Friday, January 20, 2012

Slopes Around the World

The season is upon us, along with twinkling lights and snowflake decals, warm jackets and fur-rimmed boots. Winter is here and here to stay, at least for the next two months. Sipping hot gingerbread lattes and breathing in the cool Edinburgh air makes me think Christmas and for me, Christmas is inseparable from a trip to the mountains. I enjoy a snowball contest as much as the next person but what I’m really after are powdery, bumpy, steep ski slopes. I'm a skiing fanatic; it's my favorite sport in the world where I feel freedom, nature, speed and sometimes snow down my trousers. As I'm always searching for new sensations, and enjoy a life of travelling, I've had the opportunity to experience various slopes all around the world. I’ve compared them in beauty, difficulty, nightlife, danger and complete randomness and you’d be surprised at some of the slopes I’ve swooshed down.

I am French and as you may know, some of the most renowned skiing stations are in the French Alps. My grandparents bought an apartment in Val D’Isère back when they were really cheap, before the winter break rage, so I was lucky enough to escape the exorbitant prices of Savoy-style chalets and tiny apartments away from the town center (far from the good après-ski bars).

We’ll have to come back to Val d’Isère because this isn’t actually the place where I learned to ski. When I was two, my family moved to Colorado and this means the legendary Rocky Mountains. The first slope I went down was in the ever so chic Aspen and the best part was the giant mascots of Pink Panther and Cookie Monster whizzing down the slopes and giving out candy. In retrospect, I think that learning to ski as a child in the USA is a fun, easygoing experience. We French are very serious about our skiing; exams, medals and technical terms. In the Rockies, the snowplow (a beginner’s position, when the tip of your skis touch in a triangular form) was called the pizza slice and parallel skiing was called French fries. This still makes me chuckle. The Rockies' Aspen, Wolf Creek and Arapahoe Basins are, as well as fun, breathtaking. These are ancient mountains, with rich pine forests and deliciously white snow from November (great for the long Thanksgiving weekend) to the end of April (my birthday), and national parks so closeby you may find yourself running into a deer or giant grizzly.

After skiing in Colorado where there is so much space, Val d’Isère and its neighboring station, Tignes, seemed like dollhouses. As it's such a popular winter destination, Tignes becomes extremely crowded during the season peak and there's a good reason for this: state of the art equipment, crazy nightlife, variety of slopes, views from Mont Blanc and the fact that it's not yet as pretentious as rival Courchevel or Méribel. I say not yet because in the past few years I've spotted an increase in very rich, very tan, very blond Russian women in the trendy hotel bars, and I have had to pull a few fur-clad Russian men off the more difficult slopes and hors piste – they think very highly of their skiing skills when clearly they should be back at the hotel bars with the ladies. Instead, they yell and bicker noisily at each other, at the risk of provoking an avalanche, and just ruining it for everybody. Other than that, Val d’Isère is probably one of the best places for experienced skiers. The proof lies in the 1992 Winter Olympics and the fact that every year, Val d’Isère hosts some of the Alpine World Skiing Championships.

Val d’Isère is great during the day but something also needs to be said about the nightlife. I was too young to experience the apparently famous Aspen nightlife last time I went (although I had some pretty wild times in the kiddie park). Over the years more and more clubs have opened in Val d’Isère but the best bar remains “Le petit Danois” (The Little Danish”). Home to all the Danish visitors, it’s a great place for a pint or five after a delicious dinner of typical savoy melted cheese specialties, like fondue, raclette, tartiflette, or before a pizza from the all-night pizzeria which serves slices so hot they warm up your gloveless fingers in an instant.

To prepare yourself for a trip to Val d’Isère you need to make sure a few things find their way into your suitcase: warm socks, long underwear and the knowledge that you aren’t going to sleep more than 4 hours a night if you want to party with the saisonniers and be there when the lifts open in the morning! Don’t worry though' chances are when you stumble back to your room after Brit club Dick’s Tea Bar closes its doors, Chevalot, which is in my humble opinion the best boulangerie in all of France, will just be laying out their freshly baked croissant. Oh, and afternoon naps are compulsory.

Written by Camille Soulier

Camille's full profile can be found here.

1 comment:

  1. “I think that learning to ski as a child in the USA is a fun, easygoing experience.” - I definitely agree with you on this. In fact, it is an outdoor activity that is mostly enjoyed by families. I remember the first time I learned how to ski; it was so much fun! Until now, we make sure that every winter we make time to enjoy the rest of the season by skiing. +Kayleigh Holton