Face to face with Trolles and demons in Val d'Isère
In spite of a serious injury on a black run 15 years ago, Susie Mesure is determined to give the same slope another go
Susie Mesure writes interviews, news and features for the Independent on Sunday, Independent and i, and has done for the last ten years or so give or take two lengthy maternity leaves. She is interested in just about any topic, especially anything Scandinavian, food, or consumer-orientated, and used to be the Independent’s Retail Correspondent
Saturday 16 November 2013
It doesn't matter where I am skiing; I'm only ever an icy patch away from being back on the black run down to Tignes. Reliving that sickening split second 15 years ago: landing awkwardly after taking some bumps at speed. Busting my knee. Pausing my life.
And now here I am. Actually back. The piste marker says "Trolles", but I read it as "Demons": the personal demons that have sat on my skiing shoulder ever since that fall, which snapped a ligament. So much for spending a winter as a chalet girl.
Never mind La Face, Val d'Isère's legendarily tricky descent down the Bellevarde mountain: this was the black – over on the Tignes side of the slopes – that I didn't want to face. And I'm terrified. It's our fifth afternoon skiing and I was supposed to have exorcised those demons by now. Despite two of the best skiing lessons I've ever had, from Jimmy at New Generation, those flashbacks keep coming.
But I'm stubborn too so, heart thumping, I go for it. "This is it," I call to my husband, trying hard not to think through the consequences of "it" now that I've got two children waiting for me back at the chalet.
Luckily, with steepness comes speed, which thanks to Jimmy's tips – "anticipation, angulation" – I somehow keep in check, so I make it down quickly and safely. There's a hairy moment towards the bottom when that fatal combination of gradient and moguls sent me flying all those years ago, but with some nifty edge work, this time I survive.
It made a contrast from that morning, where I'd hung out on the greens at the top of the Olympique lift spying on my four-year-old son. It was his first time up a mountain on skis; I'd hoped that starting him early might mean he'd avoid his own demons. He was the youngest of six kids snaking down behind Manu, one of Oxygène's veteran teachers, and he was making a reasonable fist of it. Later, he said it was "like being in space – I couldn't see any buildings it was so high". The words of a city-born child.
The beauty of Val d'Isère is the tricky reds and blacks back to the village nursery slope makes it an ideal resort for mums to keep tabs on their learner children, while caning runs for themselves. Safe to say, he was more than hooked by the end of the week. I'm not sure the same could be said of his 18-month-old brother. Brutal cold made playing in the snow tricky. I'd arranged a fantastic nanny, Kristina, through an outfit called Jelly and Ice Cream, which gives parents the gift of skiing in a handful of Alpine resorts, albeit for a hefty fee.
The kids even had a chauffeur-driven car at their disposal: when you stay with Le Chardon, one of Val d'Isère's top chalet companies, wheels on demand come with the territory. The little ones milked it more than us because skiing back to our chalet, Mistral, which was up the hill from the main village in La Legettaz, wasn't an option for a novice four year old.
Ours were the only children staying that week, but such was the devotion of the staff that I don't think they ruined it for anyone else. Or perhaps that was down to the killer combination of post-hot-tub stupefaction and alcohol: champagne, cocktails, fine wines, port, beer and spirits. The fabulous chef, Mike, and his creations were also a highlight: his kids' meals were better than anything in many London restaurants.
Thinking back, it's a surprise I made it out on to the slopes at all. But if I'd stayed put I wouldn't have discovered the secret to conquering those demons lay not in nailing Trolles, but in slaloming through the powder after my son in the Acticross kids' ski park. Next time, perhaps, I'll be following him down that black into Tignes.
Susie Mesure travelled with easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyJet.com), which flies to Geneva from Bristol, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Gatwick, Luton, Southend and Manchester.
She stayed with Le Chardon Mountain Lodges (0131 209 7969; lechardonvaldisere.com), which has five ski chalets in Val d'Isère. Chalet Mistral sleeps 14 people, with prices starting at £21,280 for a fully catered week with transfers included.
New Generation (0844 770 4733; skinewgen.com) offers day-long lessons in Val d'Isère from €60pp. Oxygène (00 33 4 79 41 99 58; oxygene-ski.com) offers five-day children's ski courses from €289. Jelly and Ice Cream (00 34 690 255 425; jellyandice-cream.com) provide childcare in the Alps from €88 per half day.
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