Race Day in Val Thorens As It Closes for the Season
7th May 2022 | James Cove, Val Thorens, France.
Last modified on May 9th, 2022
PlanetSKI was in the French resort at the weekend for its end of season party – La Grand Derniere. We donned our race bib, waxed up the skis and sharpened our edges for a race that goes on piste and off piste. UPDATED
As I awaited my turn at the start gate, my heart was beating that little bit faster and my mouth began to go dry.
It is like that as you approach the gate in a ski race.
Then as soon as the race gets underway all the nerves go.
I suspect the people behind me, awaiting their turn, felt similar.
There were 100s of us.
I also had a race plan that I believed to be faultless – it had won Olympic gold and I was going to follow it to the letter.
More of that later.
The race started at midday so time for a ski with friends ahead of the event.
Considering it is early May the slopes were in excellent condition.
It was hard packed first thing but it soon softened up, and there wasn’t a bare patch in sight.
It always surprises me why more people from the UK don’t go skiing in April and May.
There is plenty of snow if you go to the right resorts in the Alps.
Val Thorens is one of them.
It was tempting just to carry on skiing and laughing with friends, but decided the race must be tackled.
More than 300 people have signed up for the race – ranging from the serious once in cat suits and perfectly waxed skis, through to plenty of others in animal costumes.
It has been a long, long season in Val Thorens – it is one of the first ski resorts in the Alps to open usually at the end of November, and one of the last ones to close in early May.
I mentioned it all in a preview piece that I posted on Friday as I arrived in the resort:
For the locals it is a last hurrah and farewell to winter.
For the rest of us a final to chance to slide around on snow before we put our skis away for the summer break.
La Grande Derniere race pulls us all snowsports fans together – the young and the less young alike.
So, what about my cunning race plan?
Firstly I had to change my skis as the ones I received from a local hire shop were dire.
They refused to give me any others and I guess all the good ones had been put away as it was the penultimate day of the season.
Fortunately there was a Salomon Test centre near the bottom of the race course, so I wandered up and asked if it was possible to test one of their latest race skis.
A few minutes later a pair of top of the range race skis was firmly in my hands.
As I headed up the lift to the start area I devised my cunning race plan.
There were 350 people to beat and the system is that we set off in fours with a suitable interval between each departing racer group.
All I could do was try to win my group to the best of my ability.
I recalled the short track speed skating event at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
The unfancied Australian speed skater, Steven Bradbury, deliberately hung around at the back hoping for the three in front to fall over.
Which they duly did and he took gold.
It seemed like a good strategy and I executed my plan perfectly and lurked around behind my fellow speed merchants.
Except the three in front didn’t all fall over.
In fact not one of them did.
I came last in my group.
For the record a friend of mine, Tom Herbst, took the crown in our group.
As I had a celebratory beer at the bottom of the course I saw many falling on the steep finish section.
I may even get a respectable overall placing once the results are released.
But of course none of this is about the result.
It is, as the old sporting saying goes, all about ‘taking part’.
La Grande Derniere is a fabulous and fun sporting event, a perfect way to round off the ski season.
There were DJs and BBQs.
And I suspect things could turn a bit messy later as the celebration of the season ending continues here in Val Thorens.
After the Covid-19 ski winter of 2021/22 that we have all got through I think we probably all deserve it.
For those concerned with such matters James came 88th with a time of 5 minutes and 13 seconds.
His fellow group racer, Tom, nudged ahead of him with a time of 4 minutes and 11 seconds.
The winner, Benjamin Jaques, recorded a time of 3 minutes and 1 second.