A moment on the piste

sarah_with_car_2

April might mark the end of the ski season, but there’s still time to squeeze in a weekend on the slopes

Improver skier, H&F’s Fitness Editor, Sarah Ivory, headed to the French Alps for a taste of the action

I can sum up my skiing experience in two memories – one, being nicknamed ‘backward stacker’ as I plummeted down the mountain headfirst for the umpteenth time on a school ski trip and, two, shuffling down an icy slope on my backside, my boyfriend shouting words of encouragement in the distance. Even as I write this post, I’m ashamed to admit these things actually happened – they’re not my finest moments. But here’s the thing – I’m not a super-confident skier or a great lover of heights. Skiing is one of the activities that I’ve yet to crack, and that frustrates me. But I am determined to get better at it, mainly because there’s something about a winter break that really appeals – watching the sun rise over the mountains, hot chocolate on the slopes, the feeling of being at one with nature and, ahem, super-cool ski clothes.

So, when I was invited to Megève, a popular ski resort in the Mont Blanc region of France, to test drive a new BMW X6 (I know – tough gig, right?), I saw my opportunity to improve. Why? Because Megève is a fairly low resort – the highest skiing is only 2353m – which is perfect for someone who doesn’t have a head for heights. Plus, I’d have just one day of skiing, which presented me with something that I like to call ‘the fear’ (that’s the feeling you get when you leave writing an essay until  deadline day – either suck it up and do it, or fail). And I got to do all of that while travelling around in a swanky off-road vehicle, boasting plenty of room for my ski stuff. Yeah, too right I was on that plane before you could shout ‘snow plough’!

THE FITNESS FACTOR

Here’s the thing I love about skiing – it’s murder on your butt and legs. Staying upright on a pair of skis requires a lot of abdominal and lower body strength. Your chest, shoulder and arm muscles get a bit of a look-in when you use the poles, but this is primarily a sport that’s great for sculpting the lower half. As anyone who has spent a few hours in ski boots will attest, skiing is akin to sitting in the semi-squat position for hours on end – without a break. It is a seriously good strength session.

Skiing also requires a high level of agility, balance and coordination, so it’s great for those looking to brush up on their fitness. And these reasons alone make it all the more appealing to me – I love a lower body workout, and my coordination skills leave a little to be desired! So when I arrived at Geneva airport, watching the ‘weekenders’ sail through Baggage Reclaim with their boot bags in hand, I made a pact – I had one day to max-out my leg muscles and I was going to make the most of it. There’d be no time to worry about finding my ‘ski legs’ on this trip.

FULL STEAM AHEAD

As luck would have it, I arrived in Megève after weeks of regular snow fall. Although it was dark by the time I got to the Hotel Alpaga, where I would be staying for the weekend, I could see droplets of snow hitting the rooftops outside the window. And that filled me with hope of great skiing conditions – something I’d never really experienced before. Blissfully, the hotel was an archetypal chocolate-box, alpine retreat – wood design, mountain views and a hot tub on the terrace– and it made me feel instantly relaxed. I was a world away from my normal pre-ski jitters. The hotel was also only a short drive away from a piste, with slopes accessible by lifts from close to the centre of town.  So the next day, we headed to Megève town centre at 9.30am sharp to pick up our skis and head for the slopes because, when you have just one day of skiing, you join the early crowd.

SUCCESS AT LAST

It turns out that Megève is a great place for improver skiers. The chic village is paved with cobble stones and boasts pedestrian-only roads (something that’s surprisingly reassuring when you’re slowly lugging your skis across town). There are over 445km of marked runs and excellent snow cover on the piste, which is largely thanks to the high altitude of the resort. And the powdery white snow is so alluring that I felt obliged to ski on it instantly and without a second’s thought. With just six hours of snow sport to enjoy, I quickly got into the rhythm of skiing again and didn’t feel an inkling of fear once. I swished and swooshed down the slopes; at the back of the group but I was not the worst skier on the piste. In fact, going on a weekend break may have been the best thing that’s happened to my skiing ability. I felt strong and confident, stopping only to enjoy the breath-taking views of the sun creeping through the mountains. Bliss.

After a full day of skiing, and a couple of hours spent at La Folie Douce (a cabaret-inspired club on the slopes that really has to be experienced to be believed), I felt successful, stress-free and as if I’d been away for months. So do I feel different after my whirlwind break? I certainly do. Travelling to France for a weekend of skiing is a unique experience, and one that I would thoroughly recommend to any nervous skier. I’m more confident on a pair of skis than I’ve ever been, and I feel thoroughly relaxed thanks to the crisp mountain air. Plus, I have the added bonus of knowing what it’s like to whizz around the mountain roads in a BMW X6. In fact, I feel fully immersed in the winter sport lifestyle. Hooray!