La vie en ski
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.
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.