Skiers want different things from their week in the snow. Some are compelled to seek out the toughest black runs, others want to be seen in the most glamorous places and there are those who are more interested in the apres ski but for Sue Smith it’s the traditional charm of Serre Chevalier that continues to capture her heart

SENSATIONAL Serre Chavalier has lost none of its charm since we first discovered it as a family many years ago.

Our children learned to walk and ski pretty much simultaneously and this gem of a resort down in the southern French Alps was one of the first family friendly alpine destinations we stumbled upon and swiftly added it to the favourites list.

As they got older, the highlight of the holiday or the little helmeted demons was undoubtedly the night ski-ing on the Mickey. This is launched with great gusto at the beginning of January with a torchlight descent by French ski instructors – and it signals the season for floodlight descents that take place every night after the lifts have closed.

The resort is around an hour and a half transfer time from Turin Airport and as we wended our way up the mountain road in mid-January, a month that saw record breaking snow depths in Europe, I wondered if I would recognize my old friend.

Some critics describe Serre Chevalier as being behind the times, not as glamorous or fashionable as Val d’isere or Verbier. And for sure you will be pushed to find the same level of floor-length mink wafting around the village that dominates Courcheval or Zermatt. But that’s just how I like it.

Serre Chevalier has a rustic charm all of its own. It is made up of a string of villages, Le Monetier (1500) Villeneuve (1400) and Chantemerle (1350) all linked by a busy main road.

But once off the main drag they all have their own atmosphere and character with chalets and apartments dating back long before anyone thought they might need to get a car through the streets.

The nearby 17th Century town of Briancon, the highest town in Europe was fortified to defend the region from the Austrians and is teeming with pretty steep and narrow cobbled streets. It shares the same climate as the Cote d’Azure and is also the birthplace of Luc Alphand, a former world cup alpine ski-racer.

Chalet holidays and ski-ing are for me like bread and butter. I can’t imagine one without the other. There’s always a cake for tea, breakfasts are hearty to set you up for the challenges of the day and after a long hot soak after peeling off tortuous ski boots, no-one minds if you pad around in your socks or slippers as dinner and much needed wine appears.

The Refuge in the charming old town area of Villeneuve is run by Zenith holidays and sleeps 10 in five bedrooms.

A five minute walk to the Aravet lifts, the chalet is a warm, relaxed home from home. Our young gap year student Max, who was manning the kitchen didn’t bat an eyelid as we dithered daily between poached or boiled eggs for breakfast, not remembering what we had actually ordered the previous evening, our brains addled by altitude.

I had packed my thermals but didn’t need them. I had forgotten that despite being north facing, with 80 percent of the slopes above 2000m, these 250kms of pretty, often tree-lined runs are bathed in sunshine for more than 300 days of the year.

Combine that with a regular dollop of overnight snow and those first few runs of the morning don’t get any more perfect.

There is plenty of ski-ing here for all levels of ability and even the famous Casse du Boeuf, a 3km black run above Villeneuve village is long enough and wide-enough for most people when the conditions are good. This was the site of four of the Womens’ Alpine Ski World Cup events during the 1990s.

On the first day we were kitted out expertly with equipment at Brechu Sports. I had tried to insist on a bigger boot but they were adamant I was in the appropriate size and they were right. After the first run down I was soon tightening them up.

My face must have been a picture though after a day of covering more miles than I can count as I arrived back at the shop, exhausted, to be greeted by smiling staff rushing towards me to gather up my skis and poles where they were to be kept overnight.

It was a joy to slip into soft furry boots for the short walk across to the 1420 bar for a mulled wine. This was also the venue for a Liqueur de Meleze tasting from the Boussards Distillery. Overtaking the traditional genepi, these drinks are made from mountain fruits and herbs with the iconic Larch liqueur. The tree is the only one to lose its needles in the winter and the young buds are macerated in the spring to produce a drink that evokes a walk in the forest. A liqueur brandy at the end of the meal is part of mountain tradition and there were no arguments from me.

When I woke on day two I was convinced my legs had been amputated during the night. That will teach me for not getting fitter before a ski trip.

It is usually at this point on every ski-ing holiday I start questioning my sanity. Easing my weary feet into unyielding boots to spend the day clocking up the kilometers again until I am so worn and weary I can hardly speak, does seem somewhat masochistic.

But half way up the chair lift, with my face turned to the sun, breathing in the clearest air and soaking up the beauty around me, all thoughts quickly turn to the excitement of the day ahead.

A hot chocolate at 10.30am, with or without a little alcoholic tipple, is a must before working up an appetite for a long, late lunch in a mountainside restaurant. But on this day there was a twist. Easy Valley is a slope-side delivery service. Order in before you set off in the morning and they will meet you with sandwiches or meat to cook at two of the mountain-top barbecues.

It is a delightful idea for spring ski-ing but we did get a bit cold being so high up and not moving, so we made a quick descent to the next level for a warming van chaud.

There’s plenty of non-ski-ing activities here if you want a break from ski-ing, including ice-karting, mountain karting, sledding, snowshoeing.

We finished off our trip with an evening at the Bain Nordique sitting in hot tubs in the snow where we were served with drinks and a delicious selection of skewers of meat and veg. To get the best health benefit you are apparently meant to get out of the hot tub, roll in the snow and then get back in but none of our group were quite brave enough. We finished off in fluffy robes around a roaring fire, toasting marsh mallows under the stars.

We topped off the evening with a quick nightcap in the bar next to the chalet, which was blaring out songs by Johnny Hallyday, the French singer credited with bring rock and roll to France.

I left with a heavy heart but there is no doubt I will go back.

Travel facts:

Stay at Chalet Refuge from £270pp on 7th April - includes catered board and transfers to and from Turin or Grenoble airport (or from £495pp on 24th March) or in Residence Aquisana from £230 pp - self catered board based on 4 share including a channel crossing (can arrange airport transfers for a supplement)

0203 137 7678

Flights for Serre Chevalier go to Turin, Grenoble and Lyon.