My Olympic escapade in the Alps with Greg Rutherford
With the gold-medallist long jumper (and keen skier) by her side, Susie Mesure flies down the slopes of Méribel
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 08 February 2014
For Greg Rutherford, it was just another day on the slopes; admittedly a mighty fine one given the early-season luxury of pistes to ourselves, not to mention some decent enough snow and clear blue skies. But for me, skiing with Britain's best long jumper just before Christmas in Méribel, it was Super Sunday; and yes, I am claiming those split seconds before the London 2012 gold medallist flew past me as my own sporting gold. I'm also counting those three extra runs down from the top of the Saulire I'd snuck in while Greg sunk a beer down at the "Ronnie" (or Le Rond Point, to give what claims to be France's largest après-ski bar its full name). Does that technically count as out-skiing an Olympian? Too bad if it doesn't.
Greg isn't even any old Olympian. He happens to be a winter-sports crazed one. He casually let slip during one of our chair-lift ascents how much he'd like to represent Britain in Korea for the 2018 Winter Games, as well as in the athletics stadium in Rio in 2016. "No Brit has ever medalled at both," he says from underneath his black helmet, goggles lifted for a blast from the Alpine sun. "That would be my aim." He fancies either bobsleigh or skeleton, mainly because training for both mirrors the sprint training he needs to zoom down the long-jump runway.
Far from winning that 2012 gold out of the blue as some claim, he'd always said he had an Olympic gold in him, so it might be worth getting some odds on a skeleton medal before word gets out.
Minutes later, the goggles are down and we're off again. It's lucky the slopes are so empty because Rutherford doesn't hang about. It helps to have a guide: Simon Jones from Alpine Masters, a British ski school based in Méribel. That way, I don't have to bother trying to focus on what the runs are called. His main challenge is making sure we don't end up at the bottom of a lift that hasn't opened yet. My one gripe with skiing just a week after the Trois Vallées opened for business is that we wound up skiing the same loop in Courchevel over and over because a couple of key lifts were still shut.
UK Athletics will be happy to hear we stuck to the pistes. This was partly because there wasn't any powder but also because Simon wasn't taking any chances now that Greg, who only recently recovered from a ruptured hamstring, is injury free.
It is, admittedly, unusual for a competing athlete to risk his career by hurling himself off a mountain given that anything can happen when you've got two long sticks strapped to your feet. Michael Schumacher's terrible accident in the resort at the end of December underlined this. However, Greg feels that skiing helps him get the best out of his body, physically and mentally, given he can't take a break during the summer when he's in full competition mode.
"After skiing my legs feel a bit heavy but I get a massive power boost about a week later, after the muscles have rested because you work them so hard while skiing," he said.
Greg learnt young but skied only intermittently after that – including a stint as a slope patroller at Milton Keynes' Snow Dome. He's proof that the truly athletic can probably succeed at pretty much any sport they choose. His father Andy, who is also skiing with us, was equally handy on the slopes, and Greg's brother narrowly missed playing professional rugby. There's definitely something in the genes.
We were in Méribel for a three-night break with Purple Ski, which runs five lovely chalets in the resort. Ours, Chalet Foinbois, was its latest addition. It is in the much quieter Méribel Village, minutes from the bottom of "Golf" – not that you need to walk anywhere, with a chauffeured minivan at the end of your mobile. It proves particularly handy when you've had to get the speedy Saulire Express gondola back down to Méribel after some table dancing at the Folie Douce – not that I'm speaking from experience, honestly.
Given the champagne on tap, some seriously fine dining and a string of not-anything-like-home comforts that included a sauna, hot tub, DVD library, ping-pong table and gym, it would be easy enough to give the skiing a miss altogether. But there was never any danger of that, especially when we had Purple Ski's owners Michael and Karen Broom Smith itching to join our ski team on day two.
A crack-of-dawn affair on Saturday morning and a late flight back on Tuesday meant we squeezed more hours on the slopes into our three nights than plenty of guests would manage in a week.
Within an hour of getting there, we were whizzing up in the Tougnète bubble, thanks to Slide Candy's ski-rental service: they bring your pre-ordered skis to your chalet, saving the first-day stress of queueing in an overheated shop and feeling stupid for not speaking ski shop lingo, aka getting something, anything that will get you down the mountain.
I can hardly blame their choice of Scott Maya skies for my inability to keep up with Greg. After all, he's hoping to compete in the 100m sprint as well as long jump in this summer's Commonwealth Games. And with his head for speed, he might just do it.
The nearest airports to Méribel are Grenoble and Geneva, served from a range of UK airports by airlines including Monarch (0871 940 5040; flymonarch.com), easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyJet.com), Jet2 (0871 226 1737; jet2.com), British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) and Flybe (0871 700 2000; flybe.com).
Susie Mesure was a guest of Purple Ski (01885 488799; purpleski.com), which operates five luxury chalets in Méribel. Chalet Foinbois sleeps 12 and costs €19,665 for seven nights, with all meals and drinks included. Flights extra. Perks include skis delivered to your chalet by local ski company Slide Candy (0844 332 1227; slidecandy.com).
Alpine Masters (00 33 6 25 56 49 01; alpinemasters.co.uk) is a small British ski school based in the Trois Vallées offering private coaching from £130 per two-hour session.
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