This has been un hiver rigoureux (a harsh winter) for all of France. It is the kind of winter that we North Carolinians revel in—warm temperatures and little precipitation of the white variety. Namely, NO SNOW! But for the French skiers we know, it has been an abysmal winter. So, when we decided we wanted to try skiing here, we asked our skier friends where to go. Of course, we got differing answers, but given the lack of ski-able snow in the region, we were told to aim high. To a higher altitude, that is.
We started checking out the ski resorts and decided on Les Deux Alpes. At from 1,650 meters to 3,600 meters (5,400 ft. to 11,800 ft.) and the largest skiable glacier in Europe, it seemed like a good choice. It’s located in the Isère region, where we live, and only about 60 km (40 miles) from Grenoble. TransIsère, the réseau de bus (bus network) that handles the day-to-day transport in the region runs a winter-season bus network called “TransAltitude,” which offers the Skiligne package deals to ski resorts that cover bus fare and forfaits (lift tickets) for one extremely low prix (price).
Steve had bought our tickets the day before, and so we were ready to show up at the gare routière (bus station) for the 7:15 autobus (bus) on le vendredi, 4 février (Wednesday, February 4). When we arrived, a number of sleepy-headed university students were already there, yawning and smoking, with snowboards tucked under their arms awaiting the arrival of the bus. The bus pulled up on time, and we boarded and were off, climbing the twisty but snow-free roads leading to Les Deux Alpes.
One hour and 40 minutes later we arrived in the little village at the Mi-Alpe stop. We were still sans skis, so we found the tourist information building and picked up some brochures on rental and lesson options. They all seemed about the same price with the same offerings, and all had English-speaking instructors, and all les écoles de ski (the ski schools) had lessons that would be starting in about an hour and a half from then. We chose l’École de Ski Internationale St. Christophe (service was excellent) and arranged for a snowboard lesson. Next door to St. Christophe was a ski rental shop where we picked up our boots and boards. Having still about an hour until our lesson, we spotted a crêperie across the street where we could sit outside and soak up some sun, and nous avons décidé de déjeuner (we decided to have lunch), our “last meal” to fortify us before certain injury on the slopes.
The day couldn’t have been more perfect for skiing in the mountains. The sun was shining, the sky was a beautiful, clear blue, and the temperature was warmer than in Grenoble. We were to meet our instructor, Valérie, by one of the hôtels near the slopes, and we found her finishing up a lesson with some ski débutants (novices) who looked to be about 4-years-old. Even though I may be considered vertically challenged, I envied these kids their even closer proximity to the ground on which I knew I would be spending considerable time in the not-too-distant future, and I was glad I wore my padded ski bib.
Valérie soon joined us, and after making the usual introductions, she asked us about our snowboarding levels. Steve had tried it a few years ago, but I had never been on a board and haven’t ever skied much, either. We replied with –3 and –4, respectively, as our skiing ability, but she insisted that we use positive numbers. I assured her that negative numbers were more appropriate in our case, but that 0.3 and 0.4 would work, too, if she insisted. Was that a mixture of disbelief and amusement in her eyes? I think she may have been wondering how she would endure the hour and a half lesson with us. She mentioned to us that most novice snowboarders are, ahem, younger than us. No matter, we were game, and our Blue Cross Blue Shield coverage payments were current. The next hour and a half went by quickly with time waxing and waning between brief moments of panic-stricken terror and the exhilarating Jean-Claude Killy mastery-of-the-slopes delight as we picked up what we could of the essentials. Finally, we bid Valérie, au revoir and merci for her patience, and she wished us, bonne chance! (good luck) We needed it!
The next couple of hours, we practiced in the fairly slick novice area—an area probably more difficult to snowboard than if we had moved on. Steve had retained some of his previous expertise and cut quite a snowboarding figure on the slope as the 4-year-olds helped him up off the ground from time to time with muffled words of encouragement. For me, after quite a few hard tombes sur le derrière (falls on the behind) and slams à la tête (to the head), I was ready to have a rest, and I perked up when I realized we were near a slope-side cafe! We spent some time watching the amazing skiers schussing down the slopes and the colorful parachutes of the paraskiers as they descended to the ground.
When we returned home, we dosed ourselves with beaucoup d’ibuprofène and indulged in a hot shower and a well-deserved glass of French red wine. Never in our lives did a bed feel so good!
Les Deux Alpes ou Où est la Pente de Lapin?: The Two Alps or Where is the Bunny Slope?
Des œufs et du fromage crêpe: Eggs and cheese crêpe