Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Snowboard holiday part 1

Our chalet nestled on the snowy slopes
We made a number of mistakes on this holiday, and with hindsight we would have done it very differently if we were to do it again. Despite this, it was a pretty good holiday!

First of all, we booked late, and there turned out to be a very limited choice of packages. We chose a chalet in the French resort of Meribel. We had to fly from Manchester, but that wasn't too bad because we stayed with Mags and Lisa the night before; they treated us to a curry, and even gave us a lift to the airport. With hindsight again, curry was a poor choice for the night before a flight and a coach transfer and a small chalet where we would be meeting new people.

The tour company, Crystal, did not impress us with any aspect of their organisation: the lack of any information whatsoever about the resort and its facilities, the late delivery of lift passes so we nearly missed the start of our first snowboard lesson, the total absence of any rep after the initial meeting, which didn't even take place until after the first day on the slopes. The contact phone numbers in the chalet were wrong, the chalet 'host' Tim had only started working for them that morning, the chalet hadn't been cleaned properly, and we'd clearly been spoiled by our experience in Finland, where the chalet had been spacious and immaculate. This was more like a youth hostel, with just one shelf to store our belongings, one small towel each, and no bathmat.

It didn't get much better in the hire shop. We handed over our board and boot rental slips.

"Boarding?" queried Monsieur Le Rental, suspiciously.

"Oui," we replied.

"Boarding?" he asked again, a little aggressively this time.


He gave a large Gallic shrug and sat us down for our boot fitting, throwing a mystified look at his grinning colleague. "What are these two fools doing?" was the obvious message passing between them. "They are far too old to look cool on snowboards."

We got our boards and boots anyway, and decided to stop for a coffee and a snack. In the creperie next door, we were accosted by a man who worked in the hire shop we'd just left.

"Why are you boarding?" he said. "You were in the shop, you are boarding, yes? Why are you?"

Mr A dutifully raised his trouser leg and displayed his Z-shaped shins (heritage of a major motorcycle accident when he was in his 20's), indicating the difficulty with rigid ski boots. The man turned away without smiling, and went back to his coffee. It seems that in fashionable Meribel, there are those for whom snowboarding is acceptable, and those who must be challenged on their preferred method of downhill conveyance.

Later the first evening, we met the other chalet guests. It was a good crowd, which was very lucky indeed. There were twelve of us, including three older couples and a lovely group of six 'youngsters' in their early twenties.

Tim produced fine food throughout, and it got even better when he was assisted by a second more efficient chalet slave, Hugo. Hugo is in his gap year, and is going to Columbia next, before studying Economics at Newcastle University, working for about ten years, setting up a hedge fund and spending the rest of his life at leisure. Such focus. I wouldn't be surprised if he makes it happen, though, he was much better than Tim at cooking and cleaning and generally being organised. Tim's real life ambition is to be a stand-up comedian, and alongside working in the chalet he was also helping to organise the Altitude Festival, a two-week comedy and music event in French and English.

Andy snowboardingOur first two-hour snowboarding lesson was on Sunday. Natalie told us to expect to be exhausted, and not to do anything else before the next lesson. Having spent about a million pounds to get there, of course we disobeyed, and had another go at the basics she had taught us. She was right, we were wrong, we were completely shattered before the end of the second lesson. So we did as we were told for the third day, and it went a lot better - we could do turns two times out of three on a barely perceptible slope. This is all we needed to get out there onto the proper nursery slopes, where gradients are much more significant.

Arriving at the top of our first independent run without a safety net, one of Mr A's bindings snapped.

The first ski trip we went on, Mr A packed some gaffer tape. I'm not exactly sure why, but I think it was an accident, although how you can pack gaffer tape by accident is beyond me. It turned out to be invaluable - we discovered the ski boot-shin interaction, and Mr A cushioned the area by gaffer taping socks over his shins. We've deliberately packed gaffer tape each year since then, and it's always come in handy, for mending gloves, padding body parts, and mending bindings. So a repair to the binding was swiftly effected.

Boarding in the wild is a different affair from on a lovely safe imperceptible slope with your teacher. I fell over a lot, and it hurt, although the home-made bum protection I'd fashioned from my bike armour worked a treat, and I added two kneepads made out of socks, gaffer taped over my knees. Never go on holiday without a roll of gaffer tape. We improved, and on the last run we both managed to slide away from the top of a chairlift without falling over. Success.


aims said...

Wow! Lola I'm impressed.

Not impressed at all with your tour company - but with your strengths....

So glad you had a great time.

What on earth is gaffer tape? Duct tape? all silvery and very strong?

Lola said...

Aims: see Gaffer tape, which wikipedia says "should not be compared to duct tape, a far cheaper product which does not tear cleanly and leaves a residue when removed."