With Christmas upon us and our family all the way in the new world, we decided to take advantage of one of Europe’s wintertime gems: A catered ski chalet in the Alps. I’m not a big skier by any stretch. I’ve only been a few times and I’ve never actually been taught how to ski. Tara went as a kid, but hadn’t been in 10 years. With our lack of ski skills and knowledge in hand, we trusted the recommendations of a few of my work colleagues and booked a chalet in Tignes, France for a week. One of the other perks of this region is that you can take the overnight train from London so that you can have a full day of skiing on the day you arrive/leave, which equates to 2 extra days of skiing for the same amount of time spent at the chalet. As it turns out, that extra day on the back end was my favorite day so it worked out really well.
This trip was unlike any other we’ve taken since the entire focus was on skiing, which is an activity that I am pretty bad at. My hope/goal was that after 8 days of skiing, I would be able to comfortably go down a normal slope while having fun and looking like I know what I’m doing. For the first 5 or so days, I really thought I wasn’t going to achieve my goal, but on day 8, something clicked and I was able to comfortably make it down a blue slope without doing any pizza stops. I think the moment where it all clicked was during a low visibility day where you couldn’t see the contours of the snow. You had to cut back and forth without really knowing what kind of ground you were on or how steep it was. You just had to trust that it would work. Since you couldn’t be selective and only cut in “safe” areas, I eventually realized that it’s safe to make cuts everywhere, especially on steep downgrades, which was what was holding me back before. I was having trouble getting comfortable going down steep slopes because I wasn’t sure I would be able to slow myself down. It all sounds pretty simple as I’m writing it now and I didn’t figure out anything that everyone hadn’t been telling me all week, but I guess it just took me that long to get my head around it and figure it out for myself. Tara, on the other hand, had known the basics long ago and she was nice enough to stay with me as I learned. Her ski boots turned out to be extremely painful even though she switched them 3+ times. Her uncomfortable ski boots and my lack of skill made us traverse the mountain at the same speed. Although the last day, I was able to go a lot faster once I cracked the code. Anyway, enough writing, here are some photos.
After the overnight train ride and an hour long bus ride, we arrived at our chalet office where we could store our bags and hit the slopes. We asked about lessons, but no one had any idea. Not the best start to our ski vacation…. oh well, off to the slopes.
On the first day, we only wanted to do green runs. To accomplish that, we had to take a bus (could have skied some blue runs to to get there, but we weren’t too confident in our abilities) to a different town and then take one blue down to a bunch of green runs.
Made it safely to the green area and shook off the rust. Looking back, I think I was actually creating rust because I had no idea what I was doing. Oh well.
That evening was the start of an epic fail moment. Once we arrived back at the chalet office, we had to wait 30 minutes or so for a van to take us and our luggage to our chalet. While we waited, we put our skis and boots in the boot room. The next day, we decided to book some lessons because I had no idea what I was doing. The lessons weren’t until 12:30 so we decided to kill some time and take our local lift to the top of the hill and ski down. It was a blue run, but it didn’t look that bad. Once we got out of the gondola, I ran into a lot of trouble when trying to put on my skis. It took me about 15 minutes to get my boots into my ski bindings. (It should only take 15 seconds) This was incredibly frustrating and I had no idea what was going on. Somehow, after 15 minutes, I had my skis on and off we went. Going down the blue run was a complete disaster. I was unable to slow down even using my normal pizza technique. My skis seemed longer than usual and they kept crossing when they shouldn’t have. I was really pissed off at my lack of ability to control myself and my skis.
As if the blue wasn’t hard enough for me that day, the last tiny bit of the slope was red (black in the US). It is wide, but very steep. On the last day, I was able to ski down this part in 30 seconds or so. On day 2, it took me at least 10 minutes. The anger level was quite high at this point. Finally at the bottom, we decided to get back to basics and take the button lift, which was primarily used by 7 year old kids learning to ski. It only takes you about 50 yards up the hill to a small bunny slope used for learning. While waiting in line for this button lift with a bunch of small children, my ego was really hurting. I knew I couldn’t ski, but I didn’t realize just how bad I was. Now I had never actually used a button lift before, but it didn’t look complicated. It’s not like a normal chair lift. Instead, you put a circular disc (the button) through your legs and it drags you up the hill. When my turn came, I grabbed the button pole, put the button through my legs, but then realized that my ski pole was caught on the railing behind me. I thought it would sort itself out once the lift started moving, but boy was I wrong. The lift began to pull me up the hill while I was facing the other direction trying to un-tangle my ski pole. I got my ski pole unhooked, but by this time, I had no balance and had started to fall as the lift pulled me up the hill. I hung on for as long as I could (probably 3 seconds) but had to bail out in a spectacular low speed fall /tumble right in front of about 30 French school children. I had only made it about 15 feet from the departure point so there was plenty of people around to make sure I was okay. My body was perfectly fine, but my pride was at an all time low. As a I laid there on the ground with all the echoes of laughing children dancing around me, I thought… this is day 2….. it’s going to be a long trip. I didn’t attempt to stand up with my skis on. That could only lead to more humiliation. I popped my skis off and walked over to find Tara almost holding in her laughter. I couldn’t blame her for laughing. I don’t think skiiers fall off the buttom lift very often. I just did a Youtube search for it and was only able to find snowboard falls. At least I didn’t make it on Youtube as the first skier who fell on a button lift. Anyway, as I attempted to put my skis back on, I encountered the exact same problem that I had at the top of the mountain: They wouldn’t go on! This time though, I noticed some extra writing on my skis that hadn’t been there yesterday. The extra words were: Racing G6. I was fairly sure I didn’t rent racing skis, which meant that my beginner skis had gotten swapped for racing skis at some point. This explained part of why I was having so much trouble. When I took the skis into the rental shop, they spotted it right away and gave me new beginner skis. However, they treated me like I stole someone’s skis and said I would still be responsible for my beginner skis that got swapped. Eventually, I figured out that they got swapped while we were killing time in the chalet office on the previous day. Someone used my beginner skis all week and didn’t return them until the following Friday. Later, the manager told me that I would not have been charged because I returned the racing skis and that these sort of mix-ups happen all the time. I just happened to be dealing with a rude French person (imagine that!). Geeze, what a good start to the vacation right?
Anyway, after this debacle, it was time for our lesson. With my beginner skis in hand, the lesson went really well. I learned what I was doing wrong (mostly everything) and what drills to do make sure I was using the right technique. After 1.5 hours of lessons, I felt rejuvenated and relieved. Now I would just have to spend the next 6 days doing what the instructor said and getting more comfortable on snow. After the lesson, we called it a day and went straight to the bar to forget how bad the day was. This epic fail was the main storyline to our trip. After we got it out of the way, things went smoother and we mostly had a great time. Tara couldn’t seem to find a pair of boots that didn’t cause her any shin pain. She exchanged them or got them adjusted 4 times and it didn’t seem to help. She toughed it out regardless and still made the most of it.
Our chalet could accommodate 12 people, but there were only 10 in there. We were accompanied by a family of 6 (2 parents, 3 kids and a cousin ranging from 19 to 30) and another couple. We all got to know each other and had a great time hanging out each evening. The town we were staying in was pretty small so it was pretty common to see each other at one of the bars or restaurants. We even ended up seeing each other out in the middle of the slopes, 10 miles away from our little town.
We didn’t ski on Christmas day because of really poor conditions. Boxing day was a big snow storm so we sat that day out as well. Friday and Saturday we were back at it with great conditions and fresh snow.
I’ve been practicing my photo editing skills. Here is a good before and after (above and below).
Our chalet hosts, Colin and Hannah, did an amazing job taking care of us all week. They prepared us breakfast, afternoon tea, and a 3 course dinner every night, all in addition to cleaning the chalet and keeping the fire going. This was my first chalet experience and I’m definitely hooked. I’d love to do something like this back in the States if that’s possible.
One of my new year resolutions was to get better at photo editing. We take tons of photos, but I don’t really know how to edit them. I upgraded my computer hard drive to solid state, invested in some software, and started doing some tutorials. I’m still pretty novice, but here is one of my edited ones.
And here is my first real collage. 18 different layers/adjustments. I can see this hobby getting addicting.