Thursday, December 3, 2009


“We come from the land of the ice and snow, of the midnight sun, where the hot springs flow.” Immigrant song by Led Zeppelin was rocking through my ear buds as the gondola reach the top of the mountain. I stepped out of the station shelter and into a blizzard of ice. The conditions for my first run down the mountain would not be ideal.

I strapped the rented board to my feet and slowly edged down the first slope. There the drama ends. Ten seconds later I had to unstrap the boot and walk up a short incline. Ok, the day starts now, I thought. Again, with little momentum, I had a hard time controlling my direction and fell trying to avoid the steady creep off the groomed path. At this point, I had totally forgotten the music coming through the mp3 player.

Val Thorens

Eventually, I gathered my myself, found a suitable slope and launched downhill. Further on down the mountain, I escaped the high altitude clouds and a majestic view of Val Thorens and the Alps opened before me. Another Zepplin song was playing, and I was really starting to feel good about my control of the board. I resisted the urge to go off trail and blaze my own trail. There would be plenty of time for that - better to race to the bottom of the run in order to explore more of the mountain.

I was riding by myself for the morning, because Mary Ann had decided to take snowboarding lessons. Last year, at Lake Tahoe, she had attempted to pick up the technique. My instructions were less than helpful. As is her way, she was determined pick up the sport. Meanwhile, I had the morning to set my own pace and explore the mountain.


This early in the season, not all the runs were open. However, those that were provided more than enough opportunity to practice my technique and challenge my ability. From the top of the mountain, I estimated that it took about 10 minutes to descend to the main gondola lift going at my top speed. That meant that I could make the turn around in about half an hour. Another chair lift ran half way up the main slope outside our villa. From either lift, it was possible to ski down to another valley and then another and so on. The total mountain network was billed as the largest in Europe.

Val Thorens Trail Map

A light morning snow provided a nice base of powder to really liven up the runs. My first treks down the mountain had been plagued by icy conditions. Able to dig in with my edges a little better, I found the nerve to head down an uncharted black run. The European difficulty rating system has four levels, beginning with green, then blue, red and black. I vaguely remember riding past some caution tape, but quickly I found myself alone, on a steep slope, confronting several uncovered rocky patches. The ride down was exhilarating! I wanted another go, but the next time someone had stood the “run closed” sign back up. Oops.
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This work by Ken Maschke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.