Chalkmarks: Artist in residence: Niki Heddle’s impressive land sculptures

I’VE died and reached the city of heaven. No, I haven’t. I’ve just been on the piste in the French Alps. One minute I’m standing up, the next I’m on my back looking up at domes of soft, white powder.

I wait to feel if I’m still alive. I am – phew. I thank the skies.

It’s mid-morning in Les Contamines-Montjoie at the foot of Mont Blanc, in France, and this my first skiing lesson.

I get to my feet but soon enough my legs go off in different directions from under me.

Normally I tend to like staying indoors at the first sign of my breath in the blue air. But at least here, kitted out in my Go Outdoors ski jacket, bobble hat and gloves, my teeth didn’t chatter once.

I start out on the nursery slopes and after three hours, I attempt a green run – the gentlest Alpine incline. But my knees give way and I’m on my back again.

I can see my reflection in the goggles of my ski instructor as she grabs my hand and pulls me up.

Chalkmarks: Frosty forests: Hiking on the Umbrella Walk in the nature reserve
Frosty forests: Hiking on the Umbrella Walk in the nature reserve
Chalkmarks: Majesty in the mountains: The three-star hotel La Chemenaz at the foot of the Mont Blanc
Majesty in the mountains: The three-star hotel La Chemenaz at the foot of the Mont Blanc
Chalkmarks: Spring on to the slopes: 2,000 multi-coloured pom-pom flowers arranged in the snow
Spring on the slopes: 2,000 multi-coloured pom-pom flowers arranged in the snow

This is a great place to learn to for nervous nellies like me. Many of the trainers are born in the area so chances are you could be learning from a pro.

My instructor was Morgane Mattel – her cousin Coline is currently the poster girl for the resort after taking bronze in the ski jumping at the Sochi Olympic Games 2013.

There are also blue, red, black and off-piste runs to keep everyone happy. Some would rather the village was kept hush hush unlike nearby skiing mecca Chamonix – one of the most famous for advanced skiers – because you don’t get the long queues at the ski lift.

Just across the Swiss border – an hour from Geneva airport – Les Contamines is billed as a Scandinavian-style resort, which means you can tick off Nordic sports such as ski jumping, snowshoe walking, biathlon, ice climbing and telemark skiing. There’s also ice-skating, snowboarding and Arctic dog sledging.

It could even be the only resort in the world with an artist in residence, so keep an eye out for Niki Heddle’s impressive land sculptures. Past works include giant circles as well as 2,000 multi-coloured pom-pom flowers arranged in a meadow in the snow.

After my last tumble we decide to stop for lunch to refuel. If you don’t want to ski, get up on the slopes anyway for the food.

The mountain-top restaurants are well worth the journey up the draglifts. We eat at La Roselette – a chalet that was crammed with skiers upstairs and down. Before I even order food I have a huge beer in my hand.

Two hours and three courses later, which included a gooey cheese fondu, I’m ready to get back on the slopes. So much food though was another novice mistake. I’d raised my spirits too much and totally lost my ski legs. And so that was the end of day one.

Covered in sparkling frost and snow in my hair, I head back to the hotel to sit by the fire and watch others whizz down the ice-cold peaks.

I’ve fallen for the dramatic, wild landscape and at the three-star hotel La Chemenaz, the Mont Blanc massif steals the scene.

I sip on the house cocktail called Givre Doux – which is a mix of white wine, almond syrup, orange zest and sparkling water with a handful of boozy sultanas at the bottom. The hotel is so close to the ski lift, I can wave to those setting off or returning.

With its heavily sloped roof and classic timber frame, the hotel is a mix of warm woods, quirky carved furniture, animal print throws and a burning fire that instantly takes the cold away. It also has a sauna and Jacuzzi and serves homemade yogurt at breakfast.

Life in the valley revolves around skiing with a collection of Alpine chalets and ski hire shops.

If you’re tired of falling off skis, you can hike in to the nature reserve’s frosty forests to get into the epic scenery and spot some wild animals. While I don’t get a peak of any deer I stop for lunch at Refuge Auberge de Colombaz.

It has that come-in-out-of-the-cold feeling where I again am left royally full after a huge plate of steaming boeuf en daube with a winter salad and crusty bread.

Busy by day, Les Contamines is sleepy at night with no neon-light entertainment. There’s enough bustle though to wander the shops, have a coffee and hit a restaurant in the evening.

There’s a Michelin star contender is L’Ô à la bouche with chef Fabrice Boidard. The best way to arrive is on a horse drawn carriage through the snow.

My evening meal begins with two Kir Royals followed by an amuse-bouche of beetroot mouse, then courses including chicken, crab and rabbit with chocolate for pudding and liquor Genepi with sugar lumps to end.

Next day and salopettes at the ready, I can’t help but swagger up to the cable car. Well you would, wouldn’t you? With the sun above, it’s so bright and white it’s as if it’s summer and winter at the same time.

I bite my lip. I lean forward and make a V with my skis. There I am…drum roll please…moving no faster than a snail.

I did it. Let the bragging begin. Winter Olympics PyeongChang 2018 here I come.

Chalkmarks: Les Contamines-Montjoie: A Scandinavian-style resort that offers Nordic sports such as ski jumping, snowshoe walking, biathlon, ice climbing and telemark skiing
Les Contamines-Montjoie: A Scandinavian-style resort that offers Nordic sports such as ski jumping, snowshoe walking, biathlon, ice climbing and telemark skiing
Chalkmarks: No queues: Getting our ski passes
No queues: Getting our ski passes
Chalkmarks: Finding my ski legs with instructor Morgane Mattel, right
Finding my ski legs with instructor Morgane Mattel, right
Chalkmarks: Worth the journey up the draglifts: Two hours and three courses at La Roselette
Worth the journey up the draglifts: Two hours and three courses at La Roselette
Chalkmarks: Come-in-out-of-the-cold: Hotel La Chemenaz
Come-in-out-of-the-cold: Hotel La Chemenaz

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