Saturday, February 4, 2012

Slopes From Around The World - Part Two

I feel bad that my last article was so critical about Russian ineptitude on the slopes. Especially since I've had a pretty outstanding moment myself. On this particular day I had left my skis in the locker in favour of a snowboard (which I'm not very good at). I was just getting the hang of it and my friends, my brother and I were joking around, waiting to ride the ski lift. As we sat down, I miscalculated the buttock-to-seat ratio and as the lift left the platform, my behind was not on it. Out of reflex, I grabbed hold of the handlebars of the chair and my friend caught me under the arms to try and haul me beside her. This was not easy in full skiing gear (including fluffy mittens). By the time I realised what was going on, the lift stopped with me dangling high above the slope, barely holding on. All I could think was: “this is the end”. My life flashed before my eyes; tears became ice as they rolled down my cheeks in the frosty winter wind; we all panicked as my friend screamed that she couldn't hold on to me any longer; passengers on the neighbouring chairs cried out advice, encouragement and prayers. Finally, my brother removed his snowboard so the weight wouldn't pull him forward and leant over to unclasp my own board. The excess weight removed, I still couldn’t manage to get up into the chair. At that point, everything came into focus and I knew what I had to do. I eased myself away from my friends, still desperately clinging to me, until the only thing securing me to the footrest were my fingertips. I closed my eyes, held my breath and let go. Turns out I was only three meters from the ground and the thick snow under me completely broke my fall. It was like landing in a pile of goose feather pillows. Even so, this was my heroic moment: sacrificing myself so the others could reach the top of the slope and continue skiing. By the time I walked up to meet them, a group had formed to applaud my level-headed decision to jump.

If Val d’Isère gives the ultimate skiing experience in terms of quality and high standard (and fear), I believe the most beautiful place I have ever skied was San Carlos de Bariloche, in the Argentine Andes. It's located close to the Chilean border, in the southernmost region of Patagonia, which meant I was skiing in August! It may be hard to wrap your head around August being a full blown winter season but if half of the world does it then so can I. This was during my university year abroad in Buenos Aires and three of my friends and I decided to go skiing for a weekend. We were young and adventurous and didn't mind the 24 hour ride to get there, plus they served us champagne (or champán as they say) so it went pretty well; even when my camera was stolen aboard the bus. Thankfully, the weekend in Bariloche made up for this material loss and I’m terrible at taking pictures anyway, so really it was a blessing in disguise.

San Carlos de Bariloche is a quaint little town built first by the Swiss and German settlers. The architecture reminded me so much of the Alps and the chocolate was a-ma-zing. But to the slopes: as I have said, I've never been so baffled by the splendour of mountains in my life. We were lucky enough to be there on the best weekend of the season and a coat of fresh powdery snow had just covered the wooden housed resort. It looked exactly like a winter wonderland. I felt like I was in Narnia or in the Nutcracker’s enchanted kingdom. We admired the sunshine and the grand lake from the peek of the mountain and I felt extremely privileged to have laid my eyes on such magnificence. For these two incredible days, we stayed in a lovely hostel where our hosts were adorable; the Argentines are a very welcoming people, mostly because they are so proud to show the richness of their country. We ended up sharing our skiing and chocolate eating experiences with people from all over the world.

I’ve skied in a total of three places in the Americas: The Rockies, the Andes, and the Quebecois station of Mont Tremblant – don’t even ask me how they pronounce it. French is my mother tongue, yet the Quebecois accent sounds even more foreign to me than any accent in English I’ve ever encountered (and if you’ve been to Singapore you know what I am talking about). The Quebecois are a very proud people, and especially of their French, which distresses me because I have a laughing fit every time I hear them. Quebecois TV shows are actually subtitled if they are broadcast in France. It’s not just the accent but the vocabulary as well, and the slang, and the direct translations from Canadian English into French which make absolutely no sense to a born and raised Parisian like me. I thought I could just speak English the whole time, and that my American accent would hide the fact that I was French (the Quebecois get very vexed if you are a francophone but don’t speak French to them). As it turned out, in the little town of Mont Tremblant the residents didn't speak a word English! Fortunately, I was with my friend Nelson (a bilingual like me) who was studying at McGill University and had long ago come to terms with the challenges of the Quebecois dialect. He even learned to mimic it quite convincingly, at least to my novice ear. Aided by his local expertise, we embarked on the two hour journey from Montreal.

Mont Tremblant is the most famous of the ski villages around Montreal. Purists say that the really good skiing is in British Colombia in the Canadian Rockies but it takes a little longer than a two hour bus ride, so we opted for the closer option. Mont Tremblant is located in the Laurentian mountain range and, to be perfectly honest, is not very impressive when it comes to ski slopes. The summit of the Mont Tremblant Mountain is 875 meters high, not very high for someone who has skied at 2000 meters. I'd recommend this station to beginners or good skiers in search of a relaxing time. You can’t be in a hurry in Mont Tremblant: riding up the ski lift takes three times longer than it does to plummet down the hill and all of this sitting around doesn't help when you realise what's for dinner.

Quebec has many specialities, the most famous being maple syrup and any of its derivatives. In addition to this is reindeer meat and many surprisingly good microbrewery beers but the one dish that kept my trousers unzipped for days was poutine. Poutine consists of a generous layer of thick French fries covered in melted cheese curds, then drowned in dense, rich, gravy. No amount of skiing in Mont Tremblant will ever make your body forgive that decision but I admit that poutine is the most delicious guilty pleasure fatty food I have ever had in my life. And when it's as cold as it is in Canada, it makes sense that this is their national dish.

Written by Camille Soulier

Camille's full profile can be found here.

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