It was late on a Friday night that we set off for Tignes, France. A crowded pusser’s waggon was filled with warm kit, skis and excited bootnecks. I felt somewhat intimidated by my fellow skiers owning their own equipment, until I discovered Captain Stirling only had that many pairs of skis as he’d ‘’upcycled’ several pairs from a skip a few weeks before.
As we approached the Alps, after a 14-hour journey, the snow was already so thick that we had to fit snow chains much earlier than expected. Over half an hour of swearing and cigarettes, the chains were (mostly) fitted and we continued up the hill, albeit with some rather strange noises. Thus proving, ‘the team works’!
We arrived at our accommodation only a few hours prior to the road from Bourg St Maurice being shut due to worsening conditions. Once the wagon had been emptied and a suitable parking spot had been found, we began preparing scran. We were pleasantly surprised by the grots: proper beds and a huge living space – not the cot beds and pusser’s slugs we’d feared. That night the eight of us sat down to fajita and a few wets…
The snow everywhere was incredible. The sides of the roads had been built up several meters above head height in some places, and our first floor windows were covered: we could even walk from the road to the first-floor balcony. This was all well and good until we realised it meant we couldn’t open any bedroom windows, and would have to spend the nights melting in the heat of our hotel room. This was the heaviest snow the region had seen in over forty years.
We woke early the next morning and the more experienced skiers within the team hit the slopes under their own steam, whilst I navigated my way to the beginner’s lessons. It was a rough start, visibility was poor, and I kept disappearing into banks of powder. But, like riding a bike, what little skiing proficiency I once had returned throughout the day, and thankfully I wasn’t the only one struggling. The experienced skiers and snowboarders managed to go a little off-piste and spent much of their day finding their way through the incessant blizzards and back to the accommodation. It truly was ‘dumping down.’
The second day was thus a snow sports write-off. With the snow storm having reached epic proportions, the avalanche risk was now at its highest possible rating, and nearly the whole resort was closed. Not wanting to waste the day, a few of us went into the centre of Val Claret for some wets and to recce the local nightlife.
Conditions had improved drastically for the third and fourth day. The snow fall had subsided, more and more pistes were being opened and visibility was excellent. The Unit team competed in their respective races and secured silver in the Giant Slalom (GS), narrowly missing out on a podium place in the Slalom. Meanwhile, I continued with my free lessons, making rapid progress and eyeing up my own silver-wear in the novice race.
As my four-day novice package had finished, day five was the only day I had nothing organised. All but one of us, who had his own intermediate race, headed up one of the many pistes the Espace Killy region has to offer. My more experienced ‘oppos’ took me out for the day and before I knew it, I was face to face with the worst down-hill mogul run I’d ever encountered. With nothing but my EHIC card to protect me, I made it in one piece all the way down into Val D’Isere for lunch. At this stage I felt pretty well prepared for my novice race.
I awoke on the final day to find less than favourable conditions, but nevertheless, I was excited to put my new-found confidence to the test. With ‘Eye of the Tiger’ playing in the grot, I prepared for my race as the rest of the group left for theirs. After a few practice runs down some difficult slopes, and one particularly spine bending crash on a black run, I was at bib collection at the bottom of the race piste.
At 1400, with visibility getting worse and a blizzard on the horizon, I went through the start gate at the top of the course and promised myself either a podium position or an epic wipe-out. Using everything I had learnt from the previous five days, I cut my way down , bouncing between flags carving up snow, crossing the finish line tucked up in a ball (or at least that’s how I remembered it…).