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The French kiss

Although April is the fag end of the ski season, and the temperatures are in the relatively warmer vicinity of 4 degrees, the French Alps surrounding Val d’Isere are still covered in snow. Rishad Saam Mehta captures the skiing moments in words.

india Updated: May 08, 2008, 19:56 IST
Rishad Saam Mehta
Rishad Saam Mehta
Hindustan Times

Although April is the fag end of the ski season, and the temperatures are in the relatively warmer vicinity of 4 degrees, the French Alps surrounding Val d’Isere are still covered in snow

The motions seem so easy when you see them. Yet, here I was again, struggling to get up, hands, knees and backside numb from the cold. A brief moment of balance followed by some furious flapping of arms and trembling of legs, I was face down in the snow—once more.

I had arrived in Val d’Isere, a tiny village in the French Alps, for a weekend of skiing to escape the searing Indian summer.

This was the fag end of the ski season, and still there was more snow here than I’d ever seen before. The cozy chalets, restaurants and ski shops of this village seemed to exist in harmony with the magnificent snow-laden countryside.

Taking in the sights
The view from the balcony of my chalet consisted of skiers on their way to or returning from the slopes.

The former ambled along with their skis slung over their shoulders, the latter strutted about in their stiff ski shoes. I spent the day walking around the village taking in its old houses with two front doors,one above the other. I must have been standing and scratching my head, so a local volunteered information.

It seems the doors were built like that so that the upper one could be used when the high pile-up of snow had blocked the lower one. Val d’Isere and its hamlets are strung out along the valley at 1,850m altitude under the imposing Bellevarde mountain. Each hamlet has its share of chalets and chapels.

Free shuttles link them, as do the slopes on which tourists ski. Hitting the snow Fortified by a breakfast of French rolls and cheese the next morning, I hopped onto a shuttle and headed out to Le Fornet —one of the far-out hamlets.

I was certainly the odd one out, because everyone else was either carrying skis or a snowboard. Upon reaching, the passengers hopped off the bus and headed straight to the huge cable car thatwould take themup the slopes.While I set off on the snow-covered walking track.

I spent a fantastic hour tracking footprints of the native chamois goat on thewhite snowscape that contrastedwith the rich blue sky. Occasionally, a skier would whiz past, down the steep, snowy slopes. Gearing up Finally, I decided to join the skiing hordes.

Jean Sports on the main street is one of the many places where you can hire skis, boots and poles. Having taken a set for myself, I sat down to loosen clips, stretch openmouths and fightmy feet into inflexible rigid boots.

My ski instructor was Patrick, a stonem as on who gives skiing lessons as a hobby. After three hours of fumbling and falling, I finally managed to get the skis to stop behaving as if they had a mind of their own.

At one point, as I came down the slope, skis parallel, I began to gather speed without any idea whatsoever about how to slowdown. Seeing me head straight for table number 23 of the cafeteria at the bottomof the slope, Patrick cried out “Fall! Fall!”, his pleas getting more desperate as my speed increased.

I finally threw myself to the side and ended in a tumble of poles and skis. After I had sorted myself out, and the inhabitants of table number 23 had settled down once more, Patrick taught me that the knack was to always keep the skis in an inverted ‘V’ to achieve a modicumof control over speed.

Though I wasn’t ripe enough to attempt the huge slopes that make Val d’Isere the world class resort that it is, I returned from France with enough practice to not end up with my face in the snow again.

Rishad is a travel writer and photographer

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