“See that guy there?” says Tom, our instructor. “His ski jacket is worth around £3,000.” The group next to us hold up a magnum of pale rosé wine, no doubt congratulating themselves after a draining morning on the slopes, while all around us the fur-clad glamourati ditch their skies and get comfortable.
We’re 2,000m up a French mountain at the infamous La Folie Douce, a lively bar adjoining La Fruitière restaurant. And, despite it being lunchtime, the party’s in full swing.
A wire cord overhead sends bottles of Dom Perignon from bar to table in small glass lifts, accompanied by fireworks and puffs of coloured smoke that up the extravagance. And, before a windowed panorama of snowy peaks, three women dressed in cerise saris tower over my table, dancing on a raised catwalk to very loud music. “Yep, this is pretty normal for this time of day,” Tom says.
This part of the world is unquestionably luxurious, with designer brands Dolce & Gabana, Fendi and Prada all setting up shop in the valley. The ski region here, known as the Three Valleys, comprises Meribel, Courchevel and Val Thorens (the highest ski resort in Europe), and is frequented by those with a real taste for the high life.
There are symbols of wealth everywhere, from the impeccably dressed toddlers who glided past me on the nursery slopes at Courchevel to the striking white pyramid that greeted me as I clambered out of my transfer from Chalet Renardeaux — a ski-in, ski-out Dior shop that had been set up for the season.
Skiing down the slopes here is like a whirlwind tour of exclusivity, taking in the unattainable chalets overlooking the pistes, the desirable hotels, Michelin-stared restaurants and parades of up-market boutiques. Tom tells me that Chalet Edelweiss was officially the most expensive ski chalet rental of the 2013-2014 season, when it was hired out for €450,000 for 10 nights. Sleeping 16, the chalet has nine staff on hand including chefs, butlers, a massage therapist and ski instructor.
Meanwhile, at the hotel and spa L’Apogee, things are suitably pricey. “If you fancy picking up a pair of swim shorts here, it’ll cost you £1,000,” says Fraser, co-founder of ski tour operator Powder White, as we wander through in awe in our clunky, wet ski gear paired with fluffy white slippers provided at the ski-in entrance.
Other guests arrive decked out in Louis Vuitton and exit for the slopes in their Chanel ski wear. “This is one of the best places for celebrity-spotting,” Fraser adds. “Either here, or just find a sun terrace. Everyone from the Beckhams to Boris Johnson has been to Courchevel.”
Back at La Folie Douce, we swap stories of celebrity spots before heading back to Chalet Renardeaux to hang up our average-priced ski jackets for the day. Our two chalet hosts, Digby and Sophie, greet us with trays of Champagne and canapés by the sweltering fire. Their warming smiles are the friendliest we’ve seen all day.
There’s one staff member to three visitors staying in the chalet. It’s not quite the ratio of Chalet Edelweiss, but it’s more than enough luxury for me.