My parents having keenly advanced from their Levi and washing up glove days, I’ve been lucky enough to ski at a few different resorts around the world. I remember Hakuba for its pristine canteens, where lunch breaks would see hundreds of Japanese skiers slumped on tables as though in a nuclear fallout scene from a Stephen King film (ah if only we could all master the Asian power nap!). Vail had the gingerbread clock-tower and ice-rink, though my most distinct memory is being asked to flash for Mardi Gras beads on a chairlift (like that was going to happen at -14°C!)
Varsity at Tignes was my first experience of the French ski resort. Aside from the size and snow coverage, I definitely noticed a lot of differences from Australian ski resorts. Based on my single experience of this single French resort, allow me to make a bunch of sweeping generalisations: Continue reading
Skiing is the ultimate slapstick sport. People dressed like human cannonballs or Pillsbury doughboys (level of padding dependent on level of expertise), armed with metal spokes and leg slats, careening down a mountain marred by moguls and ice…of course ridiculous tumbles and tangles ensue.
I witnessed some spectacular crashes on the Tignes slopes. Probably the best was my friend Isaac hurtling down a bumpy black run…straight into the ‘Ralentir! / Go Slow!’ sign. He took out the orange banner like a bull whipping into a matador’s cape, and continued to tumble down the slopes with it for a good 20m. There was a deathly still moment when all we could detect was a little twitch…then he sprung up (‘Ole!’) and dumped the sign by the side of the run (smart – removing the hazard for other skiers).
Unfortunately I was also involved in a spectacular crash…and ended up in the medical centre on my 3rd day. An older French guy fell right onto my skis as we were getting on the T-bar, the propulsion of the lift causing me to crash down right on the edge of his upturned skis. If this were a dramatic novel I’d say there was a ‘sickening crack as my ribs struck metal’…but in reality all I heard was some weird shrieking noise coming out of my mouth overborne by his profuse ‘Désolé! Désolé!’s.
For anyone else on a skiing holiday in Tignes last week, it would have been a pretty frustrating week. The presence of 3000 Oxbridge students meant crowded runs, packed pubs, fluorescent paint smears throughout the lodges, a ransacking of all the bread and cheap wine from the supermarket and the general giggliness/obnoxiousness that you only get in undergrads. This made for some very disgruntled holiday-goers, like the Australian couple I met who described themselves as being “as cheesed off as hornets in a bottle” at the Varsity crowd (fair, but way to overegg the Aussie idiom pudding…)
More importantly though, we were loving it!
The snow conditions were not amazing by European standards. I think we saw about 3cm snowfall all week, and only a third of the resort was open. But it was still remarkable for so early on in the season; the fact that you can ski at all in early December is guaranteed by the lofty altitude (the top lift is at 3456m) and Grande Motte Glacier. By my standards, the snow was fantastic – 3cm is pretty much what you get over an entire Australian ski season. I’m used to skiing on ice, grass, mud and the occasional bit of manmade snow, and indulging people as they rail that Mt. Buller’s Bourke Street run should be re-named ‘Berzerk Street’ (yes, ha ha). Tignes might want to consider re-gifting its motto to KY or Durex or something, but I think it earns the right to declare itself “Tignes, official pleasure supplier!”
…and I’m back! A bit battered, bruised and absolutely knackered (like a disgruntled grizzly bear I just emerged from a 14 hour slumber) but already I’m wishing I were back in Tignes. Apologies for not posting during the week; the French Alps did offer some spotty wifi, but Instagramming quickly consumed those limited coverage nuggets (priorities, right?).
I think skiing holidays are the absolute best kind of break! I adore the snowy mountain scenery, and the ambience of lodges decked out with sheepskin throws, crackling fires, decorative antlers and old-timey ski gear. Whereas on beach holidays you battle all-body sunburn and exhaustion from sunstroke, with skiing it’s the right kind of burn (confined to the jowls) and exhaustion (from being super active). I love that you’re required to smash at least a block of chocolate a day to have the energy to keep going, that you can look like crap and wear the same clothes for a week (cold air dulls the olfactory senses. Science, k?). I also adore how social people are because you’re all engaged in this bizarre exercise of strapping metal slats to your feet and trying to make your way down a mountain in one piece.