Despite growing up near a dry ski slope, I never caught the fever for hurtling down a hill – even when Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards took us to the 1988 Olympics. He gave Britain a stake in ski jumping for the first time in more a century – and not only that, he finished last, out of 73 competitors. So of course England went mad for Eddie – but I still didn’t catch onto skiing.
Fast forward a few decades and I’m doing internet dating. Every eligible alpha has a shot of himself on skis, whereas all my photos show me clutching a cocktail. Who’s going to breed with me if I can’t prove my credentials for producing off-spring with improbable balance and a layer of blubber to keep out the cold? Oh wait, I’m actually alright with the second bit.
Anyway, Chill Factore in Manchester promises they can sort me out with a six-hour ‘Guaranteed to Ski’ lesson. Can I really learn to ski in a day? Ben Wright, my instructor, confirms I can: ‘If you get the basics down, you’ll have a much better time on holiday, and you can build on what you’ve learnt while you’re out there.’
I tell Ben the pressure’s on – I’ll be putting what he teaches me to the test, on an imminent trip to Les Saisies in the French Alps. His confidence doesn’t waver, ‘You’ll be able to go down the slopes, do some turns, control your speed and come to a stop using a “snowplough”. You’ll be fine for basic runs on the mountain – greens, easy blues.’ What about black runs, Ben? I need to look like a natural! ‘The biggest thing I get is people coming in who say, “I went on holiday and my friend took me down this run and I lost all my confidence!” Keep at your level and you’ll look good.’
I like Ben, who even teaches me some skiing lingo. ‘Talk about “pow”, the short word for powder,’ he says. ‘If there’s been a snowfall over night you can go, “let’s go and ski some pow!” Everyone’ll be like, “oh yeah, she knows what she’s talking about!”’ Brilliant! How else can I fit in? ‘Make sure your salopettes are on the outside of your boots!’ What? ‘They’re the trousers – don’t tuck them into your boots, that’s the first way to look like you don’t know what you’re doing!’
OK, I’ve got this covered, I think – until I arrive at Les Saisies and face my first chair lift. The drive from Geneva (uphill on ice) didn’t kill me, so they seem to be having a second crack, by sitting me on this flying bench they’ve bought from the Grim Reaper’s furniture catalogue. As snow pellets smack me in the face at speed, I feel like I’m being given a facial with a wet wall sander.
Intially we’re just sampling a Snooc (a bit like if your toboggan was perched on a single ski), so my first experience of skiing on a mountain, takes place the next day in far nicer conditions. I do my best to hit the slopes with swagger and by lunchtime, I have added further skills to my repertoire, including side-slipping (like shuffling across a mountain) and schuss (when you go down fast in a squat, like you’re about to WIN!)
My instructor, Berenice, is a Les Saisies local who’s been skiing since she was two. She must be bored out of her brains at teaching me moves she was doing in nappies, but, she’s quick to praise, telling me most beginners would take a week to reach the point I’m at now. So my ‘Guaranteed to Ski’ class worked? This she’s reluctant to concede, putting it down to the spell I spent figure skating as a child – apparently the balance and transfer of body weight in skating is similar to skiing, and this has given me a head start.
I’m not fully sold on this. Manchester’s indoor snow slope gave me a place to learn the basics, with no fear of falling off a mountain – and instructor Ben’s etiquette tips saved me from apres-ski suicide. If anyone else is a nouveau skier, here are a few more pointers from Ben:
- Always look confident – do everything with an air of, ‘I did that on purpose!’
- Get up as early as you can – the snow is best first thing in the morning. Apres-ski starts about 3pm, so you can have a night out until 10pm, and still be ready for the first lift.
- Watch other skiers – if they’re good, see what you can pick up. If they’re bad, think, ‘why is he always falling over?’
- Wear Merino wool socks – they look a lot thinner, but thick cotton socks can get wet quickly, which makes your feet cold. Merino wool keeps your feet warmer and dryer and you feel closer to the boot, which makes it easier.