“Don’t forget the basics!” reminded our ski instructor Ludo, as we peered tentatively over the edge of the steep icy black run Clocher de macle.
Rewind the clock back four days and we were being rudely awoken by the piercing sound of our early morning alarm call. “Why on earth did we book onto the 05:30 flight!?” exclaimed Dave, “it’s not even 02:00 yet!” replied Chris as we began to stir from our all too short sleep. “Well, look at it this way, at least we’ll be on the slopes by lunchtime!” chirped Adrian, trying to extenuate the positives of being on one of the first flights of the day.
It’s surprising how a short hop from Gatwick can take you to the best alpine skiing in mainland Europe. Even better, was the stunning sunrise above the blanket of cloud covering France on the way and the relative ease with which we got booked into to our apartment in the Les Bergers area of l’Alpe d’huez (after a chaotic game of shotgun to secure the best bed, that is). Shortly after arriving, we were getting kitted up, picking up our lift passes, and hitting the slopes. The aim of the week was to practice what we had learnt on our visits to the Snozone in Milton Keynes and sure up our technique; pretty easy when your bed is 50 metres from snow!
For Ollie, Joe and Matt, each morning began with ski tuition with instructor Ludo. Ludo was a veteran ski and snowboard instructor in winter, sailing instructor in summer and the coolest Frenchman you’ll ever hope to meet, with a penchant for the ladies. With over 20 years’ experience, the team knew he’d be perfect in helping to develop their skills on skis. Ludo kept hammering home the “the first basic” of skiing, however, little did they realise this was to be the first of seven “first basics” introduced over the week! The individual aims of the three guys (and Besty from HSX by whom they were accompanied) were to graduate from the basic snowplough turns, to a more complex parallel turn. In the meantime, Chris, Dave and Adrian, all competent downhill skiers, spent the time exploring and pushing themselves hard on red and black runs.
We were treated to uninterrupted blue sky, bright sunshine and well-above average temperatures throughout the week. Combined with below average snow-fall, it felt more like late alpine spring than mid-winter and as a result, the 35 runs that were open (instead of 130) were pretty busy, whilst the best skiing to be had was in the morning. In order to get to the best conditions, on day two, the team headed to the higher slopes at the top of the mountain, where freshly made artificial snow was waiting. Making the most of this, Chris and Adrian attempted some easy off-piste skiing and the others refined their skills on the blues. Unfortunately, even the best laid plans don’t go smoothly and losing track of time, we discovered that the lift to the top of the mountain was closed on our return. This left us with no option but to head down La Sarenne; one of the longest Black runs in Europe and reciting Ludo’s advice “don’t forget the basics!”
Midweek, we decided to treat ourselves and headed into town for a traditional Alpine Raclette. Simply put, this involves eating your own body weight in melted cheese and bread, which for some, resulted in some serious stomach issues afterwards and arguing about who was going to use the single toilet first! Besides eating a lot of dairy and meat, we tried to eat as healthily and cheaply as possible and often favoured heading back to the apartment at lunchtime to gorge on freshly baked baguette and lots of tasty fillings and cooking for ourselves at dinner; it was Christmas after all…
On Christmas eve, Ludo invited the team to join in with celebrations organised by the ski school. We were treated to a spectacular (if not slightly odd) interpretive dance story of French Father Christmas, complete with neon lights and fireworks and the whole event was topped off by an impressive precession of lights down the mountain slopes by the ski instructors (and of course, the complementary glass of Vin Chaud).
In our minds, we knew that the Psychology of waking up on Christmas day away from our families was always going to be difficult to get used to, however it was great to spend the following day skiing with great friends in such a spectacular setting. On Christmas morning we gathered around the breakfast table to open our ‘not so secret’ secret Santa gifts and headed out for the last ski of the week, with a secret intention we had successfully kept from Matt. Heading over to L’Alpette in the afternoon, we gave him the surprise of investing him as an official Scout right there on the slope after some good fake-acting on Ollie’s part to cause a distraction whilst the team got their uniforms on and the flag at the ready. Matt recited his promise and finally became a fully-fledged Scout, despite having being in HSX for three years!
Keep an eye out for Matt’s investiture video and more photos of our week on the Slopes!