Learning to ski in the French Alps

Skiing has never really appealed to me. Other than a trip to Iceland a few years back, all my holidays have tended to be to warmer climates. Over the years, I’ve been happy to hear about friends’ ski trips but never envied them for it or been inclined to give it a go.

This changed last year when I was invited on a ski trip to Samoëns, France for New Year. With a big group of friends going it was hard to say no. Plus, I reasoned that I would simply indulge in the après ski activities in the main!

What followed was a fabulous trip in which I, rather remarkably, got to grips with a pair of skis. I’m not going to lie – it was a daunting venture but also a lot of fun. Here’s a rundown of my experience skiing for the first time!


All the gear and no idea

Being a first timer I had to start from scratch when it came to packing; my summer clothes were not going to make the cut! To save spending huge amounts of money on ski wear I was convinced I would never need again, I called on friends who had skied before. One close friend wasn’t able to make the trip so I was able to borrow a fair bit of gear from her – minus the ski trousers she hadn’t worn since she was 16. There was no way they were going to fit after my Christmas indulgences!

With a few key items sourced, my next port of call was Decathlon. For anyone like me, who isn’t particularly sporty or outdoorsy and has never stepped foot into a Decathlon store, it’s heaven for anyone who is! It houses everything you could ever image needing for any sort of active pursuit. It ticked off the remaining items on my list and I was grateful for a roomier pair of salopettes.

The next stage was to arrange ski hire for the most critical equipment! Thankfully I had plenty of guidance on this from the rest of the group and went for the mid-range ‘sensation’ package (skis, poles and ski boots) on offer from Roland Gay ski service based in the village of Samoëns. With the addition of a helmet (highly recommended) it came in at just under 150€ for 6 days which I thought was pretty reasonable. Picking it all up was easy and the staff were great at making sure everything fit as it should (basically, your boots should be so tight you can barely move your feet).

With all the gear sorted it was time for me to figure out how to actually ski!

Hello Samoëns

Booking my flights shortly after tickets were released meant prices weren’t too bad. I therefore treated myself to a British Airways journey (I love that extra piece of hand luggage) which came in at £185. Given the position of Samoëns just an hour from the Swiss border, I actually flew into Geneva. I booked a shared transfer with Go Massif before departure which was just 87€ return. Their welcome desk was easy to locate in arrivals and, before I knew it, I was on my way to the French Alps!

I remember feeling rather apprehensive on the approach into Samoëns with the snow-capped mountains looming overhead. The charm of the village on arrival though soon started to ease my nerves. Christmas lights shone out everywhere, music played and my first chocolat chaud was a very welcome pick me up!

My accommodation for the week was a gorgeous four bedroom apartment in Chalet Ecrins which I’d be sharing with eight friends. It was decked out with everything you’d need for a self-catered stay and the most epically comfy corner sofa I’ve ever sat on! An added bonus was the heated locker in the basement which meant everyone’s ski gear could be easily stored and dried off. With the apartment about a minutes’ walk from the centre of the village, everything (read: croissants, hot chocolate and mulled wine) was on our doorstep!

Learning to ski

Near on everyone in the group I was with could ski; some at an intermediate level and some very very advanced. It was just my friend Caz and I who were near on complete beginners. We agreed before the trip was even booked that we would get each other through it and, if all else failed, we would spend the week eating and drinking in the warm while the others tackled the slopes!

We made a very good decision in booking ski lessons with ZigZag ski school. Five daily beginner group lessons (max group size of 8) were 200€ and we purchased an accompanying ski pass through Grand Massif for £175. We actually ended up with a slightly larger group size but two instructors for the first couple of lessons, which suited us fine, and everyone in the group was really friendly.

Day one came with a few wobbles – emotionally as well as physically! As you can image, we had to learn the basics right from the start. That meant we were sharing the nursery slopes with the fearless five year olds, snow ploughing our way down a near flat slope (it certainly didn’t feel near flat) and retuning to the top on the barely moving magic carpet lift!

It soon became apparent that mastering the art of stopping was going to take me some time. I just couldn’t figure it out and more often than not ended up crash landing, to avoid taking out a small child, while screaming my head off. Having started my lessons with a positive and optimistic mindset, I was soon facing the frustration that comes with trying to learn something new. The result? A good cry behind my goggles when my instructor told me I needed to relax (‘I AM RELAXED!!!’). And then I was moved to the bottom set!

I had initial feelings of failure when I was put in the ‘slower’ group when the instructors decided to split the group up. However, after giving myself a little pep talk, I decided it was for the best. It would allow me the time I needed to practice and figure out what I was doing wrong without the pressure of feeling like I was getting left behind. And it worked! Within a lesson I could stop myself as intended and even enjoyed hurtling down one of the steeper nursery slopes and getting to grips with the button lift. Huge thanks go to my super patient instructor, Ben!

The rest of the lessons flew by and before I knew it I’d successfully negotiated my way down a couple of proper green runs and had completed several trips on the classic chair lift, albeit I fell off the end all but once. Our trip culminated in a day trip to Flaine, a ski resort about an hour’s drive from Samoëns (43€ for a ski pass top-up for the day), where the rest of our friends had spent a lot of their time. Here Caz and I went up and down the same green run – we were told it was a blue really – over and over again, building our confidence and attempting to perfect our technique (my knees still had a tendency to knock together). And to round it off we got our first snowfall of the trip!

Après ski

It would be wrong not to talk about après ski given this is what I thought I would be spending most of the time doing. But I have to say that the actual process of learning to ski was so tiring I was near on too exhausted to do much else! What it did mean was that almost every afternoon featured a nap. Before that though I always managed to muster the energy for a huge, carb-heavy lunch with a cheeky beer or vin chaud to wash it down.

Our spot of choice was Le Blueberry, a great restaurant on the Samoëns slopes, which was slightly less busy given its location another chair lift up from the main lift. It offered a menu of traditional ski mains, such as tartiflette, and pizza alongside a delicious plat du jour and the best homemade chips I’ve ever eaten. Meals don’t come cheap on the slopes (usually around £15-£20 a pop) but here we found the portions to be more than decent, the service efficient and the soundtrack perfectly matched to the sun-soaked views.

If I wasn’t eating or napping I could be found with the rest of the gang, cooking up a storm for dinner (yes, we were always hungry) or getting competitive over board and card games. Unlike some of the more party ski resorts, I found ours lent itself to more traditional, good old fashioned fun and it was perfect.


Verdict?

I’m not sure whether I ended the trip feeling more or less nervous than when I began given that each stage of progression meant trying a steeper and scarier slope! But I did have an immense sense of achievement and pride having thrown myself into such a new and out of comfort zone experience. I wouldn’t say I’m going to be aiming for the black runs anytime soon but I’ve certainly already put my name down for the next New Year ski trip!


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