The experts that help you find the perfect ski holiday
PUBLISHED: 13:18 14 October 2015 | UPDATED: 10:11 18 February 2016
To say that The Oxford Ski Company organises ski holidays is rather like saying Chester Zoo has some animals - true, but a vast understatement, writes Kate Houghton
There are a few necessities that are deal-breakers when it comes to booking a ski holiday. Snow, of course, is one. But what we want, when committing what is always a considerable financial investment to a single week away, is the assurance that it’s going to be a hassle-free holiday.
Spending hours faffing about sorting our ski hire, lift passes, finding a ski school for the children and figuring out where to meet them is a painful way to start a holiday. More painful still can be the realisation that what you thought you were getting - accommodation, food or après ski - isn’t quite what you’d hoped for.
Rupert Longsdon of Oxford Ski first set up his business as a chalet operator, choosing to run a collection of chalets that aimed at the premium end of the market. His thinking was that by delivering impeccable service, pre-empting every client need and knowing exactly which chalet would deliver the best value and comfort for each client, he could build a loyal clientele, earn a living and spend his winters in the wonderful Courchevel too. He was right, but then his recipe for success isn’t exactly rocket science. What is rocket science is the consistency of delivery. It was this part of what he did that led to a complete reorganisation of his business’s operations.
‘Clients started to ask me if I could find them chalets in other resorts,’ he says. ‘I could, but they were with other operators. I did tell my clients that they could simply go direct, but they knew and trusted Oxford Ski and preferred to stay with us.’
It wasn’t long before passing clients to competitors became more than a good deed. Rupert decided to move away from operating chalets and into working with chalet operators and so expanded his service across the Alps and North America. He now works with the very, very best chalet operators and hotels in the very, very best resorts, but his commitment to service has retained the trust and loyalty of his clients, who continue to choose Oxford Ski Company year on year.
I was lucky enough to experience the Oxford Ski Company treatment on a trip to Courchevel last season, the choice of wealthy French, Russian and indeed Middle Eastern luxury lovers.
I’ve always stayed in catered chalets before, but on this occasion had a room in the fabulous five-star Hotel Saint Roch. Wow. Seriously - wow. Words fail me. Not a great position to be in as a writer, let me tell you. The décor is perhaps best described as opulent: lots of plush faux (and real) fur, leather, oak, metallics and sparkles. The interior design is dramatic, but pays close attention to what tired skiers need: warmth, rest and loving care and attention! My room had a Hamman shower – a vast space that swiftly filled with steam, relaxing overworked (and somewhat surprised) muscles and providing the perfect wake-up-and-go boost.
While there I was introduced to the core of Oxford Ski’s business - the chalets. I have a bit of the thing for fabulous interior design (working as Cheshire Life’s Interiors Editor is rather a dream job) and a tour of just some of the chalets operated by Cimalpes, with whom Rupert works very closely, gave me more than a hit of the good stuff. I positively wallowed in glorious interiors. But it’s not the contents of a property that deliver the perfect ski holiday, it’s the service.
Once you book your chalet with Oxford Ski their concierge service kicks in and you can arrange everything that you need to make your holiday perfect. Most chalets come with a resident host/hostess, chef and driver. Additional services like nannies, masseurs and private ski instructors can be arranged and they can even sort things like the ski hire people coming to you, picnics on the piste and parties. If you can think of it, they can arrange it. It’s the toppest of top star service and it makes for a totally relaxing ski holiday. As Rupert says: ‘A family ski holiday is a big investment for one week of the year, so it needs to be totally smooth and hassle free – no wasting ski or family time trying to figure stuff out and certainly no faff and fuss actually getting to the slopes and home each day!’
The skiing at Courchevel is marvellous. When I first learned to ski you would spend all day, from 9am to 4pm, on the slopes, at least half of which was passed in queues or on chairlifts. Not any more. The chairs are vast, padded and fast, meaning minimal queuing and maximised skiing. After a three hour stint (okay, including a hot chocolate break at the top of a mountain) I had done many, many ski miles and all on smooth, wide slopes that mean you can go from very top to very bottom without going near a red run. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not remotely boring for an intermediate (if occasional) skier and absolutely ideal for mixed-ability families or those who prefer not to risk life and limb. I am assured the skiing can be as challenging as you want, but for me, three hours preventing gravity having its way with me on a blue run was enough, a red would have seen me off.
Finally, onto a key element of the success of any ski trip: food. If you’re anything like me repeated and plentiful access to calories is a vital part of your ski day. From vast and carb-packed breakfasts to hot chocolate (avec un peu de cognac, madame?) on the slopes to long lunches, après ski crepes and finally a glorious dinner. Trust me, none of this is a problem in Courchevel, or any of the linked villages. We dined in extraordinary style on the slopes at Le Cap Horn, enjoyed fine dining at Aman Resorts Le Mélézan hotel, tucked into a glorious, regional spread at Le Bistrot du Praz, in Courchevel le Praz and experienced seriously high-end catering from Infinite Chef, arranged by Oxford Ski through Cimalpes, in a chalet where the view, indoors and out, were breathtaking.
There simply isn’t enough room here to do justice to the holiday that Oxford Ski can cook up for you. You’ll simply have to give them a call and arrange to experience it for yourself; trust me, you won’t look back.