Sun, snow and ski!

One of the things I really love about enjoying a healthy lifestyle is that it opens up so many learning opportunities. Whether it’s testing new recipes or discovering new ingredients (who knew spirulina and chlorella would become such kitchen staples?!), trying new training plans (HIIT session anyone?), listening to fitness podcasts, reading new exercise research, or challenging yourself with new sports, there is so much to keep your mind and body fully engaged.

Learning new things as an adult is such an undervalued pleasure. The feeling of trying something new and seeing your progress day-by-day, week-by-week is so incredibly uplifting and motivating, and it’s so easy to forget this feeling which, as a child, you enjoyed every single day.

I’ve indulged in this pleasure on a number of occasions since I started writing this blog. As regular readers will know, a couple of years ago I began bouldering, a sport which required me to counter some of my natural instincts as I found myself twisting and turning up a wall relying only on minimal hand and foot holds. Last year R and I tried our hands (or feet) at ballroom dancing, which necessitated a combination of coordinated movement and the ability to let go of our inhibitions about how elegant (or otherwise) we looked. I am also a relatively recent convert to yoga, again an activity which challenges me, in this case to slow down, to sync my mind, body and breath, and to look inward, rather than worrying about whether my headstand is as good as that of the person next to me.

As it was, last week the gauntlet of learning something new was thrown out to me again, this time in the form of my first family skiing holiday.

I had only stood on skis once before the holiday during a two hour lesson at the indoor ski slope at Milton Keynes, a hasty initiation before a week-long trip to Val d’Isere. Luckily this brief foray meant that I was able to put on ski boots (easier said than done), and manoeuvre myself with a (minimal) degree of competency along the flat down the nursery slopes.

As the rest of the party I was skiing with were all fully-fledged black-run skiers I hastily booked myself into ski school for the week, which commenced with a five hour lesson on day one and three hour lessons for the remainder of the week.

IMG_1377We were eight in total in our class and we all seemed to progress at roughly the same rate. It was so nice to have people of a similar level to ski with and who could empathise with the freak-outs that came with steep turns or the feeling of losing control while going that little bit too fast. We were all also able to sympathise with the various aches and pains that came from challenging previously under-used muscles groups.

As a group we seemed to sync into an order as we made our sweeping S-shaped turns down the slopes. I really enjoyed skiing as a ‘team’ and I started to worry that without Rachel and Siobhan in front of me and Mary behind I wouldn’t be able to ski!

Being outside in the mountains all day everyday was absolute bliss. The sun shone every morning and at times it was warm enough to ski without a jacket on and to sit in the mountain-top cafes in just a base layer and fleece. Needless to say, my cheeks and nose picked up a sunny mountain ‘glow’ and I acquired the obligatory skier’s panda eyes.

Because there always seemed to be so much to think about, be it my body position, the transfer of weight from one foot to the other, keeping my skis parallel, or the bend and straighten of my legs as I made my turns, skiing became all encompassing and left little space in my mind to think about anything else. As with climbing or dancing, I found myself totally within the moment as I wound my way down the slopes; a state of utter bliss!

We were staying in a beautiful wooden chalet just off the piste. With mealtimes set by our chalet hosts and daily ski lessons my days fell into a pleasant routine.

I was up just after 7am and we had breakfast together at 8. For me this consisted of soya yogurt and fruit topped with seeds and chopped nuts, delish! My ski lesson ran from 9-12 and afterwards I was more than ready for an espresso, a Nakd bar and some almonds or cashews on the mountain before a further couple of hours of skiing in the sunshine and glorious fresh mountain air.

R and I skied together most afternoons and after an initial blip where he took me on a slope that I didn’t feel quite confident enough for (by ‘blip’ read me having a total freak out half way down the piste) I gained my confidence (and the ability to turn left) and by the end of the week he was taking me down blue runs.

I was also able to ski a little with R’s mum and sister, and they helped to build my confidence and gave me plenty of guidance. The most useful tip came from R’s mum, which was bend your body down the slope like a banana. It may sound bizarre but it worked in helping me get over my fear of turning left on steeper inclines and stopped me from my bad habit of leaning backwards when I got scared.

We were lucky in that we were able to ski to within a few metres of the front door of our chalet, which meant minimal walking in ski boots (not comfortable) or ‘poling’ along the slopes while attempting to skate on the flat (which R made look easy, but which I made look significantly less elegant).

We were usually exhausted by 3:30-4pm and headed back to the cosy confines of the chalet for tea and cake for R and lots of satsumas for me!

IMG_1154It was quite nice to have a mooch in the town and a sneaky vin chaud in the evening, or to play cards or chess curled up around the coffee table in the chalet. One afternoon during a whiteout we also enjoyed a trip to a local spa, for a swim, sauna, jacuzzi and steam (in what was possibly the world’s hottest steam room!).

The post-ski tiredness was something that R had warned me about but it was still something that I wasn’t prepared for. The combination of exercise, mountain air, sunshine, learning a new skill and masses of adrenaline as I came to terms with flying down snowy hills at speed, left me more tired than even the longest of my long runs. Some evenings I wasn’t even sure I’d stay awake for supper and in the warmth of the chalet with a glass of wine I found myself more than a little soporific.

Each evening we had a delicious three course meal cooked for us by Tracey, our chalet chef and served with four types of local wine; such luxury! Tracey made me some really tasty vegan meals (no mean feat in a mountain top village in France), which included ratatouille, a vegan cottage pie, quinoa salad and homemade hummus. She and her husband Gary looked after us so well and were always interested to hear how our respective days skiing had gone and how my lessons were progressing.

IMG_1283My lessons finished on Friday and I was sad to say goodbye to my classmates. We still had the whole of Saturday to ski so R and I headed out together for the day. We were so lucky that the sun was shining and the conditions were perfect for our final day. It had snowed the afternoon previously and a fresh dusting of snow made everything look so beautiful, as well as making the pistes great to ski down.

We had planned to try out a few green runs and I had thought that the number of routes was slightly ambitious, but once we got going everything seemed a lot easier than I’d feared. I was particularly helped by the weather, as skiing in the snowstorm on the previous day had been so tricky it made the same routes in glorious sunshine seem so much easier.

R had suggested we try one blue route and I was amazed that, having started the trip slightly terrified on the nursery slopes, that I was able to ski a blue without fear or falling. Buoyed by my success we skied three further blues, as well as all of the greens we had planned. R skied off-piste and when he was really showing off, backwards, and he was also able to sneak in a couple of black runs while I enjoyed a coffee in the sunshine!

We had taken the first lifts at 9am and didn’t finish until 4pm, with only a couple of coffee breaks in between, so we were totally exhausted by the time we finally dropped off our skis. It was the absolute perfect end to an amazing holiday and by the end of that evening we were planning out next trip!

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