Published On: Thu, Jan 9th, 2020

A meeting of ways in Courmayeur

How would a father and son, skier and snowboarder team fare for five days on the slopes together? Jon Bickley took teenager Ben back to the Alps to find out…

Courmayeur photos courtesy of Jon Bickley

Courmayeur holiday

Jon and Ben ready to hit the slopes…

 

After the second time I went skiing with my son Ben, on a school trip to Bormio eight years ago, I felt I’d found something we’d always be able to do together. Of course, I knew he was poised to metamorphise as he progressed to senior school and his teenage years, but his love of the slopes was so great that I believed, as long as I could find the ways and means, he’d always be up for a winter trip.

Scroll forward to 2019 and, as he edged closer to 18 and had begun to lead a life that demanded less and less of my input, would this still hold true? Would the prospect of four nights of sharing a room, meals and the piste with his middle-aged dad be as appealing as I’d thought? “Oh yes, brilliant, but this time I want to snowboard.” So that was that. We were off on our ‘Lad and Dad’ trip, with both our generation gap and clash of skis and boards providing the backdrop to the holiday.

mountain view

Sunshine on Courmayeur’s snowy peaks


Plenty of choice
Beautiful, chic Courmayeur and the dramatic Monte Bianco was our destination. With a 90-minute transfer time from Turin (even less from some of the French and Swiss airports), Courmayeur’s easy to get to and a rewarding destination. The town exudes the best of its convergence of French and Italian culture, with high-fashion boutiques rubbing shoulders with down-to-earth pizzerias, and enough bars and bistros to provide plenty of choice, but no sense of being overwhelmed by high-volume tourism. Sounded good to me, but might it be too sleepy for Ben? We checked into our comfortable twin room in the Hotel Cristallo and had a tired nose around town and simple supper before heading to bed.

Instructor Alessandro thought Ben was a ‘natural’

The next morning we breakfasted smartly and made the five-minute walk to the lift and up onto the slopes. Kitted up with skis and board, we headed straight to the Courmayeur Ski and Snowboard School, where we met Ben’s tutor for the morning, Alessandro, and proceeded to shuffle to a quiet practice slope. I pottered around a little as Ben was taught the rudiments of boarding before Alessandro gave me the nod to leave them to it. Ben was learning fast and didn’t need me watching over him for three hours. 

Courmayeur is a relatively compact resort and I was quickly able to get a sense of it while I reacquainted my knees with the demands of skiing. As I’ve found with most Italian resorts, the slopes were uncrowded and I could relax on my solitary exploration of mostly intermediate slopes with hints of off-piste. Returning to Ben and Alessandro brought a change of pace. They were both beaming. “He’s a natural” proclaimed the instructor. “Normally it would take days to reach this level.” I felt pride – but also a guilty relief that I wouldn’t have to spend three days plodding around the snow as Ben fell, shuffled, scraped and fell again. His years of skateboarding had done him proud: he was balanced, poised and good to go. But it was also the empathy that Alessandro established with my teenager, despite a bigger age gap than our own, that helped Ben make the most of his one-to-one training. As we were to find with other locals on the mountain, Alessandro was most certainly young at heart.

We were set, and quickly fell into a rhythm of playing on the slopes together that made light of the mismatches. There can be a frustration between the two snow tribes but I found that Ben challenged any complacency I had about cruising around the slopes, nudging me into trying some jumps and inveigling me to the snowpark. We had a great time, and Courmayeur provided the perfect variety of runs, jumps and loops to keep us interested and exhilarated for the next three days.

Après-ski options abound


Après-ski
So, if you’re happy with the skiing and boarding, the thing that really makes a winter sport trip is the food and the drink. Of course, we were never going to be cutting loose with the après-ski. Ben might be starting to embrace a little of the party lifestyle with his friends, but having a drink with his dad is a bit uncomfortable and not something to be over-indulged. But, celebrating our successful first day, we did nip into Courmayeur institution Bar Roma. Famed for its free buffet and conveniently located between the lift and our hotel, this place has a bohemian décor, quirky staff and some welcome carb-laden food. It was busy but not bursting, and the clientele was a relaxed mix of ages. We sipped a pint and a coke and helped ourselves to bowls of pasta and garlic bread. In fact, the deep sofas and easy atmosphere were so welcome that we stayed for another – and came back the next day…

Spectacular views in all directions

Over the following days we headed over to La Briciola bar for more beers and pizza in unpretentious and friendly surroundings, and also nipped into the American Bar, where a combination of football on the TV and burgers made for an easy evening for the two of us, if not the most culturally enriching. But the highlight of our evening dining has to be the Judith Brasserie. Downstairs from the hotel, but operating distinctly as a restaurant, the Judith gave us quality mountain-influenced cuisine in a traditional timbered dining room shared largely with Italians. We opted for the potence menu, rich with deep-fried cheeses, veal with gorgonzola, and the centrepiece of the potence itself: a mace-like spiked ball laden with tender slices of beef. At €45 a head it was by far our most indulgent meal of the trip, but well worth it for the succulent tastes and sense of occasion.

Back on the slopes for one more day and we had a final treat in store: lunch at Maison Vieille. This is another spot synonymous with Courmayeur and famed for its charismatic owner Giacomo and his après-ski parties. Before meeting him, Ben and I enjoyed a massive affettato misto and then tucked into delicate lamb chops and salsiccia, all finished off with a limoncello digestif. Then we were introduced to Giacomo. 

Like Alessandro, the Maison Vielle’s patron belied his years with his twinkling eyes, broad smile and lust for life. He proudly declared Courmayeur the best place to live and work in the world and his own mountain restaurant the most fun place to be in Courmayeur. Once he got going, there was no stopping him expounding on the resort’s beauty and pointing out his newspaper clippings of visits from the likes of Heston Blumenthal and GB skier-turned-TV host Graham Bell enjoying his establishment and hospitality. And why not party like the celebs and book one of Giacomo’s evening dining experiences, including snowmobile transfers back to the lifts that run until 11.30pm? A must for me next time.

Maison Vieille

Lunch stop at Maison Vieille


Accessible and friendly
So with our time away coming to an end and the transfer car waiting downstairs, I reflected on how the trip had worked out, and whether there would always be skiing for the two of us. It had been a mix and match holiday all along that somehow came together to produce something delightful and memorable. Courmayeur has the best of the French and Italian confluence – it’s so much more sophisticated than its neighbour over the mountain, Chamonix, but still remains accessible and friendly. There’s more sunshine and the people are delightful and age-defying. Ben and I were able to mix affetatto misto and potence with burgers and pizzas, and our combination of skiing and snowboarding dragged me out of my comfort zone to take on the snowpark for the first time in many a year, while Ben was comfortably able to board over longer rides to be a perfect companion for me on the snow.

I did ask Ben to give his thoughts on the trip – even suggesting he record a voice memo for me – but with the copy deadline crashing in I’ve had to conclude without him. But perhaps his most eloquent review came when I asked him if he fancied another ski trip this winter – “Oh yes!”

More info

Inghams offers a seven-night ski holiday on a half-board basis at the four-star Hotel Cresta et Duc in Courmayeur, from around £889 per person based on two sharing. Price includes return flights from London Gatwick to Turin and airport transfers.
To book, visit the website or call ☎ 01483 938 047

For more information on skiing and snowboarding in Courmayeur, visit the Courmayeur or Val d’Aosta information sites or Courmayeur Ski and Snowboard School

For more features on the Courmayeur area, check out our archive

 

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