Sunday, 16 January 2011
It's that time of year again when quite a few of my mates hit the slopes on their annual skiing holidays. I listen to their excited talk of black runs, bunny slopes and powdery snow and although I smile gracefully, I'm really thinking 'you mad bastard'. I need to say at this point, that thought is not driven by envy, but by bitter experience.
In a moment of madness and having just turned 21, my best friend and I decided to book a skiing holiday to Andorra. The exuberance of youth and complete lack of insight and funds affords you of running the risk of doing no research whatsoever of the place we were heading to. Andorra is this little principality nestled in the French Pyrenees between Spain and France. In those days, Andorra was very much in the infancy of ski tourism...Val d'isere it wasn't. Our first morning had us both looking resplendent in our salopettes, 80's shoulder padded ski jackets and hair styled on Kim Wilde and Linda Evans from Dynasty. We hired our boots and headed for the chair lifts and with fags in mouths, chatted about the scenery and plans for our first night out. And then the first disaster struck. Chair lifts surely stop at the top for beginners to be helped off don't they? The answer is unequivocally NO. When the realisation kicked in that we were supposed to gracefully 'ski-off', we panicked and sort of fell off from five feet up with our salopettes still attached to the safety bar and ski poles wrapped round our necks. The humiliation of being dragged off by two burly Frenchmen to calm down, avert concussion by imminent arrival of next chair lift and then to apply first aid was not the greatest start to our skiing experience.
And so to the skiing lessons on the baby slopes and ritual humiliation number 2. However hard we tried, we just couldn't stay on our feet and fell over onto ice with frequent regularity whilst small children just out of nappies were doing back somersaults and 'bending zee knees' with consummate ease. After an hour, we just about managed a decent 'v' shape to stop after careering off screaming so we thought 'bugger it, let's head off to the black slopes'. Call it madness or the impetuousness of youth but we thought we'd be great. It was enough to give you permanent incontinence let me tell you. After approximately 4 minutes of sheer fright and sustained injury, I decided to unclip my skis and walk down. My mate said she'd try and ski down. I feared I'd never see her again and rehearsed the comforting words in my head of the speech I'd give to her mum on my return (if I ever made it home back to Blighty). Hours later, I reached a half-way point ski lodge / restaurant and I had that moment that Sir John Mills had in 'Ice Cold In Alex' only this time with a cup of cocoa to warm by aching limbs. I waited and waited and then total relief as my mate entered with a pale face, cuts to her face and twigs and fir tree bracken attached to her crumpled hairdo. A couple of fags and double brandies later, and she was able to tell me that she's had the most frightening experience of her life and just bounced down the mountain taking out other skiers, a couple of mountain fir saplings and her hip joint. She was black and blue and her salopettes were ripped and bloodied. She's lost her ski goggles when she hit the 14th tree. The sheer terror on her face was enough to convince me that I'd tried skiing and quite frankly I was now bored with it and it just wasn't for me.
And so to the apres ski. Our first night took us to an organised fondue night in the local town where we met a couple of blokes who then kind of latched on to us for the whole week. To be fair to my friend (who I know reads this blog and therefore I won't embarrass), she embraced the skiing more than I did and was sensible enough to go to bed early in order to meet the early morning starts for the chair lifts. Not so in my case I'm afraid. I embraced hitting the local bar and dancing the night away at the one and only disco with my new holiday romance. What we didn't reckon on was that Andorra being half French and half Catalan and very much in the old ways of an established catholic culture, was that everything apart from the the bar/disco we frequented each night shut down at 9pm as did unfortunately did our hotel. Two giggling and snogged-up party animals arrived back to the hotel at some ungodly hour (11pm) and worse the wear for drink, we were stood there faced with a locked front door and the hotel in darkness. After hammering on the door, the owner dressed in pyjamas and dressing gown eventually opened up and we were given a right old Catalan telling off with the holiday romance being told to 'slingio your hookio'. My friend was waiting up and ready for all the goss and we both sniggered at my dressing down by the hotel owner and bringing disrepute to his establishment. Breakfast was served with a black look and indifference and we noticed that the owner shoo-ed his teenage daughter who was waitressing away from our table and over instead to the tables taken by married couples. Each day, we'd all meet up on the mountain lodge for lunch despite my friend being not as enamoured with her HR. Me and my HR dismissing the wonders of skiing and with total avoidance of breaking any limbs, we headed off to Andorra's capital each afternoon for a spa and jacuzzi session. And then each night we'd sample the delights of cheese fondues followed by dancing to 'Hungry Heart' by Bruce Springsteen and laugh at the limitations of the DJ's record collection.
No, you can stick skiing as far as I'm concerned. Give me a warm climate with a Mediterranean vista, a pool and a good book to read with not a pair of salopettes in sight....