Reach for the sky

Won over by France’s most chal­leng­ing ski re­sort

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - JANE KNIGHT

A crisp morn­ing on the slopes of Val d’Isere and I’m try­ing my hard­est to vi­su­alise a golden orb, into which I mentally place the num­ber 1,888,948. Slowly, I shrink the sphere to the size of a ping-pong ball and move it to­wards my heart. I try not to imag­ine how silly I look to ev­ery­one hur­ry­ing to catch the ski lift; I am now pro­grammed to be a su­per-hot skier.

I’m with Bernard Ch­es­neau, who com­bines life coach­ing with ski coach­ing. “This is not just a les­son, it is an out­look — a way of life,” he tells me, be­fore ask­ing what I want to achieve from the af­ter­noon and re­veal­ing the “magic num­ber”. My list is sim­ple: not be­ing scared of moguls, ice on the slope or the scrunch of a snow­boarder be­hind me. Really, not be­ing scared of ski­ing in this par­tic­u­lar French re­sort.

Val d’Isere has been my ski­ing bête noire since I vis­ited five years ago and was nearly mowed down sev­eral times by huge men thun­der­ing down the slopes. Its world-class runs and world-class snow make it a mag­net for ski dare­dev­ils — not wusses like me. Even the best skiers ad­mit that Val is a “chal­leng­ing re­sort” with mis­lead­ing piste grad­ings. A green called Verte, which runs down to the bot­tom of the re­sort, is any­thing but verte, while many blues lead­ing down the moun­tain are ac­cepted as “com­mer­cial blues” that would be a red run any­where else.

Af­ter my last visit, I swore that in fu­ture I’d stick with Switzer­land’s wider, calmer pistes.

Yet here I am again, in per­haps the busiest week of the sea­son — Fe­bru­ary half term, which co­in­cides with France’s school hol­i­days. Of all the weeks I could have cho­sen, this one was per­haps the sil­li­est. The word busy doesn’t be­gin to de­scribe the sea of ski hel­mets at the meet­ing point for lessons, or the 45-minute wait for a burger in the self-ser­vice queue at the Sun Bar. As one ski in­struc­tor puts it, “It’s car­nage out there.”

But this time I have Bernard’s magic num­ber to help me, though I’m un­clear where ex­actly it comes from. That’s be­cause Bernard, who can talk for France and Canada (he is French Cana­dian), never seems to have a quick, easy an­swer for any­thing. He talks us all the way over a se­ries of ski lifts to the far side of the moun­tain, away from the crowds. There is a lot about how we need to rise above life’s prob­lems, whether that ap­plies to work, re­la­tion­ship is­sues, or be­ing scared of moguls or ice on the slope.

Af­ter many ques­tions, I es­tab­lish that when his mar­riage broke down, he stud­ied life coach­ing in Mont­pel­lier and now ap­plies it to ski­ing. Here (I sum­marise) it’s all about putting your prob­lems to ground by prop­erly feel­ing the moun­tain be­neath your skis and ex­hal­ing on your turns. “Start by choos­ing your­self rather than wor­ry­ing about ev­ery­one else on the moun­tain,” Bernard tells me. “You have to see the moun­tain for what it is and not a se­ries of prob­lems. You are on a date with the slope.”

To show this, he pro­duces a small red wooden heart and makes me lean to­wards it as far as I can. We watch dif­fer­ent ski styles on the slope, then I try ski­ing blind down the piste with only Bernard’s hand to guide me (scary), be­fore I em­bark on a se­ries of ex­er­cises to get me to ex­hale prop­erly and to stop stran­gling the “ea­gle chicks” that are my poles (em­bar­rass­ing). The ba­sic mes­sage is about self-con­fi­dence and how I am ca­pa­ble of any­thing, as long as I re­cite the magic num­ber first. Bizarre.

But even with­out Bernard’s magic num­ber, I’m find­ing that Val is ac­tu­ally grow­ing on me. The key is to go high in the moun­tains and to re­sist ski­ing the home run, tak­ing the ca­ble car or fu­nic­u­lar down to the re­sort, thus avoid­ing the nar­row, hard bot­tle­necks where in­con­sid­er­ate skiers pour through. Up among the peaks, I dis­cover

The moun­tain vil­lage at Val d’Isere, top; skiers on a re­sort run

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