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Review: Ski fun in La Norma and Valloire won’t break the bank
The best-known ski resorts still have a reputation as playgrounds of the rich and shameless.
Courcheval, Gstaad and Klosters are as much about being seen as going skiing.
But if you fancy sloping off to somewhere a bit quieter - and a lot better value for money - then you could do worse than the little-known resorts of La Norma and Valloire in France.
My trip began at La Norma. It's a man-made resort, created in the Maurienne Valley close to the Italian border, and as such it's a little on the functional side.
But there are advantages to by-passing mother nature. They've thought of just about everything.
The main plus is that it's completely car free inside the resort boundaries.
All the apartments and chalets are built at the foot of the slopes, to offer what's described as doorstep skiing, and a snowball's throw from the ski lifts and shops.
Once you've got there - and the best way is either by train from Paris to nearby Modena or fly, as I did, to Grenoble - it is an incredibly easy place to get around.
The slopes offer 65 kilometres of decent skiing for most levels and ages, plus the chance to go dog sledging, try a torchlit run or even snow soccer.
It's also all been designed with the family in mind. There's a children's ski school for over 3s and a kindergarden for under 6s.
And there's a bold claim that you'll never need to queue.
There are an abundance of restaurants and the food is pretty good and reasonably priced.
Essentially, what La Norma lacks in character and charm it makes up for in efficient simplicity.
I liked it, but having been bitten by the skiing and boarding bug a few years ago, I fancied something on a slightly bigger scale.
I found it not far away at Valloire, a traditional village resort surrounded by a clutch of hamlets at the foot of the Galbier pass in the north of the Alps.
This is real picture postcard stuff, a 17th century church nestled alongside modern restaurants, an ice rink, a snow park with jumps and ramps and 150 kilometres of stunning, glistening slopes.
Valloire is Jean-Baptiste Grange's home town. If you've never heard of him, you're not alone. I hadn't either until I came here but there's no escaping their most famous son once you arrive.
He's a teenage prodigy turned world championship slalom skier, if you're interested.
There are 83 ski runs - some of them nice and long - and I really enjoyed testing myself on the more challenging ones.
Experienced instructors offer a mixture of advice while gently underlining your inferiority complex.
I also had my first taste here of snow shoeing.
Now, at first sight this looks an utterly bizarre thing to try.
Imagine having two small tennis rackets attached to each foot and then walking up a mountain.
Believe me, it's more fun than it sounds but it is pretty exhausting too.
Good job then, that the apres ski is really welcoming. Excellent food, great bars and a fine choice of places to stay.
We stayed at the hotel Grand Hôtel de Valloire et du Galibier *** which has an excellent restaurant called L’Escarnavé which is definitely worth trying.
Both La Norma and Valloire claim to be summer resorts too - water sports, paragliding and biking among the activities - and the season is, of course, finished now.
But if you're planning ahead, you could do a lot worse than uncovering these hidden gems.
Especially if mingling with millionaires isn't really your thing.
EasyJet flies to Grenoble from Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Gatwick, Luton and Stansted. Prices one-way start from £29.99 and include all taxes. Prices are subject to change. Visit www.easyJet.com to book.
La Norma: A week’s ski pass starts from €105 child, €118 students and seniors, €131 adults (five per cent off if buying online). Ski equipment hire starts from about €80 in some shops with 40 per cent off in other shops when book online. Self catering apartments start from €200 based on four people sharing (accommodation + bed linen + tourist tax included).
Valloire: Packages start from €200 per person for four in an apartment and a six-day Galibier-Thabor ski pass (valid in Valloire-Valmeinier, so 150km of slopes).
Click on the link below for the La Norma and Valloire photo gallery.