before fulfilling a lifelong dream of building a snowman.
For more go to www.skibluebird.com
words Marion Rankine