Snowboarding At Flaine Altair

March 10, 2011 at 3:50 am (friends, life!, pictures)

alright because someone chose this from the “menu” (who even said it WAS a menu) i shall start with the snowboarding trip. spanning 7 days over the Christmas week and costing around 600 pounds in total, the trip to Flaine Altair (which is a large ski resort in the French alps) involved over a 100 people from UK universities including Kings and UCL, but mainly Imperial. having already gone skiing in Hokkaido before, i had decided early on that i’d try snowboarding this time, a sport which i had always been rather keen on.

the entire experience was thoroughly enjoyable, but if i had to nitpick at one aspect of the trip, it would definitely have to be the traveling involved – we took a coach to cut costs, but it was a stupendous 20 hour bus ride each way. i’d have happily forked out the extra cash to catch a plane, except i was too lazy to finalize details and book plane tickets in the end. a fortunate thing perhaps, as quite a number of people had their planes grounded due to snow and never quite reached the resort.

this is the ferry the coach got onto to cross the Channel. (not my first experience, the last time being when i visited Remi in Paris). the Channel crossing took about 50 minutes, during which we duly whipped out Bang, Munchkin and poker cards to play bridge. there were a number of duty free shops on board too for the rest to browse and stock up on alcohol.

our super big double decker coach! one of the two that ferried the bunch of us. the coach got snowed in just as we were about to reach the ski resort – slightly annoying as our arrival was delayed by a good 2 hours.

finally arriving at Flaine Altair resort after the long bus ride.

a white Christmas right out of a Narnia scene, taken on the steps outside the resort. obviously the photographer (Marcus i think) has a penchant for cutting people off at the waist just like Jin hahah.

the ski resort was recently refurbished, and hence had a very nice interior. the long red corridors here kinda remind me of the fight scene in Inception. i know, still obsessed!

our bunks! i had the 2 lower beds all to myself for the better part of the trip – Bryan got snowed in at the airport and never made it to the ski resort.

the snow-covered vehicles and road just outside our hostel.

at the “base camp”, from where you took the first ski lift up the baby slope. the ski resort itself was massive, and contained over 50 slopes of varying difficulties.

days generally started with lessons at 930 in the morning, a scrumptious meal prepared by a French chef at noon, followed by a swift return to the slopes in our own little ragtag bunch of boarders and skiiers until it turned dark.

there’s a pretty steep learning curve for beginners; from balancing properly and mastering the fail-proof but boring/tiresome “falling leaf method” (which is basically just a heel side descent down a slope such that you are always forward-facing), to learning how to turn and stop properly using both the heel and toe-side.

i only really mastered this skill in my final 3 days at the resort – it was all worth it though, as the rush of making sharp turns while going down a slope at velocity is truly exhilarating. of cause, it helps when there’s fresh snow so that it doesn’t feel like you are hitting concrete each time you take a tumble.

the storage room in the basement of the resort where we deposited our snowboard, skis and boots at the end of each day. we were fitted for the size of our boots and board on our first day there, and stuck with the same set throughout. the boots are specially made to match the bindings on the snowboard.

boot fitting!

adjusting the bindings on the snowboard to ensure a snug fit between boot and board.

the first ski lift over the “baby slope” that’s used mainly by beginners (ie us for the best part of the first 3 days).

one of the first sights at “base camp” – an overpriced bar.

and similarly, the first visible slope to the right of the baby slope.

Antonio, our French snowboard instructor was incredibly cool – multi-coloured ski goggles and cute orange bob beanie says it all really. his favourite and oft-repeated word to us was “freestyleee”; it rolled off the end of his tongue in a really distinctive way that we imitated to no end. as you would imagine, we didn’t quite start with the “basics”, but instead were immersed straight into the world of ollies, 360 turns and “scorpions” right from day one (which involved descending the slope backwards while grabbing onto one end of the board and having only the tip of the other touch the slope).


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our ski group and Antonio, attempting our first ever blue slope! i noticed i’m (as usual) the only one here with an unzipped jacket hahah.

we were split into 2 groups, with our group being the ones who managed to pick things up faster. i think by the end of the week, there were girls in the other group who still couldn’t quite go down a gentle slope without toppling over. i’d say my experience with wakeboarding helped just a tiny bit in terms of balancing and turning. skill-wise however, it’s probably more similar to skateboarding than anything else.


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ski lifting up the baby slope with a French toddler. the French generally start learning how to ski from a really young age; they are all amazing by the time they are 6 or 7. plus super adorable too! just imagine swathed up tiny penguins wearing crash helmets whizzing by you. (and yes i do mean whizzing by)

anyway they try to find people in the ski lift queue to “adopt” a French kid for the ride up, coz i think they need someone taller to bring down the handle and ensure the kid doesn’t slip out through the gaps!

the little penguins learning to ski – they were all already better than most of the skiiers in our group!

practising penguins.

chillin’ penguins.

first/second session at the top of the baby slope!

just one of the many hazards of snow sports. skiing and snowboarding are fairly accident-prone activities; there were quite a number of injuries over the course of the ski trip, ranging from ACL injuries to shoulder dislocations and ankle sprains.

the view from the gondola while traveling to the peak of the resort. hahah some bits in the picture look like Haagen Daaz cookies and cream icecream. of which i now have 5 pints of in the freezer.

miles and miles of pristine snow at the summit.

that’s how high we were! i had gone down most of the slopes by the end of the trip, safe for Gers. my favourite was Mephisto because it’s long and meandering, and most importantly didn’t have any of those annoying long flats where you’d have to bunny hop or unstrap and walk. the slopes are basically colour-coded according to how difficult they are: green, then blue, then red, then black, in increasing order of difficulty.

pausing for a break while going down a fairly long red slope. the coloured and numbered checkpoints appear approximately every 200 metres, indicating the difficulty and remaining distance till the end of the slope (checkpoint 1).

it takes quite a while getting used to turning around with both your feet bound together by a snowboard! i didn’t use ski goggles, i brought shades hahah.

off piste: paths deviating from the normal tracks that have not been compacted by overuse.

Mont Blanc is visible in the distance, with poles at the side of the slope to demarcate the off-piste areas. it is the highest moutain in the Alps, rising 4,810 metres above sea level.

with Justin, at the highest point of Mont Blanc just before our descent on our first red slope! you actually pick up snowboarding a lot quicker if you plunge right into the deep end of the pool early on and tackle the harder slopes from the start. obviously you fall a lot more too, and it can be quite dangerous at times, especially as there aren’t really any barriers preventing you from going completely off the edge of the slope and falling to your death if you lose control while snowboarding at speed.

anyway i noticed that i was the only one without any head/hair protective equipment at the top of the mountain. funnily enough my hair was frozen solid, and the tip of my ear kinda frostbitten. it’s a bit like a sunburn…it turns brownish and then starts to peel.

at the bottom of the slope with my snowboard in the middle. haha i think my snowboard had the coolest design.

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making snow angels in nice fluffy snow. Justin’s ended up looking like an alien because it had a really elongated head (i think he burrowed his head in too much) and mine didn’t really have a head at all lol.

taking the ski lift with Darren up one of the blue slopes. the ski lifts come in all shapes and forms – this resort alone had over 15 different ski lifts, ranging from the really stable and secure-looking cable cars and gondolas capable of carrying over 10 people, to leg-dangling ski lifts which wobbled about in the wind and button lifts that literally dragged you by the bum all the way up the slope!

an example of the cable car. this was the long one all the way up to the highest point of the resort, from which there were a variety and combination of different coloured slopes to take all the way back down to the bottom – the ride up took over 15 minutes. the view from the top was simply stunning though.

beautiful views outside the window while going up.

and a paranomic view from the top.

a different ski lift, this one of the standing variety. haha we’d take snowballs with us onto the lifts and lump it at the lifts and people around. the snowboard does make a pretty good shield though. it’s so much fun trying to accurately toss the snowball into another lift, although there’s definitely a huge higher ground advantage.

and an example of how dangly the ski lifts can get.

group shot at the top! it was the last day; so we were really just a random motley bunch of skiiers and boarders, trying to tackle all the hardest red and blue slopes that we had yet to conquer.

a loooooooonnng way down! (more than 5km)

back to base camp! there’d be a range of activities run by the resort every night, from Poker nights (mini competition with a free buy-in, i was winning at first!) to Karaoke and pub quizzes night.

the pub downstairs where we spent most of our time lounging after returning from the slopes. the warm tea and cakes provided were always welcomed!

hahah returning with my sleeves completely frozen.

Poker night! the French guy with the tray was totally cleaning out everyone else of chips lol.

and of cause, we had the usuals to keep ourselves occupied too – bridge, Munchkins, Bang, and Monopoly Deal, which is officially my new favourite game (and i’m pretty good at it!)

dancing in the bar downstairs at Disco Night on Christmas eve – that was really good fun.

waiting in anticipation for the special Christmas meal on our last night! haha i was totally trying to get out of the picture in this shot. the tiny pizza things on the plate are really yummy!

the proper full table shot. don’t know what Qinzheng is doing to Jo’s cheeks hahah.

and QQ posing with one of the 2 bottles of French wine we got to go with the meal.

the scrumptious starters on offer.

what i loved about the meals at the resort was that there was always a free flow of bread, baguettes and yummy cheese (my fave was the brie).

the cheeseboard!

and the main course: we had a choice of either salmon or beef.

our chef with the Christmas log cake, looking rather sinister with the huge carving knife. for some reason he reminds me of the dude in Ratatouille hahah.

after the Christmas meal, we went to catch the graduation ceremony of all the young skiiers from the ski school. as part of the initiation, they skiied down from the highest point in total darkness, carrying only flame-lit torches. it was pretty spectacular watching as a snaking line of flickering lights carved its way down the slope in a zig-zag pattern.

the slope they came down from is the one in the background.

initially we had assumed that it was only the instructors going down the slope, given the daunting nature of the task. imagine our surprise when we found out that the group was made up mostly of short people a lot younger than us hahah.

extinguishing their torches in a mound of snow.

now this one just looks like he’s being burned alive hahah.

and finally, the colourful fireworks display signaling the end of the ceremony.

hope that i’ll get to go on another snowboarding trip sometime soon; the whole experience was such a blast! anyway just to get an idea and feel of how amazing snowboarding actually is, watch this video!

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8 Comments

  1. Anonymous said,

    WOW I LOVE ME SOME MONSTER POSTS! some of the pictures too shy don’t show though :( the standing variety ski lift is called SUGAR! (look like sugar cubes descending/ascending from afar, tres cute!) AND LINGUINE you nicked my photos without telling nick.

  2. Mr & Mrs said,

    The baby skiiers are SO cute!!

    And yes, Brie’s my favourite too!

  3. Anonymous said,

    damn that looks fun! why are you so happening dude

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