The Adventures of a First-time Skier
As I waited nervously at Heathrow wearing newly purchased snow boots and a borrowed ski jacket, watching groups of people lumbering towards the check-in desk with designer thermals and their own skis, I wondered what I was doing.
I like to think of myself as a bit of an adventurer. I’ve hang-glided off one of Rio de Janeiro’s tallest mountains, volcano boarded down an active volcano in Nicaragua and almost been blown away during a spinnaker sailing incident in Mexico. Sounds like I have a taste for adrenaline, right? So why had the fear set in at the thought of hitting the slopes?
I’ve never skied. I’ve visited two ski resorts in my life, one in Slovenia and another in Spain. Both times I sipped hot chocolate and felt relieved I wasn’t flinging myself down a mountain. Most friends had grown up going on family ski holidays, and continued to go every year. Some had invited me, but I was intimidated by the idea of being a beginner. Plus, wasn’t skiing one of the most expensive hobbies you could take up? I’d always opted to save my pennies for sunnier climes.
Now, with my 30th birthday just a few weeks before, I’d decided it was time to face my fears. I was going skiing.
From London I travelled with a small group to the Mark Warner resort in Tignes in the French Alps. It was a beautiful journey – with fir trees dusted in white, frozen lakes and frosty mountain peaks. My home for the next few days was Hotel L'Ecrin du Val Claret, a cosy chalet-style hotel.
We were kitted out with skis and a pair of ski boots (potentially the most uncomfortable contraption I’ve ever worn). I discovered I had a head similar to that of an 8-year-old child as they struggled to find a helmet suitable.
The next morning I was enrolled in ski school, and along with 4 other beginners (all grown ups, thankfully!) we started to learn the basics.
It’s a strange sensation learning something physical as an adult. Co-ordination just isn’t the same as when you’re a child, plus there’s an overwhelming feeling of fear. No longer are you happy to fling yourself around, fall over, get back up and start all over again. You have a new cautiousness, of which it’s really hard to let go.
Some of the worst weather to ever hit the Alps descended during my time there. It wasn’t hard to see that having a huge blizzard flying at you didn’t make for easy learning conditions. The avalanche warning of 4/5 – 5 being the highest - didn’t sound inviting either.
During the first day of lessons I learned how to put my skis on, walk, climb up the baby slope, start, slide and stop! As my instructor Guilleme shouted ‘snow plewwwww’ (snow plough), I managed to co-ordinate my brain, feet and hips to create a triangle shape and slow myself down to stop.
To reach the top of the baby slope again it was onto an escalator nicknamed ‘the magic carpet’ – again, something I’ve never done with giant planks attached to my feet. None of it felt particularly easy, but I was starting to get the hang of it.
We learned how to turn – something that felt totally alien to me. To turn right you lean left. It required brainpower and co-ordination, and as yet another 6-year-old French child whizzed past me, I wondered if I’d ever feel confident to hit a real ski slope. Sure enough, we ended the session with a slow, unsteady green run. It was terrifying but exhilarating. I did it! I’d earned my afternoon of jacuzzi time.
Frustratingly, on day two our lessons were delayed due to bad weather. I’d woken up to the sounds of controlled avalanche explosions, and we were informed that buses were struggling to get from village to village. Winds were high and I spent a good ten minutes struggling not to eat snow! Once back on the slopes it was straight to the green run. Some of the technique was starting to click… but I still couldn’t turn.
At moments like this it’s easy to get a mental block. Your brain is saying, “I can’t do this” or “I don’t want to do this”. My body was uncomfortable in the gear, my feet had pins and needles and I felt heavy. Lying down on the snow seemed more inviting than skiing down it! I was determined not to give up. After a mini-sulk, a few positive words from my group, I got back into the swing of it, and two green runs (and a fall off the ski lift) later I was on my way to enjoy an afternoon of après ski.
So what did I make of my first ski trip?
It surprised me. I really enjoyed it, particularly how structured it was compared to a sun holiday. My provider organised our lessons, ski hire and included two meals a day, plus afternoon tea. I found the lessons challenging but after only 3 hours of tuition in 48 hours, I was starting to get the hang of it. With a few more lessons and a bit more practice, I think I would have improved quickly.
Along with the refreshing exercise I loved the other elements – good hearty meals (tartiflette and the salted caramel brownies were big winners), the spa, and of course the après ski. Three hours of socialising, drinking and dancing – all before dinner! What a great lifestyle! When you realise that your morning ski session burns around 2000 calories, it’s pretty much a free pass to eat and drink what you like!
Is 30 too old to take to the slopes for the first time?
No, definitely not. While you are more cautious, if you fall once you’ll realise it’s not particularly painful. You just dust yourself off and start again. There are beginner classes tailored to adults, and I think if I went back, I’d be tempted to try one of the special beginners weeks, so as to meet lots of people at the same level.
I’d always heard skiing was pricey, but looking at the prices for a week, it was similar to a week in the sun – just over £500 including flights, transfers, accommodation, breakfast, afternoon tea and dinner with wine. With the addition of ski hire and lift passes you’d be looking to spend around £700.
I’m definitely more of a sunshine addict than a snow bunny, but I’d be keen to take to the slopes again in the future!
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