When I turned up at the UCPA hostel in Chamonix at 10pm on Saturday night to find all five of my roomies asleep, I thought it was going to be a quiet week. I was wrong.
In search of a cheap ski holiday, I booked a week in Chamonix on the French-Italian border through Action Outdoors. £595 for all inclusive accommodation, meals, lift pass, ski rental and four days of lessons was an incredible deal. With 20cm fresh powder each day to start the week and a couple of bluebird days to round it off, the stage was set for a perfect week of skiing. I wasn’t too fussed about the rest, but thanks to a great set-up and a fantastic bunch of people, the UCPA hostel really made the holiday the unforgettable week it was.
As well as comfy rooms and a substantial all-you-can-eat buffet, the hostel has a great location close to everything going on in town and its own bus services to the different ski areas at set times each day. They have the cheapest bar in town (€2.20 for a glass of wine that would cost €3.50 elsewhere) and facilities including a rental shop, locked ski/boot room, drying room, stretching classes and a sauna. Other guests range in age from 15 to 50 (average 25) and everyone is there to have a good time and happy to help each other out and muck in with the tidying up in the dining room and dorms (UCPA keep costs low by asking guests to clear their tables, hoover rooms etc).
In the evenings, the hostel put on nightly entertainment ranging from games nights to dance lessons. I heard good reports, but I chose to head out to the bars in town most nights with a group of fellow Brits. Bar’d Up, Monkey Bar and Le Privilege come highly recommended and Chambre Neuf for après-ski. All memorable, despite unwise double vodka lemonades (“Did you say THIRTEEN Euros?!”). Tip: Steer well clear of mixers if you’re on a budget.
Lessons were the best I’ve ever had and all the groups were similarly impressed with their instructors. Fabien showed us all the best places to ski for our level and struck a great balance between working on technique and just having some fun, whilst being generally hilarious and bringing together a group of very different people. The skiing is varied and it’s true what they say about the brilliant off-piste in Chamonix, if you know where to go… and if you’re better at skiing powder than I am (white skis are very hard to find in a foot of the fluffy stuff).
If you’re thinking of booking a UCPA holiday, stop thinking, just go for it. From that point on, UCPA will take care of the rest.