How To Ski Internationally On A Domestic Budget This Winter

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I didn’t grow up skiing, and when I decided to learn as an adult, I severely underestimated how difficult it would be. I thought I’d click on a pair of skis and some kind of instinct would kick in. Then I’d be able to shred with my friends in no time. It never occurred to me that I’d spend days on the bunny slopes, just trying to get to the bottom without falling down. And while most of this was my fault — I have very minimal athletic ability and am overly optimistic when it comes to trying new things — some of it wasn’t my fault.

Apparently, the East Coast isn’t the best place to learn how to ski — especially near New York City, where I live. Most of the mountains rely on fake snow, which is typically incredibly slushy or dangerously icy. According to my ski instructor, if I really wanted to learn I’d either have to go west or head to Europe. I laughed when I heard this. Skiing in Europe seemed like a far off fantasy. My concept of the kind of accommodations required for a European ski trip were those only suited for royalty or the rich kids of Instagram.

That is, until an accidental click of a seemingly spammy email lead me to learn about tiny little ski village called Valmorel.

Valmorel is in the Tarentaise Valley in France’s Savoie region — a mountaintop village that was only established in 1976, and is a haven for both beginner and advanced skiers alike. With a ton of blue and green trails, in addition to red and black, there are pretty sweet conditions and unbeatable views. The town is also home to a few chic chalet-style resorts (which makes perfect sense), and one Club Med (which sounds nonsensical).

If you ever actually clicked on one of those thousands of promotional emails that you get from Club Med, you’d know that Club Med is an all inclusive family chain resort; a beachfront staple in any warm, sandy town. Unbeknownst to me, it’s apparently also a ski front staple, with over 20 ski resorts worldwide. Back in 2011, the ski town of Valmorel welcomed the Club Med Valmorel, further expanding their geographic reach. It’s a confusing concept for me to swallow, because if I’m being honest, I’m not the all inclusive beach hotel chain type. But when I saw the prices — rooms during the ski season start as low as $194 a night — and realized that I could take a cheap flight into Geneva — my nonstop flight from NYC was about $400— and get a free transfer to the hotel, I decided to say what the hell and treat myself to a 30th birthday international ski trip on a domestic budget.

Before booking, I decided to check my impulse buy against the competition. A direct flight to Aspen and it was $150 more than my Geneva flight (plus no luggage and no WINE!). Once I had that information in front of me, it became a no brainer. I was going to France for a long weekend, and at the very least, I knew I’d get a passport stamp, some ski-vibe Instagrams and access to a few buffets…if not a positively memorable ski experience.

Here’s what I learned along the way:

Valmorel is actually as beautiful as advertised

The ride from Geneva to Valmorel was stunning. I didn’t sleep on my overnight flight and was so exhausted when I landed that I fully planned on passing out in the van. Instead, I stayed awake the whole time — because it was the most gorgeous, naturally serene, picturesque collection of towns and snowy topped mountains and trees covered in snow that I’d ever seen in my entire life.

“The setting of this ski town is very special” — that’s what I kept saying to myself along the ride, I felt lucky to be there, immediately. The pictures on the Club Med website are not stock photos of serene winter towns. Immediately, it was clear things were as advertised.

The resort is shockingly classy

Honestly, I was expecting some kind of ski-themed resort that felt cheesy and had fake snowmen outside. But the resort is chic. It’s huge, it’s sprawling. It’s not quaint, don’t get me wrong, but there’s nothing overly thematic or cheesy about it. It’s new, it’s clean, it’s elegant, but most importantly, it doesn’t get in the way of the scenery. It’s mostly comprised of massive windows and verandas and balconies that overlook the outrageous mountain views. The resort’s job is to be a clean, cozy place to rest up before skiing and a elegant boozy place to unwind after skiing. It’s definitely both of those things.

The ski situation is insane

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…in the best possible way.Taking the gondola to the top of the mountain took 30 minutes and I was sure I was going to pass out before I got there. My instructor knew just enough English to make fun of my green complexion and I couldn’t imagine not ending the day in the hospital. But when I got up to the top and clicked into my skis, I immediately calmed down. The snow is like powder. It’s packed high and falling into it, which I did immediately, doesn’t hurt. It absorbs you, it stops you from sliding. It’s an entirely different experience.

To be clear, I’m still a terrible skier — but that’s on me, my instructor was great and the experience was worth the flight. I just can’t seem to french fry my pizza legs. And to be honest, it didn’t matter. The whole time I was up there, basically in the clouds, I couldn’t stop thinking how crazy it was that I managed to finagle a trip this epic for so cheap.

This place will keep surprising you

All you can eat buffets gross me out. Probably because my grandparents took me to one too many Sizzlers. But good God, the food at this resort is not at all what I expected. It was local and super fresh. It’s also really just a few variations of cheese and bread and meats, but it was something I looked forward to at every meal. The inclusive restaurants were solid, too. Classic French cuisine, raclette, fondue — the whole deal. I ended up sharing a few meals with strangers and it was surprisingly fun.

The rooms made me feel like a European entrepreneur. They’re a lot more modern than I’d expected, but were super fancy, as were most of the common areas, save the kiddie areas which were maybe a little bit too colorful for me. There’s a massive hot tub at the base of the mountain that I shared with a 100 year old man in the middle of a light snow storm and it was not nearly as weird as it sounds. If hanging around the resort isn’t for you, they have some additional activities that they can set up for you other than skiing — which was great because after two days of skiing I could barely move.

I signed up for a night time snowshoe in which an instructor took us through the biggest pine forest I’ve ever seen, until we stopped, drank a bottle of wine, ate local meats and paired them with cheeses he made himself, and just sat there, in the middle of nowhere, in silence, in the pitch dark, surrounded by a good four feet of snow, listening to wolves in the distance.

Did I mention all of this was cheaper than a trip to Aspen?!