On slippery slopes

Debashree Majumdar | Updated on January 20, 2018

Slow, steady: Beginners at a piste in Les Collons, Switzerland. Photo: Debashree Majumdar

A good ski run comes after a series of ignominious tumbles in the snow

“You should always look ahead. Everything lies in the future… you look back and you’ll falter,” warns Pierre, my skiing coach in his French-accented English. Although he advises me on where to train my eyes while whizzing down the baby slope, I continue to nervously assess. His words carry a sense of the eternal, and allude to the numerous storms that life sends our way while passing us by. I give Pierre an unsure nod, still trying to negotiate the weight of the new and unfamiliar ski gear — helmet, goggles, costume, gloves, the heaviest pair of boots I’ve ever worn, and the skis, of course.

We’re at Les Collons, Thyon in the Valais region of Switzerland, a few hours away from Geneva, and the bright warm sun on the powdery piste cheers me up. The valley is crowded with the young, the old and the ones in between, skiing and snowboarding past us appearing not so much as human but speeding cars.

It’s a busy day with holiday-makers from all over Europe and outside pottering about in their skis; some sit at cafés that overlook the valley, sipping on mulled wine, reading, and enjoying the clear blaze of the winter sun in their faces — something they’ve longed for since the onset of the gloom-inducing day-time saving season. Noisy, running children and large families walking zombie-like in ski boots are ubiquitous. There are also the elderly who merely walk up and down the powdery slopes aided by walking poles. The world appears to be on a high.

Pierre instructs me to lean forward a little while I go down the slope to avoid losing balance. And then comes a gentle push to get me started on the first of the series of ignominious tumbles that I take that day. I’d signed up for a day’s beginner’s lesson to start my misadventures in snow. A few minutes into the lesson, I tip over and go crashing down the slope. I emerge unhurt except for a bruised pride. At the bottom of the slope is another fumbling adult who looks equally embarrassed. Not far away is a group of children waddling about in sheer joy, aided by their trainers.

I pick myself up and plough my way up the slope to come skiing down again. After a few successful glides down the slope, Pierre considers me well-trained enough to take to the button lifts. Also known as poma, these are contraptions that carry skiers to the top of a slope so that they can swish down. But button lifts turn out to be tricky to negotiate and the falls that I thought I’d gotten over return with a vengeance. I find myself face down on the snow with more frequency than I thought was possible. Pierre doesn’t run out of words of encouragement. Seeing my flagging spirit, he even offers to carry my skis up the slope while I am pulled along by the lift.

I soldier on for about three hours, lifting my skis with what feels like every muscle of my body and making repeated runs down the slope. For a novice, all of this takes quite some doing, and soon I’m ready to crumble from the impact of the boots on my shins. But Pierre won’t let me go without perfecting the art of the ‘pizza slice’ — the move of wedging your skis inward in a triangle to slow down and stop like a pro.

Finally, after what seems like aeons, I’m equipped to not just wear and carry off impractical sporting gear, but also tackle a gentle slope. Feeling positively triumphant at ticking off a tiny sporting accomplishment on my largely failure-filled ledger of first attempts, I debate if I should give the sport a serious thought. I see the sun grow dim along the Alpine horizon, feel the sharp chill set in and long for the warm pool at the bottom of the chalet we’re staying in.

Travel log

Getting there

All major Swiss cities operate direct trains to Sion at regular intervals. On reaching Sion, there are buses that drive up the mountains to Thyon. For details look up www.sbb.ch/home.html


Apart from the white slopes, the mountains offer perfectly curving roads and crisp, clean air ideal for long hikes. Be mindful of the frost though. It can lead to accidents if you lose your grip.


If you’re planning to be a serious skier, sign-up for the week-long courses on offer. You could also get private lessons for extra bucks. Also, read a good book while enjoying some great wine in the precious winter sun.

Debashree Majumdar is a freelance writereditor currently living in Geneva

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Published on February 19, 2016
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