A note on skiing for those who have never skied..

I first touched snow during 2009 winter in Paris at the age of 22. It felt funny how the white snow became wet water on my hands. Having lived my entire life in a tropical country I surely got excited. I did all the things I could imagined: made snowmen, made snow angels, did snow fights, opened my mouth up in the air until I got sore throat, etc. But that was it.

How it all began

When I arrived in Grenoble in 2011, people’s perception about snow and winter was different. Grenoblois – in general – associate snow with mountain, ski, snowboard, ski, raquettes, ski, oh and did I mention ski?

Trying to fit in a new environment I had the “pressure” to give it a try. Well when every weekend most of your friends talk about going skiing and on monday they would tell you about how awesome their ski experience was..

So I did try.

I enrolled in a student ski club called ecole de glisse (sliding school?). 50€ for a year and then for every outing I had to pay for the bus trip and the materials rent. Also not to mention the forfait or the ticket to go to the higher altitude. It was expensive for my student budget but it supposed to be supervised and insurance included (I didn’t have my supplementary insurance back then).

I didn’t do much on my first lesson. I learnt how to slide and break, but of course on a baby track I could never go too fast. I insisted that I had never skied before so that I would like to be put on a super amateur group. I realized that their notion on super amateur was different from mine. They could not understand that an adult could have zero ability on skiing so even though I was in the débutant group most of the people had at least try skiing before.

I did my second lesson a week after my first. Each week we had different tutor. This time the tutor felt that we were ready to go up and taste the real track. We hop on the ski-lift (tire-fesses = an ass pull since the machine literally pull your ass up to higher altitude). I got nervous and it wasn’t good. The tutor told us to slide down and one by one we did. Well if you saw me from the side you would say that I wasn’t going that fast; I wasn’t. But it did feel like I slide down real fast. I couldn’t control myself and my anxiety took over. In order not to hit some people who stop comfortably in the middle of the track I made myself fall. I know that I wasn’t fast because my ski were not detached from my feet. I rolled down and I heard a cracking sound on my right knee. I knew immediately that shit happened. The tutor was still calm and convinced me (althought it looked like he was convinving himself more) that it was nothing. I could barely walk and after two hours I couldn’t walk at all. They brought me to a small clinic down at the station. The radiology image didn’t show anything and I referred to do an MRI at the hospital. The public hospital was free but the waiting time was crazy. I had to wait a month for each consultation. The verdict was I broke my internal cross ligament on my right knee.

Long story short I learnt a bunch of french medical vocabularies and got a surgery (I opted for half anesthesia and woke up during my surgery) and swore that I would never ski again. It was on 2012 and now in 2017 I broke my oath – well partially.

More on technical side

After my surgery I had to do a year of physiotherapy for my knee and I started doing more physical activities to strengthen my knee. In 2014, two years after my surgery – well even now after five years – I still felt something on my knee and had to regularly crack it in the morning. On that same year, I discovered that there are more than downhill ski, and I would like to share this information to those whom this may concern – like me previously.

When you live in France, no one, I mean no one would teach you or inform you or explain to you unless: 1. you ask or 2. you are attractive enough so they want to catch your attention – which was not my case — or perhaps?

So for me skiing is when you have to attach two long thin boards – the ski – on your feet and then slide with them. In my knowledge there are three -maybe there are more?- different type of ski activities:

  1. Downhill ski or Alpine ski (ski de piste/ski alpin/ski de descente)
    Downhill ski must be the most known ski activity. This was my first ski activity that also broke my knee. The idea is to go to a ski station that is generally located in higher altitude covered with a lot of snow. There are machines: ski lifts and teleski that take you higher and then you slide down from there – hence the name downhill. You don’t need to go up by yourself, you only need to slide down.With the higher altitude, the slope of the mountain is sharper. The tracks are grouped into colors ranging from baby, green, blue, red, and black, with baby is the easiest and black is the hardest. Some stations like to add more colors as they define themselves.The ski board has about 10 to 15cm width and length of about your height plus 10 to 20cm but again it depends on your level.Some of the well-known downhill ski stations around Grenoble are:
    – Les sept laux (http://www.les7laux.com/fr/index.aspx),
    – Les deux alpes (http://www.les2alpes.com/en),
    – Chamrousse
    – Villard de lans
    – L’Alpe du grande serre
    – L’Alpe d’huezDuring ski season, the transaltitude (http://www.transaltitude.fr/en/skiligne/) bus ensure the transportation to these ski stations  in case you don’t have a car. Downhill ski is in general more expensive than cross-country ski for example. The bus and the ticket cost at least 30€ for one trip. Besides these stations there are numerous others smaller stations (e.g. Corrençon and Sappey en Chartreuse) to discover and perhaps cost less expensive.
  2. Cross-country ski or Nordic ski (ski de fond/ski nordique)
    The term nordic came from the Scandinavian, the root of this activity. Cross-country ski basically is performed in lower altitude valley with less or no slope. There is no teleski or ski lift to take us up so if you want to slide down you have to slide up first. For this reason the cross-country ski requires more physical stamina but provides less risk than downhill ski.After my surgery I started to learn how to do this ski. In general the ski boards for cross-country ski are thinner than those of downhill ski. There are two types of ski de fond: classique and skating.
    Classique refers to the ski de fond where you walk and slide on the track. The ski boards for classique are longer than those of skating. It requires lots of stamina and in general is slower than skating.
    – Skating refers to the ski de fond where you skate like on ice skating. The boards are shorter than classique with its length more or less is the height of the user.Since the activity is often done in lower altitude the season is rather shorter because snow disappear faster in lower altitude. The coloration of the tracks are similar with those of downhill. Some well-known area to do ski de fond are – but not limited to -: Corrençon (Vercors), Autrans (Vercors), Sappey (Chartreuse) and Col de Porte  (Chartreuse). More stories on ski de fond that I do regularly now can be found here. The ticket to enter to the station is less expensive than the one of downhill. For remarks, ski nordique is not limited to ski de fond.
  3. Touring ski (ski de randonnée)
    Touring ski is basically to go out to the mountain with your ski. There are no stations, no helps, no nothing. You go up, you slide down as you want. Therefore to do this you have to at least master the basics of skiing. Since there’s no limitation you can discover anything. This activity has to be performed carefully (especially related to the avalanche risk). I don’t think I would ever able to do this.

Besides ski activities, during snow season we can also do:

  1. Snowboard: usually performed at the same station with downhill ski. Instead of using two ski boards it uses only one large width board. I have never done this before.
  2. Raquettes/snowshoes: are walking on the snow to the mountain areas with two specially made snowshoes. I often do this when I go to the mountains with friends who do touring ski.

P.S. My downhill accident was an unfortunate occasion and should not make you afraid to try the activity 🙂

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4 thoughts on “A note on skiing for those who have never skied..

  1. How I LOVED this post! I learned to ski when I was 8 but to be frank I never ever made friends with sliding either on ice (skates) or on snow (ski) … so I am the worlds worst experienced skier. Last year, not skiing but walking I slid on a slope in Edinburgh Scotland (it has an extinct volcano called Arthur’s Seat which sits within the city) and I heard that noise … mine was two broken bones. I’m now living in Grenoble and people keep trying to get me out on the slopes and I am resolute that I am happy not sliding! Loved this, love your blog!

    • Oh how awesome! I didn’t get the chance to visit Arthur’s Seat 😦 Some of my friends and I created an anti-ski club after I broke my knee but it didn’t last long! I hope you enjoy living in Grenoble!

      • I’m loving it … it’s only for 6 months but I am familiar with the city since I visit typically three times a year. Being here is a bit of a dream (but I would gladly join your anti-skiing club!!)

  2. Pingback: Cross-country skiing around Grenoble | johanes.chandra

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