Italian men are notoriously fast. I found the fastest. On skis. So I chased him.
Predictably tall, tanned and handsome with a twinkle in his eyes and yellow hat clashing with his scarlet instructor’s suit he sped down his home mountains of Champoluc with me gasping in his tracks.
Simone Origone, for that is the name of the god of this charming North Italian alpine resort, holds the world record for speed skiing.
Risking life and limb – and breaking both arms in the process – he has held the record three times. His 2015 spine-chilling speed set in Vars, France reached 252.632 km per hour. That’s an incredible 156.978 mph.
‘So I’m the fastest man in the world – on skis,’ he said with a grin over cups of hot chocolate in a welcoming mountain restaurant as we take a break from our lesson with the maestro.
I added an espresso to the mix, in the faint hope it will turbo-boost my pedestrian skiing.
Simone went through the stats: three times speed skiing world record holder; eight time World Cup Winner; five times World Champion; a mountain guide who will take you trekking, ski touring, heli-skiing, snow shoeing and free-riding.
By summer you can climb the steep slopes of the mighty Matterhorn with him.
By winter the former heli-rescuer is a ski school instructor happy to teach kids, experts and once-a-year holidaymakers.
Here we were, a group of average skiers, doing our damnedest to emulate each elegant carving turn on Champoluc’s well-groomed red runs above the Aosta Valley. (They seem to have run out of blue paint, so reds are in the majority. Wide enough, they are not too challenging for intermediate skiers).
When the weather took a turn for the windy we took an early lunch break in a fascinating little mountain hamlet where only one family lives year-round.
Simone, whose father moved to Champoluc just as World War II was breaking out, proudly took us on a tour of the ancient wooden houses, built on stone stilts to keep the cattle in and the mice out.
The snow was knee high as we trudged to the beacon of L’Aroula restaurant for dishes fit for ski champions. For my money, Italian dishes are the best mountain fodder with fresh ingredients, simple home cooking, carb heaven and full-bodied red wines.
A selection of salami and speciality lardon (very finely cut fat and aromatic – don’t be put off by its lardy name) with honey on wholemeal breads, Minestrone, risotto with pear and cheese heralded my potato pasta: gnocchi with fondue and walnut.
Simone tucked into a mountain of taleteller with sausage and goats cheese. Ha, so that’s his speed secret. Between fork-fulls of his favourite he told us how he was raised at the foot of the Monte Rosa.
‘It was easy for me to fall in love with the mountains and turn this passion into a job.’ he said. ‘My dream since I was a child – become a mountain guide and ski instructor and perhaps a ski champion.
All three boxes ticked.
‘I started skiing when I was three with my dad, who was an alpine skiing instructor and I became part of Val d’Ayas Ski Club.’
For his record-breaking runs he wears a flashy figure hugging red suit and aerodynamic helmet to hurtle down the run on ludicrously long skis, crouched low like a panther ready to pounce.
All this clever technology might account for how he demolished my personal speed record: a comparatively lethargic 62.60 km. But, hey, I was sporting a puffa jacket, bulging crash helmet and recreational skis. That explains everything.
For Ferrari fans it’s cool to know that 36-year-old (dob 8th November 1979) Simone’s acceleration on a 45-47 degree slope is only marginally slower from 0-60 mph than an F1 car.
Talking of cool, the mercury which was -19 C in the village early morning, was barely rising in the Alps. But the snow was fabulous – deep and crisp and even.
It was time to part company with Simone. Dashing off to take another lesson he pointed out best routes back to the piste: either an uphill trudge or a traverse over very deep snow. Foolishly two of us chose the latter, sinking deeper and deeper into drifts and mindful of another skier who had lost one ski as it tantalisingly slipped out of reach and sight.
‘It will turn up in the stream in the Spring,’ she shrugged philosophically.
We were forced to turn back, battling against a numbing wind that closed the lifts, leaving us the last two skiers on the home run to practice what Simone preached.
Oh, the bliss of the latest attraction of Champoluc, a spanking new state of the art thermal spa, the Monterosa Terme Spa where we luxuriated in warm relaxing waters, gurgling pools, pressure showers to pummel tight shoulders and necks.
We swam from the inside pool, under a glass partition to the outside pool for more gentle hydro-therapy, lying back on submerged tiled beds, tilting our heads towards the towering mountains we’d conquered. We relaxed on loungers, wrapped in snow-white fluffy towels, ate fresh fruits and drank herbal teas in the spick and span rest area.
As twilight turned to night we counted the stars and our blessings: an unspoilt, sunny ski paradise, the promise of hunkering down around a log fire at our hotel before canapés and cocktails and a dinner of breaded brie with port dressing, slow braised beef blade, and white chocolate and raspberry tart.
As well as skiing we enjoyed walks along the banks of a sparkling river, an amble through a sculpture park, a friendly hotel ideally placed bang next to the main lift. Nightlife was limited so this is not a town for raucous après ski. But there are plenty of bars and eateries for when the hotel staff have a night off.
And, we had the best memory. Skiing with the fastest man in the world. What a boast!
A couple of my female companions enquired as to Simone’s marital status. You’d have to be a very fast lady to catch this maestro of the mountains whose self-declared desire is to go faster and faster, beating new records.
- Inghams (01483 79 11 14 / www.inghams.co.uk) offers the resort of Champoluc in Italy’s Aosta Valley with 7 nights at Chalet Hotel de Champoluc on a chalet hotel catering basis starting from £519 per person. Price includes return flights to Turin from Gatwick departing 16th December 2016 and resort transfers.
- For more information on the Aosta Valley, please visit www.aosta-valley.co.uk
- For more information on the Monterosa Terme Spa visit www.monterosaterme.com/index.php/en
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