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The racing pedigree

Olympian Di Lewthwaite tells of the early days at the Supertravel's firm that pioneered ski chalet holidays

The racing pedigree Olympian Di Lewthwaite The Britain’s top racers Di Lewthwaite tells of the early days at the firm that pioneered ski chalet holidays Ski chalet holidays

DI LEWTHWAITE likes to keep her speed down sometimes on the slopes these days – and take in some of the views she didn’t have time to appreciate when she was one of Britain’s top racers.

     But skiing, particularly on the slopes of the Three Valleys, still holds as much magic and joy as ever for Lady Lewthwaite, with whom the history and development of British skiing is inextricably linked – as is the history of Supertravel.

     As Diana Tomkinson she raced for Britain in the 1968 Grenoble Winter Olympics – and as soon as she stopped competing she found herself intimately involved in making the early Supertravel firm a front runner among ski travel companies. Her late husband, Sir David Lewthwaite, founded the company in 1964 and it was soon a pioneer in the ski chalet holiday business. ‘I met David when we were both on the committee for the Ski Ball in 1968 and we married in 1969 – and I found myself very closely involved in the business,’ said Lady Lewthwaite.

     ‘Even before the season began we would always be frantically busy, one of the most important jobs being appointing the chalet girls. This meant ensuring they could cook – and we would have countless meals with the applicants doing the cooking for us. We would often go to their place, so it meant a lot of nights out dining for us – with us judging the hostess’s efforts!

     ‘But there was always the chance during the winter that one of the chalet girls would become ill – and if that happened I was the one who was sent out as emergency cover and I would find myself cleaning out the chalets and carrying out any job that needed doing. We supplied hotel holidays as well as chalets and we covered a lot of resorts, including the big names such as St Anton, Lech, Kitzbuhel and Verbier, but also places such as La Rosiere, Madonna di Campiglio and

 

Sestriere – and we also opened up in America, at Snowbird and Park City.

     ‘It wasn’t unusual for us to have members of the Royal Family among our clients then – I’m not going to say who! But they would often sign up for our holidays, particularly in Zermatt or Meribel. They would come on the same flights with all the other guests and then they’d hop on the transfer bus and really get involved with everyone.

     ‘At the time the foreign travel currency allowance rules were in place, and there was a £50 limit to cover accommodation and meals on a holiday abroad. So our holidays amazingly were coming out at £49 and ten shillings.’ (Ten shillings is 50p for younger readers!)‘It was fun, but a big change from my racing days, which I absolutely adored. I had been a reserve for the Winter Olympics in 1964, then I did compete in the World Championships in Portillo, in Chile before being in the team and competing in the Grenoble Winter Olympics in 1968.

RACING PEDIGREE

     ‘I skied all over the world but you often didn’t see much of the resorts apart from the race course because you were either training or racing. There was no time for free skiing. But there was a race meeting at Mount Etna and I competed in the slalom – it was amazing, the first time I’d raced down a volcano. And then that afternoon after the race we were able to sit on the beach.

     ‘And in Zakopane, in Poland, we were practising for a race and before we went up the chairlift we were told that there was just one thing we had to watch out for – the bears! Apparently some had been making their way from the forests to the pistes.’

     No such hazards face Di at her favourite resort of Courchevel, where she enjoys family holidays. She has two children and five

 

grandchildren – with three of them living in Chamonix where they are members of the renowned Club des Sports. ‘One has just been on the phone to tell me that she has just been awarded her skiing gold certificate and she’s only five,’ said Di excitedly.

     Di comes from a ski racing family – her mother Helen, as Helen Blane, competed in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen games in 1936 and raced in the downhill and slalom. Di herself was president of the Ladies Ski Club from 1972 to 1975, as both her mother and grandmother, Lady Blane, had been before her. And with her grandchildren budding racers, it looks as if that tradition is set to continue. Her other great passion is her lovely home, Broadgate, in Millom, Cumbria, which she has opened as a bed and breakfast. The sole occupants of the stunning Georgian house since it was built nearly 200 years ago have been the Lewthwaite family. Set in landscape immortalised in Wordsworth’s poetry, the house is surrounded by idyllic gardens, including a croquet lawn.

     This region is so different from the rest of the Lake District, you never need to go far to find places of interest, wonderful scenery and remote villages,’ she said. ‘The sea is only five miles away and there is great historical interest attached to the Duddon Estuary, being an old mining area. Tourists have yet to really discover the region, unlike Windermere, Bowness or Keswick.’

     And here Di often enjoys a form of transport entirely different from skis – but still with a heady excitement. ‘I love going for a day’s ride on one of the 24 Cumbrian heavy horses which are stabled just a mile from my home,’ she said. And of course, even on a horse the off-piste beckons, often through sand dunes to nearby beaches and then back home across the open farmland.

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