After crashing into a fence in training, I was careful in The Alps. We went to a place called Tignes near Val D’Isere. We flew into Geneva airport and got a taxi from there, which was more convenient than landing in France due to timings.
There were six of us, two of us being beginners who were technically intermediate, having done the day course. But we didn’t feel at that level. We stopped at Geneva airport where the prices made us wince. I paid about £5 for some Burger King chips. It was very clean, with adverts for watches, investments and diamonds. The people there were smartly dressed and coiffured. The average salary is 6160 Swiss Francs per month (£4319), with only 3.5% unemployment but it has been argued that living costs in Switzerland – one of the richest countries in the world – average 4000 Swiss Francs per month.
The drive was long and we dozed as day became night and the hills became mountains which grew until they were snow-capped and touched the sky.
We finally arrived at our “Bonjour bonjour” chalet 1550m up in the Alps. It was in a little chalet village and did not look like much from the outside. We had a hard time finding it as it was not clearly marked. I was jealous of one nearby with a ground floor swimming pool.
But it was lovely inside, with soft carpets a wooden communal dining area, a homely glow and young, enthusiastic and welcoming chalet staff.
They had kept dinner back for us and so we had a late meal which was delicious, including a creamy courgette soup (with cream, thyme and coriander) and a salted caramel pie, all cooked in the kitchen next door by a gourmet chef.
I kept a diary of my ski learning and experiences.
On the first day I was too tired to write in it, flopping down after lessons on the green (beginner) slope. The instructor found out whether I was suitable for the intermediate class by taking me to the top of a small slope which looked incredibly steep as a newcomer. I am not good with heights but I was determined to work with it. I lost it though and shrieked and told him he was not to let go of my hands. He did and skied backwards as I rocked clumsily down in the biggest snowplough I could manage (your skis are in a triangle shape with the narrow bit at the back or a backwards pizza slice). I spent most of the day getting to grips with the fear enough to learn and fell asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow after another wonderful meal.
We started our lesson with the sun peeping over the peak. Our instructor was called Christophe, a calm patient teacher who couldn’t stop grinning at my Franglais (English with a bit of French). He was observing at this stage mostly so I spoke French to get more tips, as he didn’t always understand our English. It was a lot about getting balance with your feet and leaning forward, knees bent, turning with your legs rather than the upper body. Christophe had us circling ski poles around us as we went down to remember to focus our weight on our feet and move with our legs. As he said, “it’s all in ze ‘ips”. What follows is from my diary:
“Today we did more work on the green slope with parallel and snowplough turns. I was told to relax the upper body and turn from the hips. I did a blue run and chairlift for the first time.”
Chairlifts and steep hills
The chairlift was a bit scary but I soon got used to it. It swept you off your feet so you had to bend your knees ready and watch it. It felt quite exposed. Also after spending the first day on the nursery slope the blue one looked awfully steep and it was quite intimmidating heading towards the bottom in order to turn. At some point you get used to it and launch yourself down it, knowing that the worst that could happen is probably that you’ll slide to a stop.
Back to my diary:
“In the morning I had a bruised leg from the awful boots (Head) the day before. It hurt a lot and I had to take unofficial breaks. But by lunch they were fine. I got a bit of friction burn on my left foot. I got new boots from the hire company yesterday night and they were lovely and padded, very comfortable. I think the make was Dalbello, an Italian company specialising in ski equipment. They retail at around £200.”
My boyfriend had brought his own boots so he was ok. It’s mostly a problem for newcomers to the sport. Apparently you get used to the pain.
“I also got a new hat as the other one was too big. This one is a good fit. I love that my skis match my slope onesie.
For lunch I had a lovely pizza with cream in, squares of prosciutto-style beef and rocket on top. The food here is fantastic and they serve American size portions. I had it with a piña colada cocktail for the pain around my ankles, the boots squeezing the sore muscles from before. It was cheaper than a vodka and lemonade and much more tasty, although cocktails here are nothing compared to back home. Needless to say I felt nothing in the afternoon.
I couldn’t go back to the chalet on a blue run as I forgot my lift pass. Then we tried to go from half-way down via a bus. But when I got my skis on and headed down the hill I lost my courage and started snowploughing really slowly. I got picked up by ‘securité du piste’ as it was the end of the day, the light was fading and he wanted to close the piste. He pointed at me and said “béginneur, béginneur”. “Non non!” I insisted “je suis intermédiate!”. He was having none of it and wouldn’t go until I got on the back of his snowmobile. I stomped over in a huff and we were off, whizzing down narrow mountain tracks. This was actually quite fun so I didn’t mind in the end.
I also bought Voltaren (we call it Voltarel) gel and paracetamol. I would recommend it for skiing as it works quickly to tackle pain and inflammation and can relieve it at least half the day. Be careful not to overdo it though, it is possible to overdose with it, as Andrew reminded me when I was putting it on every hour. Andrew got his boots changed too as a bit of his snapped off. I had no blisters or falls today. I had one fall yesterday trying to parallel turn. I keep doing a snowplough with my weaker foot. The chalet has a hot tub which we are looking forward to using.
Last night we went to Knights – a lovely local pub. I felt sorry for the empty one next door. They had table football and a snooker table there unlike Knights but there were just two people and some sorrowful staff.
The mountains are truly beautiful with breathtaking scenery, especially when the sun shines on them and the snow glistens and sparkles. The taxi driver “Renault” said that there had been 11 metres last year but there was only 1.85 this year. Perhaps it is global warming.”
“I am elated after going down the blue run I didn’t manage yesterday. My boyfriend kindly joined me as I am not sure I would have gone by myself. He said he may accompany me a bit every day. It had a 45° slope which was not very wide, so it was easy to pick up speed. Either side of it were flat narrow runs. We passed a nice icicle cave.
We got back in time for cake at the chalet and this time we managed to use the hot tub before dinner.
For lunch I had a steak sandwich and chips. Lunches here average €15 but this was only €9 so it seemed like a bargain at a “Fast-Food” restaurant. Skiing went much better, mostly because the pain went after lunch following repeated Voltaren applications. My bruised ankle and sprained ankle muscle were agony yesterday and this morning.”
“It is sad that tomorrow is our last day of lessons. We have had a great time. Today I went from the top of the mountain to the bottom on a blue run, right down from Le Lac to the chalet at Les Brèvieres (via a chair lift to get to the top). It was the most terrifying experience and the scariest day. Going down to the chalet involved a lot of hills, often one after the other. My boyfriend said more experienced skiers liked them for speed. They whipped past me and my boyfriend went off piste as he got bored but he got chased by a dog near a village and struggled to ski away as it was flat. I screamed most of the way down. I also fell at the bottom but it was a smooth “elegant” fall. I was going fast and lost my balance a little. One ski wobbled and I crashed into a barrier for the first time since doing the intermediate bit of a day course at Castleford. It was a snow wall, so it didn’t hurt. In the lesson we went down our steepest hill yet.
Today involved a lot of hills. Steep hills, the like of which I had never gone down before. It was terrifying but you felt you had achieved something. We had our last taxi drive with Renault. He had nicknamed me “Jambon” as I said I had sore “jambons” instead of “jambes” – legs. We had our last lesson with Christophe. He was great but I needed more intensive instruction. Doing better parallel turns would have prevented pain in my ankle and shins from brake turns, where you dig your skis in on a turn to slow down. I was fully bending my knees to brake turn, meaning that my knee that I had not had leg support on ached with the strain. I was prudent enough to buy knee supports from Boots for the trip which helped avoid this. I think they were about £20 each but definitely worth it. Someone also recommended glucosamine supplements. However my (former) doctor dad says that you don’t absorb vitamins from pills because they need to be combined with minerals and co-factors to be absorbed and these get removed in the synthesising process to make them into tablets.
I stopped about four times doing the run from Val Claret to the chalet yesterday. The sight of the slope disappearing in front was too much. You could not see how steep it was on the other side. With Christophe we did our steepest run yet. I had made friends with another learner, Angelica, who was so fearless that she had been moved up from beginners. An instructor told me that 80% of skiing is confidence. Angelica is a singer and her husband Peter works in I.T. She is from Colombia and he is from Belgium and they met in London.
It turns out we are both scared of heights so we help each other out. Peter accompanied me down from Le Lac yesterday, kindly encouraging and praising me. He is a snowboarder and is so good that he was chatting to Angelica whilst boarding, when we were on a chairlift dangling above a death drop. Angelica has an 18 year old son and a 4 year old daughter. She speaks Spanish, so I have been able to practice that as well as my French.
We had a lovely lunch in Tovière, a gondola ride up from Le Lac (the French call them bubble lifts). Le Lac was where we had our lessons until yesterday when we moved to a Val D’Isère slope. The torture boots were not as bad today. The first two days were agony. On Wednesday the pain went after lunch. The alcohol that lunchtime helped lower inhibitions meaning I skied better, as you need to be relaxed to have flexible knees which can take bumps in the snow. Just one drink, you do not want to lose your balance.
Lunch was the best today. Main meals were reasonable for here, at €13-25. It was in a big wooden hut. You picked what you wanted from salads, chocolate mousse, tarts dripping with fresh fruit, mille feuille (a dessert with layers of light pastry and layers of cream/custard filling). I had egg and ham with chips as it was the cheapest option at €12.50, following a heated discussion with my boyfriend regarding my spending binges on drugs and alcohol (see Day 2).
The delight of this was that the chef would ask you what you wanted and cook it on the spot while you waited behind him. Angelica gave me relationship advice over lunch, reminding me to have my own life and to let my boyfriend have his, to let him look at other women and appreciate them with him. She also said one baby was 3kg and her oldest 5kg and that she only had two hour labours and delivered both naturally. Peter said there was a lot of blood. I said I was quite happy to wait 10 years for that as seeing placentas and their delivery on television had put a stop to another episode of broodiness.
The restaurant filled up from 12.30 and the room also filled up with smoke from the chef who was clearly under pressure. It was probably coming out of his ears too. It was nice to get out to the clear crisp mountain air again.
Then the afternoon was spent dangling over the mountain in a metal frame and hurtling painfully down hills on two pieces of plastic. I felt like I was bungee jumping without a harness or rope on the lifts. It was thrilling though. I stopped halfway down on one slope, started crying and saying I could not do it. I stopped at the top of most hills. The heaped-up powder made for a bumpy ride. All in all a great end to the lessons.
All this week the sun has shone and it has been clear. Tomorrow it will snow 30cm or so and we are going to go swimming if we cannot ski. My boyfriend wants to go down a glacier again, he seems quite excited about that. He has been supportive, inclusive and lovely, it has been so nice. Apart from a few tantrums we have been fine.
Trouble and Tantrums
I had one when after practicing for an hour, I could not parallel turn as one foot snowploughed and then I fell because of it. My boyfriend had skied to the side, sat down and just watched silently as I struggled to stand and fell again. It is very difficult to get up on your skis, you have to bend your legs to one side and try and take the skis off with your hands which requires some force. I got angry and threw down the skis, kicked off my boots and shouted at him to help and not just stare. Andrew, seeing a situation, swooped by to calm things. He has been a good Samaritan with that and lending money when my boyfriend did not give me any for the next day.
Then my boyfriend had a massive sulk because after getting him to retrieve my helmet (I was limping) having struggled to find it with no offer of help, my skis disappeared. I had left them to one side of the tourist centre with my poles when I had gone on a quest to find the helmet. It had turned out that the company advertised as being on the ground floor (Ecole du Ski) that we wanted were based inside another company’s shop (Skiset). All I had to go on was an arrow pointing down agonising narrow winding stairs to a confusing rabbit warren of shops. After seeing that my skis were then gone, I went into the tourist centre and luckily they knew that the police had taken some. I did not know if they were mine. More painful steps followed as I hobbled down. The police looked down their noses at us. They would not show me the skis until I had described the colour. In my panic I spoke Franglais – ‘bleu, blanche et green’ without realising.
They showed me them and did not appear to believe me when I said yes. Then they got me to describe the poles before producing them. I do not know the French for those, so I resorted to mime and English (like a typical English tourist abroad). When I went in saying ‘je cherche pour mes skis et poles’ they did not understand. I had to rephrase ‘J’ai oublié mes skis’ as I could not remember the word for lost (perdu). Lost I certainly was. Luckily they understood my boyfriend’s English. Taped to my skis was someone else’s lift pass that I and the police assumed was mine (I had forgotten where mine was). They pointed to it. It is worth over £100.
My boyfriend was exasperated. He sulked and spoke angrily to me until I cried. I was tired – it is hard to sleep when you have achy shoulders and are hot. We were now late and had no way of getting back other than a €30 taxi which Andrew kindly paid for. It was just down the hill, a mere 10 minute ski down.
On Thursday I then tried to use the out of date lift pass the police gave me to use for a chair lift but could not – mine was on my bedside talbe in the chalet. So my boyfriend had another strop, saying ‘this keeps happening doesn’t it, you should’ve put it somewhere safe like I told you to.’ But since those fiascoes we have been getting along really well. Maybe it helps that he can see how I am working with intense fear to get down the mountain. We understand each other so well. I have never known a boyfriend so well, but then I have never been with anyone else more than two years. We have a heart duvet and lamps in our room like a honeymoon suite, so I call it the love shack. The boys have gone to the local pub tonight but I am too tired and the cocktails there are even more awful than on the slopes, so I am keeping it girly painting my nails. Tomorrow we will have more fun at 2600 metres in Tovière…
“This morning I asked the boys whether they had talked about football, Top Gear (as the show is no more due to its presenter punching a producer I should explain that this is a mindless car show) or ladies on their night out (all of which they had before). Apparently the topics were the state of the economy, politics and whether there was a year 0. Well it was a partial Durham University reunion.”
I did not get time to do any more on my diary but I went down an even steeper hill and my first red slope. When I say “went down” I mean on my bottom, front and stepping. I skied a little. I cried and panicked as I started down a hill that seemed to have no end. My boyfriend was exasperated once more as I sat down and slid down in protest but was extremely patient considering it took a long time to get me down. A lady from the chalet stopped to comfort me, saying she was the same at first and telling me it wasn’t that bad. I unclipped my boots, applied a liberal amount of Voltarel, popped a paracetamol and then decided I would just throw myself down and hope for the best as I was getting bored.
I was sorry to leave Tignes but would be happy to return and I will ski again once I can afford to. I have an even more expensive holiday to save for this year…