I didn’t really ask where we were going when I agreed to join a group of people I know by association heading on a late ski trip in the French Alps. I’m not sure if I would have made a different choice if I had asked, as I am so blissfully ignorant of any of the good or popular areas to find some snow. I think I did check how high it was, deciding that it would be good to head pretty far up so late in the season, but that was it.
It wasn’t until a few remarks from colleagues that I became aware of the high class reputation of Tignes and Val d’Isere. Sure, once I was there there were other signs; most of the people I met spoke English with very ‘posh’ British accents and the smoke flares going off at the mountain hut where for entertainment rather than a call for help. But we had chosen the location because one of our team members was working a ski season there, not for its reputation. Through her we got to know a little bit of the backdrop of the resort as well, although it left entirely different impressions on me than the slopes. We met people whose lives were interesting, but far, far away from my perceived normality. The attitudes to drinking, working when intoxicated, drugs, and even what was deemed a “late night” were miles removed from my life. I was very disappointed to find that the first drug dealer I actually spent some time with in the same room, listening to him who openly discussing his sales, was a posh chilled guy, who openly traded his ware for favors. The media has given me a false impression and it’s far more exciting than reality.
Most of the time though, I continued to live far away from this lifestyle, instead enjoying a week of skiing, snowboarding, cooking food and sleeping on the fold-out couch in the lower down town of “la daille”. The weather was too good and the enthusiasm too high to be distracted from the slopes. I slid down the hills more or less elegantly, meticulously studied the turns and body posture of my friend-turned-student and checked off the runs we had completed. Within a day the four of us had started doing the blue runs, even our complete beginner making careful turns. Skipping ahead a few days, the more advanced skiers where exhilarated at coming down a beautiful black run on Grand Mott, and the less confident were gaining more and more experience on reds.
It took this week for me to once again realize how much you can get done in a solid week. During my weeks of teaching in Austria I continuously head up the same run over and over, one that I know by heart now, and could probably sketch out should the need ever arise. Here we were constantly trying new things, changing our routes to suit the conditions. And the conditions were stunning, if not too good. For the first four days there was not a cloud in the sky. Cold nights and a load of fresh snow the day before we had arrived secured fairly good piste conditions, even if the afternoons ended up being too warm, the snow melting away under our skis.
I also had the chance to take advantage of the time to practice both my skiing and my snowboarding. Traditionally I have been far more confident in skiing because this was what I learned first. I have a style that is somewhere between the classical tight turns and the aggressive sporty stance, and prefer to ski slowly, taking in my surroundings. Snowboarding is somehow a different matter. Especially in the last week I really learned to relax and find rhythms, whether fast or slow. I gained a lot of confidence on steeper slopes and on various snow types. I unfortunately also wore through my quick-tie laces and need to give my board some careful maintenance before storing it for the next few months. Not sure when I will find the time for that!
Finally I had the chance to spend time with some brilliant people. Friends of friends do not always become easy going companions, but through luck or good grace we had managed to find a relaxed group that jelled really well. They even handled a hangry Lisa with grace. Talks of future trips have already started the dream machine, and I truly hope I will see them all again soon, irrespective if on snow or rock!