Could there be any better way to soften the blow of getting another year older?
Fancy finishing a bluebird ski day with a delicious meal in good company, not down in the village but actually up the mountain?
I started working in Courmayeur as a ski guide/rep at the age of 23, and fell so madly in love with the place that I made it my home for the next few years.
I’m a December baby, so my big day falls neatly at the start of the season. Any excuse for a party, and I was on it – and as the big 30 approached I knew it would be a sin not to make a huge weekend of it.
Once the idea had planted itself firmly in my head, I knew I had to plan it and I had to plan it well. I wanted a brilliant weekend in the snow for my friends, so they could escape the reality of a grim English winter and get their first ski fix of the season.
An Extra Special Evening
What could make my evening extra special? Having dinner up the mountain, of course.
As if banqueting on delicious food in a gorgeous candlelit restaurant with views of the dimming peaks wasn’t enough, why not make it a formal event.
Sure, maybe I’d seen too many James Bond movies, but I thought making the whole soiree black tie would make the celebration that much more exciting.
And why end the evening by descending back to the village, only to wake up hungover to make the journey back up the mountain again.
So the final detail was that we’d simply stay up the mountain – not only to make it special but also to be the first ones let loose on the fresh snow the next morning. I can’t think of a better way to ditch the hangover, can you?
Maison Vieille – Where It All Happens
The party took place at Maison Vieille, a truly unique and unforgettable destination now also host to Heston Blumenthal’s Mountain Gourmet Ski Experience.
Nestled in amongst the pistes of Courmayeur, this restaurant gives a traditional alpine feel and a closeness with the snowy wonderland we all love. There is a genuine charm about the place which will leave you and your guests with that birthday glow.
Back in those days, Maison Vieille was a proper refuge with a dormitory at the back, though now unfortunately it only operates as a restaurant.
So invites went out, friends came out in full force. We had some great skiing together and enjoyed Courmayeur’s great bars and restaurants and for the big night took all our gear up the mountain, left it in Maison Vieille, skied and arranged to meet there when the lifts were closing at 5pm.
The Start of Something Special…
I had one dilemma however; what would I do with my guests until dinner time? If they tucked into the bar from 5, no-one would finish dinner and it would be chaos.
So I had an idea. Run a parallel slalom race behind Maison Vieille!
Whilst the piste and drag lift was closed, Giacomo – the owner of our wonderful venue – and his team snowmobiled us to the top of the course, we set the gates, put some torch lights all the way down and my first ski championships began.
Racing and aperitivi ended by 7, everyone went in to get changed and then the party really started (see the main photo for this article of all the men in their glad rags!).
We danced late into the night, crashed at some ungodly hour and my birthday present came nice and early. A foot of powder.
We coped better with late nights back then, so like little kids in a sweet shop we got up early and put the first turns in before the first cable car came up from the resort.
I wanted to repeat the idea for my 40th, but being older and having fussier partners, the bunks at Maison Vieille wouldn’t do.
So we opted to stay lower down in Plan Checrouit in La Baita hotel which is now called Super G (I’ll mention this in greater detail later).
We followed the same format, held it on the same weekend, and we still ran the race, but this time skied down at dusk to our hotel to get changed in to black tie and then we all went back up the mountain in our finery.
The boys were transported in snowmobiles and the ladies went in a snow cat (which had a large heated cabin at the back, so no issues with dresses and shoes!)
My birthday present came again with over a foot of powder overnight, This time I couldn’t cope with the late night and stayed in bed nursing my head!
The Big Five Oh
…and this time I had a 7 week old baby boy.
Do we go? Do we delay and do it at Easter? Luckily, thanks to my supportive wife, we stuck to the plan and made it work. In fact, I did a blog on this very decision a while back (read it here).
Invites went out. Many of the same friends came. Some divorced, some still single, some remarried, some bringing their children (including yours truly) and a few more friends that I had gathered.
Wines and menu had got even more sophisticated so we this time we decided to stay down in the town and bribed the ski lift company to run a late cable car for us.
So we got dolled up in our black ties, dresses and Jimmy Choos, took the cable car up, and shuttled in snowmobiles (with ladies again in heated piste bashers). The party continued as it had done in previous years, but this time I could embarrass my teenage daughter and her friends with my traditional midnight air guitar to Led Zeppelin’s Rock’n Roll with my wig backwards.
So here’s an idea which I can truly say is tried and tested. In fact, the day after my 50th birthday, I booked for my 60th!
Read on for a few of my other favourite gems, here are some cable-top suggestions that would also suit a birthday occasion up the mountain…
Mountain Restaurants To Celebrate A Birthday (And Stay Overnight)
Super G, Courmayeur
As I mentioned earlier, we stayed overnight at Super G for my 40th birthday, and it is one of my go-to venues for a special celebration.
All too often fine dining means a hungry stomach, but there’s none of those thinnest wafers here. Stylish yet wholesome food in a modern venue. Something we can all appreciate post and pre a day’s snow carving.
It’s Courmayeur’s trendy new on-mountain après ski terrace with DJs by day and then a lovely restaurant and attractive boutique hotel by night.
Iglu, Engelberg & Iglu, Garmisch
This is one for the Facebook album. You can stay the night in a real iglu!
Nestled in amongst the pistes, there’s food and drink and some oddly cosy décor like rugs and fire places.
Las Vegas, San Cassiano
When you’re thinking ”Party”, the name Las Vegas says it all.
If it’s a significant birthday you’re celebrating this spot could be just right for the less than perfect physical state we find ourselves in the day after festivities.
With fewer steep peaks and more curvy blue runs this will be a little more compatible to the Vegas-style of partying. Throw in some wonderful scenery and well connected lifts.
All you’ll have to do is cross your fingers for that powder to fall.
Chetzeron, Crans Montana
The best sunset in the alps.
I’m always impressed by the stunning views from this venue’s huge windows. In its spacious modern building, a converted old cable car houses an incredible setting at the top of the mountain.
It is a cut above most alpine restaurants with a modern, elegant finish to everything and if you want to go black tie this is definitely a good venue for such swagger.
The hotel section of the building has recently been extended and is now very impressive with a stunning main lounge with high ceilings and a floor to ceiling panoramic window.
If you like period dramas then I can see this one being a favourite.
It’s a large colonial style building with balconies, ballrooms and all the décor of days gone by.
The area has an unusually late running funicular (1:30am) so is one of the spots where you could dine late and still make it back down into the main town if you wanted or there is even a floodlit sledge run down. But I’ve found people never want to when you’ve gathered the friends together with a little pomp and glitz.
Cabane Mont Fort, Verbier
At 2,457m this is a somewhat isolated venue of modest proportions.
I hear some describe it as an old stone cabin, others class it as a shabby-chic chalet. This spot can actually get quite busy sometimes so book ahead to be safe.
It has an off-the-beaten-track vibe and with the right weather some quite frankly ridiculous views.
Here you will be getting more of a fine dining experience in a serious 5* hotel up the mountain.
One of my favourite features is the classic bowling alley. It does remind me a little of the Aspen style of going alpine. And of course who can doubt the beauty of the Zermatt setting.
Mooserwirt, St Anton
There is no denying the appeal of a classic après beverage selection and a wholesome menu to warm the heart once the dancing is done.
What not many people know is that the other side of the Mooserwirt is rather chic hotel, so you can stay there rather than run the gauntlet skiing down to town with the drunken hoi polloi.
Rifugio Lagazuoi at Cinque Torri, Passo Giau
Picture yourself, surrounded by loved ones, dining on delicious homemade dishes at sunset, when the Pale Mountains are bathed in pink, rose and orange hues as the sun sets over the peaks.
This is where you can also set off to do the Hidden Valley , one of the most spectacular runs that ends up in Armenterola. You can spend the last bit being pulled by horses to avoid the long flat skate out.
It is truly a memorable run and one of the six reasons why you should say in Cortina.
So, What Next?
I’d say, do it as early as you can. Even though 40 is the new 30 (or so the magazines tell me), there’s always that chance you won’t age as gracefully as you imagine. Carpe Diem.
Pick a spot and book your friends in well in advance. Then they won’t have any excuses when it’s time to celebrate your big birthday on top of the hill rather than over the hill.
Just get in contact to start tailor-making the celebration of a lifetime.