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GETTING PAST THE PLOUGH - Kay Frances, Andorra
Monday March 25, 2019 - Email this article to a friend

Can Kay Frances move on from the snowplough? She sets off to Andorra to find out. Do you remember learning to ski?




"Feel the fear and do it anyway", that's the title of a book gathering dust on a shelf at my home in York.

It sits alongside another, 'The Optimist'.

Nose down (and posterior up) a mountainside in sunny Andorra the choice of whether to feel that fear, or not, is no longer an option and I'm having to muster as much positive spirit as I can.

Friends back home simply said, "Be careful", on hearing the news I was going to attempt skiing again.

I knew that was code for "don't break anything".

It's only a year since I fractured my arm falling off my mountain bike.

I am somewhat accident-prone.

I've attempted to learn to ski twice before, both times showing little, if any, natural ability and that a distant 25-years ago.

AndorraKay Frances, Getting past the plough in Andorra
















So here I am.

In Arinsal, Andorra.

A tiny principality sandwiched between Spain and France in the Eastern Pyrenees.

Arinsal, AndorraArinsal, Andorra
















The resort itself is in the centre of a national park - an area of spectacular natural beauty, so says the guide book, and having arrived I'm not one to argue.

Vallnord has won the World Ski Awards best ski resort in Andorra four years in a row.

And it has one of only two schools in Europe to be accredited with the BASI (British Association of Snowsport Instructors) approved ski school status.

So if anyone can teach me to ski, surely they can?

I'm hoping I'm not going to blot their copybook.

After taking the gondola - just a five-minute walk from our hotel - up to the nursery slope, the helpful team at the ski hire kit me out with three essentials.

Boots, skis, helmet.

Vallnord, AndorraGetting kitted out
















And, with optimism edging out over fear, I meet Michelle Reed, one of the 30 or so native English instructors here.

I set her my challenge.

"Do you think you can get me past the snowplough?"

"Well we only have three days... but I'm confident we can do it".

It's an encouraging approach.

Though secretly I have the same feeling in the pit of my stomach that I used to get just before a school history exam.

My skis are much shorter than I remember and I also note the helmet is a reassuring addition to the kit.

















First off we sidestep up the nursery slope.

We begin re-learning the basics of the snowplough, leaning left and right doing some slow turns.

I bend my knees, point my skis at an angle.

It's all coming back!

Day 1 on skis:

Next we take a spin on the magic carpet.

AndorraGetting past the plough
















Imagine the moving walkway at the airport but with an incline.

It's a revelation - so easy to get on and off. It takes us to the top of the nursery slope.

What a relief not to have to hang on to a button lift for dear life.

After a couple of hours' tuition we head across to El Refugi restaurant, (which aptly translates as safe harbour), where the Argentinian chef Ramon, serves up a hearty Escudella, a tasty local soup.

















Andorra ArinsalMagic carpet and beginner's slope
















We sit on the terrace and take in the meringue-like peaks of the Andorran mountain range.

It's a real plus point for the resort that even as a beginner you get to enjoy such wonderful views.

After lunch Michelle shares her top tips for learning to ski.

Michelle's top three tips for beginners:

Day Two

A few more practice runs on the nursery slope behind us, we take a chair lift up to the start of the Margarita blue run.

I'm wondering if we'll get one if we get down.

Day 2 on skis:

I set the Crystal Holidays ski app on my i-phone to start - as well as everything you need to know about the resort, it also has a nifty 'ski tracking' device and tells you how far you've gone each day, records your speed and altitude.

From the lift we can see over to La Capa and the start of the steepest black run in all of Andorra - a 1km drop down to Arinsal village.

A few inches of snow have fallen overnight and the quiet pistes are dusted in lovely powder.

If there's a shortage of the real thing, Arinsal benefits from a plentiful supply of snow cannons so skiing is guaranteed.

Michelle explains with our Vallnord ski pass we can also explore neighbouring Pal, where there are more tree-lined blue runs.

To get there you hop on the Seturia cable car - each cabin takes 50 people on a six-minute ride, linking both resorts.

Andorran sunAndorran sun
















Sadly we don't have time to get to Pal this trip but I make a mental note to remember it.

Am I seriously considering another ski trip already?

Whilst pondering that I start to feel anxious about getting off the dreaded chair lift.

The memories are flooding back.

Was I making an Andorran mountain out of a molehill?

It seems so.


Slowly stand up.

Hold both poles in left hand.

Push off the seat with right hand.

Ski straight ahead.

Turns out it's relatively easy when you're shown how.

The blue run is long and wide.


Born to be wild!Born to be wild!
















We start our lesson on parallel turns.

"Imagine you're opening a tub of paracetamol", says Michelle.

"Press and turn".

I put pressure on my upward ski, lean forwards, and attempt to bring my other ski around.

"Don't forget to look where you're going", Michelle advises with well-practised patience.

I'm looking down at my feet - not a good idea.

There's a lot to remember.

Bend knees, make sure your shins have contact with your boots, make the snowplough turn smaller, try to keep your body facing the mountain (but don't worry about that too much for now), point skis downhill on the turn (that's the bit I struggle with), keep pressure on the turn, add a little edge to uphill ski (try to kiss the mountain with your little toe), switch weight to the new downhill ski and oh... relax ...

I realise this is going to take a giant leap of faith and I'm still holding back with any leaps.

On my first parallel ski turn attempt I come to a complete stop at the edge of the piste, with both skis pointing uphill.

There's a reason they call it downhill skiing.

Michelle is there to assist.

I try a look of nonchalance as I look up and see ten six year olds whizz confidently by.

We spend the afternoon exploring more of the wide blue runs and even venture onto a red for a short spell.

During the day I catch up with another of Vallnord's Alpine Ski Instructors, Scott Maughan, from West Yorkshire, to find out why he recommends Arinsal for beginners.

Scott tells us why choose Arinsal:

After two days on the slopes I feel I've earned one of Head Barman, Louis's signature cocktails back at our comfortable base camp, the Princesa.

I plump for a Margarita, of course, and then head to the hotel's spa.

I know I should probably do it the other way round.

But what harm one drink?

Louis cocktail makingLouis cocktail making
















There's a Turkish hamman, caldarium, several saunas and a large hydro massage pool.

I treat myself to a soothing back massage too.

Aside from the pistes, Arinsal boasts an active après ski scene.

Suitably relaxed, we explore a few of the bars in the village.

At El Derby Irish bar, a talented singer is belting out his version of 'Wonderwall' and a crowd of Yorkshire folk (I can't get away from them) are gamely joining in.

Up a style notch at the 'Sushi Mountain', it sets us back just €3 for sushi and a beer or glass of wine.

There's no arguing about who buys a round here.

Finally a nightcap at the uber cool Cisco's.

I'm one of the few people in here without dreadlocks.

Back at the hotel my competitive streak (I do have one) finally comes out in a game of ten-pin bowling and a couple of rounds of table football.

I sleep like a baby.

AndorraArinsal views

















So, it's day three and my last chance to crack that elusive parallel.

The weather is glorious, zero degrees but sunny with a deep blue cloud free sky.

We take a chair lift to the summit at Pic Negre - 2,569 metres high.

From here we're treated to views across to Spain and the Pyrenean ski resort of la Molina.

The slope down is gentle and I manage it with ease.

I'm smiling from ear to ear.

Half way down the Port Vell blue we stop for our morning drink in a cosy cabin, warming up by the wood burning stove.

On our last day I'm focussing on trying not to stick my bum in the air quite so much.

Not a good look.

I muse that perfecting my style might need to wait for my next ski trip.

Michelle thinks I'm ready to tackle a more difficult blue run, Les Marrades.

It follows the trail of an old dirt road and winds in horseshoe bends through quiet woods to the far side of the village.

It's my last chance to give it my all and I finally manage, if only fleetingly, to point my skis downhill (instead of up) as I make a turn that finally feels right.

As I parallel ski past Michelle (yes parallel), she yells with delight, "you nailed it Kay, you nailed it."

Day 3 on skis:

Cracking parallels in AndorraCracking parallels in Andorra


















Crystal Ski Holidays offers a week's half-board at the 4-star Princesa Parc from £645pp when booked online (based on two sharing), including flights from London Gatwick to Toulouse and transfers.

The hotel has super spacious rooms, with tea and coffee making facilities, roomy walk in shower and balcony with mountain views.

Direct flights are available from all major UK airports.

Ski and boot hire starts from £43pp and a 6-day local lift pass is £194.

(Prices given for 2019 departures).

Flights are with TUI Airways.

The transfer to Toulouse is just over 3 hours.

19 hours of group lessons from Monday to Friday is £152 (adult), £138 (child), which can be booked through Crystal.

Arinsal is part of the Vallnord ski area, so you can also explore neighbouring Pal as well as Arcalis.

Beginners will spend their first couple of days on the lower parts of the Arinsal sector.

And when you've run your legs out, the decent après ski scene starts right at the bottom of the slopes.

Wide variety of accommodation and great range of après options along the main Carretera General.

Free kids' lift pass deals and one of the best English-speaking ski schools in Europe.

Brilliant beginner slopes near the village and wide, tree-lined runs for intermediates over in the Pal Valley

AndorraMini snow ploughers

















- Be comfortable, you'll need proper ski socks and waterproof ski bottoms.

- Wear layers (I bought a merino wool base top and leggings and they kept me warm all day).

- There's no need to buy a thick ski jacket (like the shiny pink one I had back in the nineties). Any waterproof jacket will do.

- Pockets are useful.

- Don't forget the factor 50 sun cream - even on a cloudy day

- Remember which pocket you put everything in!

- I like to have a camera with me - make sure you keep your things in the same place, so everything you need is easy to get at.

- If you have a jacket with a top left side pocket you can keep your ski pass in there all day - there's no need to take it out to get through the ski gates.

- Before your trip go to a ski equipment shop and practice taking the boots on and off.

- Drink lots of water during the day.

- Have plenty of rests, you're on holiday, not on an endurance test!

- Learn at your own pace and don't feel pressured by anyone to do a run you're not ready for.

- Be positive, forget the fear and just do it anyway!

 AndorraPast the plough
















Arinsal, AndorraArinsal, Andorra
















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