Especially as I was at the top of the mountain and facing a fiendishly steep black run, one of the most challenging the French resort of Les2Alpes could offer.
In need of all the confidence I could muster instructor Alexandra convinced me I could make the turns so long as I put into practice all the techniques we had spent the morning perfecting.
We had played aeroplanes on the perfectly groomed easier green and blue slopes, whizzing down like demented Spitfires, banking this way and that with our ‘wing’ arms pointing up to the skies and down to the snow. We’d skied on one leg to put all the pressure on the other to make our turns. We’d felt the pinch and stretch as we bent upper body sideways towards the valley. It all seemed simple when there wasn’t a giant chasm yawning in front of me, where other hot shot skiers and boarders were zinging down, disappearing with alarming speed until mere dots in the snow.
Now was the acid test. Alexander, a tall, slim, athletically-built instructor from Guildford, Surrey – a county not known for its mountainous terrain – maintained that I learned best in a hands-on way and was body-aware thanks to my yoga, Pilates and tai chi sessions.
Inwardly reciting her mantra: ‘patience, courage, security’ I grasped my ski poles. With electric blue helmet gleaming in weak December sunlight, rose-tinted goggles and a sleek pair of skis clamped to my new hire boots I took off into the unknown.
Oblivion? Ignominy? A head-plant in the powdery snow? No, a fairly competent set of turns and then the sheer relief as the angle of descent softened and I could enjoy the rhythm and speed.
That’s what skiing is all about. The thrill, the sense of achievement when you have mastered a new technique – or think you have until complacency comes before a fall – and the constant quest to get better, go faster, have even more fun.
We couldn’t have struck luckier in Europe so early in the season. Huge dumps of snow made Les2Alpes (www.les2alpes.com) an ideal choice for all levels of skier and boarder. Even beginners can, by the end of a week’s tuition, be guided down from the glacier along green and blue runs to the base.
Our tuition was with European Ski & Snowboard School (www.europeanskischool.co.uk), a hugely professional set-up using video analysis to show reasons for our triumphs and mistakes and also giving us some avalanche training if we were to venture off-piste. The school offers lessons in small groups with a maximum of nine, and a new Young Guns course for youngsters seeking adrenalin thrills off-paste and in Les Deux Alpes’ world-class snow park. Alexandra, reassuring and encouraging, has developed the School’s special camp for women to boost confidence and skills on the slopes. And to make sure mums and dads don’t miss out on the snow action she also runs Snow Angels Nannies (www.snowangelnannies.co.uk) in Les Deux Alpes and several other French resorts.
She employs fully trained and experienced nannies who provide a service so flexible that they will even bring their young charges to meet up with their parents for lunch or hot chocolate on the mountain. So that deals with the guilt of abandoning little Tamsin and Tom, who probably won’t even notice you’ve gone as they get stuck into sledging, snowballing and building snowmen or painting, play dough and cooking. A hugely important part of any ski trip is the food. And the French do it with style, whether you fancy foie gras with duck or a warming bowl of onion soup. Cheese fondue is a must, if only because you can complement it with a crisp Savoyard white wine. (Beer or water will turn the cheese into cement in your stomach – or that’s what it feels like).
We sampled sensational food at the Le Raisin d’Ours, (www.leraisindours.fr) a gastro restaurant with an innovative chef who makes sublime risotto with poached egg, scallops with a herb waffle and lychee sorbet. Staying at the friendly two star Hotel de la Valentin (www.les2alpesleisure.com), recently opened, efficiently run by a Frenchman and his British wife, we were in pole position for ski-in and ski-out. Good food and service, a well-stocked bar – try their Kir with chestnut – and ideal for families.
With an impressive ski area of 225km of pistes between 1,300m and 3,600m we covered only a fraction, despite few lift queues in early season. The lift pass costs €42.5 a day.
A 6-day adult pass is €211; under 13s and over-65s pay €34 a day, €168 for 6 days; free for under 5s and adults over 72s. Six-day (and longer) passes include free access to the swimming pool and ice-rink, two days at L’Alpe d’Huez Oz / Vaujany, one day at Serre Chevalier, Montgenèvre (Voie Lactée), Puy St Vincent and Sestrière).
We had no time for swims or skates but aching muscles cried out for a massage so we indulged after a Jacuzzi and steam session at the new spa at Cote Brune (www.hotel-cotebrune.com), a charming three star hotel located at the foot of the slopes, with a restaurant serving robust traditional French cuisine. Food, wine and gentle pummelling – just the recipe for another day’s ski instruction with the endlessly patient Alexandra and her kinaesthetic pupil. Kinaesthetic learners are generally well-coordinated with a strong sense of timing and body movement. You’d better believe it as you tremble at the top of the Valentine piste.
How to get there Les 2 Alpes lies between the Northern and Southern Alps, in the Oisans area and was purpose-built for skiing at 1,600m between two traditional mountain villages, Mont de Land and Venosc
It’s easily accessible from the UK by plane, train and car. By plane: Grenoble (120km) or Lyon (160km) with regular transfers from both airports. By train: Grenoble (70km) Paris – Grenoble takes three hours, with regular transfers from Grenoble station. By car: Motorway all the way to Grenoble, then a national road (N91).
by Gill Martin