An Alpine Report From A Skiing Virgin

I think I should start by pointing out that I am not a coordinated person, nor am I the sort of person who has any vague sense of balance….so naturally when one of my housemates suggested putting a vet ski trip together I was the first to sign up! After months of planning, multiple trips to buy discount ski wear and one precarious all day skiing crash course for beginners, the day had finally arrived for us to head to the French Alps to (hopefully) learn how to ski.

There were 12 of us on the trip in total: Sasha (trip organiser and skier extraordinaire) and her boyfriend Mike, Jack and Kay (who were also no strangers to the slopes), Mike’s friends Luke and Alice, Dave the Laugh (Sasha’s crude and hilarious friend who was literally born on skis and was acting as our informant for the week), Beth’s boyfriend Oliver and then the skiing virgins; me, Beth, Alex and Rhys who’s aim for the week was not to die or kill anyone else in the process (strict instructions from my mother before I left home).

We all met at Birmingham airport laden with ski gear (and in my case, a suitcase full of snacks) and excited to begin our journey to Genever airport. We got there without a hitch – Beth in her usual fashion conked out about a minute after take-off, leaving me to babysit her boyfriend Oliver who has a significant fear of flying. We then faced a long and winding trip in a minivan across the border into France and up the side of the mountain. We eventually made it up to our ski resort feeling slightly worse for wear as our driver delighted in taking hairpin bends at break-neck, who knew the adrenaline rush would begin so soon into the holiday!? We were split into two neighbouring apartments – myself, Beth, Olly, Jack, Alex and Kay in one room and the rest of the gang in the other. The apartments were cosy to say the least meaning privacy (especially for poor Beth and Oliver who were on the double bed which coupled as our communal sofa) was limited, but I suppose you can’t complain when we booked the trip on a strict budget. Despite the lack of space the beds were comfy and warm, there were great catering facilities and for the limited time we actually spent in the room, I didn’t really have any complaints. However, one slight issue with the room was revealed quite early when Jack decided after the long flight he was going to use the toilet (which was conveniently situated right by the kitchen), this resulted in us all opening every door and window in the apartment as the trapped smell had nowhere to go but filter into the rest of the apartment. After the odour situation was back under control we all quickly agreed that ‘number two’s’ would be done upstairs in the communal toilets for the rest of the holiday (this meant, much to our amusement we did get to learn about everyone’s toileting habits quite intimately).

Our first day on the slopes began by getting suited and booted at the local ski rental shop. Due to my unimpressive height, I was gifted a pair of lovely pink child’s skis for the week much to everyone’s amusement. Once we were all set up and ready, we headed rather cumbersomely with all our new gear in tow down to meet our ski instructor. Once Sasha was happy we were safely in the capable hands of the instructor she went off with the other “slope masters” to get their “ski on”. On the first lesson, it was safe to say we were like ducks out of water, we spent the morning trying to get the hang of having large planks strapped to our feet and psyching ourselves up to get down the slopes in one piece but overall, though very tiring it was a lot of fun. I have to say, I was incredibly thankful for the 8-hour crash course I did before I set foot on the real slopes as it did mean I had a confident snow plow and therefore a sure-fire way of stopping in case of emergency.

Skiing definitely taught me a lot about myself, before I went I considered myself quite a ‘ballsy’ person; I love rollercoasters, have bungee jumped, enjoy flying and travel and all things that give an adrenaline kick. However, what I came to realise on this trip was that I am ballsy …. When it comes to trusting machinery and other people. With skiing, I had to trust my own strength, coordination and skill and I realised I didn’t trust these abilities in myself at all, so when it came to skiing I was a massive wuss and I’m embarrassed to say I cried several times whilst ‘aboard’ skis! Alex, on the other hand, was the complete opposite, he was brimming with (often misplaced) self-confidence in his skiing ability and went bombing down anything he was pointed at…. though he rarely got to the bottom of it still standing. Throughout the holiday Alex gained himself quite the reputation for his skiing antics; over the course of the week he managed to take out most of the “pro-skiers” in our group at one time or another through his inability to stop effectively (the snowplow still needed a bit of work), on another occasion he had to be rescued while dangling off the edge of the mountainside when, yet again his snow plough had failed him. On one other, memorable occasion he flew down one of the slopes arse-first in what can only be described as a ‘sun-salutation’ position which Beth found so funny, she lost her balance and fell over too!

Although I’ve spent a lot of time picking on Alex, we all had our fair share of falls…. Jack, one of the pro-skiers in our group unintentionally did a black ski run on his chin and had a hefty friction burn to prove it (and narrowly missed a stop sign to the groin). Beth hit 53mph on one of her runs and was so excited she forgot to stop and ended up tangled in one of the fences guarding a chalet. I was mowed down by Mo, a crazy Canadian fellow who was most definitely NOT a natural at skiing, despite hailing from one of the skiing capitals. He managed to single-handedly take out the instructor and myself in one fell swoop as well as crash land on average, every 10 minutes on the lesson. However, Mike took the T-shirt for worst fall when he came a cropper at the end of day one and fractured his fibula. The poor bloke found himself hobbling around on crampon crutches for the rest of the week which he was impressively good-natured about, as the resort hadn’t really put much consideration into making life easy for the victims of the sport they were promoting. Mike’s biceps most definitely got a work out hopping up and down the endless flights of stairs!

I had a few Skiing mishaps myself, I experienced altitude sickness which I can assure you all is not a fun experience! On one occasion permanently etched in my mind I spent the entire slope down trying not to chunder at 30mph. Thankfully, hydration and some funny herbal anti-sickness tablets soon brought the nausea under control. Ski lifts are also a contraption which can be rather daunting for a skiing newbie, on one memorable occasion myself and Alex (of course) managed to shut down a ski lift for a good 10 minutes while the ski crew had to untangle us both. I had somehow managed to get half way through the safety barrier and was stuck straddling it precariously, skis sliding everywhere, while Alex took a blow to the side by an incoming chair and ended up skis akimbo laid across the seat.

I was glad to be in the company of a number of friends who could ski, Kay adopted position of flat mum – she kept the boys in check and also skied behind us beginners like a bodyguard and had stern words with a snowboarder who got so close he nearly went over the front of Beth’s skis. I now see why skiers have a certain disdain for snowboarders, after nearly being taken out by several of them as a nervous beginner. They tended to be wildly unpredictable, board too close to others (they seemed to make a bee-line for beginners) and have a tendency to hit the deck and take as many people with them (including each other!!) as possible.

I can honestly say it was one of the most physically and mentally draining holidays I have ever experienced. I came back battered and bruised and everything ached, Beth lost a toenail, and I think I spent more time on my ass than I did onboard my skis…..But despite all this, It was one of the most fantastic experiences, with an abundance of laughs and I’d go back in a heartbeat and would encourage anyone who hasn’t yet done so to try it… even if you do fancy yourself as a snowboarder!

Copyright to Oliver Thompson

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