Monday, 30 November -0001

NO BUSINESS LIKE SNOW BUSINESS

No snow, too much snow… there are no guarantees. So what happened when actress Imogen Stubbs, her ski-phobic friend – and two teenagers – went to the Alps during one of the most extraordinary seasons in years? Well, it was full of drama…

Written by Imogen Stubbs

When my father died, my mother took my brother and me skiing. We had virtually no money, but she was determined that we should do something wonderful to distract us from grief. We arrived in the Alps to discover there was no snow whatsoever; in fact, there were crocuses bursting through the earth.

It would have been a dream holiday for any member of The Sound Of Music fan club – but it was gut-wrenching for anyone who had invested their last pennies in three lots of ski gear, and a tacky B&B by the ski lift. The Alps without winter snow is like a wedding cake without icing. Depressingly naked.

IMG 7474 2Fortunately, I have been lucky enough to ski since then – often with my snowboarding, 15-year-old son, Jesse. Since this is one of the few things that doesn't involve a screen coming between us, I was keen to go this Christmas holiday. He invited his friend Ellis, and I asked my great friend and travelling companion, Serena. We booked early to avoid disappointment, choosing to treat ourselves to a week in a shared chalet in Val d'Isère.

My son even got a snowboard as an early Christmas present, and dedicated weekends to practising at an indoor ski centre in Hemel Hempstead. And then, at the beginning of December, the papers announced that the World Cup ski races were cancelled in Val d'Isère. There was NO snow. The resort was even dubbed 'Val Despair'. We were devastated. Well actually, when I say 'we' – there was one exception – Serena. She was thrilled.

She is to skiing what dancing is to architecture. They have nothing in common. We have braved bush planes, rafts, camels, kayaks, motorbikes, stallions. She has always been undaunted and undauntable. She is usually great fun on a trip. Usually. For some reason, however, strapping two planks to her feet has never hugely appealed to her. Not for want of trying. This was to be our third attempt.

The first time was with my French boyfriend – a superb skier who guaranteed he could teach anyone in a morning. I met up with them at lunch. Serena was slumped over her sticks in tears. He was shaking his head in an intolerant Gallic way. 'Impossible! Mais IM-PO-SS-IB-LE!' We split up shortly afterwards.

The next attempt was a week of nonstop fog, with the world's most deranged snow-boarders ¡ ying at us from all directions. It was like being caught up in a game of Blind Man's Quidditch. Serena learned a really handy French phrase – scotchée à la colline. This loosely means 'glued to the slope with fear'. She lay on the piste in the foetal position and swore she would never ski again – unless someone invented a slip-proof airbag ski suit.

Despite this, she had agreed to come to Val d'Isère for a much-needed break and some fresh air. As the bus drove up into the snowless Alps, Serena gleefully pointed out that we could all have a riotous time taking gentle hikes, reading and lounging.

As an eager skier, I was finding all of this rather depressing. But then, shortly after arriving, a miracle happened – SNOW. Tons of it. Cars were skidding; snow chains were out; beautiful icicles hung from snow-laden roofs like stalactites. The locals were euphoric. Serena was aghast.

But as the snow kept falling, it soon became clear there was another problem: No snow had become too much snow. Before long, pistes and roads were closed, and there was a curfew because of falling icicles and avalanches. Serena smiled: 'KerPlunk, anyone?'

Of course, when it comes to skiing, you have to take the rough with the smooth. No one can guarantee the weather. Thankfully, the great thing about VIP SKI is that it manages inclement weather extremely well – with the help of unstinting quantities of food and drink, superb chalets, and zealously optimistic sta¨ .

And so, while we waited for the pistes to open so we could enjoy the incredible snowfall, the boys ate mountains of food, watched DVDs and went sledging. Serena and I had our toenails painted crimson and were severely pampered.

Cabin fever was suspended thanks to the hope – which became alcohol-fuelled certainty – that the lifts would open the next day. And they did. For the insane and foolhardy. Which was us. Including Serena. For it was cold. Very cold. But I enjoyed the challenge by pretending I was Roald Amundsen. And besides, we were finally doing what we had come here to do.

In the evening, there was a firework display with all the ski instructors snaking down the floodlit mountain clutching burning flambeaux. I found myself in floods of tears. This may just have been the effect of a hard day's skiing and too much wine – but there is something very emotional about being high up in the mountains... and the lunacy and the courage of the people who choose to be there.

Our last couple of days were blessed by sunshine. We were ecstatic. You cannot appreciate the wonder of skiing without enduring the harrowing insanity. Everywhere looked arrestingly beautiful and the air was sparkling. The conditions were perfect, the snow powder light. Everyone was smiling and laughing and congratulating themselves on their holiday choice. On days such as these there is a communion of hearts high up on the mountain-tops – with other people and with Nature. You descend feeling exhilarated, revitalised and grateful to be alive.

Indeed there is an extraordinary relief to surviving a ski holiday intact – like getting the All Clear. This must explain why you spend the last evening strolling around the town buying yodelling milk jugs and slabs of cheese that cost a 10th of the price in Sainsbury's and make everything in your case smell like a fetid corpse.

I am told that the conditions in Val d'Isère are now perfect and my son and Ellis have generously volunteered to sacrifice GCSE revision so we can go again during half-term or Easter. It's tempting.

Even Serena says she might come – as long as she has an airbag survival suit, and guaranteed sunshine. Knowing my luck, and the fact that ski trips are all about expecting the unexpected; she'll be there.

Seven nights at Bellevarde Lodge in Val d'Isère with VIP SKI costs from £889 per person, based on two sharing, including Gatwick ­ flights, transfers, catered chalet accommodation, ski and snowboard hosting: 0844-557 3119, www.vip-chalets.com



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