Well, my first reaction was ‘oh, no … I can’t ski!’.
But my second thought considered this a chance to say yes to skiing, snow and coldness (something I’m not usually a fan of…brrrrrr…..). What if I could go as a complete and utter newbie, a newbie who had never believed that skiing would be a possibility in their life? What if I could face some fears, learn something new and put myself out of my comfort zone?
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Journey to Tignes
And so I found myself this past weekend boarding a plane at Birmingham airport, all bleary-eyed with a bulging suitcase so heavy I could barely lift it (turns out ski gear is rather hefty!).
After a fuss-free flight to Grenoble I boarded the Mark Warner transfer bus and waited for my friends Sabina and Peter to arrive from their Manchester flight. We were escorted by a Mark Warner rep on the coach as we settled in for the four-hour journey up through the mountains on twisty-turn-y roads flanked by snow the higher we climbed into the Alps.
The journey is visually stunning, if somewhat unnerving. I’m not generally a fan of mountain roads at the best of times. But as I later found once we arrived in Tignes, the vehicles and drivers here are accustomed to this type of weather and road conditions, which is a relief.
By mid-afternoon the coach was crossing the infamous dam and up through the town of Tignes and on to our accommodation for the holiday. Our hotel was a striking traditional-style chalet building replete with timber framing and wide pitched roof. It was already nestled under thick white snow at least 20cm thick. It looked just ‘the part’ for my first winter holiday experience.
Once settled into our rooms we were treated to the daily afternoon tea session which is a late afternoon opportunity for hot soup, fresh bread, cakes, pastries and drinks. It’s a most welcome pick-me-up for those who have been skiing all day. For us it was perfect as we had not had a chance to eat all day following the early morning flights and long transfer journey.
The rest of our group arrived and we hotfooted it down to the local ski hire shop where we were kitted out with ski boots and equipment ready for our first day on the slopes.
Hiring ski equipment
This in itself was QUITE the experience. Turns out not all ski boots are made equally and the process can be rather laborious. It does take some time to try on various boots to find ones that don’t squish different parts of your feet or shins.
The first boots I tried were so small my toes curled under. The second pair pinched into the side of my feet. I think by the fourth pair I found ski boots that allowed a bit of wiggle room for my toes but was secure enough around my foot and ankle. Skiing is so high risk that getting those boots right was super important. Not a factor I had really considered until then.
Once loaded up with ski boots, helmet, skis and poles we then had the task of getting them back to the hotel, which might look like an easy task from afar but for one who is as unfit and physically weak as I am it was quite a kerfuffle with a heavy blizzard blowing in my face, a snow-laden path and heavy, awkward equipment. It was … shall we say … an experience.
Back at the hotel we took our equipment through the doors besides the reception desk and into the ski locker rooms. There we had long, tall lockers linked to our rooms with space to keep all of our ski gear. Inside the lockers are some funny looking poles pointing upwards at a diagonal angle. I was told these are special heaters that warm up and dry out your ski boots. Nifty!
At this moment I noted how funny it is how alien all these gadgets, gizmos and routines are. Skiing really is a totally new world for me. I’m seeing it with totally newbie eyes.
That evening the group met back at the bar for the welcome talk by the hotel manager who introduced us to the main staff for each department as well as the local ski school instructor and adventure outings company. We were treated to a glass of champagne and the hotel warmed with a gentle buzz of anticipation.
Dinner at the hotel
Afterwards we feasted on the first of our three-course dinners and I’m happy to say they are highly recommended. The food quality was top notch and every night there was a fabulous choice of food.
My favourite was the Monday night when I chose a chorizo bruschetta for starters, which had the most generous amount of chorizo (yey!), followed by the duck noodle salad. Although I must give a big shout-out to the Tuesday night dessert of chocolate brownie with salted caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. It was EPIC. I’m a huge brownie fan and this was probably the best I’ve ever had. No exaggeration at all, is was immense.
That first night I hardly slept at all despite being in a super-cosy cute hotel room. Those French folks sure know how to insulate; I was so warm I actually had to turn the radiator down! But I was too nervous about my first ever ski experience the next day. What if I fell over all the time? What if I couldn’t ski at all? What if I got lost? What if I fell over even more? What if all the bad things happen and I break something?
So yeah, brain usefully made sure I was super tired and dopey the next day. I made up for it by devouring two rounds of fried breakfast in the hotel before heading out. Yep. I am quite the piglet when I want to be.
Day one of skiing – Into the unknown
Note number one – putting on your ski gear takes a lot longer than you anticipate. It also is quite hot and thirsty work when wearing your layers and ski clothes. Those ski boots are HEAVY.
Once kitted up and I proceeded to trot around the ski changing rooms like a fawn on tip toes. How does anyone walk in those things? It’s like having ten-tonne weights strapped to your feet. It’s incredible disconcerting if somewhat mildly amusing as one trots around the place.
We met our instructors (the lovely folks from Evolution 2 – a local ski and adventure company) outside and were informed that as the snow blizzarded (is that a word? I think it is now) around us most of the ski lifts and runs were closed. So we needed to take the bus around the frozen lake to another part of the village to start our lesson.
It was very blizzard-y.
But when wrapped up in ski clothes you don’t feel it at all. In fact, I didn’t feel cold once the entire time we were there. Result!
By the second bus we were able to board and pottered around to our lesson location. That getting on and off the bus was, once again, an ‘experience’ whilst carrying all of our ski equipment. Seriously, there must be a better technique to carrying it. Either that or I need to build some biceps.
Learning the basics
Our instructor went through the basics from the very beginning. First with how to put your skis on, followed by how to move around in them on flat ground. Next we took to a tiny baby run which was just a short decline. There we were taught how to go down on the skis and some simple manoeuvres including snow plough, turns and stops.
I’ll be honest. It was tricky.
It’s a totally new thing to be doing with your body and trying to control the skis whilst trying to keep balance and not bash into anyone else was a challenge.
The baby slope was rather busy with people, which was unsurprising given the inclement weather and so many runs closed. It pushed everyone onto just a small number of slopes. It was chocker.
There was one moment on my second go down when a skier stopped in front of me and I had to yell at them “you’ll have to move; I haven’t learned to turn yet!”
Ha! It was a tad scary.
At the end of each run we shuffled over to this travelator style lift that pulled us back up the mini slope and ready for the next go.
To be honest, I wasn’t picking it up at that easily and I did find it difficult at first. I wasn’t keen on the feeling of not having control and being so close to falling over.
After about 4 or 5 goes down the baby slope our instructor decided to take us over to a green slope area. I was NOT happy about that. I still didn’t feel like I had the hang of it yet and had totally failed to stop or turn successfully. I think the rest of the group were getting to grips with it much quicker though, so onwards we went.
It was TERRIFYING!
This slope was suddenly much faster and there were bends. Real life, proper bends. I was panicking, my skis weren’t slowing me down despite snow plough formation, and even though I was leaning I wasn’t turning. I just kept going straight into the big white fluffy clouds of snow sat at the edges of the slope.
Our instructor wasn’t happy.
I just wasn’t commanding the skis as I needed to. It was terribly frustrating.
Meanwhile proper skiers were whizzing past us. That was equally scary as they came at speed behind and swerved around. I was so scared someone was just going to drive right into the back of me. It really did feel like I was driving on a busy motorway, except without the car around me. Oh, and I don’t have a driving licence in real life either.
The instructor tried to make a driving analogy when explaining a technique to him and when I mentioned I didn’t drive his face was a picture! I think he gave up on me right then and there.
At the bottom of that mini slope (it really wasn’t long just scary) we came out at a t-junction with a much bigger, steeper slope. OHEMGEE! It freaked me the hell out. There was a ski lift opposite and skiers whizzing down from right to left. At the bottom of the slope on my left was a bridge where most of the skiers were skiing under.
How were we supposed to go anywhere from here? I couldn’t ski yet!
I had visions of us being made to go down the slope and me tumbling and creating a snowball like they do in the cartoons and just rolling bigger and bigger until I hit the side of the bridge.
The instructor was asking us to walk across the slope, horizontally, with skis digging sideways into the slope. We were aiming to get across and over to the side of the bridge where the road was.
That’s when I started having a panic attack.
Not my finest moment. My brain just went into shutdown, I couldn’t think or process what was happening, I froze and was unable to move. Tears came streaming down my face. I sobbed uncontrollably. I felt completely and utterly stuck.
The instructor saw what was happening and is obviously trained to deal with this. He took my poles and his, held them horizontally in front of me and got me to hold the middle of them. He then skied backwards whilst talking to me and got me across the slope and to the main road.
Jeez… that was not a great moment. Looking back I’m so grateful that the instructor looked after me and dealt with it straight away because a panic attack can get so much worse if not responded to in the right way.
I was feeling a little despondent as we waited for the bus to take us back to the hotel where we changed out of our ski gear before heading up to the restaurant booked for lunch.
First day lunch
We met the rest of the group at a darling place called ‘Le Coffee’. It had a beautifully cosy atmosphere. The décor was warm and inviting, chairs covered with faux fur and blankets, big squishy sofas around the edges and large dark wood tables for food.
We were super thirsty from our skiing lesson (pro tip guys, take water!) and probably downed a pint or two of water immediately. It was a typically French menu and filled with lots of beef and cheese – I am often limited on choices when in France. But there was a duck option, which was divine! I’ve never had such delicious duck, it was succulent and meaty as well as subtly flavoured. Wow! If you ever head to Tignes try Le Coffee and order the duck.
Tummies well and truly stuffed we slowly walked back to the hotel whilst playing in the snow. It really struck me how different the snow was up there. At home in the UK when it snows if you pick up the snow your glove gets wet? Well, in Tignes the snow was dry and stayed fluffy. It was so pretty and fun to walk in.
Feeling a tad ache-y from my first ski lesson I immediately made my way to the swimming pool and spa area of the hotel. But this is no ordinary pool, oh no… this is a aquatonic pool. Along with a standard swimming area there are different sections that offer a range of jets at different heights and strengths designed to help ease the muscles after a hard day’s skiing.
I started out with a few lengths to stretch all of my muscles. I am a huge fan of swimming. I’m not very good at it but I just love being in the water. My fitness being below par meant I barely managed a few lengths at a time. I noted just how weak I was feeling and made a pact with myself to sort that out this year.
After my swimming I spent close to an hour or so in the jacuzzi area ensuring all muscles were well and truly pummelled, and I was feeling super relaxed. It was a great way to round off the day after skiing.
As I was drying off ready to head back to my room in my robe I noticed a weird bruise on the underside of my big toe. It was the strangest bruise I’ve ever had. I have absolutely no idea how it got there but I’m guessing it might have been pressure from wearing the skis and standing sideways on the slope. Maybe. It certainly wins weirdest injury of the trip.
That evening, after spending some time in my room trying to catch up on emails and work, we enjoyed a fantastic meal in the hotel restaurant followed by a rather raucous participation in the hotel’s pub quiz in their bar area. I say raucous, it was just our team (of Emily, Amelia and Deborah) that were getting over-excited. Turns out the quiz was rather ski-oriented and as total beginners, we sucked and came last. Ah well… we made up for it playing Kid’s Articulate. #winners.
Day 2 of skiing – perseverance
The following day I decided to carry on with the ski lessons despite the previous day’s panic attack.
I had come all of this way to learn something totally new, I really didn’t want to give up without trying.
Besides, I actually quite liked being on the skis.
So this time I was offered a one-to-one lesson with a ski instructor and it was exactly what I needed. We spent a good deal of time talking about my previous day’s struggles and how my body was not responding or bending how it should. The instructor then spent time going through the basic manoeuvres and offering detailed feedback each time, noting where my body was not moving in the correct way.
It was still quite the challenge as on this day we woke up to a heavy blizzard. There was snowing coming at us sideways. There was at least 50cm thick (if not more) snow all around us, everything was white. The ground was white, the sky was white, the buildings and roads were white, everything was white. Visibility was non-existent. My goggles were steaming up. I really couldn’t see much at all.
In fact, the weather was so inclement that we weren’t able to start our ski lessons til later as our instructors couldn’t get up the hill to our resort hotel because the avalanche bombs were being set off.
Yeah, so… something totally new that I’d never heard of nor considered… when there is heavy snowfall and the avalanche risk is high the authorities (?, or somebody specialist and in charge) sets off small automatic bombs to release the snow above and prevent build up on the slopes. Isn’t that clever?
At first it is a tad disconcerting as these dull booming sounds echo all around. On the final day I woke up to the sound of the avalanche bombs going off, almost like my alarm clock letting me know it’s time to get ready, the mountains are preparing to welcome us.
Back to the story
My one-to-one ski lesson was hard work but so helpful. I was sweating from all the twisting and turning of my body whilst resembling a bit of a Michelin man all wrapped in my ski gear (though I have to say I never got cold once).
My instructor was detailed in his explanations of the technicality of the moves in my body. He explained how to use my core to turn my whole body subtly to direct my skis where I wanted. He talked me through the angles of my skis. He watched intently as I came down the baby slope in order to direct me for the next move.
After some time I started to feel confident on that gentle decline. I was stopping the skis correctly and was able to make turns without stopping.
It felt good.
The instructor wanted to push me a bit further before the end of the session. He told me would be doing that short green slope again. At first I wasn’t keen, but he assured me I could handle it and he would be with me the whole time.
Determined to finish on high I agreed and off we skied, over to the slope.
Again, it was a tad nerve-wracking with experienced skiers whizzing past me on both sides as I attempted to slowly make turns whilst concentrating on my balance and not bashing into people. There were a few moments where I did almost go into the big snowy banks again but I made it. Slowly. But I made it.
We were back again at the t-junction onto the scary slope near the bus stop. My instructor told me I was going to ski it myself, making the turns and not stopping.
Oh my word…. I was terrified.
I gave myself a quick talking to and just went for it.
The first bit was scary as the steep decline worked my legs harder and my right knee/leg was excruciatingly painful. This meant I could turn right ok, but going to the left was tricky and I just wasn’t getting enough turn on my skis. At one point I didn’t turn enough and my skis ended up straight …. I panicked and started moving forward fast. Argh…..
My instructor, thankfully, was right in front of me facing up the slope and managed to catch me. Phew.
He reassured me and made me continue working my way down the slope using my turns. It was insanely difficult and being scared was obviously not helping … but … I made it! I made it down to the bus stop by myself. Hoorah!
Buzzing with excitement and pride I said goodbye to my instructor and waited patiently for the bus to come to take me back up the hill.
It was full on blizzarding (is that a word? I want it to be a word.) as I waited for the bus. I could barely see anything around me as my mind went back over the previous hour or so. But I didn’t mind the snow one bit. A factor of this trip that has taken me by surprise. I liked the snow.
Never in a million years did I imagine I would enjoy snow. Or skiing. Or being on a winter holiday.
I kept mulling this over as I walked up the final step to the restaurant where I met with the rest of the group for lunch.
Once again we had delicious food as we chatted over that morning’s skiing. I filled my belly with chicken and frites – it was fantastic. I finished off my meal with a fantastic coffee and was left feeling pretty darn fulfilled.
To round off the afternoon everyone went their separate ways and Amelia, Chloe and I chose to have a quiet one. I picked up some saucisson for Raj as a gift and wandered around the shops near our hotel with Amelia, stopping to make snow angels in the big fluffy snow.
That evening we had another fantastic meal in the hotel which included the best chocolate brownie I have ever had in my entire life (and I’ve eaten A LOT of brownies). We followed this with a hilarious game of pool in the bar area and then I settled down for a good chit-chat into the early hours of the morning with my friends Sabina and Vicky.
All in all, I had an incredible few days in Tignes with Mark Warner. It was way beyond my expectations. The hotel was fabulous, the location was ace and I totally proved myself wrong by liking the whole holiday.
Yes, by the time I got home I was exhausted. It was around 10-12 hours to get back including the 3 hour transfer to Geneva airport, waiting time, flight, train from Heathrow, tubes and train to Birmingham (jeez… I’m not a fan of Heathrow airport). But the exhaustion was worth it.
My name is Elizabeth and I like winter holidays, snow and skiing.