I totally didn’t intend for these posts to be almost exclusively travel stories…those are just the most entertaining ones I have.
In Denmark, I had the opportunity to spend a week of our three-week spring break on a skiing/snowboarding trip to Les Deux Alpes, a resort in the French Alps.
I am not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that while that year abroad was one of the best of my life, that week was one of the best of that entire year.
Unlike most of the trips sponsored and planned by our school, this one had no daily itinerary, no pre-arranged tours, no expectations or obligations of being at a certain place at a certain time. We had one task and one task only: to enjoy the mountain.
The resort is HUGE and the views are gorgeous and the snow was unbelievable. I mostly hung out with the “Cal Poly crew” as we were pretty much the only snowboarders (which surprised me; Tahoe is much more skewed towards snowboarders, but I guess back East and in Europe, skiers made up the vast majority). We quickly learned that European attitudes towards ski boundaries, like their attitudes towards, say, drinking in public, are much more relaxed than the US, and once we found an “off-piste” run that was easily accessed from/by a lift, we spent entire days carving up beautiful fresh powder.
We took one day off during the week and hung out in the lodge (we we got there, they had a happy hour deal for 2 Euro Coronas. They stopped offering that after three days. We think they ran out of Coronas) and walked down to the tiny little French town below the resort, Venosc. It was pretty and picturesque and probably more lively in the summer, I imagine.
By the end of the week, my snowboarding skills and confidence had increased measurably, since most of my friends (save one who was a complete beginner) could comfortably ride black diamonds. They generously stuck to easier runs, but I still had to keep up.
There was the one day when two of them convinced me to ride down the mountain to the lodge, rather than take the gondola. The only way to ride down was via a very steep black diamond that, at the end of the day especially, was packed with expert skiers. We got to that point and I sat down on the side of the run. “You fuckers are crazy,” I said, looking what felt like straight down.
“Just stay on the side and skid on your heel edge!” they said.
“You’ll be fine!” they said. “Just make sure you pick up a little speed near the bottom and take a hard left to the flat part.”
So I took a deep breath and made the sign of the cross and hoisted myself up. I inched over to the right side of the run where I wouldn’t get in anyone’s way and started scooting down. I hate doing that, but I’m still a wimp on super steep slopes.
One friend stopped near the bottom and waited for me. In retrospect, I should’ve just finished the run there and walked across the village. But no, they said it would be quicker and easier to ride across.
Let’s recap: I’m on the right side of a run and I need to make a hard left and cut across the entire run to the flat connector trail.
Have I mentioned I snowboard goofy-footed? As in, I lead with my right leg?
Which means, to make that turn, I had to turn my body 180 degrees and transfer most of my weight to my toe edge.
While making that turn and picking up speed, I slid over a patch of ice.
At which point physics, most notably gravity, took over control of my board.
All I remember is spinning completely around at least once and falling into a ravine off the side of the flat connector trail. I landed flat on my back, head pointing down the mountain. My sunglasses fell off and I heard them skitter down the snow behind and below me.
I looked up just as my friend popped into view. “Oh shit! I saw you go down and all I could think was ‘I hope there aren’t any rocks down there!'” he said.
I struggled to a sitting position and unstrapped my boots from my board, retrieved my sunglasses…and walked until there was enough slope to strap back in.
Near-death experience aside, that week was when I realized how much I craved being outside in nature. I loved living in the city in Copenhagen, but by that time of year, I was starting to think ahead to getting back to SLO and missing that smaller town and its easy access to hiking and trails and…well, nature.