The weather is getting warmer and we’ve actually had days without clouds or rain. I was able to have cold drinks on the cafe terraces on the squares of Valence and watch the sun setting behind the castle on the cliff. However, the warm weather also means that the ski season is coming to an end, so this past Saturday me and Canadian assistant friend Lauren went to Val Thorens.
Val Thorens is at an altitude of 2,300 meters (or 7,545 feet) and is the highest ski station in Europe. This means that is has a long season, so although it was light jacket weather in Valence there was still snow on the ground at Val Thorens and cold wind in my face. It’s part of the Trois Vallées (Three Valleys), a huge ski area with 410 miles of slopes. Since we were only there for a day, I didn’t venture outside of Val Thorens and the adjoining Orelle ski areas. We actually started in Orelle, as it seemed to have the main parking lot for buses, and then took the longest télécabine in the world to the slopes. I’m so glad I’m not afraid of heights, because that was quite the long and dizzying ride up the mountain.
I took a few runs at Orelle to warm up and remember how to turn and important things like that. I feel like I have progressed a lot with snowboarding since I got to France. I can confidently go down all blue slopes and tumble in a less elegant fashion on the easier reds. There probably won’t be a day when I feel like going down a black in the Alps, but for a girl from Oklahoma I think I do pretty well. I did have a somewhat painful fall near the end when my legs were so tired that I caught an edge and landed flat on my back on an icy area. But considering I was having those every five minutes my first snowboarding trip here, I’ll call the day a success.
I had read online before our trip that about 70% of the Val Thorens skiers were foreigners, and it turned out to be accurate as I barely heard any French. It’s pretty close to the border of Italy, so I bet a lot of people come over that way. They all seemed to be in massive skiing groups. It’s not unusual to see a group of four or five people skiing together, but I literally saw a group of 15. And when I’m doing my control-freak S-turns down a steep incline with a few moguls and a group of 15 expert German skiers comes speeding down the slopes I get a little thrown off. Yet it really wasn’t that crowded and there were a couple of runs I did where I didn’t see a single other person.
One thing that’s different about skiing/snowboarding in the Alps is that the slopes are incredibly long. There might only be two or three coming off a lift, but they’ll be at least twice as long as a slope in New Mexico. And just a side note, when I told people that I usually went snowboarding in New Mexico they seemed shocked that there were any mountains and asked if I had to dodge cacti. I realize my geography of France is not perfect, but I’m always a little surprised at the perception of the United States here. In one of my classes a teacher printed off maps of the USA for the students to find Oklahoma. I have no clue where she got this map, because on it everything below Oklahoma City had been absorbed by Texas and the state was more like a frying pan than its usual saucepan shape.
I’m not sure what I’m going to do with my snowboard. It’s a great board and I’d love to keep it, but I need to think realistically about moving back to the States and the fact that I already have a board back home. If anyone reading this might be interested in buying it, it’s a Rome Blue 155 board and was only used once before I bought it. It looks like this, has Hammer bindings, is made in Austria, and would only cost you 150 euros. Anyway, that’s the end of my classified ad.
After the day of snowboarding I was exhausted and took it easy that night. I was a little sore the next day, but after some stretching I’m fine. No bruises even! I got a pear hot chocolate at the tea shop yesterday and then a coke at the pub. Today is beautiful, so I think I’m going to go to the park now and enjoy the sun.