OVER aperitifs in our Alpine chalet, we shared spirited tales of an action-packed day on the slopes of the Espace Killy, before sitting down to an exquisite three-course dinner.
While our hosts, the attentive staff of CLUB Bellevarde Lodge, tackled all the household chores, we were free to enjoy the luxury lifestyle and a delightfully convivial atmosphere in our traditional-style stone and timber chalet in the heart of Val d'Isere.
In a ski hotel, your room is often your hideaway after a day's skiing, until it's time for dinner. In a chalet, you relax completely and soon feel part of a select group, especially when ski operator VIP Ski takes the trouble to put together like-minded holidaymakers.
With breakfast, ski guiding, afternoon tea, evening drinks, canapes and dinner included in the package, the daily routine helps you to make new friends instantly – and apres ski hours become a highlight of the week. Families with young children are also welcome in the school holidays.
Located on the Santons piste, in the shadow of the Rocher de Bellevarde peak, the cosy retreat of CLUB Bellevarde Lodge includes 12 en suite double rooms, which are individually booked if one group can't fill the entire property.
The hub of the chalet, towards which guests naturally gravitate after a day on the piste, is the large open-plan living area with comfy couches, fireside arm chairs, dining area and kitchen.
Floor-to-ceiling windows separate this space from a deck on the front of the building which has two hot tubs and incredible mountain views. The giant World Cup slalom slope nearby is a reminder that Val d'Isere staged the World Alpine Skiing Championships in 2009.
On my first morning, after a wake-up call and hearty breakfast, I collected my equipment, tailored to my size and ability by the team at local rental shop, Oxygen.
After easing into gently warmed ski boots in the chalet's kit room, I took just a few steps before clicking into my skis and heading off up the mountain on the nearby cable car. Being able to ski in and out of the chalet is a real bonus.
Having never visited this area before, I'd always grouped Val d'Isere with St Moritz, Courchevel, Klosters and St Anton as winter playgrounds for the rich and famous.
Although Val d'Isere exudes an air of class and old money, it's hardly as snobby or exclusive as ultra-pricey Courchevel. The village, smart and modern, retains a traditional Savoyard feel. There's not a neon sign to be seen and no crumbling farmhouses either.
On the slopes of Val d'Isere – as with CLUB Bellevarde – you get what you pay for. On the mountain at Les Clochetons, I lunched on a salad, which made a healthy yet filling alternative to the standard rich cheese, meat and pasta dishes on offer, and cost a reasonable 12.20 euros (about 11).
Val d'Isere is the gateway to the Espace Killy ski region, which includes both Val d'Isere and Tignes. A seven-day ski pass, at just over 250, offers access to an amazing 300km of pistes, ranging in altitude from 1,550m to nearly 3,500m.
Some of France's best off-piste skiing is also found here, with groomed slopes for intermediates. There's plenty to test acclaimed champions and wannabe racers, while a calm skiing zone, reserved for beginners, attracts families too.
Children from 18 months old are welcomed in the Village des Enfants. A new toboggan run has been created and there are shows and entertainment aimed at families throughout the season.
Snowboarders and playful skiers let off steam in the Snowpark
(Valpark) with a 1km Boudin boardercross park, a beginners' zone, 25 rails and a relaxation zone with sunloungers, music and barbecues.
There's more fun to be had after dark, at 'igloo evenings' which include a skidoo ride, champagne and a cheese fondue in the warmth of a yurt, dessert in an igloo and a ski back down to the resort in a sea of dancing lights.
With the staff at CLUB Bellevarde ready to act as mountain guides for three days a week, it was often difficult to drag myself off the mountain. But freshly baked cakes in the chalet at 4pm were usually too tempting to resist.
The chalet lifestyle can include some pampering sessions too. Local therapists provide manicures, facials or massages in the privacy of your own room.
Ski boots play havoc with shins and calves, so the experts eased my sore limbs with soothing magic. Thick cotton robes, slippers and complimentary toiletries in each room enhance the spa experience.
To change the daily routine, you can head for the newly-opened Oxygen leisure centre nearby, which has a swimming pool, leisure pool, climbing area, gym, squash courts, beach zone with a 150m square warming beach, wellness zone and a spa.
A free session at the Oxygen wellness centre and a day skiing in the Trois Vallees are included in a six-day lift pass and one free pool entry is included with valid lift passes, too. A natural ice rink, in the heart of the village, opens daily from 2pm to 7pm.
One evening, the chalet's VIP concierge service whisked me into the village for some shopping before dinner.
The shops of Val d'Isere offer stylish ski wear, jewellery and souvenirs with traditional delicatessens selling cheeses, meat, jams and oils. And a wonderful patisserie has some of the best honey you're likely to find.
As I returned from the shops, delightful aromas oozed from the kitchen, while guests gathered around a log fire. Beers were being poured from the tap by guests allowed to help themselves, and canapes were being served as stories of the day were swapped.
After dinner, we had a range of options: continue our conversation over a cheese platter, watch a film on the 43-inch HD screen, relax aching muscles in the hot tubs, or venture into the village.
Val d'Isere is a magnet for young people, so its bars and
clubs are always lively. The legendary Folie Douce at La Daille is a Mecca for partying on the piste, open daily from midday to 5pm. The DJs play dance music al fresco to an enthusiastic crowd which spills on to the terrace, slopes and even the tables!
Down in the valley, Dick's T Bar, Petit Danois and Doudoune are perfect nightspots to continue the party indoors, while calm bars in the village entertain the more mature crowd. Val d'Isere has something to suit everybody, at any time of the day or night.
Tori Mayo was a guest of VIP Ski, which offers seven nights' catered chalet stay at CLUB Bellevarde in Val d'Isere from 919, including return flights ex-Gatwick, Manchester or Bristol and coach transfers.
VIP Ski reservations: 0844 557 3119.