On first handshakes, the often-upside-down Olympians almost seem like normal humans. For the next three days I, the intermediate skier, will be the abnormal one, an outcast in two utterly foreign universes: Olympic-level skiing and high-end French ski resorts.

Only on my French-Alps-bound flights do I begin to process the surreal ridiculousness of being invited to free-ski with three Australian aerial champions.

Officially, Vancouver gold-medalist Lydia Lassila (and her ripping 12 year old son Kai), Sochi silver-taker David Morris, and two-time world champion Laura Peel  are here to ski as ambassadors of Club Med Valmorel. Unofficially, I hope skiing with them will make me better – and not gravely injure me.

This free-o trio last “flipped together” at 2018’s PyeongChang Olympics and “have a history together”, says Laura. Lydia says Dave and Laura became like siblings on the “fight-or-flight” tour. Dave fondly recalls when Lydia hugged him before a petrifying jump which “was going to be really successful or my last”.

Club Med Valmorel is two serpentine hours’ drive from Geneva Airport – by tinted-window Mercedes Sprinter – through wide peak-bracketed valleys speckled with tiny towns living modern fairytales, and 1992 Winter Olympics host Albertville. Its dark-wood cluster of multi-storey chalets sits (at 1350 metres) beside Valmorel resort’s lower slopes, a brief schuss down to the gondolas and titular ski-village.

Turns out the Olympians and I do have one thing in common: we’re (all-inclusive) Club Med virgins.

How all-inclusive is it? An electronic token blue-ribboned around wrists is our room and ski-locker key. Lift tickets and group lessons are covered. So is bottomless brekky, lunch and dinners, served in a series of spacious slope-facing buffet restaurants (and terraces), heaving with fresh-pastry mountains and sublimely ridiculous amounts of gooey French cheese. Après drinks flow freely (exceptions include champagne and Red Bull) but spa treatments, the specialty restaurant and ski hire are among exclusions.

Topping out at 2550 metres, Valmorel’s relatively uncrowded piste is extensive, with a claimed 165 kilometres of runs, swaying towards intermediates. In that oh-so-European way, you can ski down the next valley to Saint-François-Longchamp resort and return by long-distance pomas (including one I’ll call ‘The Castrator’) with your pass.

David Morris having fun off piste in Valmorel. Photo: Pete Elliott at Club Med

Warming up on a wide groomer lulls me into a false sense of securi-ski. At least I stay on the same lift-cycle. But the trio licks their ChapStick-ed lips at Valmorel’s off-piste. The moment my red Rossignols leave the corduroy, the gulf between intermediate and Olympian levels feels chasmic, unbridgeable – no matter how much they wait for and encourage me.

Lydia reckons the terrain is “incredible” and is shocked by how few people ski off-piste. “I can’t believe we had freshies from 9am to 2pm and there’s still more.” While Dave loves power-carving the “huge” resort’s groomers, off-trail is Valmorel’s forte. “We all just kept tipping over that cornice [yes, me included] and it was heavenly powder. At ‘fancy’ mountains, experts would shred it up from the first chairlift.”

When Olympians play side-country silly buggers, the peer-group pressure is palpable.

“Everyone’s hyping each other up, skiing a little bit beyond their perceived ability – it’s really cool to watch,” says Dave. The trio disappear into the clouds (sans me) to ski chutes above Saint-François-Longchamp but we regroup to lap our ‘secret’ powder run repeatedly, some lines infinitely sicker than others (mine).

Far from Valmorel’s actual terrain parks, the Olympians sniff out a random makeshift kicker. Used to executing quintuple-twisting triple-flips, self-confessed show-off Dave throws an effortless single backflip. Later he admits he was a “bit scared” without a practice run.

Laura and Lydia follow with aplomb, landings stuck, more or less. The group whoop-whoops tribally, primally. Naturally, I land my double back-flip smoothly… (psyche! No way was I hitting that death-jump).

Competition skiers rarely have opportunity to play.

Laura Peel flipping out at Valmorel. Photo: Pete Elliott for Club Med.

“I’ve only skied on my aerial skis for the past 8 years,” says Laura. “You’re just so busy competing and training. But I grew up skiing so today reminds me why I love it. It was funny when I landed the jump, I looked up and thought, hey, I have to keep skiing [as opposed to in competition]. It’s nice to ski in a group like this – although scary some times.” Welcome to my world, Laura.


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Feeling “a bit burnt out” and wanting to “freshen up” before the 2026 Milan Olympics, Laura is on a strategic competition break, the first non-injury-related pause since her inaugural World Cup season in 2011. Yoga and “just sitting in somebody’s living room chatting with ‘my people’” fills her up.

Today is Lydia’s first flip since the Olympics.

“I’m really cautious these days [since retiring],” she says, mainly thanks to knee pain. “But I got a bit of FOMO watching friends huck themselves off a soft, safe jump. It’s nice to feel that buzz again and cool to flip with Kai [a first].”

What’s the difference between flipping on 150-centrimetre straight-and-narrows and free-skiing the French Alps on carvers? Plenty.

“We were always being watched,” says Dave, now a PE teacher and, ironically, a competition judge in retirement.

“Here, no one’s critiquing your form. You go as fast or slow as you like. The first morning was the best skiing in my life. Once I let go of the ego and elite thinking, and just had fun.”


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The after

Unsurprisingly, you earn your après and appreciate your room-cocoon after skiing with late-lunching, first-lift-junky Olympians. My misgivings about an all-inclusive resort being too ‘cruise-shippy’ for my taste mostly evaporate. Club Med’s low-friction, ski-in ski-out set-up flows well with the alpine day’s rhythm.

The shared spaces reflect the crowd’s energy. Small details – coffee stations winking at you around every corner and boot dryers in your ski lockers – help smooth the slope-slump transition.

Club Med Valmorel.

I long for more awake-time in my superior balcony room. It’s not palatially huge but the subtly-lit, reverse-J-shaped space is tranquil and uncluttered. The bed faces French doors that open up (across a small balcony) to a tiara of jagged French Alps magnificence. The deep bath in the Scandi-wood bathroom (bubbling with Savoir-Faire amenities) soothes my sore, jet-lagged ass after every wonderfully punishing day’s skiing.

Lydia Lassila on her room balcony at Club Med. Photo: Pete Elliott for Club Med

I wasn’t sure Club Med’s Eurovision-chic nightly shows would be my glass of Aperol either. The trick, a little birdy tells me, is to “lean in”, which I do on the ‘Superbowl Half Time Shows’-themed performance. Ski technicians and front-desk staff blossom into front-women, DJs and back-up dancers. Swirling with ‘free’ Negroni, I – and a bar full of ruddy faced humans and kids staying up too late – shout along with the poppy playlist until closing time.

As Laura sips her espresso martini; Dave laps his lemon, lime and bitters; and Lydia drains her Aperol, I trouble the Olympians to talk shop. Rate my skiing, please. Be brutal. Their kind, sensitive critiques of my mongrel technique is a mark of their humanity as much as expertise. Hips swing too much. Tick. Arms flail. Tick. Knees never bent enough. Double tick.

But “pretty good” is the consensus. I patiently await my participation medal.

So what’s it like to ski with Olympians when you’re not even close to being one? Surreal, enthralling, exhausting, sometimes scary but, mostly, a boundary-expanding privilege. What can I offer them in return? Perhaps a masterclass in taking fuller advantage of Club Med’s open bar.

*The writer was guest of Club Med and Olympic Winter Institute of Australia.

Prices at Club Med Valmorel for a superior balcony room start at $AUD6640 for 7 nights (shoulder season). Price includes meals, drinks, lift tickets and group lessons. Transfer from Geneva Airport is 140 euro per person each way.

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