Snow-clad luxury chalets in Courchevel, France
Copyright: Courchevel Tourist Office
Pulling off the perfect group ski trip is far from simple. Whether it's 10 people celebrating a silver wedding or 30, a 40th birthday, the pitfalls are plentiful and the decisions are daunting.
It has to be close to the slopes, pine-clad and homely in that classically alpine way, and it must fit your budget. And hopefully, it will be staffed by friendly types who can make a white sauce without opening a packet to do it. Will they be sticklers with the alcohol allowance or will they ensure your glass is never empty? Will they be drunker than you most of the time (no doubt on booze you're paying for)?
Traditionally, staying in a ski chalet was rather regimented and in most cases it still is. Wake up bright and early to a huge breakfast, return around four or five to mountains of cakes and hot chocolate before a four or five-course meal in the evening. But not everyone burns five- or six-thousand calories on the snow each day so a tub of hot cheese, ham and buttery potatoes isn't always necessary - and if salad isn't scheduled 'till Friday' you'll just have get what you're given. And you might fancy trying out that new restaurant in town but the ski chalet staff have been 'preparing the bourginone' since noon. Fortunately things are changing and it's now possible to find (though still hard) a more freestyle attitude to dinners and dinner times.
Outside hot tub at Chalet Spa in Verbier
Copyright: Chalet Spa Verbier
Hannah Young has been a host and chef in luxury ski chalets from the Alps to the Algarve. She offers some top tips for getting the most from your host.
Above all, be nice to the staff. Take out things they can't get in the Alps as little presents/tips - the staff will/should then go out of their way to be extra nice. Why tip at the end? And because of the way the budgets work, it's good to get the hosts on side. We had one family who brought us out Easter eggs and homemade biscuits etc. They were so nice we blew the budget for them. You make the money back off the not-so-nice groups. They still get what they were promised, but it's the bare minimum. This is especially true in chalets that offer free wine. If you're nasty you'll get the basic three glasses with dinner and it's probably going to be out of a box. If you're nice you'll probably get as much as you want and it'll be decent wine. And it goes beyond just wine and food: my co-host, a a form ski instructor, would take the nicer groups out and ski-guide for them for a day.
Here's a peek at six very different ski chalets . . .
The Personal Touch
The Chalet at 11 East, Obergurgl, Austria
This British-owned (rare in the Alps) ski chalet is so close to the slopes you could ski from your window after a fair dump of snow. The kids' ski school is right outside (the window of the free bar) so keeping an eye on them won't be a problem, and there's a cinema for when you get bored of watching the kids ski faster than you can. Sleeps 10 people. Seven-day stay £1,200 per person.
The Chalet at 11 East in Obergurgl
Copyright: The Chalet at 11 East
Chalet Amalien Haus, St Anton am Arlberg, Austria
Flexiski: 0208 939 0861
If your group can't run to a full week then a weekend or shorter stay maybe a better bet. Chalet Amalien Haus offers three-day stays at around £300pp. It's also right in the middle of town so you're always on top of the action and won't be wasting time on buses getting to and from lifts and bars. Includes buffet breakfast, afternoon tea and cakes, pre-dinner drinks and canapés, four-course evening meal with wine. Flights, transfers and all extras are booked to suit the individual requirements.
Lap of luxury
The Lodge, Verbier, Switzerland
Virgin Limited Edition 0800 716919
This is Branson's snow-covered Alpine retreat, so there's far less chance of it burning down than at its Caribbean counterpart. This, as you'd expect is luxury on a grand scale with a grand price tag, which we won't bother to include because, well, if you need to ask... Sleeps up to 18 millionaires and includes a pool, obviously, an ice rink, nice touch, and a basement party-room with a 10-person 'daybed'.
Master suite at The Lodge in Verbier
Copyright: The Lodge
Zara, Chamonix, France
Mont Blanc Retreats +33 (0)61541 4258
Zara, a classic wood chalet in a quiet village near Brévent, is rare in that it offers guests the chance to self-cater, ideal for groups with non-skiers who need something to keep them busy. Accommodation is over three floors and it has an outdoor hot tub to relax in once the dishes are done. Seven-day stays from €4,100 (£3,393) per week/eight people.
Across the Pond
Chalet Eagle, Breckenridge, Colorado, USA
Thomson Ski 0871 971 0578
Chalet Eagle is an imposing log house less than 400 meters from the nearest gondola. It may cost that little bit more in flights but you'll save on day-to-day expenses. And after all, this is a special occasion so why not go for something with a once-in-a-lifetime feel. Seven-day stays from £1,359 pp.
Eagle Lodge dining room, Breckenridge
Copyright: Eagle Lodge
Lean and Green
Chalet Mont Blanc, La Plagne, France
Ski Beat 01243 780405
Ultimately you're there to ski, not to mince around an ice rink or frolic in a hot tub. If you're looking for something close to (or on) the slopes at affordable prices then the Alps has plenty to offer. Mont Blanc Chalet in Plagne is 100 metres from the lift and you can ski back to your front door. It's decorated to high standard and has everything you need for a successful group trip. Seven-day stays from £679 pp.