A gay ski trip to the French Alps

I’ve always been a bit dubious about Mario’s holiday choices — his destinations generally seem to include the words “gay cruise” — so when he suggested a ski trip I was at first a little hesitant.

After having learnt to ski on infrequent family holidays in Australia, since moving to London I hadn’t really got into the swing of regular winter mini-breaks to the ski resorts of Europe. By the time you add on ski hire, lift passes and new thermals, that amazing “cheap deal” always seems to end up as quite an expensive holiday.

Mario assured me that this was different — a totally all-inclusive package to one of the top ski resorts in France. He had rounded up a group of 9 gays — all of fairly limited skiing ability.

Our flight out of Gatwick was early. Really early. Mario marshalled us together at the check in desk — all present in body, even if the coffee had yet to kick-start our personalities.

After a short flight to Grenoble and a (relatively) painless coach transfer, we arrived at our hotel in Les Deaux Alpes.

I am always slightly taken aback by the overwhelming beauty of the French Alps — endless soaring peaks, their snow-covered slopes so dazzling white that it almost hurts to look at them.

We had booked an all-inclusive Club Med ski package — my first experience of Club Med. The organisation was impressive — hire gear and lessons were quickly sorted and we were soon settling into the bar to work our way through the cocktail menu.

This was my first “all-inclusive” package holiday and I hadn’t quite appreciated what that meant — but at dinner on our first night it became clear… all the food and all the alcohol was included… as much as you want! I’m not known for my self-restraint at the best of times, but this was a recipe for disaster.

Monday was our first day out on the slopes and there was quite a bit of pressure. Bill, Nico and I had all opted for lessons at level 3B for which the criteria was “must be able to parallel turn”. There was about 30 people that had opted for 3B so after getting us up the chairlift and a few warm up runs, the instructors from Ecole du Ski Français announced that we would have an individual assessment so that we could be placed in the right groups for our skill level.

I always get quite nervous in any form of assessment, and I felt totally unprepared for this one. Everyone had to do a solo run down a relatively easy slope and would then be drafted into group 1, 2 or 3 (1 was the best, 3 was the worst). Nico, Bill and I all ended up in 3 which I was a little embarrassed about but also secretly glad. Our instructor was Geraldine who spoke a lot of french and a little english. Geraldine announced that before we began there were 3 people in the group who would have to transfer to a lower group as they weren’t good enough to ski with her — thankfully we made the cut.

Things didn’t get off to the best start — I kind of panicked a bit getting on to a chairlift and ended up in completely the wrong position and a guy sitting on top of me as the chairlift took off. It all happened quite quickly but the poor guy ended up being pushed off the chairlift and having to be helped back to the start of the queue — I may have been the one that pushed him off. It was an awkward ride up the mountain as his friends on either side of me muttered angrily to each other — one of the few times that I felt thankful that I can not speak french.

The conditions were spectacular — cold, but lots of snow and clear skies. Geraldine was a patient instructor and spent a lot of time correcting our poor techniques and bad habits. Having an instructor constantly telling you what you’re doing wrong isn’t great for the self-esteem but it definitely improved my skiing. I seem to have an ability to convince myself that I am bending my knees and turning correctly, but Geraldine clearly saw things differently.

After a hard day of skiing (and a quick drink in the hotel bar to get some feeling back into my face) we generally headed next door to the gym which had a pool, jacuzzi and sauna. It was fairly basic but they did have an outdoor heated pool which was a lot of fun, and it’s amazing how a bit of jacuzzi and sauna time can help to relax tired legs.

One of the unusual features of a Club Med holiday is their enthusiasm for entertainment. Every day had a theme — Monday was “Hats”, Tuesday was “Pirates” etc. — and after dinner every night there was a “spectacular” show. It seems that everyone that worked in the resort has to take some part in the entertainment and you’ve got to give them credit for the commitment and energy that they bring to it. I won’t lie to you, I could probably have done without the shows but this was a family resort and the kids seemed to love it.

Saturday was our last day, and with the lessons finished our group of 9 spent the day skiing together before ending up at Le Pano bar (up towards the glacier). From 15:00 each day they crank the music up and this place goes off — a lot of fun and the perfect way to end a really fantastic week in the snow.

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