What better way to wind down after a busy working week than with a glass of mulled wine in the mountains and a full weekend of skiing ahead of you? Which is what one hardworking group of savvy Londoners do for six months of the year. With a bit of forward planning and diary co-ordination, anyone can do it.
Jonno, 31, Louise, 29, Doris and John, both 28, all work in the City putting in long hours in roles from finance through to management consultancy. They are also all complete winter sports fanatics, and so they have joined forces to rent an apartment in the ski resort of Val Thorens in the French Alps from November to May.
This gives them immediate access to accommodation whenever they like, and if they are smart about planning their holidays they can easily squeeze up to 45 days skiing or snowboarding in each season. Leaving the office at 5pm on a Friday they can be in one of the resort's bars, beer in hand, by midnight and up on the slopes on Saturday morning.
How it works
The finances: this is likely to be the first question on everyone's lips. Forty-five days' skiing a year sounds great, but do the figures really stack up? They are not as bad as you might think says Jonno.
"When you look at the breakdown of going on two or three week-long skiing holidays a year you get, say, six days skiing in a week and you have to take your equipment out each time, which costs extra," he says.
"Then you have to pay for accommodation, lift passes, food and drink. A week can easily cost £2,000, and that's what we pay each for the four-bed apartment for six months, not including flights, passes or living costs."
Louise says they book the chalet through 3V-altirent in Val Thorens, a seasonal rental company — a good way of getting a cheaper deal when four bedroom apartments start at almost £5,700 for the season. "We tend to go for something a bit pricier and nicer than the cheapest deal. It works out at about £8,000 between us for the season.
For that, you get something completely fine but this is not luxury accommodation. You live like young singles who want to be out all day skiing and out at night in the bars — it's not for families."
Weekend flights can be more expensive, but because the apartment is booked six months in advance they can get their deals in place early. If more people go it gets cheaper to divvy up the weekend trips and take the rental price down.
The travel: the easy way to go is to take only hand luggage and fly-drive. This route would apply to any resort in the Three Valleys in France. There are ski resorts that are closer and would take less time to get to, but it becomes a toss-up between a shorter journey time and a better chance of snow. For this group the extra travel guarantees them snow.
"I have got the trip down to a T," says Louise. "I catch the 6pm flight from Gatwick to Lyon, leaving the office at 4.30pm on a Friday with hand luggage, having checked in online. Then I hire a car from Lyon up to VT, so you generally get into resort at about midnight — and when the clubs don't close until 4am you still get a Friday night out. On the way home, there's a 9.10pm flight from Lyon so I don't need to leave the resort until 6pm."
"I have two full days skiing, two nights out, two mountain lunches, and I'm home by midnight on the Sunday. It is seven hours door to door and you come back feeling like you've had a week's holiday. Why spend a weekend in London when you can spend it in the mountains?"
The perks: Doris goes out when she can get a cheap flight and the snow forecast is good. "It's great to know the apartment will be there just as you left it, with beds made, food in the cupboards and toiletries in the bathroom. It's like a second home during the season and weekend ski trips are otherwise very expensive. The psychological benefit is huge, too — having something to look forward to really helps to beat the winter blues ."
The tips: at the beginning of the season a couple of them elect to do a big supermarket shop and take a carload of equipment and the supermarket shop over. It's a real money saver.
"We stock up on loo roll, cleaning products, pasta, rice, herbs and spices, plus Berocca and painkillers," says Jonno. "These are extortionately priced in resort. Plus we take out speakers, adaptor plugs, books, bathmats, bedding. Anything to help turn the apartment into a home for the season."
Alpine affordability - securing a long-term rent
Several agencies deal in affordable long-term rentals in the Alps and North America including Natives, Seasonal Accommodation and Alps-Rental. Skiers can reserve an entire apartment with friends or hook up with others looking for shared accommodation.
It's a popular way for snow hounds to maximise time on the slopes, says Ben Simpson of Seasonal Accomodation. "Our clients include people who work remotely, those who have been made redundant and have always wanted a prolonged ski holiday, and UK-based workers planning to take every opportunity to escape to the slopes."
As a guide, allow £2,000-£3,000 per bed for the season depending on resort. Studios in the French Alps sleeping up to four start from £5,500 while an apartment for three in top-dollar Val d'Isere would be nearer £15,000 excluding electricity.
This price secures basic one- or two-star accommodation aimed at people who will spend most time outside. As ever, space is at a premium. "There is normally wifi but a studio sleeping four will have bunk beds in a corridor or beds in the living room," adds Simpson.
* Emily Wright is features editor of Building magazine.