Cross country skiing has long interested me and has been on my to-do list for ages. I love watching the biathlon on Eurosport and marvel at how these phenomenal athletes control their heart rates in order to shoot with un-erring accuracy having just skied so hard uphill. So last week we finally decided to give it a go.
It’s been a long time since we were complete novices at any snow sport and as such we decided to have a private 2-to-1 lesson with ESF ski school, and wow, it was well worth it. We had a two-hour lunchtime lesson which costs €98 for 2 people and this was a great way to get started at was a completely new sport to us.
I have skied for 30 years and Harrison, my son, has skied since the age of 4 (he’s nearly 17 now), so we were both a bit nervous about having a lesson and worried about being total muppets! But it’s good to get out of your comfort zone from time to time.
We were to meet our instructor, Benjamin, at the ESF meeting point at Les Bergers (by the Marmottes lift) at 12.30 for our two-hour lesson. Arriving nice and early in eager anticipation with Nordic classic skis in hand, hydration backpacks on and heart rate monitors switched on.
Straight from the get-go Benjamin was great and really put us at ease. A really cool guy with a great attitude, brilliant coaching point delivery and great English, and annoyingly good at cross-country skiing as well. So a quick demonstration of how to put the skis on with their single toe bindings (no heel bindings) and we were off. We started making our way the wrong way up the RifNel beginners slope, en-route to the start of the Nordic trails up at the DMC area.
It was a bit tricky to begin with as the skis feel really narrow after wearing carving skis for years, they are only about 2” wide. But with Benjamin's expert guidance I soon stopped looking like Bambi-on-ice and made surprisingly good headway. We stopped at regular intervals to be shown different techniques for making our way up hill. Once we got to the DMC we made our way to the Nordic trails start point. The Nordic trails are wonderfully groomed and have a preformed “track” made in them by the piste bashers of SATASKI, there are two on each track, an up track and a down track. Being in France we drove on the right, making good common sense, that way you don’t have any head-on incidences with fellow XC skiers on their way down.
We were learning “classic” cross country skiing (straight line stuff) the skating technique used by many biathletes is the advanced level and you work your way up to this. The preformed tracks really help with the steering and left us to concentrate on the skill set required to ski uphill. Benjamin made sure we were ok at regular intervals and we stopped to grab a quick drink as necessary (it’s thirsty work) and the hydration reservoir rucksacks were a godsend.
Once we had made our way up the trail a bit we stopped and Benjamin showed us how to ski back down the trail with one ski in the “track” and one ski as a snowplough type brake. How difficult can it be we thought? Trickier than he made it look let me tell you! But with some great instruction we managed to control our speed and subsequent stop, happy days. Continuing upwards with regular descents to practice our stopping technique we improved with every practice run.
Bearing in mind it was half-term week and resort was absolutely rammed, the Nordic trails were virtually deserted, I think we saw about 10 other Nordic skiers in the whole time we were out. It really is the best way to get out and see the mountain, well away from the madding crowd.
We were heading up to the “hippodrome” area (a purpose groomed XC ski track) up towards the DMC lift station, which is a fantastic area solely for XC skiers. A looping track with uphill and downhill sections, this is a great facility and great fun.
Time was flying by – such was the fun of it all – and with regular “coaching tips” from Benjamin our skills were on a fast-improving curve.
We started to make our way back down to the DMC bowl area initially with one ski in the track and one as a snowplough, but then Benjamin upped the stakes and it was time for both skis out of the track and ski a-la snowplough down the trail. After a great bit of coaching and not willing to be left behind by Harrison (we are uber-competitive) I was off out of the tracks and actually, somewhat surprisingly, in control. We made our way down the start of the trails and after loads more coaching tips our lesson was sadly at a close. Two hours had flown by under the fabulous guidance of ESF’s Benjamin, and such was our confidence with what we had learnt that we said our farewells to Benjamin and had another crack at the trails.
Onwards and upwards…
I have to thoroughly recommend XC skiing and I genuinely can’t speak highly enough of ESF’s Benjamin. An absolute legend who made Harrison and I feel totally comfortable and thanks to his great coaching techniques we now consider XC skiing as being “in our locker” of snow sports…
Will I be doing it again? Oh yes, I’ve already been down to Grenoble to the Decathlon store and kitted myself out, and thanks to Benjamin it’s not a case of “all the gear, no idea”...
Check out the video to see what it’s all about and for more information or to book, contact ESF Alpe d'Huez.
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