Nowadays, winter sports fans take it for granted that if they fancy a ski break they just need to go online, book a flight and some chalet accommodation in the resort of their choice and they're virtually guaranteed a good time. Chalets and skiing simply go hand-in-hand, and it would be hard to imagine what a ski resort would look like without those chocolate-box timber huts prettying up the Alpine landscape. |
But how many people who cosy up around their open fireplace know the origins of this distinctly Alpine flavoured architecture?
A far cry from the luxurious chalet accommodation of today's ski resorts, traditionally these timber structures were used to house a far less-discerning kind of guest – dairy cattle herders. As well as providing shelter for the herders, they were also used to store butter and milk throughout the summer months in the Alps. Once the colder weather set in, the herders would take their cattle and head back to the lower slopes, leaving the shelters abandoned until the next summer.
It wasn't until the beginning of the 1900s that hiking and cross-country skiing became popular winter pursuits, and the locals' humble timber chalets found favour as suitable places to stay overnight in the mountains.
A New Winter Holiday Trend
After the Second World War, packaged 'all-inclusive' ski holidays began to gain popularity, and the demand for chalet accommodation increased - as did the requirements of the guests.
In the early days the facilities were somewhat crude – with some not even having the luxury of guaranteed hot water. Before the concept of the ski resort, it was often quite difficult to reach a chalet and, when guests did get there, they never knew who they were going to have to end up sharing with, or even if there would be a bed for them! However, as the practice became more mainstream, facilities improved and they began to include the services of professional hosts, called ‘seasonaires’.
The Modern Ski Accommodation
Fast forward a few decades and the concept of chalet accommodation has come a long, long way. Far from being a basic, 'make-do' place to lay your head, today's versions range from cosy, comfortable romantic boltholes to the last word in luxury, complete with Jacuzzi, hot tub, gourmet kitchen, designer furnishings and even a private butler service.
Low cost: A basic budget version can be either small and modest, or larger and shared with other guests. Facilities vary depending on the resort, but may include a hot tub.
Mid-range: Mid-range might include several bedrooms, a kitchen, basic catering and housekeeping services, if required, and a hot tub or Jacuzzi.
'Yes please' luxury: The sky's the limit with luxury chalet accommodation. Lavish décor and furnishings, massive interiors, high-end entertainers' kitchen, private chefs, Jacuzzi, concierge services, and every last detail taken care of – right down to a heated driveway! (Because who doesn't need that?)
The humble ski chalet concept has evolved into an almost unrecognisable form since those early days (although they still look pretty similar), but the reason for their popularity remains the same: they provide the ideal venue for skiers and hikers to enjoy the pleasure of the Alpine culture right from the doorstep of their own home-away-from-home.
Belinda Smythson works for Ski Amis, a specialist ski travel agency and booking service that has been helping avid skiers craft their perfect winter holiday for over a quarter of a century. If you're looking for the best catered chalet accommodation in the Three Valleys, Paradiski, Espace Killy or Chamonix Valley, Ski Amis is the go-to company for winter sports fans searching for the holiday of a lifetime.
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