Travel

Skiing in the French Alps: The Highs and Lows of a Dreamy Mountain Getaway

When my friend Helen from grad school texted me last month asking if I had plans for the February school break (we are all English teachers), and told me and Sara, the other member of our Parisian girl squad that we were invited to her Godmother's ski chalet in the Alps, I immediately started looking for train tickets.

When my friend Helen from grad school texted me last month asking if I had plans for the February school break (we are all English teachers), and told me and Sara, the other member of our Parisian girl squad, that we were invited to her Godmother’s ski chalet in the Alps, I immediately started looking for train tickets. A few weeks and a few trains later, I would be thousands of meters above sea level tearing up powder, slipping on ice, and sharing stories and laughs over raclette, wine, and many well deserved cups of hot cocoa. As instagrammable as these incredible mountains might be, skiing in the Alps was not as easy or as fun as it looks. Keep reading to hear more about my adventure in Pra Loup, including the good and not so good.

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Le Voyage

When I checked out the trains to Gap, the closest city to Pra Loup, I was pleasantly surprised to see that round-trip tickets were less than 100€. I had to take three trains and a bus, but it was cheap, so I thought: why not? I left my apartment at 7:30 AM and arrived in Pra Loup at approximately 7:30 PM. Next time, I might stop and take a day to visit a city in-between home and my destination so I don’t get train-lagged. Why did it take so long? Well, not all trains are high-speed in France; for my aller trip, I took TERs (regional trains) and some shuttle buses to the ski station. Speaking of buses, I also had to reschedule my retour trip because of those shuttles! They only ran certain times and when I would have arrived in the bus, my train would have already left! I did get to make an extra day of skiing out of it though, so maybe it wasn’t so bad.

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Le Chalet

First of all, I just want to thank Helen’s Godmother for letting us stay at her place. It was super cozy and we had the best après-ski time. The chalet was like a little apartment equipped with a bedroom, a full bathroom, a kitchenette, and a living room with a balcony that looked out on the slopes, which were only a few minutes walk away. We slept in a triple bunkbed (not pictured because the extreme cuteness could damage human eye) and it felt like a sleepover every night. My last night in the Alps, I ended up staying at a little hostel in Barcelonnette, close to the bus station, where I had a warm room to myself with log-cabin vibes.

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La Bouffe

My first night in Pra Loup, we had Raclette, which is a hard mountain cheese that you melt in a special machine and pour over potatoes or meat (I just had potatoes being vegetarian). I ended up eating a lot of potatoes though because there were not a lot of options when eating out. I did have one really yummy veggie plate during our last lunch together, which was supposed to be a starter to share, but I made a meal out of it. The best après-ski treat was chocolat viennois, hot chocolate topped with whipped-cream that we made ourselves or ordered at a café.

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Le Ski

Day 1: Icy Slopes

Sara, Helen, and I all set out to ski together the day after I arrived. We got up to the mountain around 11 after a delicious breakfast of homemade crêpes. We all had different ski experience, but that didn’t stop us from all skiing together! We had a good first run, but it didn’t last for long. The day before it was warm and they told me the snow was like slush. It must have melted overnight to create hard frozen snow, which made it scary and difficult to ski. Somehow, I was okay on the first day and didn’t struggle too much. I thought I was okay because I had already skied once this winter and was used to skiing in different conditions, but it still wasn’t enjoyable skiing. Helen and Sara were not fans of the ice either. To make it down our last trail of the day we skied down fast scraped over the ice, relied on the kindness and encouragement of strangers, and even slid down (but without the sled).

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Day 2: Bluebird Day

The next day of skiing was much better! It was just me and Helen skiing this time, but Sara joined us at the top of the mountain for lunch before catching her train back to Paris. The snow was less icy and there was even some powder! Helen and I went higher up the mountain, explored more trails, and even skied on a piste rouge (intermediate trail in France). However, after lunch the skiing became difficult again. The trails were getting more worn out, our legs were tired, and the sun was on the way down, so there was more shade on the mountain. We barely got in a couple more runs in before calling it quits for the day. We were tired and sore, but mostly happy because of our morning session.

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Day 3: Solo Struggles

On the last day of skiing, I was by myself because Helen’s train was that afternoon. After I said goodbye to her at the bus station and dropped off my luggage at the accommodation, I rented some new skis and better fitting boots (your toes should touch the edge when you’re standing up straight, but not when you bend your knees to ski!). I ended up just skiing for the afternoon. I thought my legs would be okay because I rested them in the morning, but when I got to the top of the mountain, it was like my legs forgot how to ski. I started to panic because I couldn’t turn properly and it was icy again today. I made my way down the mountain slowly, but I struggled. I was skiing so well on the first day when there was lots of ice, so why couldn’t I ski now? I eventually calmed myself down and made sure to really bend my knees and move my hips to have proper form. I skied down one more time before having lunch.

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I made myself do one more last run on a an easy trail, but I still struggled. I even sat down on the snow at one point because my ankles were hurting (I still couldn’t seem to get that perfect buckle tightness combination quite right) and I had trouble turning. Ski trails are rated based on their difficulty, but in reality that difficulty can vary based on the snow conditions, weather, time of day, your physical condition, and your mental state. On day one it was icy, but I skied fine because it was the first day and I was excited to ski. On the last day it was also icy, but I was mentally and physically tired, so skiing was harder. It was also even warmer that day, so I was sweating under all of the layers. I made it down the mountain though. Despite the skiing not being the best I’ve ever done, I still enjoyed the trip because of the people there with me and because of those few good runs I was able to do.

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Thank you so much for reading! Let me know in the comments if you have any crazy ski stories!

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Check out my YouTube video about the trip to see us skiing in action

Read about my first time skiing solo in Chamonix 2018 here

Bisous,

Cam

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