Five winters I’ve worked for ski schools in different parts of the world, but I’d never been on a proper ski holiday. Spending a winter in the snow is amazing, but in reality there is not as much time for skiing as you might expect. You’ll often work 6 days a week and even though you are on the snow, you’re not doing exactly what you want. During my last season the thing that bugged me most, was living like an 18 year-old in a crowded, dirty house, mostly surrounded by people who were a lot younger than I was. I decided not to do seasons anymore, but to start skiing like most people do: during a holiday.
But I’m single and pretty detached from everything and everyone. I live a very different life from my friends and family and therefore I had no clue who to go on a holiday with. I could already see myself sitting in a small hotel room, sulking, losing the interest to even go skiing. So I started looking for other options. I even checked out singles holidays, even though this wasn’t exactly what I wanted. And then I stumbled upon UCPA, a French organisation that offers cheap ski holidays, hostel style.
I’d never been skiing in France, so it seemed like a great pick. I eventually selected Val d’Isère as my destination, booked a flight and shuttle to the resort and was all sorted. The convenient thing about the UCPA is that everything is included. You get the ski gear, so you only have to bring your clothes. You get three meals a day. I even opted to take 4 half-day lessons. Last week it was finally time to ski!
My trip to Val d’Isère wasn’t easy. Due to a delayed flight I missed my transfer and had to wait what seemed like forever. I arrived after midnight at the UCPA, but wasn’t the only one. They’d made envelopes with our names, so we could find our rooms and the rest of the check in was done in the morning. So far I had one roommate, Charlaine, whom I decided to go skiing with. It was a brilliant day, full of sunshine and to my surprise I picked up the skiing like I was only skiing yesterday.
Unfortunately I made the mistake to get out with boots that were too big. After two runs I had two popped blisters on my feet. The next day I went to the ski rental, which was in-house at the UCPA, and my boots were swapped without a fuss. This was also our first day of lessons. I was a bit nervous. Was I in the right level? But it all turned out alright. Charlaine was in my group, along with two French guys, an Irish guy and two Swedish girls. Without warm up our instructor took us down the red slope that led right back to the village. At the bottom he decided we were good enough.
Our teacher was a carefree freestyler who was working on his English. Because of this we didn’t get lessons in the standard sense. We basically just went skiing, with instructor Kevin as our guide. “Look! Mont Blanc. There is north, Paris, Italy.” He knew the area well. At first I was disappointed. I wanted to work on my skiing. But in the end it was great to just thoroughly enjoy skiing again, without thinking about what you are doing too much. And I think I did work on my skiing, by skiing terrain I would have feared only a year ago.
We went on the sides of the piste a lot, took some more challenging runs down and on the last day we entered the Lost Valley. I completely trusted that Kevin would only take us places we could manage. But it was pretty challenging. We did a long descent over wide, empty off-piste sections to get to the valley. Then we had to sideslip down a steep hill avoiding a few rocks on the way, to enter the valley. He sent me ahead of him with Charlaine and the boys and asked the Swedish girls to follow his path. He had more confidence in me than I had in myself.
The valley was narrow and tracks were well formed. You had to ski around some trees and rocks and control your speed well. Quickly one of the guys lay in a pile of snow with his skis in the air! I took my time, stopping where I could and it was fun! I had done stuff like this before, but for the first time I wanted to continue and not turn back. We did stumble upon a part of the valley that was a bit too rocky for our skills. I guess a lot of snow had melted during the hot days. So we carefully walked for a bit and then continued our way out of the valley and onto a run that consisted of huge, slushy moguls and had grass sticking out.
To celebrate a great week on the slopes, we finished our last lesson at La Folie Douce, the bar at the top of la Daille. Every afternoon a group of singers and dancers climbs up on the roof to deliver a show. Champagne was sprayed on us from the bar and one of the dancers climbed into a hoop and performed some tricks high above the crowd. It was quite the spectacle to see, but a lot of us preferred to go to Coco Rico, where I often went straight after skiing. There was always a band and a lot of UCPA people would meet up here until dinner.
I was so surprised by the people that were staying at UCPA. Because it is hostel-style, I expected a much younger crowd, but at 31 I didn’t stand out. I found many people in their late twenties and thirties and it was so much fun to all share stories and hang out after skiing. After the first day of lessons I met more and more people and I didn’t feel alone anymore. I was constantly surrounded by other people and joined others on a pub crawl or into town for a drink or a crêpe.
I met the best people, had bluebird days with an overdose of sunshine, enjoyed the excellent food at UCPA, discovered most of the many slopes at Espace Killy, overcame some fears and opened my heart. Before my holiday I was tired and not even very excited about it, but I came back craving more. I seem to forget how much I love skiing until I’m back on the snow. Next year I’ll definitely repeat this, hopefully twice!