Snowboarding, bruises and an obscene amount of molten cheese.
I’m sat here in Munich airport drinking what can only be described as a monster beer, contemplating the amazing week i’ve just had, and the whole new year that is stretching out in front of me like a lovely long, sunny, mysterious ribbon off into the distance.
I’m on my way back to the UK for a few days after spending a fun but tiring week in Gerdaz, in the Aosta Valley region of northern Italy. A friend of mine that I hadn’t seen for years runs Nexus Snow Camps, an all inclusive week long snowboarding camp at a ski resort called Pila, and after years of wishing I could snowboard, and with no plans for New Years Eve, it turned out there were a few spaces on one of his early pre-season camps, which just so happened to span New Years Eve. Perfect. The Nexus Snow Camps include self catering accommodation, transfers from the train station at Aosta (if needed) a six-day lift pass, and five days of tuition, catering from everything from complete and utter beginners (like me!) to advanced riders looking to perfect their style or learn new tricks.
I’ve always loved Italy, and northern Italy in particular, and this trip was no different, with stunning scenery and friendly, welcoming people, and Pila itself is a sprawling resort with all kinds of runs to satisfy every skill level and ability. After landing in Turin on Boxing Day, we picked up our hire car and drove the 90 minute drive over to our apartment in Gerdaz, a small, picturesque village on the mountain just below Pila. We arrived too late to really appreciate the views, but after a long day of travelling and with a week of snowboarding on the cards,the view wasn’t high on my list of priorities, and I turned in fairly early.
The week mainly consisted of snowboarding in the daytime, with copious amounts of alcohol in the evenings. We stayed in for a couple of nights, playing shithead until the early hours, and also spent a few nights out in Aosta. If you ever happen to be in Aosta, check out Pizzeria Ristorante Stadio. The owner, Antonio made us feel very welcome and the food was delicious. New Years Eve itself was pretty special, if slightly surreal. We ventured down to the Piazza in central Aosta, along with our instructor Wes and his housemates, after some fairly serious pre-drinking at their house. Italy definitely knows how to see in the new year, for a small(ish) town there were a lot of people there and the atmosphere was pretty jumping. I don’t really know how to describe it other than kind of a cross between a christmas light switch on and a rowdy sixth form trip. Strange, but great fun, with the hangover to prove it. Saying that, I know of no better way to get rid of a hangover and blow away the cobwebs that sliding down a frozen mountain on a thin piece of wood at speed, so hangovers weren’t really a problem this week.
As far as the snowboarding goes, as a complete beginner I fully expected to be on the baby slopes, sliding around surrounded by toddlers for the first few days, with hopefully the prospect of graduating to a blue run by the end of the week if I was lucky. As it happens, our instructor Wes had other ideas and had me and the other beginner in our group straight on to a blue run to put us through our paces and get to grips with the basics, before sneakily taking us back down a red run that same afternoon. It was pretty dicey in places, but when we got to the bottom in one piece and Wes let slip that we’d just nailed a red on our first day we were pretty stoked! Whether it was my natural ability or Wes’ awesome teaching skills (I’m pretty sure it was the latter), I progressed a lot quicker than I hoped with the boarding, and by my last day I was shredding down the mountain at a fair speed, with nice fluid, smooth turns.
One of our group, Marco, is Swiss, and had driven over the alps, bringing with him a car full of assorted treats including schnapps, skateboards and a hell of a lot of cheese. As a long-time fan of fondue (who doesn’t love dipping things in molten cheese?!) I was pretty excited, but the star of the show turned out to be Raclette. For those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure, Raclette is actually a type of semi-firm cows milk cheese, but is also shorthand for the art of melting little trowels of cheese in a specifically designed grill, before pouring that cheese over anything you can get your hands on. Traditionally potatoes, but experimentation over the week proved that cured meats, crisps, pasta, bread and even more cheese all work just fine. Delicious as it was, after multiple meals consisting pretty much of assorted carbs smothered in molten cheese, I can feel the gout beginning to set in. I’ve never been more ready for a nice salad and a bit of fruit.
After a week on the slopes I’m battered and bruised, with an almost entirely purple arse and a less than perfect liver, and i’m pretty sure i’ve cracked a rib and twisted my shoulder, but i’ve definitely caught the snowboarding bug. The cold crisp mountain air and the adrenaline rush you get as you shred down the mountain are incredible, and i’m pretty sure i’ll be hitting the slopes again before long. I cannot recommend Nexus Snow Camps enough, and particularly our instructor Wes, he explained things simply and clearly, was patient with us being complete beginners and helped us progress much more than I though possible in a week. If you’re thinking of giving snowboarding a go, you should definitely do it, i’m annoyed with myself for putting it off for so long.
For now i’m off to get another monster beer and catch my connecting flight back to the UK. Looking forward to a few days of relaxation before I head off to New Zealand, and i’ll definitely be dreaming of snowboarding tonight. Snowboarding covered in lots of molten cheese.