Will Robson samples Ski France’s new ‘contactless chalets’

The pandemic put many UK ski operators into crisis, adding fuel to the Brexit fire already burning beneath them. As a result, and after a two-year hiatus, British skiers will find a different mix of holidays on offer this season.

            The biggest change comes to a Brit favourite, the catered chalet holiday, and it looks as though it may never quite be the same again.

            The good news for the industry is that skiers are desperate to return to the slopes this winter.  The not such good news is that they expect similar prices and familiar formats. This is a problem for the hosted-chalet specialists, now that cheap ‘gap year’ staff are subject to EU employment rules that add significant costs to the employer.

            Some operators are battling through national and EU regulation and employment terms to take on a mix of local and/or British employees. Others see the Covid/Brexit double-jolt to the sector as an opportunity to reinvent the chalet holiday, and here, Ski France is leading the charge.

            Ski France is owned by French hotel group Madame Vacances, and despite being fully at home with French and EU employment and tax rules, the company is not staffing up with locals, but instead is launching a new category of ski holiday: the ‘contactless chalet’.

            Their focus is on reassuring clients that in an ongoing Covid-aware world, the ‘contactless chalet’ will let skiers stay in the safe bubble of their chalet, with all their needs met remotely by ‘behind the scenes’ staff – all at a price point that they’re familiar with.

            Chalets are stocked with food and drink, with guests encouraged to follow recipes. To call it ‘self-catering +’ might be unfair. The self-catering mindset is different, happy to be more self-reliant and budget-focussed. Ski France is sourcing local delicatessen produce, from breakfast to high-quality three-course suppers, that require little preparation; all with a concierge-like staff a call away from sorting out house-keeping, re-stocking and transfers to the airport.

“This modern twist will entice a new generation of skiers to discover affordable chalet holidays”

joanna leforge – ski france sales and marketing director

            Ski France is offering two classes of contactless chalet: Classic and Premium, with prices starting at around £420pp for the week. For those wanting more flexibility, an ‘à-la-carte’ option lets them choose from a larger list of provisions, stocked in the chalet by unseen ‘concierge’ staff.  Or the chalet can be booked as is, without provisions, working out about 10-15% cheaper.

            Flexibility seems the key characteristic and Ski France Sales and Marketing Director Joanna Laforge believes: “This modern twist will entice a new generation of skiers to discover affordable chalet holidays.”

            Ski France is putting everything into this concept and has rapidly grown a portfolio of 50 contactless chalets across the French Alps, including Val D’Isère, Tignes, Meribel, Courchevel, La Tania, La Plagne and Alpe d’Huez.

            Fall-Line sampled Ski France’s contactless (Premium class) Chalet Etienne in Meribel this summer, prepping and cooking meals. Our chicken chasseur came pre-prepared in large silver foil baking trays, requiring no more than time in the oven. Similarly, a tasty apple tart was heated through for pudding. All accompaniments were prepared by us, including toasted goat cheese, vegetables, fruit and cheese board. Nothing too taxing, and because Ski France is sourcing locally and from delicatessens, even the basics are high quality. The two-week rotating menu has dishes requiring more culinary skill, but some are easy enough for teenagers/journalists to cope with when told it’s their turn to cook.

            While it’s not self-catering in the traditional sense, you are still responsible for feeding yourselves – unlimited wine (available with both the Classic and Premium packages) can be a help or a hindrance in that process.

            Time will tell if the British chalet holiday die-hard is ready for contactless chalets, but given the difficult and changing times the ski industry is going through, Ski France’s dynamic approach deserves success.

A stay at ‘Premium-class’ Chalet Etienne during Christmas week costs (skifrance.co.uk) from £985pp (based on 14 sharing), including the chalet, contactless catered meals and concierge service.