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How I went from skiing rookie to alpine racer in one lesson - almost

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Jonny takes to the slopes for a lesson with Maison Sport's Aaron Tipping
Jonny takes to the slopes for a lesson with Maison Sport's Aaron Tipping   -   Copyright  Euronews Travel
By Jonny Walfisz

I was meant to go skiing.

My flight to Lyon was booked for 14 March 2020. From there, I would take a combination of trains and buses to reach Chamonix, in the French Alps. I would then spend the next two weeks with a group of friends, bombing down the slopes in style.

I had never been skiing, but I somehow knew I would love it. The thought of speeding across the Alps’ cascading white slopes appealed so much to the outdoorsy adrenaline junky in me.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be. As I was leaving my flat in London on the 13th to go buy some suitable winter-wear, I received the fateful WhatsApp. “It’s not happening Jonny, we’re cancelling our tickets”.

On the 14th, France would officially close all its ski resorts in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19.

I would have to wait over a year-and-a-half for my first opportunity to don a set of skis.

Meeting my instructor

The chance finally came with a 1:1 lesson with Maison Sport instructor Aaron Tipping at The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead.

Maison Sport is an online booking service that lets skiers and snowboarders find the right instructor for their holiday and book personalised lessons, often for more affordable prices than a resort’s group ski lessons.

Although I had never even touched a ski before, I knew I was in safe hands with my instructor Aaron. In his youth he was an athlete with the British Ski team, before going on to coach the first ever Olympic skier from Zimbabwe.

Given the shortage of snow-capped mountains in Zimbabwe, it was safe to say Aaron knew what he was doing.

Kitted up in my waterproof salopettes and with my first pair of skis, Aaron and I hit the indoor slope in The Snow Centre. The complex is kept at an impressive -2°C with real snow spread thickly across the incline.

Baby steps

Before we could tackle any great heights, Aaron taught me how to attach my skis.

The sensation of what is essentially an extended rudder on your foot was odd, but he quickly had me sliding along the flat snow at the bottom of the slope.

Next up, I had to learn to strafe up the side of a hill, incrementally digging my skis in perpendicularly to the slope. It was here that I learned the first of the counter-intuitive rules that would keep my face out of the snow.

While climbing up the artificial mountain to my right, Aaron showed me how to strafe by putting pressure on my left leg.

It took some mental gymnastics to trust myself to lean on the leg pointing where I didn’t want to fall - but placing my faith in Aaron paid off.

I leaned on my left leg and was so rooted to the mountainside, I even had the confidence to lift my right foot off the ground. 15 minutes ago I couldn’t even put a ski on without help and there I was, standing on one leg at a 35° incline.

I then learned how to do a snowplow, or as it’s affectionately called, ‘the pizza slice’. For the uninitiated, this is essentially how you brake while skiing, so it’s a pretty crucial thing to learn.

This was the moment the benefits of one-to-one tuition became crystal clear.

With Aaron focused on me, he could adjust my position and posture to ensure I was making the perfect snowplow. Throughout the lesson, Aaron would continue to give me detailed advice on how to position my knees and torso to control the skis best.

The value of having an instructor’s laser-eyed focus solely on me meant I could start building good skiing habits from day one, paving the way for my journey to skiing stardom.

The personalisation of the lesson also meant that now that I’d learned how to climb and to brake, Aaron could get me started on some hills straight away.

Learning how to get off a ski lift

We climbed up the hill via the snow-lift (a fancy outdoor escalator), and I quickly got brought down to size with my haphazard attempt to get off. Handily, Aaron was there to catch me but nevertheless, my initial confidence took a slight knock.

If Icarus had chosen skis instead of those flimsy wings, he would have felt like I did as I stared down the side of the slope, only staying upright thanks to Aaron.

But it wasn’t long until Aaron built my confidence back up. We entered our snowplow positions and perilously stood still with nothing but our skis stopping us from sliding down the slope.

Slowly, we built up the skills to start sliding down at increasingly high speeds and from increasingly higher starting points.

There was a moment when I finally managed to get myself off the ski lift without any assistance and the combination of shock and delight on my face put Aaron into such hysterics, I worried he’d be the one to tumble down the slope.

With confidence at a high, we finished the two-hour lesson with a few runs, barrelling down the slope and slaloming through a set of cones.

It was exhilarating to have gone from barely being able to move in skis, to expertly weaving down a hill in just a couple of hours. After a few high-fives, we took off our ski gear and headed to the upstairs cafe for a well-deserved coffee.

The start of a new hobby?

A lifelong skier, Aaron told me over drinks about how he loves to train people to appreciate the mountains as he does. Having co-founded Maison Sport with two friends, he wanted to create a platform for like-minded teachers, keen to give the best skiing lessons possible.

After over a year away from the slopes, booking a Maison Sport instructor is a great way to learn some new skiing or snowboarding skills, so you’re well prepared for your long-deserved winter holiday.

Through its booking system, you can find the perfect instructor for your needs across Europe, whether you’re an absolute beginner like me, or a mountain maestro who’s feeling a little rusty.

I started the day with only one hope - that I wouldn’t fall flat on my face too many times. Amazingly, I didn’t even fall once.

Although I’m pretty sure that’s due to Aaron’s excellent instruction, I’m going to take to heart his comment that I’m “a natural”. And while the pandemic may have kept me from skiing a year ago, I’m now raring to go again.

It turns out, I was meant to ski after all.

Watch the video above to see Jonny hit the slopes.

Video editor • Ben Anthony Horton