It's snow business in the French Alps: luxury chalet companies

Two British families who swapped London life for the French ski slopes in Courchevel and Sta Martin de Belleville tell Cathy Hawker their secret was having a sound business plan
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Carving out a successful business in the highly competitive ski industry is not easy, but get it right and it's the perfect way to enjoy living in the mountains.

Britons Chris and Lucie Learoyd have run Alp Leisure, a luxury chalet company, since 1997, combining work with a busy family life. They live in a renovated 18th-century farmhouse in Courchevel Le Praz in the French Alps with their sons Jonty, 11, who is the French ski jump champion for his age group, and Louis, six.

The Alpine Club in St Martin de Belleville
The Alpine Club in St Martin de Belleville in the Trois Vallées (

Alp Leisure manages six privately owned chalets, three in Meribel and three in Courchevel. The couple maintain the properties year-round and organise rentals, with an average annual occupancy of 70 per cent. Lucie puts the secret of their success down to hard graft, strict attention to detail and being very choosy about the properties they take on.

"All our chalets are private homes built from scratch or fully renovated, and are rented fully staffed with chefs and housekeepers," says Lucie, 42.

Alp Leisure's Chalet Bartavelles
From £4,920 a week: Alp Leisure's Chalet Bartavelles on Meribel's Doron piste sleeps up to 12 and comes with a spa bath, sauna, cinema and billiards room (
"To help cover costs, chalet owners are far keener to let their homes now than in the past. They know we will look after it for them. Over the years we've seen many people pay off their mortgages with the help of our service." The ideal rental chalet, says Lucie, has a prime location — all Alp Leisure chalets are ski-in and out. And size does matter: the old days of cramming beds in are over.

Other top must-haves include open fires, outdoor hot tubs, plenty of separate space for children to play and adults to unwind, two dishwashers and, crucially, a loo in the boot room to help smooth the morning scrum to reach the slopes. One of their chalets even features a full-size squash court beside an indoor pool.

A quiet life in Trois Vallées
Helen and Chris Raemers left London to live in France's Trois Vallées. They chose St Martin de Belleville, a delightful farming village, to set up their chalet company, The Alpine Club, living there full time.

"We were living in London in busy jobs and never saw each other," says Helen. "After a year travelling, we did two ski seasons and decided to try and create our own business. We chose St Martin because it is a pretty mountain village connected with a vast ski area. It is the same height as Meribel and two lifts take you up to 2,000 metres, but it is not crowded."

They bought Chalet Abode, a traditional Savoyard stone house, for £291,800 as a wreck in 2006. Chris, an architect, oversaw renovations, creating a four-bedroom chalet that mixes Alpine charm and contemporary style — old stone and wood plus cantilevered glass balustrading. This winter, they added a second property to their portfolio, newly built Chamois Lodge. "People who own property here love the local life but they are business-minded and do not want to see their asset lie empty," says Chris.

"By using an established chalet company, they know their home will be looked after, be there for them when they want to use it and cover its costs for the rest of the year."

Helen's top tips for decorating include using durable furniture and good-quality bathroom fittings. "We soon learned that you cannot afford to buy cheap furniture," says Helen.

"It needs to be durable, comfy and attractive, not too bling and not too Savoyard. Getting the mix right is the hardest part."

Alp Leisure:; 00 33 (0) 479 00 5942
The Alpine Club:; 00 33 (0) 778 84 5710

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