When I first started to ski I learnt the basics fairly quickly and fell in love with the sport immediately. The refinements like proper turning, planting your pole correct stance etc all took a lot longer and, as all I wanted was to have fun in the snow, I got exasperated when people tried to get me to do it right. Then Adele came back from a holiday in Canada with a present for her brother Johnny – a pair of snow blades. These are more like skates than skis and are considered mere toys by ‘true’ skiers. I tried them and fell in love all over again. No need to carry those poles that people are forever dropping from chairlifts, no need to shift your weight one way and then another – in fact no need to follow any rules other than get down the mountain as best you can and have fun in the snow.
So I took over the blades and used them ever since. I used them yesterday on my first day’s skiing here in Venosc. Because it hasn’t snowed since November, the runs that are open have been created with snow cannons. Better than nothing, but his means they are very icy.
I came down a red slope yesterday, wondering why there was literally not one other person is sight, when I hit a sheet of sheer ice that catapulted me down a drop of about 500 metres before I could put in a turn and eventually come to a halt. Anyone in front of me in that 500 metres would have been wiped out, I was out of control. Near the bottom I noticed one of the ski rangers and I asked him why nobody else was on this run. He said he had only opened it two minutes previously. It had been closed due to the ice for a week and I was the first one down. He smiled and said it’s difficult isn’t it and I said it wasn’t too bad, making a mental note never to go anywhere near it again.
After this episode I realised that short skis and ice really do not mix and after leaving the slopes I popped into a ski hire shop just to see what it would cost to get some longer skis that grip better in the ice. The guy took one look at my blades and called his mate over to have a laugh. When everyone settled down again, he explained at some length what I needed and that was conventional skis with poles. I said I didn’t know what to do with the poles and he said at my level all they are for is to propel yourself along the flat bit and to push the lever so that you can take your skis off. Nothing about ‘planting your pole as you make your turn’ and all that nonsense, so I was sold. He asked me where I was staying and when I told him he said in that case he would give me a 20% discount. I asked him why and he said anyone living ‘in a caravan’ in this weather should get a discount. I didn’t argue. The best bit was still to come. As part of the deal, you can leave your skis and your boots in the shop when not needed. No more lugging my gear around in boots that are more like a ball and chain and no more clutter in my ‘caravan’. For five days, which is what I have left, that came to the princely sum of 63€. When you consider that beer comes in at about 8€ a pint and a ski pass is 49€ a day, that is a bargain.
So it looks like Adele’s skis have gone to the great piste in the sky – they have been great fun and served me and Johnny well but in future I’m going to hire my skis.
Today I have been using my ‘new’ skis and I must say that life was much easier on the slopes, I was less of a hazard to my fellow skiers and I didn’t get the looks and sneers to which I have become accustomed over the years.
Looking back on my decision to come here in the Sick Bay, I would say that I am gradually getting over the shock of the cold. I took three days to drive down here from Manchester and in those three days I guess I spent no more than an hour outside the van – either driving it, sleeping in it or crossing the Tunnel in it. All that time I was freezing. Once I got to the site, and got hook up, I have thawed out. But I still plan my movements very carefully and I spend minimal time outside the van. My friends on the Late Bay Forum have been very forthcoming with advice on staying warm and this has been appreciated – I now sleep in two sleeping bags and have insulated my windows. One of them even asked if it was time to send out Red Cross parcels! (Thank you Dicky).
In fact I think this is a great way to go skiing, and the reason I think that is because it is very cheap. The campsite is 190€ and I have a 3 course meal every night, (eg the Pike one mentioned previously) for about 20€ including wine. Then I sit in the bar and chat with other skier/campers and the site owners in front of a huge log fire. As Joy knows, I am very tight with money on holiday, and even tighter when she’s not with me. So I spend nothing on the slopes, just take a couple of baguettes and a water bottle for lunch and eat in the various picnic cabins dotted around the slopes. I filled the van with fuel three times on the way down, but then I enjoy driving the bus anyway, and the channel tunnel was £135 return. Ski insurance came to £13 and my six day ski pass was 245€. The snow socks for the tyres were £35 but I’ve not used them yet – although it’s looking like they will see action on the way back!
It’s just an unfortunate fact of life that skiing is an expensive pastime but it’s also the closest you can get to flying like a bird, which is what it’s really all about in my opinion. But if you’ve got a campervan and you’re prepared to put up with a bit of cold, and are prepared to watch the pennies, then you too can go on the piste with the best of them.