August 25, 2015 by marksetchfield
I had never packed so much for one week’s holiday – woolly hat, scarf, huge gloves, thermal underwear, sunblock, sunglasses and sweaters – as well as some heat rub for tired muscles. I looked at myself in the mirror. Oh, yes, my lime green padded jacket-needed packing, too. Now I was ready for my first winter skiing holiday. After a short flight to France, followed by a four-hour coach trip, I finally reached my destination – the tiny principality of Andorra. I was staying at the four-star Princesa Parc Hotel in Arinsal, a small, family friendly ski resort with ‘learner’ green and blue runs for the likes of me, and red and black runs for serious skiers.
That evening, I met other first-timers at the welcome meeting. It’s a good idea to attend, as the reps give you all the information and safety advice you need for ski school. And it’s an opportunity to get a ski pass, too, which gives you access to the ski lifts. My fellow ski virgins and me arranged to meet the next morning for lessons. I couldn’t back out now…
After a big breakfast, I slipped on my salopettes and headed for the ski lifts. I swiped my pass, jumped in a pod and, with a few bumps I was off. Reaching the top of the mountain was like entering another world, with shops, restaurants and cafes – and even cash machines. I collected my skis from the hire shop and went to join the rest of the class. As I hobbled along, I saw a woman lying in agony with her leg pointing in the wrong direction. I’m no doctor, but I knew that wasn’t how a leg should look? And it didn’t exactly calm the nerves of a first-time skier. Then I met Javier, our instructor, who explained he’d be teaching us how to balance and stop. Hmm… stopping. That’s the key word here, especially after what I’d just witnessed. He made a graceful descent down the slope. ‘Mark, it’s your turn now,’ he called. As I made my descent, I felt like a baby taking his first steps. And as I approached the bottom of the ski run, I nearly joined another class, albeit uninvited. ‘Ok, stop, stop. Mark – stop!’ Javier screamed. After that, I practiced on my own for a while, but soon felt tired, cold and surprisingly fed up. So I headed back to my hotel, wondering if this was the right kind of holiday for me. In fact, I wasn’t convinced it was a holiday at all.
I woke up with aching muscles, and told myself things could only get better. But I had a lot to learn in five days. At 9.30am, our group met up for another lesson. ‘Today, we learn to make turns,’ Javier told us.
So that’s balancing, stopping and now turns… ‘I can do this,’ I told myself, looking at the six-year-old next to me. Then we turned left to right, before sliding down and making our way back up the slope. At last, it seemed to be getting easier… But as I zoomed down the slope, I heard Javier calling me. ‘Relax, Mark. Take your time,’ he said. Relax? It’s not that easy when you’re wearing clunky boots and layers and layers of clothes. Later that day, I practiced my turns and – more importantly – how to stop.
‘Good morning, class,’ Javier said. ‘It’s time to go to the next level.’ today, we were going to learn about wider turns and speed control – and we’d be climbing much higher up the mountain. I shuffled on to the lift used by serious skiers, and before I knew it, my feet were dangling down, thanks to the weight of my heavy boots. It felt as though my legs were being pulled off my body. But the view was breathtaking. I saw tiny figures sweeping down the slopes – they reminded me of the famous milk tray ad, where a bloke skied down a mountain to deliver a box of chocolates to his lover. At the top, I joined Javier and the others. Then, as I followed them down the mountain, Javier grinned at me. ‘Mark, you’ve been practicing, haven’t you?’ he asked. In that moment, I actually started to enjoy skiing. My commitment had been recognized – maybe this holiday was for me, after all. They say pride comes before a fall. And maybe because I’d been distracted, I lost control. In a big way. I sped down the mountain as if I was doing 40 miles per hour in a 30 zone, narrowly avoiding a bunch of kids, before managing to stop (with a bit of help from a wooden hut). ‘You crazy man,’ an angry ski instructor hollered. ‘You go too fast.’ Ok, my lime green jacket had turned a few heads, but this was the kind of attention I didn’t need.
With a heavy sigh, I headed back to the hotel for a hot drink and a shower. Still, there was the highlight of the trip to look forward to – a nighttime procession down the mountain. The ski instructors carried torches and slowly snaked down the slope – they looked like a sea of flames. It was an amazing sight.
After the excitement of the previous evening, we were going for gold today – it was time to tackle the big slope. Our group met at the bottom of the ski lift, and we made the 10-minute journey to the top of the mountain. As I approached the summit, I pushed myself off my seat, forming a perfect plough, and stopped. Then, after learning how to use ski sticks, we headed off down the mountain to try out our new skills. Brimming with confidence, I kept in line, moving my sticks from side to side while making gentle turns. But as I made my final descent, I lost sight of the group. They were behind me, but I didn’t know where exactly, so I decided to call it a day. Later that night, Javier told me how worried he’d been when he couldn’t find me. But then he’d seen a flash of lime green and knew I was safe. That green jacket seemed to have its own identity!
We spent our last morning on the slopes, before saying our goodbyes and getting the coach to the airport. I promised myself I’d practice until I was as good as the milk tray man. And if that means returning to the slopes of Andorra again and again, all the better
ANDORRA THE LOWDOWN
Online ski holiday specialist Directski.com offers a week’s stay at the four-star Princesca Parc Hotel in Arinsal from £650 per person, based on two people sharing, including return flights from Gatwick, transfers, half-board accommodation and use of the hotel’s spa facilities. when the snow’s bad, cannons blast the slopes with a fresh layer. Visit www.directski.com, or call +44 800 587 0945, for more details.
WHERE TO GO
Via your rep, book a place on the retail therapy shopping trip to Andorra’s capital, Andorra La Vella. With just a five per cent tax on all purchases, perfumes and electrical goods are great value. The unit of currency is the euro. Well-known credit cards are also accepted, another must in Arinsal is a visit to the weekly 1970s night, where you can catch your rep doing some funky dance routines.
WHAT TO EAT
Catalan cuisine – mainly grilled and barbecued meat – is popular. eating out is cheap – an evening meal costs about £8.50. Local beers and spirits are relatively inexpensive, too.