That was it, it’s over… the holiday week in Les Deux Alpes in the French Alpes. It promised to be an exciting week with lots of new impulses and experiences. Boy did last week live up to these expectations! Join me in my adventures as I tell you about my very first skiing trip in this blog called “The perfect adventure” in 3 parts. Enjoy part 1 and stay tuned for the rest!
Friday the 1st of March – When the night is young
It’s 5 PM, I can hear mom and dad hustling around the house. I’m sitting in my room playing with my favorite teddy bear, quietly but still excited. Tonight we will leave on my very first skiing trip. Although most of the bags have been packed already by my mom earlier, there is still a vibe going around the house. “Did you charge the battery of the Go-Pro?” I hear my dad call out to my brother. “Relax dad, both batteries are fully charged and I packed the helmet attachment gear as well” my brother replies. “Damn it guys, can we finally get everything in the car please? I need to get my 6 hours of sleep before we leave!” my dad cries out. “I can’t” my mother replies from the kitchen, “I’m making the sandwiches”. That kind of vibe… you all know what it’s like I’m sure?
7 PM, all is quiet, dad just got to bed in the room next door and I decide to make some noise. I can’t handle the excitement anymore. Mom is trying to hush me “be quit Jerom, dad needs to sleep” – but I can’t be bothered. My excitement for this trip is too high. So mom brings me back down and lies me down on the sofa. I calm down but I’m not asleep. The peace returns until midnight. That’s when my brother goes upstairs to wake my dad. 1 hour later we are on our way… burning the midnight oil.
15 minutes out my dad checks the glove compartment to make sure his wallet is in there. He knows it is because he put it there himself yesterday afternoon but nonetheless he needs to double check if it hasn’t miraculously vanished or got stolen by leprechauns overnight. It’s still there. Inspired by the double check of my dad my brother bravely asks: “Dad, did I need to bring my Identity Card?”. What followed was a U-Turn on a poorly lit road near the Lutoza French Fries factory in Leuze and a loud lecture by my dad on “sense of responsibility” and “the purpose of an ID-card when traveling”. Roughly 30 minutes later followed by a poor joke by my dad saying “I’m getting the impression I’ve been here before today”… 20 km done (60 actually), 880 km to go.
Saturday 2nd of March – No mustard nor Champagne
Day breaks and we are already close to Dijon in France. No time to stop for mustard. We’ve had a short stop around Reims but we didn’t pick up any champagne either over there. Determined to get to our destination before noon and before all the other tourist arrive, my family is focused on the road and not on all the great places we drive by at 130km per hour on the French highways. About 150 km further, just before Lyon we stop a second time for petrol, a bio-break and a coffee. Mom isn’t feeling too well. Car sickness struck her and she moves to the front of the car putting my brother in the back next to me. Great, now I can keep him awake instead of mom! Hey, I deserve this right as I’ve been a good boy so far. Although I haven’t slept at all I’ve kept myself busy with my teddy bears and toys making sure I don’t distract my dad too much while he’s driving. Bro’s ok with it, he puts his feet in my lap and doesn’t bother with my pushing and pulling them, he goes to sleep anyway on the back seat.
After a brief third stop at the beginning of the Alps and some slower traffic when entering the mountains, we finally start our ascent towards the mountain village. The snowy mountains rise from the ground like ancient giants that have seen it all. We see the altitude meter on the gps of the car steadily increase with every kilometer as we get closer to our final destination. 900 meters above sea level, 950, 1000. The meandering road turns and turns and each turn is numbered descendant as we ascend. Curve N° 5, N° 4, N° 3, N° 2 and finally, just as we go around curve N° 1 we see the village of Les Deux Alpes rise up in front of us. It’s half past 9 in the morning and we have arrived. It was the smoothest drive ever! Mom puts on my shoes and my jacket and there I am, surrounded by snow piled up so high that I can’t see what’s behind it. This is great!
The apartment is ready by 10AM so we can start unpacking quite quickly. Once our bags are in the apartment we head out to get the ski-passes and to the ski-gear rental. The rest of the afternoon we use to explore the village, have a drink at the bottom of the slopes and to go grocery shopping. We have our diner at 6PM and by 8PM everyone’s in bed – tired but satisfied… tomorrow I’ll be hitting the slopes for the very first time and in my dreams I’m already going downhill over the snowy mountains.
Sunday 3rd of March – I believe I can fly
It’s 7AM when dad pulls open the curtains. The sun shines into the apartment and the smell of fresh brewed coffee fills the room. Mom whips up some eggs and toast, although I prefer to stick to my yogurt and bread – no eggs for me ma’am, no thank you. A quick shower and a pass of the toothbrush before the battle with the ski-outfit can start. Putting on this outfit is quite the ordeal I must admit. My parents bought me socks that run all the way up to my belly… “tights” I believe they’re called… and boy do these things live up to their name. Then my shirt, and another shirt… ski pants with suspenders… a sweater and finally my flashy new ski-jacket… 15 minutes later I’m dressed and already sweating like a pig… What is the place? The artic?
We head out towards the ski lifts… What? No stroller? Are you kidding me? I have to walk? Pfffttt and I’m already so hot. Mom helps we walk while my brother and my father carry the backpacks, the helmets, the skis, the ski poles – I laugh… they look like a couple of mules. Luckily we don’t have to wait in line to enter the ski-lift. The friendly lady lets us in through the special entrance where the ski-schools normally enter and we get to cut the line of a zillion people. “This is a real VIP treatment we’re getting here” my dad says. People are friendly about it and they let us pass with a smile. Some of these people have been standing in line for over 30 minutes and not a single soul that complains about the fact that we move in front of them.
We step into the ski lift and 16 more people squeeze in with us. As the lift leaves the lift-station I can see the mountains rise up in front of me and I’m struck with awe and daze. Swiftly and quietly we rise up to the top of the mountain. The view is magnificent and below we can see the first skiers come down the slopes like tiny colorful ants making their way back to their nest. 10 minutes later we reach the middle station at 2600 meters above sea level. We step out of the closed confinement of the metal box that pulled us up into the wide open spaciousness of the mighty French alps. We walk towards the “Pano Bar” near the lift-station where mom and I settle in on the comfy fatboy outdoor pillows with a grand view on the mountains. Tibo and dad hit the slopes on their own as we enjoy the sun and the “va-et-vient” of the skiers coming in for a quick coffee or a hot chocolate with whipped cream.
Around noon my dad and my brother arrive back at the Pano Bar where mom and I spent our morning gazing at the skiers coming and going. We head back towards the middle station to take the lift back down to the village of Les Deux Alpes where we have an appointment with my dualski instructor – Valentin – could he have a more French sounding name?
It’s half past 12 and the door of the French Ski School office opens. A young guy, I guess in his mid-twenties, comes out, dressed in the typical flashy red ESF-outfit pushing a small cart with on top of it a bright white “dualski”. This is going to be my new means of transportation for the coming days. The black steel contraption with the aerodynamic white seat on top of looks really cool and fast. The friendly Valentin introduces himself and so do we. He’s one of 4 “Handi-ski” instructors in Les Deux Alpes and during the season he does this every day, twice a day. He takes us to the catacombs of the ski-station where we enter an elevator that leads directly to the boarding area of the ski-lifts. We enter a lift on the opposite side from where all the regular skiers enter, just as it arrives back down into the ski-lift station. “This is a super-VIP treatment” my dad remarks. The doors close and it’s just the 5 of us in there with the dualski – I can get used to this. Unlike the full ride up this morning, this is a very comfortable ride up.
We exit on the middle station to immediately board another lift towards the glacier at 3200 meter above sea level – same super-VIP treatment! As we exit the ski-station on the glacier I can’t believe my eyes. The sky is steel blue and all I can see is white mountains all around us. In the distance, Valentin points out the top of the Mont-Blanc, rising over 4800 meter above sea level, the highest mountain of the Alps and the whole of Europe for that matter. What a view!
Valentin starts preparing the dualski by taking the small cart off and by putting it on two skis that look like regular skis to me. He folds open the seat and dad lifts me in. Valentin puts extra foam padding behind my back and on both sides of my legs before he puts a water and wind proof cover over my legs and upper body. All the straps are firmly tightened and I’m ready to go! My French new best friend clicks on his own skis and with a seemingly effortless push we are off.
Within seconds we are racing down the glacier, the wind in my face and the sun in my eyes. I’m wearing dad’s sunglasses and although they are a bit big for me, they look cool and prevent me from being blinded by the brightness of the sun reflecting on the perfectly white snow carpet all around me. This is fantastic! Better than I ever dreamt or imagined. I’m laughing like crazy due to the sinking feeling in my stomach just like I’m on a roller coaster. The speed and the smooth curving down the glacier makes me feel as free like a bird. Look mom, your little angel can fly!
As we get down the slope we arrive at another ski-lift. This time it’s a regular seated ski-lift. I can tell by the puzzled look on my dad’s face that he is wondering how on earth I’m going to go onto this one? But It’s quickly clear that Valentin is an experienced dualski instructor. The lift operator slows down the lift as we approach and the seat of the dualski fits perfectly on the seat of the lift. The safety bar closes and we’re off to the top of the mountain again.
The second run is as much fun as the first until all of a sudden Valentin asks my dad to take over. With a fair amount of uncertainty and self-doubt, my dad takes on the challenge and grabs the handles of the dual ski as he hands his ski poles over to Valentin. “It’s just like handling a wheelbarrow” Valentin says to my dad. Somehow this doesn’t make me feel very comfortable as I’ve seen how clumsy dad can be with a wheelbarrow when he’s working in the garden. But it’s ok, I’m giving him some credit for his very first run. It’s not nearly as fast as with Valentin but that’s fine, I get to catch my breath a little as I’m sure my dad is holding his right now.
Dad giving it a try with the dualski
We make several more runs in the afternoon and Valentin let’s dad take over on the easy slopes that have little decline. I’m having the time of my life! Before we know it, it’s 2.30 PM and we reach the bottom of the slopes back in Les Deux Alpes. Boy what a ride! We say goodbye to Valentin who needs to run as he has another lesson to give. As we head back up the mountain to the middle station, I’m still trembling with excitement from what just happened, what an experience… I can’t wait until tomorrow when I get to go again!
As mom and I settle in the Pano bar again and Tibo and dad head out for another run on their own, the DJ sets in and the music starts playing louder and louder… looks like we are going to have an après-ski party up here – great! It’s 4 PM when dad and Tibo join us and the party is already well on its way. The place is crowded with people laughing and dancing to the beats of the resident DJ. At 5 Pm we head back down. Mom and I take the lift down to the village and dad skis down with Tibo.
We get back to the apartment and I stay there with my brother as mom and dad go grocery shopping for dinner – chicken and pasta tonight, what better way to end a wonderful day? It’s not even 8 PM when I put my head into my pillow and minutes later I’m fast asleep. I dream about everything that happened to me today. The movie keeps playing in my head – all these experiences, all these emotions, all these impressions… What I day… I can’t wait until tomorrow!
Monday 4th of March – It isn’t all gold that shines
Our second day in Les Deux Alpes starts with a similar ritual as day one. After breakfast we head up the mountain with the ski-lift. Mom and I will spend the morning in the Pano-bar while dad and Tibo hit the slopes on their own.
Yesterday we agreed with Valentin that is would be better if he would meet us at the middle station instead of us coming back down to meet him in the square in front of the ESF building. So we agreed to meet him at the entrance at 12.45 to take the second lift up to the glacier again together.
However, the weather was nothing like the day before. The wind was blowing heavily and it blew the snow over the mountain from the ground up. So mom and I decided it would be best to sit inside the bar. She would indulge herself with a hot chocolate with whipped cream and I would stick to my regular lemonade. Around 11.30 AM Tibo and dad joined us in the bar. The morning skiing had been quite tough. It started to snow now and the visibility was becoming quite poor. The wind made it feel like minus 10° Celsius on the slopes.
At noon we went up to the restaurant above the Pano-bar for a very expensive “mac and cheese” but dad brought me a cheesecake and that made everything better – boy do I love cheesecake! The restaurant was very crowded at this time of day so we moved out as soon as we were finished and started to walk back to the middle-station. Although this was hardly a 50 meter walk, the wind, the snow, the uphill walk in the increasingly deeper snow made it feel like an artic expedition. Dad carried me up the hill and mom and Tibo carried the skiing gear and the backpack. As soon as we reached the top of the hill dad had to take a knee for a minute. Maybe the mac and cheese wasn’t such a bright idea after all?
We sought refuge inside the middle station but with doors open at all sides of this building, there was little comfort to find in this cold, metal building with rubber mats on the steel floor construction. I have to be honest, I wasn’t at my best. The cold hadn’t helped my temper and I was starting to get fed up with it all. It’s funny how my temper seems to have a mirroring effect on the rest of my family members – especially since Valentin was running late as we were seemingly already fighting the elements of nature inside this desolate building.
Only 10 minutes after the agreed time Valentin showed up with a big smile on his face as if this was summer at the beach – “Salut, tout le monde, tout vas bien aujourd’hui?” he asked. Slightly ashamed of our negative state of mind, we put on our happy faces and welcomed him with a big smile back. “The weather is not that great and the ski-lift to the glacier is closed” he said. “I’m afraid we’ll have to depart from here if that’s ok” Valentin said. So we could have saved ourselves the artic expedition as we could have stayed inside the cozy but crowded restaurant – if only we had taken the effort to check if the ski-lift going up to the glacier was working or not. Ah well, lessons learned I guess.
We exited the middle station on the other side and got geared up to hit the slopes. Although I was tucked in quite nicely in the dualski seat with the cover over my legs and my Eskimo-outfit, I still felt like this wasn’t going to be all that fun today. I cried out and mom hushed me saying that it was going to be OK and that was going to have a lot of fun just like yesterday. Somehow it didn’t feel like yesterday at all. It had started to snow heavily in the meanwhile and although the only part of my body that wasn’t covered was the tip of my nose, it felt like they were sticking dozens of needles in it at once.
A kick of the skis of Valentin and we were off. Down the slope between the middle-station and the pano-bar. The snow was so heavy now that you couldn’t see two meters in front of you so dad told Valentin to take it really slow as mom was having a hard time keeping up in this weather. About 150 meters down the slope she fell for a first time hurting her right knee as she hit a bump in the snow that was invisible to her. But mom is strong and it takes more than one bump in the road to take her down! Another 300 meters down the slope a second bump was the one too many for mom and she couldn’t get up anymore. She hit the same knee a second time and some other skiers had to liberate her from her awkward position while dad was trying to run up the hill like a penguin with his skis on. We moved mom carefully to the side of the slope so that she would be in a collision path of other skiers. The snow was coming down in piles by now and the cold wind wasn’t helping either. What to do now? I was crying because I felt cold and uncomfortable, mom was lying there getting covered with snow and there was no way back up and the closest lift was still a kilometer away.
Although mom reckoned she would be alright if we gave her a minute, 5 minutes past and she still wasn’t able to stand up with her busted knee. As I was also crying and the weather wasn’t improving at all we had to take a tough decision. Valentin called the rescue service who would take about 15 minutes to get there to evacuate mom of the mountain. As I was getting in a state of complete disorder, and with moms consent, we agreed to head further down and leave mom on the hill to wait for the rescue service to arrive.
It still took us almost an hour of fighting with the elements to get down safely – needless to say dad didn’t take over the dualski this time. He’s a pretty good skier but still he arrived down in the village 10 minutes after I did with Valentin and my brother. As soon as we got down we tried to call mom but got no answer. So Valentin called the rescue service to make sure she had been taken care of. They told him that, due to the severe weather, the rescue service could send a helicopter to get her down so they had to put her on a stretcher behind a snow scooter to get her down. In this weather, this must have been an nightmare for her!
Dad dropped me and my brother off at the apartment and went to look for mom at the medical center. About 3 and half hours later mom and dad where back at the apartment. The medical center had been overloaded with broken legs, busted knees and dislocated shoulders. The four doctors on duty had had their hands full and the x-ray machine had been working overtime. Luckily mom only suffered a torn meniscus – a firm brace around her knee and some painkillers would do the trick and maybe, in a day or two she might be able to ski again.
As I don’t have any dualski sessions scheduled for tomorrow or Wednesday, it looks like mom and I might be staying down the next two days. I’m not upset about it at all. The warm apartment feels like home already and now that mom is back our family is re-united and that’s all we need right? Maybe, if mom is OK tomorrow, she can put me in the stroller and go shopping with me in town? Yes, I think I’ll like that – Sounds like a plan!
Dinner, a warm bath and then to bed… tomorrow will be a better day – but hey, one little setback like this is not going to spoil our holiday here. And come to think of it… we did have another victory as a family today… while mom and dad were at the medical center, my brother Tibo had the privilege and pleasure to change my dirty diapers… twice!
Stay tuned for the rest of my week in part 2 and part 3 of this blog soon!
Have a great weekend!