When I wondered just how tough this sport could be, I never expected an answer so brutal. “Hard luck,” I offer as I help him to his feet. “It’s alright,” he replies. “Just a bruised ego.”
Earlier, on the half-an-hour cable car journey to the 3200m top of Les 2 Alpes, I watch a team of riders snake down the mountain, blazing along the trails that separate the resort’s alpine meadows.
From the safety of the gondola and through the warm glow brought about by my ever-improving skiing abilities, I wager that I’ll be able to do it, no sweat.
My confidence is further buoyed after watching the Crankworx Freeride Mountain Bike Festival, held in the resort each July. Sure, there’s no way I’ll be performing the flips, the supermans, the revolutions that the professional riders are managing, but surely I’ll be able to shoot round those corners with a little of the smooth ease these guys are employing. Surely.
If there is any place to come to grips with the sport, Les 2 Alpes is it. A two-hour drive from Lyon, the 50-year-old resort prides itself on being Europe’s largest skiable glacier and remains one of the few spots where you can ski in summer.
And when the slopes close at 1pm, there’s 40 other activities to get involved in, from parapenting and bungee jumps, to white-water rafting and 12,000m of mountain biking slopes. For the active traveller, it’s the stuff of dreams.
However, my own dreams of mountain biking turn out to be far from the reality of my skill. My experience is minimal; my proficiency non-existent.
It all becomes horrifyingly apparent the next day, 2100m high at the top of Le Vallée Blanche, on the opposite side of the resort from the glacier.
My companion on the lift, Rupert, a longtime mountain biking exponent, soon remembers he has to be somewhere and races off down a trail, stirring up a tail of dust as he gathers speed, seemingly surfing the rugged track.
“We’ll do something a little easier,” my instructor Benj grins. “We’ll start green.”
A wide-open trail beckons, a slight decline and a pair of crossing marmots my only challenge as I apply the super-reponsive brakes a little too cautiously, juddering to a halt at the slightest bend.
A stop at a skills station sorts me out and I quickly learn to turn at (a kind of) speed along a series of ramps and bumps, before haring back off down the mountain, this time on a far more narrow path, cutting a swathe through knee-high grass. I’m feeling it now.
Benj isn’t impressed, though. “Use more attitude,” he demands. “I want to see it in your riding. Don’t hesitate.”
I make it to the bottom, incident free, discovering the perversity that the faster a rider travels, the safer mountain biking actually is. “Good attitude,” Benj nods.
The next day, I’m back on the ski slopes of this summer playground, wobbling down the gentler of Les 2 Alpes’ 100 hectares of runs. Away from the bustle of London, among the tranquility of being so high up, I relax, the fact that I’ve escaped injury on the mountain biking trail filling me with a fresh sense of courage on the slopes.
The fog of previous days is burnt off, the sun forcing itself through the clouds to reveal a white wonderland of skiers zig-zagging and snowboarders showing off in the two half-pipes of the resort’s snow park.
Although I’m definitely improving, my at times out-of-control style indicates to all I’m still some way off joining
the ranks of the intermediate riders.
My muscle memory is a welcome friend, however; it’s a year since I’ve been on the snow, but my instinct works well. My guide, Andrea, a small man with a relaxed Italian air, is impressed. So am I. Until I get greedy with my speed and end up in rocks alongside the run, a sorry tangle of skis and poles.
“Hard luck,” Andrea says. “Are you alright?”
“It’s nothing,” I reply, remembering the bravery of the mountainbiker I helped yesterday. “Just a bruised ego.”
Andrea laughs. “That’s the spirit we like in Les 2 Alpes,” he says. “It’s all about attitude.”
Eat, Sleep, Drink
Budget – Replenish your energy levels at Le Creperie du Centre. Open from 9am to 10pm, this cool little spot serves up pizza, roast chickens, home-made ready meals, a host of sandwiches, crêpes, waffles and ice cream. Mains from £7.50. (67 Avenue de la Muzelle)
Midrange – Le Cellier is spot-on for winding down after a hard day on the slopes. The establishment has a cosy atmosphere, made even warmer by a large open fire on which a large choice of meats are grilled. Mains from £13. (3 Place de l’Alpe de Venosc)
Luxury – Treat yourself at the Raisin d’Ours. Indulge in top food, all beautifully presented. Even the chef eats here – what better recommendation do you require? From the venison to the salmon, whatever you choose will be quality. Set menu from £25. (98 Avenue de la Muzelle)
Budget – Smithy’s is where everybody goes to party. The bar throws up an amazing mix of wild parties, rocking band nights and live DJs.
The up-for-it crowd gets loose here, so expect a big night, full of fun and plenty of drinking. Get involved. Pints from £4. smithystavern.com
Midrange – The Polar Bear Pub offers beer, Guinness and cocktails and has an inside hanging fire (to defrost your gear) and outside chimneys to keep you warm into the night.
There’s regular live music, big games on screen and DJs. Pints from £4.50. thepolarbearpub.com
Luxury – Chalet Mounier‘s bar has an open log fire to sit in front of, warming you as you recount your stories of the day. Choose from an extensive drinks list as you recline among the leather and wood furnishings.
The hotel’s restaurant serves up gourmet food to soak up the booze. Pints from £5. chalet-mounier.com
Budget – The lively Hostel Les Deux Alpes is 200m (five mins) from the slopes, in the heart of the resort. A splendid south-oriented sundeck lets you enjoy the sun if you just want to chill out in this small, sociable slice of ski holiday heaven. From £17pppn. hihostels.com
Midrange – Three-star Le Souleil’Or has a large outdoor pool and a terrace. Most of the 42 bedrooms have a balcony to make the most of that fresh alpine air. From £71pppn. le-souleil-or.fr
Luxury – Four-star Chalet Mounier is Les 2 Alpes’ most upmarket hotel and has a spectacular garden with a large outdoor swimming pool. There’s a spa, sauna, steamroom and massage area downstairs. From £102pppn. chalet-mounier.com
Photos: TNT, Thinkstock