PP HQ’s Laura takes on the snowy slopes of Chamonix as a first-time skiier.
Having grown up in sunny South Africa, and then making the move eight years ago to a country that, let’s be honest, isn’t acclaimed for its extensive summer or sunny days, my natural instinct has been to invest in guaranteed summery holidays. Saying that, I do love snow and I have considered skiing a few times, but the thought of strapping two planks onto my feet and then willingly pushing myself off the peak of a mountain and supposedly having control over gliding down a somewhat foreign and slippery surface, has never before sold the idea to me.
This year something changed. The annual group ski trip invitation was extended by email and I was amazed to find myself typing ‘count me in!’ in response. I’m not sure where this sudden change of heart to go skiing came from but once I commit to something, there’s no going back, so I guess I was finally going to learn how to ski. I was going to Chamonix!
I decided to book a ski instructor for my first full day in Chamonix so that I could learn the fundamental techniques behind the sport before I attempted taking on the slopes alone. Upon arriving at the ski school, I learnt my first invaluable lesson for the day and I had yet to even strap on my skis- I should have checked which valley I was having my lesson in! It turns out that ESF, a rather large and well-known French ski school, has more than 250 schools in France, many of which are based in and around Chamonix, and I had turned up at the wrong location. Oh dear! A few phone calls later, followed by a 30 minute bus trip to the correct location, I was finally united with my ski instructor (Tony) for the day. Tony reassuringly informed me that European ski instructors have to train for 7 years before they qualify to teach, so I could trust him with my life. Hmm, I’d have to see about that!
It was time for the lesson commence. My rather snug winter boots were reluctantly exchanged for my rented ski boots, which aren’t exactly the easiest or most comfortable boots to walk around in, I have to admit. We started with the very basics – strapping on the skis and learning to walk in them. It was surprisingly tricky at first and I had to focus on not tripping myself and falling over. Walking normally wasn’t an option as I just ended up doing a one-spot shuffle, so I had to learn to walk like a duck with my skis positioned at 90° angles to each other. For a first-time skier this is crucial knowledge as not only do you actually learn how to walk forward (an obvious necessity) but walking in this manner also prevents you from sliding backwards down an incline (a slightly scary experience).
Once I learnt how to walk up the incline, it was time to turn around and attempt the fun part – gliding down. When I was younger and taught myself to roller blade, I made sure that a tree or some other obstruction was in my path to serve as my ‘breaks’ should I not be able to stop myself. Somehow, I didn’t think that would be a wise approach to adopt with skiing. The key to stopping is to master the snowplow. It’s the inverse of the duck which I quickly renamed the pigeon-toe (I thought I’d stick with the bird comparisons). Learning how to stop yourself when skiing is undoubtedly the most invaluable lesson you can learn. It requires balance and equal pressure on both skis to be a success.
I soon realized that I favour my right leg over my left, which resulted in a few ungraceful falls. Fortunately I wasn’t exactly moving very fast on any of those instances so it was my pride rather than my body that was bruised. I got the hang of these few techniques slowly but surely and started making my way higher and higher up the beginner’s slope. It was time to abandon the duck walk and make use of the ‘button’ lift which takes you further up the slope. I have to admit that once I grasped the basics and could actually zigzag downhill without toppling over, I actually found the whole experience quite enjoyable and even exhilarating at times. How surprising!
After a day of ski school I could quite happily say that I could kind of ski. I was nowhere near being a pro and the thought of attempting anything beyond a green run (a gentle gradient graded slope) was quite daunting, but I did look forward to putting my newly acquired techniques to practice the following day.
On the bus back to Chamonix I realized I was quite shattered, and ravenous! Skiing is a great form of exercise and you use up a lot of energy in the process. I was quite looking forward to the feast of a dinner that I knew was being prepared back at our chalet. Following Christmas I had cut out a number of naughties from my diet (bread, cheese and chocolate being the big three) but I was happy to put my healthy eating programme on hold whilst away because after a day of skiing I could happily justify munching on a heavenly piece of chocolate, knowing that I had a calorie deficit to make up for.
If you have not yet attempted skiing but would like to give it a try without having to travel the distance, make use of the skiing facilities in Greater London:
- Xscape – Indoor slope where you can Ski, Board and Sledge. The 170m long main slope is covered with over 1500 tonnes of fresh snow! There is also a dedicated lesson slope for beginners and novices to build their skills and confidence before progressing to the main slope.
- Duke Meadows – The first UK Skiplex Ski Centre located in Chiswick. A Skiplex slope operates using a large white treadmill about the size of a squash court, allowing up to four people to ski or snowboard at any one time. Practicing on the Skiplex endless slope allows enthusiasts to refresh their technique, whether they are practicing the most basic snowplough turns for beginner skiers, or more adventurous snowboarding moves such as ollies, butters and air to fakies. Skiplex also provides a fantastic platform for beginners who want to learn to ski or snowboard in a safe environment. Many beginners feel intimidated on dry slopes or on outdoor slopes, where they run the risk of being hit by other skiers or boarders