Le ski: It’s all downhill from here

Ski tips above the cloudsI grew up in a country where snow was abundant. Even in the southern-most climes of Canada, we have plenty of the white stuff every winter. What we don’t have is mountains. The biggest ski hills in our parts have a vertical drop that’s less than the average apartment building.

Still, I learned to snowplow and do the herringbone at an early age and became a competent if not adventurous skier. The biggest resort we went to back then was Blue Mountain. We would line up forever for the lift, then come zipping down the slopes in two minutes to do it all over again.

None of these things prepared me for skiing in the French Alps. The vertical is, well…vertical. Chair-lifts can feel more like elevators. And most of the pistes require a level of skill that is beyond my comfort zone.

My first experience of skiing in France was at Les 3 Vallées, a massive domaine skiable that claims to be the world’s biggest ski area. I don’t know whether that’s technically true but it certainly felt that way to me on the day I got lost in a blizzard somewhere around 3,000 meters.

My husband learned to ski at Les Ménuires, one of the resorts in the 3 valleys area, shortly after learning to walk. He loves the snow and anything to do with mountains. The higher the better. He was keen to show me around its highest peaks. It was un grand moment in our marriage. Right up there with learning to drive a standard and arguing our way around French Polynesia.

The first shock was the accommodation. The resort was above the tree line, with forests of high-rise buildings perched in a lunar landscape. We stayed in a borrowed apartment that managed to squeeze 2 bedrooms, a bathroom and kitchen-living area into a space about the size of a walk-in closet. I felt claustrophobic from the start.

“Don’t worry, it’s the altitude. Just wait until you get on top of the mountain and see the view,” reassured my husband, ever the optimist.

I have only a vague memory of that first day’s skiing together. So the details are blurry. But I’ll never forget the name of the place where I lost any remaining illusions about my spirit of adventure: Cime de Caron.

To cut to the chase: I lost my way down whatever slope we were on and became immobilized with fear in front of a piste noire (black run for expert skiers). My husband disappeared into the white-out and I ended up, shaking with fear and cold, in some sort of refuge with a snack bar until someone took pity on me and showed me the way to the nearest lift down.

I learned a few important things from that first ski trip:

  1. Always check the plan des pistes (map of ski runs) before you go up to make sure you can get down
  2. Avoid going anywhere with the word ‘cime’ or ‘col’ in the name. It will probably end in tears, or a nosebleed. Or both.
  3. If all else fails, head for the bar

Oh, and one more: never trust my husband if there’s a mountain involved.

I still enjoy skiing from time to time. But I’m a fairweather skier – the conditions have to be just right. Mostly I stick to the blue runs. I can manage the reds if I have to – even if it means sliding down part of the way on my derrière. But there’s only way I’m heading down a piste noire:

How to descend a black run

Et toi? Are you a snow bunny or a lounge lizard? Schuss or snow plow?


  1. George Lewis · March 20, 2014

    I thought I taught you better than that. You must have inherited your Mom’s adventure gene.

    Sent from my iPad


    • MELewis · March 20, 2014

      Ha, ha…you’re probably the reason I was so scared in the first place! 😉

  2. Leana Delle · March 21, 2014

    Lounge lizard here. And I grew up in Collingwood (aka Blue Mountain country)! Cross country was always my choice, and now it’s snowshoeing. Continue to love your blog! 🙂

    • Leana Delle · March 21, 2014

      By the way, I may be traveling to the south of France this summer. Any suggestions?

      • MELewis · March 21, 2014

        All depends on when and what your interests are. In general, August should be avoided throughout the south of France as it’s so packed with (mostly French) tourists. If you do come in peak season, you might be advised to go to the southwest as its less intensively touristy. Or the ‘arrière pays’ in Provence ie not on the coast of Cannes or Nice. Corsica is absolutely stunning if you get the chance – I posted about it last summer: https://francesays.com/tag/corsica/

      • Leana Delle · March 22, 2014

        Great information. Thanks so much for taking the time to fill me in. I appreciate it! 🙂

  3. Greg · March 21, 2014

    The first time I tried snowboarding was at an indoor slope. A big group of us got off at the middle exit of the slope, and we were fannying about for so long that an eagle eyed instructor could tell we were rookies, and said “If you’ve never snowboarded before, you’ll have to go and have lessons on the beginners slope, otherwise you’ll be endangering everybody else here.”
    Full of bravado we all said we’d been loads of times before, to which he replied “If you can all make it to the bottom of the hill on your snowboards I’ll let you stay on this slope.”
    The first guy tried to stand up with the snowboard horizontal and slid into some rope netting, the second guy started going down, but then his snowboard came off and slid down the slope on its own, I made it to the bottom then fell on my face, and only two of the group actually managed to stay up. Even though I wasn’t allowed on the big slope with the snowboard it was so funny that I didn’t even mind!

    Anyway, don’t worry about not managing the black slopes, at least you’re better than we were!

    • MELewis · March 21, 2014

      Hilarious! Good for you for trying it – and having the courage to to get to the bottom. My kids both snowboard but this old dog isn’t ready to learn any new tricks…

  4. 365thingsiloveaboutfrance.com · March 24, 2014

    Taken on a black run my second time out with my “friends” and husband. I still have nightmares about it and looking over the edge at the devastatingly steep downhill. I don’t really remember how I got down…like childbirth, my body must have released some hormone, so I would forget the pain and terror. Since then, I only go Nordic skiing.

    • MELewis · March 26, 2014

      I love Nordic – what we call cross-country where I come from. You get to enjoy the outdoors while burning more energy! I finally got my husband to try it a few years ago and he also enjoys it – although it was one of the only occasions I saw him fall. Must be the thinner skis!

  5. Ivana · March 25, 2014

    I grew up in Toronto, but I hate snow (especially after this winter) and all activities associated with it – especially skiing. Never understood people’s fascination for the sports’ zippy 3-5 minute thrill with potential for broken bones to go along with their runny noses along with wind AND sun burn.

    • MELewis · March 25, 2014

      I hear you on the risk-taking…but I do miss the snow. (Although I can understand that you guys are completely fed up with winter this year!)

  6. Pingback: Trouver le courage | FranceSays
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