💶 Moneybags. ● Skiing is not a cheap sport, or holiday. I think the cheapest I've ever been skiing for is like £600 (not quite all in but close) through Action Outdoors which offers "all inclusive ski holidays" - and the time we went basically meant sleeping in tiny dorm rooms of 6 in bunk beds, shared bathrooms, basic ski gear, lift passes, ski lessons, and canteen style 3 meals every day. It was an absolute bargain (for a week as well) but not the most comfortable of trips, and I do have a weak spot for a comfortable holiday. Having said that, bargains aside, you should always go into a skiing holiday with your eyes open (money-wise) because I guarantee you'll be spending a bit more than the average (non-ski) holiday abroad.
This particular trip was organised to a tee, thanks to the birthday girl at the helm - who's had a lot of experience skiing (she met her now husband on a ski season gap year) - so not only are they a group of great skiers, they also know how it all works, and realistically know where we can cut costs or need to spend a little bit more. I fully trusted them on organising it all because I have zero clue!
⛰ Home-Mountain-Home. ● We all met in Geneva (separate flights) - where our private transfer plus one rental car were waiting for us. Steve, our British-turned France resident driver, was hilarious - he had lots of stories, and drove us down "the backstreets" because he was "a local" - telling us how the French police wouldn't usually let tourists through the back roads (to the point where they'd tell holiday-makers to go back on themselves and rejoin the main road, LOL) - so we felt very lucky. We drove for about 3 hours from Geneva airport, crossing the border into France, and to where we were staying: a small town in the French Alps called Vallandry. Jess had organised for us to stay in two self-catered apartments at Oré des Cimes (part of the CGH residences group) - which is a self-catering hotel with a spa (pool, sauna, steam room, massage rooms). As I stepped into the lobby for the first time my heart literally sang: it smelt so deliciously alpine it made me so happy. Post check-in, we carted everything from the lobby to our apartments (luckily close, and next door to each other) and bagsied our rooms. We had one "family" flat and one "fun" flat - though most of the fun flat liked to go to sleep early haha. The apartments were made up of a living space (big dining table, sofas, armchairs, a kitted out kitchen, and all the accessories - clothes dryer, mop, brooms, etc.), 2 bathrooms, and 3 bedrooms (one of which was ensuite). It was a great little space for a group stay - clean, functional, and cosy. We also had balconies which overlooked straight onto the piste and ski lifts - ideal for when I couldn't be bothered to queue and could run down as soon as the masses dispersed - and it had a great view of the mountains too!
- Layer, layer, layer. ● Skiing is a funny sport. The first thing anyone tells you is to wear all of the layers. This makes sense because mountains covered in snow are pretty cold, ya know? So yeah, wear all of the clothes, bundle up, layers are your friend. Another reason why layers are your friend is that once you're actually doing "the skiing" and maybe the sun is shinning you will get really warm and potentially a little/lot sweaty. So layers are good, because you can take them off while you are up on that mountain until you get to a comfortable temperature. Now that I see this written down, it's making me chuckle that the advice I am giving you all is: wear all of your clothes to go up a mountain because you'll freeze but then take them off as you come down because you'll probably be too hot. Either way, don't say I didn't tell you so - mountain weather can be unpredictable, one minute the sun might shine and you can see everything, and the next you're in a white out and you can just about see your fingers if you put your hand out. What will give you comfort? Layers.
- Cover your face. ● Not because I think the world shouldn't see it. More because your face will get cold. It's the only part of you that will be exposed the majority of the time you're skiing through those mountains. So, give it a break every now and then. Especially on chair lifts, this is typically the coldest part of skiing - sitting and waiting, taking snowfall in the face - but also when you're whizzing down a mountain, that air and wind can be pretty cold. One time, my breath formed so much moisture on my snood that by the time I got to the bottom of the mountain my snood had frozen into place and had miniature icicles on it. LOLz.
- Wear protection. ● You know what they say: strap it up before you ski-bunny it up. Fine, no one says that but this is always the last thing on my mind. Luckily Jess has this as the first thing on hers. Literally the first thing she said to me when I said I'd come skiing was: "DO YOU HAVE A HELMET?" - she didn't shout but in my head it made me a little scared. "No..." I whimpered (I didn't really whimper, haha). Anyway, THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT - you need a helmet. You can buy one (I got mine for like 20 squids) but you can also rent one (what most of our group did). Because if you fall, or bump into someone, or something, you need to make sure your little head is as safe as it can be - skiing is super fun, but it can also be dangerous. I'm not a seasoned skier (far from it) and in the past I have skied without a helmet (sorry parents). There was this one time I tried to ski fast down and into a lift queue - but I slipped, spun, and my un-helmeted little noggin landed about 1 inch away from a metal post. I was VERY lucky. So yeah, wear a helmet. And while we're on the subject of protection, BUY INSURANCE because not only is it super expensive for an emergency heli to fly you off the mountain, but your medical bills (in the event something awful happens though I really hope it doesn't) are gonna be hella huge so protect yoself before it's too late.
⛷ Hello Skis. ● Ahhh, that moment when you get your skis on for the first time. I would say it was a magical experience, but I would be lying if I did. It is actually one of the biggest pains in the bum. You travel over to the ski hire place, you try everything on to make sure it fits (though you're not really sure what it's meant to feel like), none of it is super comfortable, and everything is heavy - which you get the joy of carrying around for the duration of the trip. This is by far my least favourite bit of skiing - the gear, and the hassle that comes with it. Get ready to CLOMP. You will be clomping everywhere - stairs will definitely not be your friend, your feet will start thinking your boots are always on even when they're not ("phantom boots syndrome" - I made that up but it does happen I don't care what anyone says), and your feet will be so happy at the end of each day when you take everything off. It's a proper work out even before you get on the slopes. Some of you might be reading this and be thinking: why on earth does anyone want to ski then?!
I'll tell you why. The moment you are in your gear (and not carrying it), and you get on that first button/chair/pod lift - the weight of the world (pun intended) disappears. You sit, you look out at the mountains, the sparkly whiteness of the snow, the snow covered forests, you breathe in the fresh cold mountain air, and watch the little itty bitty skiing ants below you as they zoom down. It is one of the most peaceful and calming experiences (assuming you're not chattering away to whoever is on the lift with you) you'll ever have. And despite the sound of the cable pulling your lift up, it is so quiet. I personally find it quite a humbling experience - I always feel insignificant when I'm on a chairlift (in a good way) and in awe of how incredible nature is and how small we are as humans in the context of it all. I know am getting a little bit philosophical but sitting on a chairlift with friends, or strangers, has given me some of my best moments of "mind space", my best ideas, my best clarity on seeing "the bigger picture". Because a lift won't usually last more than 10 minutes, it also somehow sharpens my mind - to think quickly and prioritise. I love that feeling.
Skiing itself is so interesting. It's kind of odd, yet captivating. I don't remember the first time I learnt how to ski, but I do remember being shouted "SNOWPLOUGH" at on many, many occasions on the "baby slopes". This is the beginner step for learning how to turn or stop. I did not like to stop, because I was young, and I liked to go fast. Snowplough just slowed me down. Until I nearly cracked my head open (re-read above). However, once I embraced "the plough", I got better at turning (this is like 3 separate holidays of skiing later). The more confident I got and better my turns became, I was pushed towards "parallel skiing". This basically means no more ploughs, just time to get those skis straight and start using your weight (and ski poles) to turn. I am not going to lie, I found the transition hard. I had less control, I had to face down the mountain to get better turns, I had to lean away from the slope more when I turned, "BEND ZE KNEES" my instructors would shout, yup - I couldn't ski. Then came "the fear".
The older I got, the more cautious I became - because when you're facing down a steep mountain face first, all you (or I) can think of is that cartoon image of rolling down in a big ball of snow - except it wouldn't be "fun" or "funny" or "a perfect round snowball surrounding me for protection" because #reallife innit. With the help (and major patience) of various excellent instructors I got more comfortable with parallel turns, and a few ski holidays later find myself comfortable down red runs, and if I'm feeling extra brave down a black run (though rare). Skiing doesn't just happen - and that can be extremely frustrating - but when you find your stride, it is one of the most rewarding sports I have ever done. You get to spend your day outdoors, in the freshest of air, having a proper workout (hellooo endorphins), and get the constant chance to test, push and appreciate your abilities all-in-one. The feeling I have when I get off the slopes is super gratifying. Your whole body can feel that you've worked hard for that melted cheese, charcuterie, hot chocolate, beer, or whatever your heart desires.
🍻 Après-ski. ● Going on a skiing holiday doesn't have to mean just: wake up, eat, ski, eat, ski, eat, sleep. I mean, you could if you really wanted to but I don't really think you'd be getting the full experience (or giving your body the necessary rest in between runs). Going on a ski holiday dictated by "first lift" and "last lift" yes maximises the "value for your money" but it's not really experiencing mountain life to the fullest. For some, this could mean having a nice cold beer with a packed lunch (baguette with cheese, obviously) on the side of a mountain. For others, this could mean eating all of the food mountain living has to offer: enter all of the melted cheese you could dream of and crêpes for days. For me, I'll take the above and throw in some of the best hot-chocolates and vin-chauds (like mulled wine) that I have ever drunk - which have all been up in the mountains. It's like they have some sort of secret mountain-guarded recipe for these, as they never taste as good in a bog standard café.
The food and drink are a big attraction off the slopes, but there's more. I cannot explain the pleasure I get from sitting in a steam room or sauna post a day of skiing. Or going for a swim. Or getting a massage to relax those hard-worked muscles. Outside of "that spa life", ski chalets / resorts are a great setting for reading a good book, having a leisurely nap mid skiing (I do this quite a lot), going for a hike, exploring small mountain villages (and their accompanying cute french shops - I love a boulangerie and a good pharmacy), sledging, making snowmen, having snowball fights in the snow (snowballs not always necessary), making snow-angels, or just enjoying a good cup of coffee while taking in some amazing scenery. And if you're into that pardy-life, skiing is famous for its boozy après-ski scene: enter image of young-thangs dancing on tables (sometimes in bras/topless), drunk skiing down slopes home, partying the day and night away. There is something for every one and every mood. My point being: a ski holiday isn't just about the skiing - it's about the whole package.
👯 Team pow-pow. ● Because skiing is accessible for all (there genuinely is something for all levels in the mountains - even if one of your group doesn't want to ski at all) it can usually mean going in relatively big groups. Unless you live near a ski resort, I've never been on a ski holiday with less than 6 people - it makes sense for the cost of sharing airport transfers, accommodation, and just for the general mountain vibes. For Jessy's birthday there were 12 of us - 11 grown ups and 1 cute poppet who spent the day in French daycare making all of the French pals.
We were all of various abilities - a lot of the group on the trip were really good (they had done ski seasons and been on loads of ski trips) - and naturally split into two groups (the "ravishing reds / beautiful blues" and the "bold blacks" / "off-piste OGs" (my name for them - they won't know this unless they decide to read it here first, LOLz). I was by far the least experienced of the group - but supported during the trip by Jess (who I follow-skied - literally following her tracks which I love) and Lu (who practiced moves on her snowboard while I was trying to find my ski-legs), both of whom had the patience and support of saints when they were skiing with me :-)
Although skiing is a relatively solo-sport (only you can get yourself down the mountain on your skis), it is also a massively group-supported one - I gained confidence from little things like: Jess telling me to say "f*ck it I'm turning" every time I got nervous about turning, or Lu taking me down a red run with moguls (bumps) so calmly that I didn't even realise I'd done it, or Georgie telling me we could ski-down as slowly as we needed to in a white-out. As much as I enjoyed skiing on my own when the skies were blue and the sun was shining, most of my favourite ski memories on this trip involved my ski-pals: chill-skiing with Lu through the forest run during a white out, and following Jessy down the valley from Arc 2000 (even though she had the worst hangover!!).
⛔ Don't be put off. ● Some of you might have read this and thought: good to know what it's like but I'm not going to go skiing - it's expensive, it's cold, and it needs me to be physically fit. And these are just the practical reasons why some people don't even think about skiing as a holiday. We had lots of discussions on the trip about how skiing can come across as such an "elitist activity" - and I can totally see that, for the practical reasons plus the big elephant-in-the-room which is the obvious lack of diversity (ethnicity-wise) on the slopes - though this is slowly changing. So, why would anyone invest that amount of money in something you may end up hating or not really fitting into? Don't get me wrong, I feel very lucky that I can get the opportunity and have found a way to know and experience what skiing is - but I wouldn't just write it off because it sounds inaccessible (because of either the money, the cold, the skill, or the perceived stereotype attached to it as an "elitist hobby"). You could interpret a lot of things in life like that, but you'd be missing the point. I'd much prefer feeling warm over cold any day (trust me), I'm not the fittest person (I don't run marathons or anything - though respect to those who do), and I'm not made of money (far from it). And despite all of this, I love skiing and I'm glad whoever introduced me to it did. Mountain life is ace - but don't just take that from me, I hope you'll choose to experience that for yourself.
🙆 See y'all soon!