Skiing for the first time and conquering the downhill demons

by Dave Allan-Petale

I am intensely annoyed. I cannot believe it has taken me 31 years to learn how to ski. The thought of all the winters I could have spent sliding down 45 degree slopes with the wind in my hair and the ground running beneath me is more than I can bear.

I turned down the chance to go on a ski trip when I was in high school and never once thought of heading to the mountains in the four years I’ve spent living on Europe’s doorstep. But all that is going to change now that I’ve got a taste for it.

The nursery slope at St Foy Tarentaise. Terrifying!

The nursery slope at St Foy Tarentaise. Terrifying for a beginner!

I wrote about my fears of learning to ski a few weeks ago and must say many of them came true (save for broken bones) when I went to ski school in St Foy Tarentaise in the French Alps. I fell over quite a lot and well and truly embarrassed myself a few times.

On the first day I put my skis on at the nursery slope and slid over to the magic carpet; a sort of conveyor belt that takes beginners up the teeny tiny range where they can learn this slippery art. I reached the moving belt and fell arse over head with my skis in the air and my ego splattered all over the snow! Not a good start.

But my instructor coached me through the worst of the wobblies and by the end of the first day I could slide along and turn to the left and right. I felt like one of those newborns you sometimes see on nature programmes standing up for the first time.

I imagined David Attenborough’s voice narrating my first run down the slopes. ‘…and here, this red-headed buck is taking his first slide into a new world. Watched by the elders of this tribe he navigates carefully down the slope. But his legs are unused to this trial of strength. Luckily, an orange net has snagged him at the bottom, saving him from the precipice.’

Up we go!

Up we go! This is our mate Mags, her husband Roy and nephew Cameron – the daredevil snowboard crew

By day three I could slide, swing and stop on a threepence. Now it was time to go on the chairlift and face THE MOUNTAIN. It was a very peaceful journey gliding over the snow covered treetops and watching the elegant skiers and snowboarders down below as they  cut up the surface with bored aplomb. It didn’t look very scary from the chairlift but when we stood at the top of the run the mountains were as steep as a London fine dining restaurant bill.

Our French ski instructor Claire (who learned to ski age 2 and is a champion downhill racer) told us ‘puuut your skis in ze snow plough and have ze control. We go now, alleee!’

'I'm sorry, you want me to go down now? But it's so peaceful up here...'

‘I’m sorry, you want me to go down now? But it’s so peaceful up here…’

We took a run called Plan B from the first chair lift back down to the resort and zoomed along at the very edge of control. I loved the feeling of the snow sliding under my feet and the acceleration as we navigated the twists and turns. But the final run back down to the bottom was like fighting the boss in a computer game. It seemed to plummet away like an avalanche and I felt my knees go a bit weak at the sight of it.

My momentum carried me over the lip and I went sliding to the left and picked up speed. I then rounded out and turned onto the right, before whizzing along again. I swung to the left  and took another run down the slope, speeding faster and faster till I had to turn to the right, the cold air roaring in my ears as the snow slashed away under my sliding feet.

Then I was at the bottom on flat ground, panting like a racehorse and flushed with excitement. ‘Again?’ Claire asked.

Hell yes.

Now that I can ski I feel more accepted by my ski fanatic father-in-law Keith. The moustache helps too I think

Now that I can ski I feel more accepted by my ski fanatic father-in-law Keith. The moustache helps too I think

3 thoughts on “Skiing for the first time and conquering the downhill demons

  1. Petale, I like this a lot! Glad you liked skiing, reminds me a lot of my first tentative steps onto the slopes! Skiing is a great sport and an even better holiday, keep going back, you’ll be an expert in no time!

  2. Pingback: Skiing at St Foy Tarentaise | doublebarrelledtravel

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