A Day in the Alps (and a few days of recovery)

I’ve never been skiing or snowboarding in my life, but I’m currently living in southern France, right next to the Alps, so I thought “why not?”  I turned it into a (sort of) social event by inviting some people I’d met in Nice who’d expressed interest in skiing or snowboarding, so I wasn’t actually going alone.  After going back and forth in my head between skiing and snowboarding, I finally chose snowboarding.  I’d heard that snowboarding is harder, but I was hoping that my experience with edges on hockey skates would help me feel a little bit more comfortable with the edges on a snowboard.

Nice operates a “100% Neige” bus that goes from the main train station in Nice to one of the ski parks in the mountains for just 8 euros round trip, and it only takes about an hour and a half!  The ride is a straight shot north and is absolutely gorgeous!  The roads wind between mountains and along little streams and rivers, and eventually you can see the snow at the top of the mountains.  Then the bus stops going north and starts going up, winding back and forth until you’re actually driving through the snow.

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View from the bus

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View from the bus

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View from the bus

SNOW!

SNOW!

When we got to the park, we picked up our gear, got suited up, bought our day passes, and signed up for a lesson.  Then we took the téléphérique (an aerial tramway, of sorts) up to the “beginners” hills to meet our instructor.  He was nice, but seemed less than enthused to be teaching two beginning snowboarders.  The lesson was all in French, but that wasn’t the hard part.  It was exhausting because we would take turns sliding about 10 meters down the bank on our board with both feet strapped in, unstrap one foot at the bottom, and then drag our board back up to the top and strap ourselves back in.  Thank goodness there were two of us because a solo lesson would’ve been impossible!

My cool snowboard...

My cool snowboard…

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View from the téléphérique

When the lesson was over, the instructor taught us how to use the J-bar lift, a surface lift that pulls individual skiers/snowboarders up a hill while they hold onto a pole, as opposed to sitting on a chairlift.  When I finally got up to the top of the baby hill (it took a few shaky tries), the only thing left to do was go down, which proved harder than it looks.  You always see these snowboarders just coasting along downhill.  Believe me, it is NOT that easy.  I fell like 6 times (really hard!) on my back and my knees on the first trip down the mountain.  I kept trying to use my board edges like the instructor said, but I could feel myself over-rotating and then I would catch an edge and wipe out.  We went up again and half way down the second run I decided to give up on the edges.  I kept my board straight and went down at what I felt like was a pretty fast pace (it wasn’t…) and managed to stop myself by half turning my board/half falling.  I decided to try a third time and managed to stay standing for most of the run, which I was satisfied with, I guess.

View from the top of the "hill" we were going down

View from the top of the “hill” we were going down

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Learning how to snowboard is a lot like learning how to skate in hockey skates.  First, you have to be going fast to use the edges of your board or skates.  It took me years to be able to go fast on hockey skates, so no doubt it would take me years to feel comfortable on a snowboard.  Second, you have to be going fast to learn how to stop, but no one wants to go fast until they know how to stop.  It’s a vicious cycle, but I think it’s easier on hockey skates, since we have so much more padding.

All in all, it was a great day.  The sun was shining (I even got a little sunburned), the sky was blue, the air wasn’t filled with smoke (like it is in the city).  But next time, I’ll try skiing instead.  The next morning when I woke up, I could feel every muscle in my body and I had some nasty bruises on my tailbone and my knees.  I have a new respect for mountain sports people!  It was freaking hard, but I can’t wait to try again 🙂

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French word for today:
ventouse (ven-TOOZ)– suction cup/sucker
Les tentacules du poulpe sont garnies de ventouses.
Octopus’ tentacles are lined with suction cups.

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