After over 40 years zipping down ski slopes all over Europe without incident I’d always fancied cross-country skiing – graceful, quiet, relaxing, no snowboarders to avoid and best of all, comfortable boots. So this was how I came to book a three day beginners’ course in Cogne, Italy.
In case you read no further I have to say – it was fantastic. I am already looking forward to booking on an ‘improvers’ holiday next year, no more ‘zombie walking’ for me.....! But was it what I expected? Yes and no.
First I have to tell you it’s not an easy option. All that graceful gliding that appears so rhythmic and simple on television is not quite as straightforward as it looks. Cross country skis are lightweight and very skinny and as a result, unstable even when you are standing still! To make any movement at all you have to initiate it with a glide out on one foot – another unstable moment – and then the other. To get beyond the ‘zombie walk’ – a phrase used by our brilliant instructor Lindsay – you have to learn a completely alien technique which involves bending, stretching, gliding, lunging, rhythmic weight transfer, co-ordinated arm movements which are attached to long poles, and that’s just the beginning.
In a small group we all made huge progress in three days. With great encouragement from Lindsay, and from one another, we started to look something like cross country skiers, feeling the rhythm (sometimes), gathering momentum, using our arms, looking ahead and not at our skis, ‘running’ up the hills, managing our speed on gentle downhill slopes. But it was challenging and very energetic. Unlike downhill skiing there are no rests while you sit in a heated chairlift or gondola. You are on the skinny skis all day using your whole body to propel you forward, uphill, downhill as well as up off the snow when you inevitably, occasionally fall over! Our morning coffee breaks and lunch stops were essential to refuel and re-energise before the next session of practice and one-to-one tuition.
When we weren’t out on the snow we were able to enjoy the really beautiful surroundings of Cogne which sits in the Grand Paradiso Valley. The medieval village is a tumble of small cobbled streets with wonderful coffee shops and friendly bars. In the distance, the peak of the Grand Paradiso summit looks surprisingly within reach. But as it’s Italy’s highest peak at over 4,000 metres there’s no doubt that in this case looks must be deceptive.
At the end of our three day introduction to cross country skiing everyone was feeling the pain of tired limbs but, overwhelmingly, we were also feeling great satisfaction from knowing that our individual journeys towards becoming competent cross country skiers had begun and we were all looking ahead to the next stage in that journey.
Thanks and admiration to Lindsay who kept us upbeat for three days, constantly reminding us how much progress we were making. Thanks too to Jane, Emma and Dawn for their company and encouragement.
Check our our Italian Ski Weekend dates for 2020 online.