Andy Quin: Sweet Six Tignes
Mr Gelsen, my CEO, had suggested I take a break; it’s what Father would have wanted, he said. After all, the impending IPO was nothing I need be wrapped up in, and the mountains are so charming in the spring. Six weeks should cover it, we agreed.
I had one stipulation: if I was to spend that time marking daily victories against the Alps on a snowboard, it would be raw and pared back to essentials. A month and a half on holiday experienced as any normal man would: as one of the people, among the proletariat, urban. Val d’Isere is a lovely place, and some of my most amusing Russian chums have invited me there, but Tignes, the huge and varied resort next door, was a clear choice. They have all the equipment there for an ice-cold snow leopard like me: world-class off-piste opportunities, snow parks for every level, part of the vast Espace Killy snow area and an annual host to the international X Games… however with no casino or champagne bar in the town I would need to stiffen up and slum it.
My man Radley put on a bravura exposition of planning: equipping me afresh with the sharpest snowboarding gear and an apartment in the mountains. Apparently the only things remaining unchanged from my epochal competition days in the 90’s are the psychedelic romper suit designs. My slightly enhanced figure lent the old favourite a contemporary “skinny fit”, but in unflattering areas. Nothing of my Alpine past was salvageable from the storage wing. Radley, however, was endlessly reliable: teasing near-forgotten threads from my contacts Moleskine, he secured some of the season’s top equipment from DC Shoes who, it appears, named their company prematurely. As well as some of their fearsomely secure boots for stomping,
I was arrayed in an outwardly sober but deliciously lined jacket and salopettes. Most impressively was the board, developed in tribute to their rider Devun Walsh, the big-mountain, deep-powder specialist; it proved to be a comprehensive marvel across piste, park and powder. Perhaps most interestingly of all, I was presented with a pair of goggles from Alpina containing a small screen acting as a heads-up display showing my current speed, altitude, direction, latest texts and emails… and a constantly updated map of my location. Of course, a map, dear Radley, he knew that where I was going there would be no chauffer – a wise man.
From an architectural standpoint, Tignes is “practical”. Arriving at the resort I was reminded uncomfortably of the factory in which our Polish chaps do… whatever it is they do. I was grateful that the apartment interior was less rudimentary, with a balcony on which I would regularly sunbathe, enjoying freshly baked morning pastries with the birds. I say enjoy, but the native Alpine chough, (a black crow-sized bird, designed like a tiny, pointy weapon with a large sleek handle), would unnervingly stare me down until I retired to the safety of the apartment before annihilating en masse whatever remained. Aside from birds, I was told that wild Dahu roam the mountains although I never saw more than their tracks. I kept this from Radley to save him the disappointment of my lack of photographs; they are said to be like the Haggis which apparently plague his ancestral glen.
The snow was near-perfect. Already a snow-sure area, l’Espace Killy had a deep and reliable base, and often bright blue skies were only interrupted by apocalyptic deluges of fresh white that would erase any existing artefacts of the herds. The altitude of the highest slopes did sometime mean riding through clouds for a day, eliciting the unnerving out-of-body experience wherein one may see only ones own immaculately outfitted self: no sky, no horizon and no slope, merely a tight and unchanging featureless white cocoon. Being unable to even confirm whether or not I was moving, it was often tempting to settle cross-legged and commune with a higher power but fellow Brits, determined to make the most of a week away from their mindless servitude whatever the conditions, would slide inelegantly past, bellowing to each other in an abject attempt at echo-location.
The natives were remarkably friendly too. On one of the many bluebird days, my heads-up map had run through its battery and left me cheerfully riding a lift up a mountain without an escape plan. The teenaged boarder next to me valiantly pretended to understand my plight before offering me some of his herbal cigarette to calm down. “Which is the best way back to town?” I asked as we were released at the peak and he, in a beautiful moment of je ne sais quoi, gave a short laugh and gestured for me to follow. He led me along a precipitous ledge, climbed over another peak and then down a death-defying, life-affirming rampage through miles of perfectly untouched powder field wilderness. We received minutes of terrifying descents, unperturbed gliding and a remarkable silence, save my own inadvertent shrieks. And then, suddenly, we were gliding back into the seething town centre where he was lost in a crowd. The best way back indeed.