“There is one vital thing you must do when learning to ski,” my leathery-faced instructor growls at me in a heavy French accent, the stub of a browned, rolled-up cigarette dangling hypnotically from his cracked bottom lip.
I lean in: this is it, that pearl of wisdom that changes everything, the nugget which turns me from novice to pro, and something I’ll proudly pass on to future generations.
“Smile!” he shouts, lifting his ski poles into the crisp air, letting out a deep, throaty laugh. “It makes me look better!”
I’m in Avoriaz, the slopes up from Morzine in the Portes du Soleil resort in eastern France, hoping my instructor is a better skier than he is a funnyman.
Avoriaz is one of the 12 linked resorts either side of the French-Swiss border, which boast blacks, greens and everything in between with 280 slopes spread over 650km.
It’s also a buzzing party town, hosting the annual Rock The Pistes and Basscamp festivals.
“Follow me … bend your legs … shift your weight forward … not your shoulders … don’t twist your body … look down the mountain, not up … now turn,” shouts my instructor, who’s dressed in red from head to foot, including his boots, so I can’t lose him.
Apparently, I’m meant to relax and grin at the same time as all of the above.
We wind our way through the tree-lined runs of Avoriaz, past the jumps and the freestylers in the snow park, back to the safety of the slushy green route where I meet my mates for an afternoon of adventure.
But not before we’ve refuelled.
Heading to Les Trappeurs (lestrappeurs.com) on the slopes, we find an outside table and, with the sun on our backs, scoff pizzas with the biggest plates of frites I’ve ever seen, finishing off with a whisky-infused hot chocolate.
Then, we grab our skis and boards and head out to explore.
My friends are all more experienced on the snow than I am, and manage to plan our route while I’m still trying to work out where we are.
I follow their lead, playfully whizzing through the white stuff, as they belt in front of me, going off piste, as I stick to my almost-parallel turns.
Confidence buoyed simply by the fact I’m not holding them back too much, I pay little attention to where we’re going – missing the sign pointing to the blue run at Pointe de Mossette and going in the direction of the red instead.
Out of my depth, I panic. It looks a long way down and the slopes seem narrow and icy.
There are collisions in front of me as I gingerly make my way in a zig-zag across the run, forgetting everything I’d learned earlier as I concentrate on what could be the last skiing I ever do.
My friends have gone and, although it’s March, there’s a fresh dumping of powder on the way, so the visibility is horrendous – I can’t even make out the edge of the run.
Although I soon find it, tumbling and plunging face-first into the snow, losing a ski in the process. It’s an attractive look.
Luckily, I’m helped up by a dashing expert, who hands me my ski and leaves me to it as I finally get to the bottom with a not exactly flattering Bambi-style snow-ploughing technique.
I make out the shape of my group standing by a chairlift. They sarcastically applaud my not-so-great efforts as I slide thankfully towards them.
Shattered, I decide to call it a day, so we make our way back to Morzine for a couple of demis of local lager Mutzig in Bar Robinson, a lively venue with three elderly French owner-operators (see next page).
There’s no music, but the place is packed with punters sharing stories. I keep quiet about my near-death experience.
Suitably lubricated, it’s time to eat. We head back to our cosy Rudechalet accommodation, where our lifesaver host, Sarah, has whipped up a three-course culinary treat for dinner, replacing any lost calories and stocking up on an extra dose for the following day’s activities.
She even does all the washing up, which is a bonus, so we crack open another bottle of red wine and take stock of the aches and pains we’ve acquired before calling it a night.
Despite the muscles in both my legs seizing up, I’m awake early.
I take my skis back to the safety of the blue runs on which I’d practised the day before – they won’t satiate the thrill-seeking powder-lovers, but my instructor would be pleased, and at least I’m smiling.
Fly from London Heathrow to Geneva with Swiss Air from £112 return.
Book with Rudechalets for free airport transfers to Morzine.
Carol stayed with Rudechalets. From £379pppw for accommodation, half-board, wine and mountain hosting.
Hire Burton snowboards from Rudechalet’s on-site test centre for £60pw. rudechalets.com
Book ski equipment from £60pw with doorstepskis.com
Eat, drink, sleep
For top-quality fast food in a stylish venue Mamma’s is the place to go.
All meals are priced £8 and diners can choose from a huge selection, including pizzas, pasta, wraps, Pad Thai, curries or fish and chips to eat in or takeaway.
L’Etale is the busiest restaurant in town. The range of food is extensive and good value.
The pièce de résistance is the potence, or hanging beef – juicy chunks of steak, roasted on metal spikes and flambéed with a slosh of whisky. Mains from £10. (Route du Téléphérique, 74110 Morzine)
L’Atelier has a reputation as the best restaurant in Morzine.
Chow down on the chef’s take on Savoyade classics to Asian-inspired meats and fish.
Splash out and book the taster menu – £55pp – where you’ll indulge in a highly recommended selection of this diverse cuisine. (9 Place de l’Office du Tourisme, 74110 Morzine)
Bar Robinson is a lively little French bar run by two old ladies and a gentleman (all over 70) and only serves one beer – the locally brewed Mutzig, which is cheap and super strong.
The bar shuts at 8pm as the elderly owners like an early night. Demi pints about £2.20. (62 Rue du Bourg, 74110 Morzine)
For a great après-ski hangout with a roaring fire, a good selection of beers and large screens showing all major UK sporting events, head to Dixie Bar.
Be sure to check if the Irish band are playing as they whip everyone into a table-dancing frenzy.
Demi pints about £2.20. (18 Rue du Bourg, 74110 Morzine)
Upstairs is a top restaurant, but downstairs in La Chaudanne’s, in the unique setting of a vaulted cellar, is where visitors can chomp on tasty tapas-style nibbles while sampling some of the wines in this cosy, chalet-style building.
Demi pints about £2.20.
La Kinkerne is a lovely little family-run B&B with an awesome location at the bottom of the Prodains lift.
There is also a lively bar and restaurant on the ground floor. A double with breakfast costs about £32pppn based on two sharing.
A short walk from the two main ski lifts, Rudechalets’ Chalet Chapelle Petit boasts four bedrooms, a sauna, a log fireplace as well as wifi, an Xbox in every room and satellite TV.
From £439pp per week, including breakfast, afternoon tea and a three-course dinner with wine.
La Dromond (pictured) is a stunning ski in-ski out hotel with a quirky design and the only Michelin-starred restaurant in the area.
This is one of Avoriaz’s original hotels, which hosted high-society Parisians in the late Seventies.
Prices start from £733pw for a double on a room-only basis. (40 place des Dromonts, 74110 Avoriaz)
Photos: Val rie Poret/OT Morzine, Getty, Adam Moran/Rider, Mike y Rencz, TNT