The First Time I Went… | Skiing

Expired passports, embarrassing gear, and extremely French instructors... writer Chris Sayer takes a trip down memory lane to La Plagne - site of his first ever ski trip

I wish she’d let me show you her passport photo. My mum, that is. It has more in common with a celebrity mugshot than a legal document. Right there, immortalised in thumbnail form, is someone I love, respect, look up to, and hold in the highest regard, in a never-before-seen moment of absolute exhaustion, emotional wreckage and sincere submission to The Man. It’s 35x45mm of pure schadenfreude

But, believe me, it is hilarious. Looking at it now, and ritualistically pulling open that photo page in the check-in queue of every family holiday since, it’s had us all – me, my brother and sister, my dad and mum – snapped in half with laughter. Funny as hell now, even more so knowing what an absolute disaster the hours leading up to mum looking battle-beaten in a Newport passport booth were.

“Those chubby nerdlinger cheeks deserved every second of the savage windburn they got”

It must have been at about 5am that we heard the words, “I’m sorry, but this passport is out of date, Mrs Sayer. We can’t let you, or any of your children, who are all on this passport too, fly.”

No pleading or bargaining or bribing was going to make a difference. After months and months of travelling an hour each way to our ‘local’ dry-slope for ski lessons, weeks of power-skidding across the kitchen in excitement, days of packing bags the size of hatchbacks, and an early-morning wake-up call to travel to Bristol airport, one out-of-date passport had ripped us from our first ski holiday, and anchored us firmly to the UK.

Mum crumbled under this ten-tonne realisation and immediately felt sick. Dad didn’t know what to do. I didn’t get it. Pretty soon, what I did get, was that we were back in the car and high-tailing it to Wales to try our luck at getting Mum a fresh new passport.

It’s definitely a look. Photo via Chris Sayer

Saved By A Miracle

Miracles don’t happen often. But when they do, they definitely don’t happen in Newport. Which is why the existence of a divine higher power was inarguably proven when the lady in front of this shattered five-piece, openly despairing about their travel woes in a queue for baked breakfast goods, turned around in sympathy, and revealed herself to be the exact person we needed to see from the passport office – the gatekeeper to fast-tracking Mum and getting her a goddamn burgundy booklet in goddamn record time.

One queue unapologetically jumped (okay, fine, I’m very sorry, customers of Newport Passport Office circa March 2000), and one wallet-sized photo (that depicted mum as a haunted TV star after a late-night drink-driving offence) later, and we’re now in a generic high-street travel agents, working out how we can use our freshly obtained rights to a holiday, to, well, holiday.

“The fusty charity shop scent of those nu-metal ski pants has now been unceremoniously exhumed in my mind” || Photo via Chris Sayer

In the same way an X-Factor sob story grabs an audience and the Four Horsemen of the Voting Table by the tear ducts, our epic tale had every single one of the travel agents in that shop downing tools to seek out a way, any way, to get us to France. Fifteen minutes went by, punctuated with flight false alarms and non-starters, until one wet-look gel-loving employee leapt to his feet from behind his screen to proclaim, “I’ve… I’ve GOT it! Flights, tonight, from Cardiff. But you’ve got to go immediately.”

And we did. And we made it the flight. And we flew to France. And we took the world’s most expensive taxi to La Belle Plagne to have the freaking holiday we’d had taken from us 18 hours before.

Looking Back On The Look

If, as I’m now beginning to highly suspect, photographs solely exist to re-emerge and embarrass the hell out of you at some point in the distant future world, then these pictures have served their purpose. Hooo baby, those chubby little nerdlinger cheeks definitely deserved every second of the savage and painful wind burn they got that week.

“That very cool memory of my first jacket being that super rad, Tango-orange XXXL Volcom shell that I saved up for? Oh, yeah, that’s apparently absolute bullshit”

And I’m thoroughly enjoying how the fusty charity shop scent of those nu-metal ski pants has now been unceremoniously exhumed in my mind, along with precisely how much my first pair of skate shoes (Globe something-or-others) looked like loaves of wholemeal bread.

Oh, and that very cool memory of my first jacket being that super rad, Tango-orange XXXL Volcom shell that I saved up for? Oh, yeah, that’s apparently absolute bullshit. It was, in fact, a baby-blue women’s Nevica jacket from the early 1980s. So that’s good. Christ. Chriiist.

Contrary to rumours, Chris Sayer has never played in the rock and/or roll band Kings of Leon. Here he is in a Japanese onsen. Photo via Chris Sayer

But while these images will be absolutely heading back into a little box, both physically and mentally (and then probably both physically and mentally burned and/or sent to the bottom of the sea), it’s Fabian, our ridiculously rad ciggie-sucking instructor from that holiday, who’s managed to cling on in my phenomenally terrible capacity for memory.

Fabian drilled the chant “Sit down, STAND UUUHP!” so deeply into me that countless turns I’ve taken since, be it in chest-deep backcountry pow in puking Hakuba or the silent slopes of tiny Suicide Six in Vermont, have been soundtracked by those four words in their deep French-Anglo accent. It’s the same reason my brain hits play on the Marlboro-tinged chant of “Allez… we go!” before every drop-in, too. No amount of deafening Black Sabbath over headphones can hold it back. God knows I’ve tried.

Those soundbites are gonna stick around, unlike Mum’s mugshot. She’s got a new passport now, with a disappointingly conventional photo page, after ten years of check-in queue torment. For me, the damage is done. I’ll now forever be the guy flitting between frantic expiry date-checking, and biting his lip like a tickled kid in church, whilst waiting to dump his bags.

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Craving a new adventure today, after having a couple of films developed over the weekend and getting flashbacks to the time I was riding through bonkers snow dumps in Hakuba, Japan. Luckily there’s a trip in the works that’s even more freakin’ insane than this was… . . . #35mm #filmphotography #japow #snowboarding #japan #snow #adventure #travel

A post shared by Chris Sayer (@chrissayer00) on

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