It’s still early, my breakfast has barely settled, and yet here I am halfway up an icy, 55-degree slope, kicking footholds and digging my board in with every step to stop myself from slipping. Most guides would start a new group of skiers off with a cruisey red or blue run to assess their level. But Sylvain Rechu, who’s bounding up the hill ahead of me with the sure-footed self-assurance of the proverbial mountain goat, has no such time for such niceties.
The experience is all the more discombobulating because less than 24 hours ago I was at home in London. In between there have been two high-speed trains, a metro journey in Paris, a taxi to resort and three chairlifts rides, but it’s definitely still one of the more rapid ascents to 3,000 metres I’ve ever made.
“In winter the road is closed, so the valley remains a hidden secret, tucked away from the tourist crowds.”
In Sylvain’s defence, our group is pretty experienced, and no-one is uncomfortable getting stuck straight into this kind of terrain. Also, we have a lot of ground to cover if he’s going to show us the best that the Maurienne valley has to offer in just three and a half days.
Although it’s home to no fewer than 24 separate ski resorts, the Maurienne remains something of an unknown quantity, at least to most British skiers. Between us, our group, which includes my friends Matt, Cat and Abi, have spent decades exploring the French Alps, both for business and pleasure. Yet most of us have never been here, and none of us knows the area well.