Learning the ropes on beautiful slopes

Val d'Isere in France
Val d'Isere in France
Miss JC Newbald is pictured with an assistant, Mrs G Cowd

THIS WEEK IN 1971: ‘Telling the world about Southsea’

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Like learning to cartwheel or play the guitar, I’d always thought I’d missed the boat with skiing.

As packs of friends returned from the slopes each year, brimming with tales of crazy black runs and even crazier apres ski, I’d listen with a twinge of envy for what might have been.

So when I was offered beginner classes in Val d’Isere for actual grown-ups, I jumped at the chance.

For decades, seasoned Brits have flocked to this pretty resort in the French Alps to enjoy the superb snow, picture postcard-style chalets and lively nightlife, but I’m assured there is plenty of room for first-timers in this experts’ paradise.

Faced with the unexpected agony of squeezing into ski boots, balancing slabs of metal over my shoulder and trudging over to my starting point, I’m relieved to discover the nursery slopes are right by the centre of town and only a short walk from my accommodation, Mark Warner’s Chalet Hotel Le Val d’Isere.

On day one, looking up at the notorious La Face piste – used in the 1992 Winter Olympics – I feel slightly nervous. But my cheery Italian instructor, Andrea, does his best to keep me calm.

I’d heard horror stories about bored tutors who, with an evil grin, deposit beginners at the top of a treacherous mountain, but fortunately Andrea, from Oxygene Ski School, is the opposite of that kind of guy.

‘Promise me you won’t try anything we haven’t practised together,’ he pleads with our small group of five beginners.

We nod in agreement, and set about learning the basics: stepping in and out of the skis, walking uphill with them on, and then attempting our first tiny glide along the nursery slope.

It’s not too challenging, but that’s just the way I like it, and I find my confidence building with each baby step.

Soon we’re ready to move on to the most trusty of ski manoeuvres – the humble snowplough, where you point your skis into a V-shape, bend your knees and bring your weight forward. It is to skiing what stabilisers are to cycling.

I won’t win the prize for slinkiest skier on the piste with this technique, but at least I can stop whenever I feel out of control.

Andrea teaches us to shift our weight exactly the right way, and our ski poles are put to extensive use. If he’s not scrawling complicated diagrams in the snow, he’s making us hold the poles at our knees and pass them over our heads as we turn left and right.

It’s a painstaking process – especially when schools of toddlers zip past us without a care in the world – but it helps to drum in the technique, and it’s not long before we can progress up the lifts to the green slopes.

L’Espace Killy – which covers the resorts of Val d’Isere and nearby Tignes – boasts 300km of piste, two glaciers and a 1,900m vertical drop and is served by some 79 lifts. Of the 155 slopes available, 22 are classed as green, which means plenty of areas for beginners to find their feet.

I am particularly taken with the Madeleine run on Solaise, a designated ‘slow skiing zone’ where time

(not to mention hordes of daredevil skiers) seems to slip away as I glide past the cordon and practise my snowplough to my heart’s content.


Diana Pilkington was a guest of Mark Warner Holidays (markwarner.co.uk; 0844 273 6796) which offers seven nights half board at Chalet Hotel Le Val d’Isere from £680 per person, including return flights from London Gatwick or Heathrow, resort transfers and ski hosting. Price is based on two sharing.

A six-day Val D’Isere lift pass costs from £169 per person when booked through Mark Warner. Ski lessons can be pre-booked by Mark Warner and are with Oxygene Ski School.