Palatinalps 2016: Diary of a rookie skier

I by no means embarked on the Palatinalps trip to become the next skiing professional. As a matter of fact, I’d never even touched a pair of skis in my life prior to the trip itself. Words such as ‘salopette’ and ‘piste’ meant nothing to me, so it’s unclear where my sudden eagerness to partake in an unknown sports trip came from. But at 8am on a morning in October I signed up in my pyjamas in a surge of enthusiasm, with unrealistic visions of myself skilfully gracing the slopes in rather attractive ski gear. The latter may not have materialised in any way shape or form, but my somewhat reckless decision that morning was definitely one I’d encourage others to make.

The question of whether it was possible to enjoy a ski trip without being able to ski was one which perturbed myself and those around me, particularly my sceptical parents who were unsure quite what they were actually paying for. Palatinalps offered me the chance to do a three hour practice session before the trip – a worthwhile yet concurrently intimidating experience. Whilst some fellow beginners cut through the artificial snow with ease and immediately mastered the ‘snow plow’, I crashed into countless safety barriers and slid down many of slopes in the least graceful fashion. The insufferable aching of every limb in my body after a mere three hours on a dry slope filled me with anxiety, and the prospect of repeating such sessions every day for a week did not sound like much of a holiday.

Yet in reality, not everyone is a pro-skier, even if they’d like to think they are. Sure, there are those who’ve been prancing off-piste since birth thanks to their annual family ski trip in February half term, and those who don their finest luminous salopettes and wavy ski jackets, equipped with their own (personalised) ski gear. But Palatinalps doesn’t discriminate against those who are virgins to the skiing world. There’s the opportunity to hire every piece of equipment, be it skis, poles, boots, and even clothing if necessary. Being inadequately equipped is by no means a viable excuse to not give the trip a go.

This year, Palatinalps chose to take 1429 Durham students to the world’s best ski resort (2013), Val Thorens. Many voluntarily endured a somewhat excruciating 24-hour coach ride to the resort, each of whom questioned more than once why they didn’t choose the option to fly. However, the tedious journey to 2300m altitude in the picturesque French Alps was entirely worth it. During our stay Val Thorens was constantly blanketed in fresh layers of powdery snow, beautifully covering its vast array of 600km worth of pistes, which was more than enough scope for the avid skier to explore. For those not confident enough to venture out on the pistes alone, the lesson packages were a great method of learning basic ski techniques or merely to act as a refresher session for those whose skiing finesse may have been a little rusty. For me, the lessons were reassuring, as they were a fantastic opportunity to meet students from other colleges who were just as nervous (and bad) as I was.

As ridiculous as it may sound, skiing isn’t the only attraction of Palatinalps. What the vast majority of dispassionate skiers are more interested in is the Après-ski. Each day this consisted of a 3-hour long party on the slopes, accessible by even the most amateur skiers. Many retreated to Après after an intense morning of slaloming down reds and blacks, whilst others (like myself) saw Après as an appropriate reward for making it unscathed along the green trail to get there. Each afternoon Bar 360 was alive with pulsating tunes, kicked off by FKJ and continued by resident DJs throughout the week. Nothing compares to cradling a cup of vin chaud, surrounded by your newly acquired ski friends, unable to dance whilst weighed down by ski boots but attempting it anyway. Skiing back down the mountain after one too many alcoholic beverages proved problematic (particularly for those who found it hard to ski whilst sober), but it was merely part of the experience.

After a hard day of skiing and partying, a communal nap back at the accommodation was always necessary. Then, it was time to recommence drinking and head back out to explore what Val Thorens’ nightlife has to offer. The resort houses a copious amount of bars and clubs, so there’s definitely enough to keep you entertained at a different establishment each evening. A Palatinalps favourite was Malaysia, uncomfortably hot yet adequately equipped with its 700m square dance floor underground. It served as the location for the opening and final night parties, the latter during which Chase and Status took to a glass box and played their best-known tracks to appropriately (and brilliantly) bring Palatinalps 2016 to an end.

It’s unreasonable to pretend there were no negatives during the week. Perpetual tiredness, mediocre accommodation, the burden of having to cook, lugging skis around constantly… yet when you’re on a trip like Palatinalps, these irritants are insignificant. Surrounded by your friends, interacting with members of your college you were unaware existed, able to ski whenever you want and partying twice a day, you realise the social aspect of the trip overrides any lack of luxury. I strongly encourage both the skier and the non-skier alike to consider Palatinalps 2017. I know I am, and I’ll be talking about Palatinalps 2016 until then.

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