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Twists and almost-parallel turns, wannabe comedian instructors and near-death experiences, all while learning to ski in Morzine

“There is one vital thing you must do when learning to ski,” my leathery-faced instructor growls at me in a heavy French accent, the stub of a browned, rolled-up cigarette dangling hypnotically from his cracked bottom lip.

I lean in: this is it, that pearl of wisdom that changes everything, the nugget which turns me from novice to pro, and something I’ll proudly pass on to future generations.

“Smile!” he shouts, lifting his ski poles into the crisp air, letting out a deep, throaty laugh. “It makes me look better!”

I’m in Avoriaz, the slopes up from Morzine in the Portes du Soleil resort in eastern France, hoping my instructor is a better skier than he is a funnyman.

Avoriaz is one of the 12 linked resorts either side of the French-Swiss border, which boast blacks, greens and everything in between with 280 slopes spread over 650km.

It’s also a buzzing party town, hosting the annual Rock The Pistes and Basscamp festivals.

“Follow me ... bend your legs ... shift your weight forward ... not your shoulders ... don’t twist your body ... look down the mountain, not up ... now turn,” shouts my instructor, who’s dressed in red from head to foot, including his boots, so I can’t lose him.

Apparently, I’m meant to relax and grin at the same time as all of the above.

We wind our way through the tree-lined runs of Avoriaz, past the jumps and the freestylers in the snow park, back to the safety of the slushy green route where I meet my mates for an afternoon of adventure.

But not before we’ve refuelled.

Heading to Les Trappeurs ( on the slopes, we find an outside table and, with the sun on our backs, scoff pizzas with the biggest plates of frites I’ve ever seen, finishing off with a whisky-infused hot chocolate.

Then, we grab our skis and boards and head out to explore.

My friends are all more experienced on the snow than I am, and manage to plan our route while I’m still trying to work out where we are.

I follow their lead, playfully whizzing through the white stuff, as they belt in front of me, going off piste, as I stick to my almost-parallel turns.

Confidence buoyed simply by the fact I’m not holding them back too much, I pay little attention to where we’re going – missing the sign pointing to the blue run at Pointe de Mossette and going in the direction of the red instead.

Out of my depth, I panic. It looks a long way down and the slopes seem narrow and icy.

There are collisions in front of me as I gingerly make my way in a zig-zag across the run, forgetting everything I’d learned earlier as I concentrate on what could be the last skiing I ever do.

My friends have gone and, although it’s March, there’s a fresh dumping of powder on the way, so the visibility is horrendous – I can’t even make out the edge of the run.

Although I soon find it, tumbling and plunging face-first into the snow, losing a ski in the process. It’s an attractive look.

Luckily, I’m helped up by a dashing expert, who hands me my ski and leaves me to it as I finally get to the bottom with a not exactly flattering Bambi-style snow-ploughing technique.

I make out the shape of my group standing by a chairlift. They sarcastically applaud my not-so-great efforts as I slide thankfully towards them.

Shattered, I decide to call it a day, so we make our way back to Morzine for a couple of demis of local lager Mutzig in Bar Robinson, a lively venue with three elderly French owner-operators (see next page).

There’s no music, but the place is packed with punters sharing stories. I keep quiet about my near-death experience.

Suitably lubricated, it’s time to eat. We head back to our cosy Rudechalet accommodation, where our lifesaver host, Sarah, has whipped up a three-course culinary treat for dinner, replacing any lost calories and stocking up on an extra dose for the following day’s activities.

She even does all the washing up, which is a bonus, so we crack open another bottle of red wine and take stock of the aches and pains we’ve acquired before calling it a night.

Despite the muscles in both my legs seizing up, I’m awake early.

I take my skis back to the safety of the blue runs on which I’d practised the day before – they won’t satiate the thrill-seeking powder-lovers, but my instructor would be pleased, and at least I’m smiling.


Action in Avoriaz: Learn to ski on the slopes in Morzine, France
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