As news reports of poor snow conditions circulated in the British press I was on my way to Cogne, Italy to experience my first Tracks and Trails holiday. Having been on 'skinny' skis' a couple of times before the obvious choice had been the 'Italian Ski Break for Beginners' along with seven other nordic skiing novices in Cogne, Italy. As we settled in to the evening briefing with Martin. our guide for the holidav. it was obvious that there was no shortage of snow. Cogne is one of the Aosta Valley's prime spots for cross-country skiing.
The long cross-country slopes wind under the peaks of the Grivola and the Gran Paradiso for more than 50 km (31 miles) of groomed tracks. The next morning, having collected our rental skis, we assembled at the stadium, which was situated just a few minutes walk from the hotel. The perfectly groomed stadium tracks provided an ideal learning environment, with the 10 parallel sets of tracks enabling the whole group to be coached by Martin.
Perfect lines in the snow - a stunning learning environment
A couple of hours coaching drills, developing confidence to balance and glide on the skies was punctuated by a visit to one of the local cafes for that all important mid-morning coffee. A progressive teaching approach, with regular feedback, enabled everyone to make progress throughout the morning. Having mastered the basic techniques of propelling ourselves forward, much of the afternoon session was dedicated to controlling our speed on gentle downhill slopes and learning how to tackle corners. But we did take a break at lunchtime with a local restaurant providing excellent food and a chance for everyone to get to know each other over a leisurely lunch.
We only had one complaint - too much excellent food. Our reply "well, ski harder!"
After our first full day of skiing most of the group made full use of the spa facilities in the hotel, whether it be a sauna and dip in the outside jacuzzi or relaxing by the poolside for an hour before meeting in the bar for a pre-dinner drink. It’s impossible to talk about the holiday without mentioning the food. Dinner became a full three hour event with four courses from either the ‘plats du jour’ or ‘a la carte’ menus - did I mention that in the Cogne valley French and Italian are considered equal? A good nights sleep, in the modern but well appointed hotel, led quickly to another veritable feast with fruits, pastries, local meats and cheeses plus Prosecco, salmon and oysters on offer each morning.
We returned to the stadium on the morning of day two for a warm up session before time was spent on refining the previous days technical skills. By mid-day we were becoming far more competent in the all important ‘kick and glide’ and diagonal stride technique. Then it was time for our first tour, but first lunch at another quaint restaurant further up the valley at the village of Lillaz. A 2 km (1.25 miles) loop became our training ground for the afternoon, with Martin providing support and reminders to ensure that we continued to improve our technique.
Regular tips for improvement helped us make real progress over the weekend
A quick review of both videos and photos from the afternoon, were testament to the progress that we had made since the first tentative and stiff-legged shuffling moves from the day before. After two days on skis the hotel spa became a welcome sanctuary once more, and helped to ease the inevitable aching muscles.
A swim in the evenings helped our muscles prepare for another day of fun in the snow
Our third and final day of the coaching stared with a bit of friendly completion. After a warm-up, which included, to the amusement of the locals, towing you partner, dog-sled style, along the piste in the village of Cretaz. Martin also provide a brief introduction to skate-skiing to a couple of the group who wanted to see the differences between classic and skate skiing! The remainder of the morning we all competed in a mini-biathlon. Having been instructed in the use of the laser-pistols a suitably challenging course was set for a team competition. After a busy morning the victorious team gloated, just a little, whilst the losing team, including myself, consoled ourselves over lunch in the knowledge that it had been a hard fought and close result. The valley, above the village of Valnontey, was to be the location for our last afternoons skiing and it was fitting that the 6km (3.75 miles) route looping through a stunning winter landscape, rising and falling through forest and along the banks of an alpine stream, should demand all of the skills that had been developed over the three days.
The final evening there was time to reflect on our shared experiences over the past three days. Martin’s expert coaching had enabled everyone to pick up the skills to become proficient but, more importantly, his enthusiasm and knowledge will, no-doubt, be the catalyst for many of the group to plan more nordic adventures in the future.
Watch this fun film from one of our guests on our Italian Ski Break!