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A Beginner’s Guide to Skiing at Val D’Isere

I grew up on a small farm in rural Australia. We were a long way from anything that looked like snow. It wasn’t until I was in Europe and a group of friends was organising a skiing holiday that I really got excited about the prospect. I decided to learn how to ski. I really hate looking incompetent at anything, especially sport, but it was time to bite the bullet – people in Europe go skiing. I had to learn how to ski. My friend Tristan had booked us onto a package holiday to the French ski resort of Val D’Isere. There was no backing out of it now. Here’s what I learnt along the way.


Val D’Isere

We flew from London to Grenoble and then a charter company had organised a coach to take us from Grenoble airport up the mountain to Val D’Isere. Flying to Geneva is another popular way of accessing this region. Access from Chambéry airport is another option. Val D’Isere is a massive ski resort – incredibly popular with winter sports enthusiasts from across Europe but especially from the United Kingdom. The ski fields across these mountains are known as the Espace Killy – 300km of pistes and 94 lifts – it is an enormous area and it offers something for everyone, whatever standard you’re at. There is a huge range of accommodation in Val D’Isere and the nightlife is really good. Prices can seem a bit expensive, but it’s best not to think about it – you just need to relax and enjoy the experience.

Skiing or Snowboarding?

The first decision is whether to learn to ski or snowboard. I was very tempted by snowboarding – it somehow looks cooler, there seems to be less gear to carry around, and the boots that you need to wear aren’t as heavy or clunky. However I’ve never really been able to skateboard or surf, and everyone I spoke to convinced that it would be much more sensible to learn how to ski. Injuries are far more common in snowboarding as the way that you fall (forwards or backwards) means that you instinctively put your hands out to protect yourself, resulting in a lot of damaged wrists and arms. Skiing is comparatively easier to learn and while you will still fall over, it is more of a sideways fall which seems to do less damage.


Choose your Companions Wisely

The good thing about going on a package holiday is that they do a lot of the thinking for you – where to stay, which hire shop to use, all the logistical requirements that need to go into planning a skiing holiday. Tristan was very quick to point out that there was no point trying to pretend to be a better skier than I was, that I should go to lessons while he went off up the slopes and then we could meet for lunch or drinks at the end of the day to swap stories. Fortunately David, one of the other guys in our group, was also just learning so we were able to hang out together and laugh at our general skiing incompetence.

What Do I Need to Buy?

I may have just been learning, but I wanted to look the part so I persuaded Tristan to come with me into Snow + Rock in Covent Garden to help me choose everything that I would need. Skiing gear is expensive. While you hire equipment such as skis, poles, and ski boots once you arrive at the resort, you really need to be equipped with some waterproof trousers, goggles, a decent jacket, gloves, and a few thermal layers. Tristan lent me one of his old ski jackets and a pair of goggles, and I borrowed a pair waterproof trousers and some gloves from my cousin. I purchased a bobble hat and some thermal t-shirts.


Who Teaches You How to Ski?

Like most of the major resorts in France, the main ski school at Val D’Isere is École de Ski Français. This is an incredibly professional and well-run operation with a huge range of lessons for all ages and levels. David and I signed up for morning lessons each day so that we would have the afternoon to be able to practice and muck around by ourselves. There is nothing more dispiriting than having a class of young children whizzing happily past you as you struggle slowly down the slope.

It was an incredible holiday, despite the falling down and general lack of coordination as my patient instructor tried to induct me into the joys of skiing it was easy to see how you could become addicted to this sport. The fresh mountain air, the deep powdery snow, the wind whistling past you as you sped along on your skis, and (perhaps best of all) catching up with your friends for drinks at the end of the day and swapping stories about your mishaps and adventures. I love skiing.

Gareth Johnson


An Australian writer living in London, Gareth loves travel and fashion and is obsessed with water polo.  You can follow Gareth on Twitter @gtvlondon

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