La vie en ski

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page - Susi Banks

WHILE hol­i­day­ing in Bri­tain in win­ter, I opt for a Bri­tish Mid­lands flight from Lon­don to Geneva on a ski pack­age. For the low price I couldn’t get a week in an Aus­tralian ski re­sort even if I drove my­self there and cooked my own meals.

But ski­ing in the Savoie Alps in south­east­ern France near Lake Geneva is such a glam­orous af­fair that it’s easy for a novice such as me to be over­whelmed. Of course, there’s lash­ings of snow and great fa­cil­i­ties but it’s cham­pagne that the French re­ally ex­cel at.

Most of my fel­low trav­ellers at Tignes are hard­core skiers or snow­board­ers who spend all day on the moun­tains con­quer­ing black runs. Don’t they ever get tired? I sim­ply don’t see the point. Af­ter a few hours mas­ter­ing the B (baby) runs I am con­tent to sit in the sun out­side a cute bistro near my chalet with a glass or two of bub­bly for com­pany. From here I wel­come every­one to the vil­lage as the sun sets on an­other per­fect day on the moun­tains.

But then, for­ti­fied by a glass or two, I de­cide I want more. Adding a dash of creme de cas­sis to trans­form the cham­pers into a kir royale does the trick. It’s my favourite ski-sea­son drink.

There are plenty of other things to do in Tignes, such as rid­ing in a sled pulled along by a team of yelp­ing huskies. You can even be the driver. Or catch­ing the fu­nic­u­lar rail­way to the top of lofty Grande Motte over­look­ing the glacier. Then, of course, there’s eat­ing, some­thing the French know a thing or two about. An­other at­trac­tion is ice-div­ing: I se­ri­ously con­sider hav­ing a go but be­ing low­ered at night into a hole cut into the ice wear­ing a dry suit may not be all that much fun.

Dare­dev­ils can test them­selves on the runs used for the 2009 World Cham­pi­onships in Fe­bru­ary at neigh­bour­ing Val d’Isere. I pass on that ac­tiv­ity but at least it is free to ski on the Tignes nurs­ery slopes: no lift pass is re­quired. I use the money I save — ($69) a day — to book pri­vate lessons — an hour — to get my con­fi­dence up. My ski in­struc­tor is Jean Fran­cois. He is as thrilled to be teach­ing an Aus­tralian as I am to be taught by a French­man. His dream is to visit Aus­tralia, he tells me, but he thinks it’s too late and it’s now up to his chil­dren to travel.

It is snow­ing heav­ily but since I have booked th­ese lessons I have no choice but to brave the el­e­ments. It’s such a bliz­zard, I can’t see much on the slopes; cu­ri­ously, that only helps my con­fi­dence. I just do what the in­struc­tor says. My main prob­lem, ac­cord­ing to Jean Fran­cois, is that I look down at what my skis are do­ing in­stead of straight ahead to see where I am go­ing. He tells me every­one looks straight ahead when they are walk­ing and the prin­ci­ple is the same. By the end of the week, my ski­ing has im­proved in leaps and bounds.

Un­for­tu­nately, there’s no sim­i­lar im­prove­ment in my French skills; most lo­cals in the ski­fields un­der­stand English and they sim­ply love Aus­tralians. Even point­ing to my­self and sim­ply say­ing ‘‘ Aus­tralie’’ gets a great re­sponse. My week in Tignes turns out to be the per­fect ski hol­i­day. My one re­gret is chick­en­ing out on the ice div­ing. C’est la vie.

Check­list

The Tignes sum­mer ski sea­son opened last week­end. The 3000m Grande Motte glacier of­fers ski­ing, sun­bathing and even bikini con­tests in the snow. Lo­cal op­er­a­tors dub this ver­sa­tile des­ti­na­tion as multi-ac­tiv­ity. More: www.tignes.net.

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