The Top European ski runs and why they’re the best*

Learning to ski has gone from being something I’m not all that bothered about to something that I really, REALLY want to do, so when I was set over a piece by Chill Factore about Europe’s top ski runs my interest was certainly peaked. I’m not much a fan of snow when it falls in the UK, but proper stuff, when you’re bundled up and keeping warm by staying active? Bring it on I say!…
From our lift passes and snow park, to our ski lessons and snowboard courses Chill Factore has a range of activities and facilities to help you get into snow sports. But what are our top recommendations when it comes to hitting the mountains for real?

If you’re in the mood for a ski holiday and don’t want to go long haul, Europe is home to some of the world’s most amazing runs. Whether you’re into beautiful scenery and gentle slopes, or rapid drops and adrenaline-pumping speeds, we’ve found the best European ski runs to inspire your next holiday.

Sweden: Piste 4
Scandinavia offers some fantastic ski opportunities, Piste 4 at the Riksgränsen ski resort is a top run found in the Swedish Arctic Circle — a spring break means you get to experience long days, midnight sun and a top terrain for freestyling! Skiers love launching off the natural bumps of the Riksgränsen slopes- But head to Piste 4 — the most famous here — and you’ll glide into Norway before looping back around during your descent!

Switzerland: Parsenn
To get to what is believed to be the ‘birthplace’ of Alpine skiing you take the funicular railway, which was built in 1931. From here, you go up to the 2,662-metre Weissfluhjoch and begin your amazing descent past forests and quaint huts before reaching the valley in Kublis again for the train home.

This run is a classic in Swiss skiing and offers you a great mix of sight-seeing, landscape and gentle terrain, with a maximum gradient of 26%.

France: Sarenne
Apparently the longest black run in the Alps, this is ten miles in length so you get around 90 minutes of intense and continuous skiing starting from the 3,330-metre Pic Blanc. Before you begin your descent make sure to check out the stunning peaks of the Parc National des Ecrins.

This is an exhilarating run where you’ll have the chance to take on a drop of 2,000 metres. However watch out for the launch — it’s incredibly steep!

Austria: The Streif
A word of caution, this one isn’t for beginners or the faint hearted! The Streif is found on the Hahenkamm mountain and hosts one of the most hazardous races in the World Cup — essentially this is one of the world’s most feared runs (perfect for thrill-seekers and those with as much experience as they have confidence!)

At the starting gate get ready to nearly freefall as you begin your 3,300-metre descent at the top of the Streif. In an seconds you’ll have 85% gradients to contend with at a speed of around 84mph! Overall, the course is about 3,312 metres in length with an average gradient of 27%, so perhaps consider some private lessons before you take on this mammoth challenge! The Streif is so famous that a documentary film was made about it in 2015 — Streif: One Hell of a Ride- I’ll definitely be leaving this one to the experts!

Switzerland: Mont Fort

At 3,329 metres Mont Fort in Verbier is a tough challenge for any skier. This run provides a 1,300-metre descent and is generally considered the most challenging of Verbier’s pistes. Unmaintained by machinery Mont Fort has many bumps and is extremely steep — fitness and experience are needed in abundance.

If you can handle it Mont Fort is breath-taking and offers an exhilarating experience that you won’t get on many other runs in the world — try it at dawn for spectacular views of the sunrise over the nearby mountains and glaciers. Another advantage of Mont Fort is it’s location. Verbier is probably one of the world’s most luxurious and party-centric resorts, ideal if you want to make this a rue skiing holiday with a mix of activity and relaxation!

France: Aiguille Rouge
France is home to many amazing ski runs, one of which is Aiguille Rouge — the tallest peak in the Les Arcs resort. At 3,226 metres in height and with a vertical descent of over 2,000 metres this run is classified as black at the top and red a third of the way down.

You get extraordinary panoramic views of the Italian Alps here. It’s best to take on Aiguille Rouge at the very start of the day, as cable car queues get busy quickly! Luckily there’s good quality snow everywhere on the Aiguille Rouge.

Italy: Sella Ronda
Found in the Dolomites and offering potentially the very best views of the Alps this long-distance circuit is a breath-taking experience for beginner and season skiers.

View limestone cliffs and open pastures as you make your descent. The the Sella Ronda run is made up of around 14 miles of runs looping around a huge crag that are linked by lifts. It’s the ideal spot if you want to catch a glimpse of several villages along the way and you can do the run easily in a single day — although it’s recommended that you try it in both directions!

Switzerland: Lauberhorn
Maybe adrenaline-pumping runs are your thing and you’re looking for a challenge with your next ski holiday. If so test your skills on the Lauberhorn. Here, you’ll begin from the 2,500-metre apex and descend 4,500 metres in just 150 seconds. Supposedly the Lauberhorn is the fastest run in the World Cup. However there’s much more to contend with than steepness — there’ll also be a 130-foot jump that catapults you into the air and speeds of nearly 100mph — enough for g-forces to come into play.

Austria: Harakiri
Anything that’s named after a samurai ritual for suicide must be approached with caution! At 1,500m in length the Harakiri run in Austria is found in the resort of Mayrhofen and usually has an icy centre with more easy-to-grip snow at the edge. This Austrian run is supposedly the steepest groomed slope in the world with an average gradient of almost 80%!

Similar to many other runs, the beginning is the scariest — experts say keep your weight on your outer ski and try to decrease your speed whenever possible to reach the bottom in a vertical stance. In other words plenty of specialist ski lessons are essential- and a good sense of balance!

France: Pas de Chavanette
Can’t choose between Switzerland and France? Why not get the best of both worlds by visiting Pas de Chavanette — also called the ‘Swiss Wall’ — on the French-Swiss border? This popular 200-metre ski run is based at the heart of the Portes du Soleil ski area and features swift drops and steep angles — so much so, your vision might be slightly obscured at times!

This run is an ungroomed run and its difficulty level relies on the season. Ski on a decent layer of snow and you will glide effortlessly — but beware when the run is icier and bumpier, as only experienced skiers will be able to hold themselves upright and make the necessary emergency stops when required.

There’s a decent mix of runs that are perfect for beginner, intermediate and experienced skiers here. However, there are plenty more European runs you can visit if you look around. Why not plan a visit to Chill Factore prior to your departure to make sure you have the necessary skills to make the most of your ski holiday adventure?


The Fight to get Fit (and a work out wear wish list)*

Once upon a time I used to thrive on being physically fit and active. My favourite past times included going for a run or hitting the gym with a friend and I felt much better for it. Certainly much better than I do right now, never in my life have I felt so out of shape. Partly I blame the mental process of recovery from an eating disorder. My body is still repairing and weight hasn’t yet re-distributed properly – in fact I still haven’t finished restoring weight, and that in part is much of the problem. For the other part I’m just much more sedentary these days and I miss that feeling of being strong and powerful. I spend my days at a desk 9-5 and the majority of my weekends on the sofa binging on netflix, cuddled up with Bob and the kitten. It’s not just my physical health that’s suffering with this either, my mental health has been more of a battle lately and I feel like a good dose of exercise induced endorphins will work wonders.

But where to start? Exercise is a tricky area when you’re at a somewhat precarious stage in your recovery- physically I’m much, much better than I was, but I’m not in the best physical shape even for starting exercise. No one really mentions the muscle damage that comes with malnutrition, the aches and pains and fatigue that lasts long after the restriction. Add in to that the fact I’m still a smoker, albeit much reduced, I haven’t been able to kick that crutch yet and the fact my bone density is borderline for osteoporosis…I’m going to have to start off small, no 10k runs or marathon training for me just yet- more of a gentle ease back in and build up strength with the more sedate sport of swimming, or some calming yoga.

(both items from simply swim)

Swimming is a catch-22 kind of activity for me. I know it’s brilliantly good for building up strength without putting additional pressure on bones. It’s also a good way to build up lung capacity and stamina. It’s something I so badly want to get in to, and yet the thought makes my blood run cold. For someone who massively struggles with body image the idea of being so exposed is terrifying. It doesn’t matter how much I try and tell myself that the only person concerned with how I look is me, it’s such a massive mental hurdle to over-come. Not just poolside too, the changing room poses as much of a threat to my sanity, which is why I’ve included dryrobe- not for it’s devilish good looks, but because it means I can negate the risk of exposure from the inevitable dropped towel in the changing room and generally feel a bit more concealed.

(all from sweaty betty)

Now, Yoga I have far more trivial issues with. Firstly the availability of classes in my local area that don’t take place during the working day is dire. Secondly they are also extortionate (I guess a small, fairly rural town is a captive audience).
I’m also that person who gets the giggles in the middle of a class, or has the uncontrollable urge to break wind- I’m a classy lady, both of which are generally frowned upon during a serious session.Yoga at home would be the ideal solution to this, but I’m not disciplined enough. I tried it once, lasted all of two days then promptly found other things to do- without the structure of being at a class for a certain time, or having handed over cold hard cash to participate I just couldn’t keep it up.
So there we have my random diversion in to my current mental state and odd desire to get fit whilst being quite limited in what I can actually do.
The dream is to get back to moderate running, or some cardio and strength sessions at the gym, but I appreciate that for now I need to be kindest to my body and start small…if anyone has any advice, or can recommend some other low impact/gentle exercises or classes that might suit me then please, please do let me know in the comments.


Snacking with Dr Zak

I might not be your typical gym-going, exercise mad protein filled snack consumer but I am a serial grazer and on a mission to pack as much protein in to my diet as possible right now to help me re-build some strength. I also have a notorious sweet tooth and do have to keep an eye on how much sugar I let myself inhale in lieu of healthier options (I was that child who filled their boots on Haribo then couldn’t manage their dinner!). Therefore I was very interested when I got an e-mail from Dr Zak’s about their new range of high protein, low sugar cookies which boast an impressive 15g of protein per 60g cookie whilst keeping sugar content minimal. They very kindly sent over the range of cookies for me to try as well as some high protein clusters and I thought I’d pop up some thoughts here in case anyone else is in the same boat- or is in need of something to munch post workout.
All products c/o Dr Zak’s for blog consideration.
Kicking off with the protein clusters which I found made the perfect little snack to pack in my bag for work. These come in three flavours- chipotle chilli, fruit & yoghurt and chocolate. These 30g packs contain up to 12g of protein, are free from palm oil, made with high quality pea protein isolate and have under 130 calories per bag.

I’ll start off by saying the fruit & yoghurt variety wasn’t my cup of tea. They weren’t bad but did have that distinct “protein” taste about them and I had expected them to be much sweeter. I happily ate the pack and they certainly made for a filling snack for something so small but I wouldn’t go out of my way to have these again.

The chipotle and chocolate fared better. The chocolate were my favourite for sure, a good strong flavour and less after taste. The chipotle were also pretty good although I had hoped for a bit more heat. Again the stronger flavour of these took away the protein taste and I would pick up both of these flavours again if I saw them for sale.

The cookies also come in three flavours- salted caramel, chocolate chip and triple chocolate. These are made with high quality milk proteins and have a soft bake texture which reminded me more of a cake than a cookie. Again these are free from palm oil and contain no more than 3% of your daily sugar allowance. The 60g cookies are dense and filling but are fairly low calorie for a protein filled snack- each contains less than 220 calories for the whole cookie.

My favourite flavour was the salted caramel, hands down. This surprised me as I’m not usually a fan of this flavour at all but here it was a winner. The chocolate chip (sugar free) was a close second though and not far behind was the triple chocolate.

In short, I really enjoyed these. I gave some to my boyfriend to try and he wasn’t convinced at first but later said this is because he went in to it expecting a typical cookie- I mentioned before these have a more cake like texture and won’t compare to say, a cookie from Millie’s cookies or a bakery but in their own right they are really very good.

There are a whole host of items from Dr Zak’s I’d like to try- the peanut spread with it’s range of flavours looks especially intriguing!

Check out the website to find out your nearest stockists and if you are already familiar with the brand then please tell me which products I should be looking to try next!


Simple Steps You Can Take For A Healthier Lifestyle*

Countless people around the world know that they should be living a healthier lifestyle, however many feel that it’s such a daunting task that they put off that all-important first step for as long as possible. When you’re constantly seeing people on social media who seem to do nothing but work out and cook healthy meals it can make healthy living feel like a full-time job. However there are a number of simple steps you can take that will bring you that much closer to your lifestyle goals. Here are a few to think about…

(Image from Max Pixel)

Cut Out a Fifth

If you’ve been reading about nutrition and exercise for long enough you may have come across an article or video covering “blue zones” – areas of the world where people live longer and healthier lives than anywhere else. There are a number of factors that bind these countries together but one of the most prominent patterns is the fact that people from these areas generally eat less than the rest of us. In the majority of blue zones the average meal is smaller than those in the US and UK by at least a fifth. Try taking a leaf from their book and reducing the portions you have for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you tend to make meals in a big platter that the family can help themselves to then try getting into the habit of serving up portions in the kitchen and freezing the rest.

Get into a Reading/Watching Routine

When you make a point of surrounding yourself with reminders of the lifestyle you want to lead you’ll find it provides a lot of motivation for actually getting stuck into the routines of a healthier lifestyle. The more you can read, watch and generally learn about healthy eating and fitness the more naturally you’ll be able to fit those all-important lifestyle choices into your usual routine. Start by setting a short window aside every day just for sitting down with a (healthy!) snack and simply learning more about healthy living. Whether it’s watching healthy cooking videos on YouTube, trying a new exercise you can do at home or reading review sites like Bodygearguide, make sure you’re making a point to get your fill of fitness information on a regular basis. Get into a routine for this and you’ll be amazed at how much difference it makes to your mindset.

Try to Be More Of a Herbivore

Diets that are heavy on the plants are not only rich in antioxidants and essential nutrients but are also much better for your weight and cardiovascular health. Of course there’s a danger of not getting enough protein if you make your diet too heavy on plant matter, however considering how meat-dense a typical diet is these days you probably don’t have too much to worry about! Try to start thinking of meat as more of a complement to your meals rather than the main attraction. Try subbing your usual dose of meat out for beans, nuts and legumes.

Retrain your Taste Buds

Some of the foods that are regularly touted as miracle workers – elk, sea vegetables, tofu and berries you’ve never heard of – might seem completely alien to you and literally quite hard to swallow. It may not always seem like it but it’s certainly possible to retrain your taste buds. Most of us naturally love salt, fat, sugar and so on because they’re prevalent in the diets we’ve been raised on and these are the tastes that we’re used to. However, if you make a point to eat healthier foods regardless of how they taste to begin with over time you’ll learn to like them. The easiest way to start is checking more labels and gradually cutting down the level of sugar in your diet.

Chill Out!

Even the most cool-headed person you know gets stressed from time to time. While healthy people get affected by it just as much as anyone they all have some go-to methods for relieving stress whenever it arises. There are many healthy methods for de-stressing and most people will only need one that they can fall back on again and again. Go for a scenic walk, meditate for a while, meet your best friend for a coffee… It’s okay to treat yourself now and then but make sure you’re not leaning on unhealthy methods of stress-relief too much. This will only make you more susceptible to stress from other aspects of your life and could lead to you getting stuck in a health rut.


Are you Sitting Comfortably?*

There’s nothing like slipping a couple of discs to make you realise the importance of taking care of your back. Given that I manage to knacker mine up doing every day things and still ending up in A&E requiring a catheter, having a useless left leg for months and requiring surgery and a lot of physio I seriously had to take a look at my lifestyle- especially my posture to prevent a repeat of the drama. Three years on and *touch wood* I’ve not had much in the way of further problems so I thought not might be a good time to share a few pearls of wisdom as well as a really useful e-book by Adjustable Beds & Riser Recliner Chairs retailer Adjustamatic.
One of the things I learnt through physio is the importance of strengthening your core. Your core is made up of not only your abdominal muscles but also your pelvic muscles, hip muscles and lower and middle back muscles. Having good core strength can help alleviate back pain, keeps your posture in check and can help you to make safer daily movements (think lifting, sitting, standing…). Yoga, pilates and swimming are brilliant ways to strengthen your core and trust me, you will notice a difference!
It sounds really boring but footwear is another thing that really affects my back, if I spend too long in heels- or at least the wrong type of heels I get some serious backache. Platform heels are fine, as well as supportive flats like trainers. Ballet pump style shoes are rubbish for me as they provide little in the way of support but other people might not find this a problem.
My third and final tip before moving on to the ebook is to make sure you have a decent mattress and a decent chair at work. We spend a LOT of our time either sleeping or sitting. I find a firm mattress best for me and if I stay overnight anywhere I often wake up with a niggling spine. The same for chairs. You need to find a chair that really supports your back, or get a detachable back support to go on it- I have one of these at work as well as a back “belt” for days where I am in a bit of pain- it’s great for stopping the slouch!
Anyway, a far more comprehensive guide is this e-book- any one who spends a long time sitting or suffers with back pain really should give it a read. It’s funny, you never really appreciate having a healthy spine until it’s suddenly not so healthy so it really does pay to look after it now.
Have you got any top tips or experiences to share? Leave them in the comments below.