Saturday, March 5, 2011

Why I'll Never Be A Ski Instructor

There are quite a number of reasons why I shall never be a ski instructor. I'm a Miami girl, which by default means that I'm from Florida. Florida is a state which painfully lacks hills and mountains and has hundreds of miles of coastline. I also live in a semi-tropical area, so the concept of snow and four distinctive seasons do no register with the climate. What better place for me to go on vacation than to jet off to the French Hautes-Alpes?

And by "jet off," I really meant a 4-hour TER ride from Dijon to Grenoble, a 2-hour TER from Grenoble to Gap and then a 1-hour bus ride from Gap up to the mountains of the Orcières-Merlette ski station, all for the low cost of 28.60 Euros in train fare and 10 Euros for the shuttle.

But it was all worth it! Just look at this sky!

I was about to embark on spending four, fabulous days with my French BFF Mimi, a mutual work colleague named Marie and her very well-educated 7-year-old son name Pierre. French kids are just so cute, but I'm so out of touch with what is popular with them that I honestly have never heard of Ben 10.

And, wait. Did my eyes deceive me? Were the French really wearing...color? After swimming in a sea of somber shades for weeks in Dijon, I was amicably greeted by an inviting blue sky and extravagant multi-colored ski suits! Amid the crowd of hot pinks and flashes of each shade of the rainbow, I felt undeniably sexy wearing a giant black marshmallow on my torso. For the first time in months, I actually saw people with suntans and sunburns. This was just on their faces and very often, I saw people with a pale imprint of a pair of sunglasses etched on their skin.

As much as I love being in the sun, I wanted to avoid this dorky trend at all costs. A sunburn like this is the mark of a tourist and that would just be the ultimate shame to my Miami nature.

I didn't do much the first of the trip because I was just dead tired. I would just wait to see what the next day would bring.

I had some idea of what was going to happen, though. Mimi excitedly announced that she had reserved a slot for all of us to go on a dog sled ride. This just blew my mind.

I have heard of horse-drawn buggies and even got the chance to explore my mother's Cartagena, Colombia on a rather romantic evening stroll by carriage...but a dog-sled ride? Now this I just had to see!

I awaited the evening to fall so I could jave a good night's rest after being awake since 3:30 a.m. Little did all four of us know that none would get much sleep. After a couple of apéro drinks followed by a hearty mountain dinner, Mimi and Pierre engaged in a vigorous tickle fight in which Pierre unfortunately hurt his left hand. He spent the night crying in pain, Marie spent it being wide awake next to his bedside, Mimi remained alert out of anxiety and guilt for had happened to poor Pierre...and I just kept tossing and turning.

The following morning, it was decided that Pierre would visit the doctor to see whether or not his hand had been sprained. The four of us headed up to the Roche Rousse in a tired stupor. I got a sudden jolt of energy when I gazed upon a ski-lift for the first time in my life. We all had our charge cards that would allow us to use the contraption once we swiped them past a sensor.

Going up the ski lift...

Me being all Happy-Happy, Joy-Joy in my unscathed mountain glory

I was unanimously appointed the job of Main Picture-Taker and it was my responsibility to document the Husky Sled Ride experience. I heeded to this task with much enthusiasm.

You can tell that this husky is estatic to be going back to work.

This is Alaska, the husky that led Marie's sled.

Mid-ride, our amiable Bourguignon guide offered me a little proposition: "How would like to to ride alongside me standing up?" Something in the deepest pit of my stomach meekly squeaked out "no," but that voice was silenced by a booming "HELL YES!" It wasn't until I was actually in the activity of darting through the mountains that the dubious meek voice took control of my body and caused me to stiffen up on the sled. My hands gripped the handles with a forceful clamp. I was scared. "You need to relax," the guide advised. "Don't worry, you are a natural musheuse!"

I'm a natural dog-sled leader, eh? Okay. I'll believe it.

Oh, and another reason why I'll never be a ski instructor? I have a poor sense of balance. During my stint as a musheuse, I tumbled off the sled. Twice.

I didn't just fall off, either.

Oh, no: I zipped off in a violent horizontal motion and hurtled in the air. I even out-flew the second dog sled team led by Marie. My momentary experiment with flight came to a sudden end when I crashed into a flurry of powdery snow.

This vivid moment made me the guaranteed laughing post for the rest of the day and I am certain that, for the small crowd who were there, I will not live this down.

I dejectedly gave up on my musheuse job and went back to my original job as Main Picture-Taker.

I truly loved this experience.

(I obviously didn't take this one.)

The next day was the day that I was going to attempt a snow shoe hike while the others went skiing. We were going to head out in the afternoon and spend the first part of day relaxing in the apartment for a bit. That morning, Pierre was handed a stack of blank sheets and a set of coloring pencils and markers. He proudly demonstrated the some of his Ben 10 cartoons and asked me if I wanted to join him with some cartooning.

Pierre made the most amazing discovery when he found out that I knew how to draw a cat.

"Ouaaaaaaaaou!!! Do you know how to draw a dog?"

I did. I drew a cartoon of a dog sitting down. He liked it. A lot.

"Barbara, do you know how to draw dragons?"

"Well, I don't know, Pierre, but I can sure try..."

I made something that ressembled a green long-necked dinosaur with a pig snout and wings.

"Ouaaaaaaaaou!!! Your dragon is so cool! Do you know how to draw un fantôme?"

Mimi and I took the opportunity to teach Pierre some new vocabulary and we said that the English for fantôme is ghost.

"I learned that at school, when we talked about Halloween," he said.

"Wow, that's great! Can you say 'ghost' for us?"


Mimi and I then asked him what other things he knew about Halloween.

"I also learned about witches. They wear pointed hats and fly on brooms! Okay, Barbara, I'm going to draw a moon and inside it, I want you to draw a witch flying on her broom! And make sure she has a huge wart on her nose!"

I did as he requested.

"Ouaaaaaaaaaou...she's so beautiful!"

"Really? Witches aren't generally thought to be attractive."

"Well, I mean the witch you drew is pretty, but I would not date one in real life. Do you know how to draw Dracula?"

Since I had never really made a vampire cartoon, I made a drawing about Dracula from the waist up.

"Ouaaaaaaaaou...tu dessines trop bien! Can you make a drawing of Dracula with his legs?"

I did that too and thus opened the floodgates to Pierre's Dracula-fueled curiosity.

I suddenly became the Vampire expert of Orcières-Merlette.

"Where does Dracula sleep?" "He sleeps in a coffin."

"What's a coffin?" "It's a box where you put someone who's dead."

"Can you draw me Dracula sleeping in his coffin?"

"Of course, I can, Pierre..."

(Oh, God, please let that be the end of the Dracula drawings!)

"Barbara, why does Dracula sleep in a coffin?" "He needs to find a place that protects him from sunlight."

"But why? Why doesn't Dracula like the sun?" "The sun is dangerous to him. It's his weakness, like kryponite is Superman's weakness. Hey, I'm going to take a shower now, and I want you to draw me Superman!"

I was hoping that after my shower, I would have a break from the relentless bids for more drawings. I was wrong.

"Okay, now you are going to draw Dracula trying to get to his coffin, but he's too late because the sun has gotten to him so he has his arms raised to shield himself and he is squinting in pain going 'auuuuugggggggghhh!!!'"

I thought myself to be the pilot in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Le Petit Prince, only this time the sheep drawings were replaced by a flurry of requests for a parasitic blood-sucker.

Snow Shoe Attempt #1

The plan was for me to go all the way up to the peak of the Drouvet ski slopes so I could have a spectucular view of the whole mountain range. Then, once I would be at the top, I would head down the slope using the snow shoes.

I admit that I was rather nervous about the idea of attempting an activity that I have never done. I am, to put it mildly, not a very sporty individual. My childhood past times consisted of stationary activities involving books, a television set and a Sega Genesis which was later traded in for a Sony PlayStation. And just to make things crystal clear: the other kids in P.E. class were innately perceptive of my lack of physical activity and thus sagely executed the activity of leaving me to be the dregs of organized kickball teams in P.E. class.

I gazed at my target with apprehension.

Mimi encouraged me with her advice: "Don't be scared, Barbara. I did this walk by myself when I was 12 years old! You shall be just fine." When I was 12, I was busy figuring out Spyro the Dragon and Crash Bandecoot.

In order to get to the peak, I needed to take two ski lifts. I managed to score a cabine all for myself! Floating ski lift rides are peaceful and you get to have expansive views of the horizon as you are gently imported to a higher plane.

Or at least that what the experience feels like when the cable car is in motion. If it suddenly comes to a jerky stop, then the ski lift is no longer a floating device of joy if not a Doom Death Trap of Doom and Death.

How many solitary rides in a ski lift does it take a Miami girl to totally lose it and question her impending mortality? The answer is one.

There really was no need to panic. The cable car remained suspended for what seemed five days 2 minutes. I eventually made my way to the second part of the ski lift with my sanity intact.

Ever had those moments when you look around a place and think "hm, what's wrong with this picture?" I instantly noticed that of all the people waiting, I was the only one carrying snowshoes. Everyone else had a pair of those skis attached to their feet. Everyone else seemed to be zooming down the slopes at full speed. Yes. The mountain was completely void of any other hikers. Still, in my confusion, I robotically scanned the card to let myself through the gate to join the mass of skiers patiently waiting to get on the slopes at a higher altitude. That's when I got the bad news from the watchful attendant:

"It is forbidden to have snowshoe hikes on the ski slopes. You have to go to the other one called Roche Rousse that is specifically for hiking."

Great. Why couldn't someone have told me this vital piece of information before I made it to the second ski lift? Since I had already passed my card a second time, it would just be pointless if I didn't proceed to see what was all the way on top of the mountain chain. This is what I saw:

Then I went back down because I was a scared crybaby.

I explained my case that I had used up all my rides on the card and therefore couldn't do anything about it. I had even left my wallet behind because I did not want to be weighed down by extra items, so I could not possibly charge more money onto the card.

"Ah. Well, at this's up to you to see what you are going to do. Let me see what I can do."

The attendant at this point called over one of the most handsome men I had ever seen. Tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed, chiseled cheekbones and a rusty skin tone that suggested that he spent most of his time outdoors teaching clumsy five-year olds the art of not falling flat-faced into the snow while learning a new sport; his red École du Ski Français uniform also helped clue me in as to what he did as a job.

"Madame made a mistake about the ski lifts. She wants to go on a snowshoe hike. What should she do?"

"Well," said the hot ski instructor, "she needs to go to the other one called Roche Rousse. That one is specifically for hiking."

Uh. Yeah, hot stuff. There is a slight problem with that...namely how I don't have any more rides left on my card.

"Ah. Well, I'll just ask my boss to see what can be done! Hé, Chef! We've got a Madame who needs to go to Roche Rousse!"

"She needs to take the other ski lift to go there."

Going to the beach to lie on the sand is definitely less complicated than being told the same thing three times over.

Another reason why I'll never be a ski instructor? When faced with hot athletic males, my brain undergoes a sensory overload which short-circuits it and renders my communication skills useless. turning into a nonsensical babbling contraption. I decided to call it quits on my failed quest and to try again the following day.

Greatly invigorated by the mountain air (and the fact that Mimi had judiciously offered to accompany me on the hike), I finally went off on a snow shoe hike the last day!

Due to my lack of balance, I spent a quarter of the time sliding on my butt down the slopes and screaming my head off. To be frank, I quite liked the sensation of rushing down the snow. It felt like a water slide. A frozen one. I also take comfort in knowing that I could have caused an avalanche with my resonating cries of joy.

"Yes," observed Mimi. "I can see now that it would have been a mistake to have left you all alone to go hiking."

How awesome is this mini-snowman?

In the end, I fulfilled a silly dream of mine of having a cup of hot chocolate up in the mountains. The waiter was even nice enough to provide me with a heaping caloric serving of artery-clogging whipped cream. It's just like I always wanted...

That night, Marie, Pierre and I had decided that we would leave the apartment the following morning before 7:45 a.m. According to a Lyonnais that Marie had bumped into, if we left just after 8:00 a.m., we would be stuck in the endless jams of people headed north and south.

This meant that I had to organize all of my items the night before so we could head out as soon as possible. I equate packing my own suitcase as yet another passage into the frightening world of adulthood, much like doing my own laundry and making my own damn sammiches. (I admit that I would certainly prefer my mother doing it for me, though.) I also engaged in another Dracula-related discussion with young Pierre.
"Barbara, can we invite Dracula to have dinner with us someday?" "No, that would not be such a good idea...Dracula doesn't really eat bread and cheese like we do."
"Well, then, what does he eat?" "He sucks people's blood."

Okay. I have to remember to take everything with me. I'll place the most important things in my purse: my contact lenses, my MP3, my cellphone and my wristwatch.

No. I can leave the wristwatch on my bedside. I'm sure that I'll remember it in the morning...

Now as for the clothes, I need to place the dirty underwear in a separate bag and then sort out the clothes that I am going to wear tomorrow morning. Oh, I also need to--

Asking for an excited 7-year old to have patience is like telling a shark to just hold out on not attacking a juicy swimmer on a surfboard.

I have no time to waste. The fatigue is slowing me down and my mental accuracy is running out. Now, what else did I need to do?

Oh, yeah. I need to go into the bathroom and place all of my items into another bag. I should leave my toothbrush, toothpaste and the moisturizer out so I can use them in the morning. Then I could just pack all of them up last. I'll just store the comb and the contact lense fluid in the bag now.

It probably won't be a bad idea to leave the deodorant out.

Maybe I should also pack the body lotion la--

Will I need make-up for tomorrow? Meh. I guess I can skip putting on everything for the drive back to Dijon. I could just wear some eyeliner and mascara, but I'll just put on my glasses. I want to be a little bit comfortable.

Ah. I may need some entertainment for the drive. I can't forget the book that my landlord lent me. Maybe I should put my MP3 in my coat pocket instead. I definitely should keep my camera at hand just in case I see some cool things to take pictures of!

Now, as for tomorrow's clothes, I should probably prepare myself for the cold Dijonnais weather. Socks, layers, gloves, scarf, sunglasses.

Sunglasses? Ha, ha. That was a joke. There's like no sun in Dijon! Bummer.

I should probably put my sunglasses in their protective case and put that case in my suitcase. There's no more room in my purse.

Well, you'll have it once I've had my apéro. I needed some alcohol to keep my spirits up! I'm sure that I packed everything...

Oh, it turns out that I left my wristwatch behind. But no worries, Mimi should have it for me.

Barb the French Bean


  1. Holy moly that was extremely long! But I loved the beautiful photos! And how do you hurt your hand tickling someone? LOL That was a lot of fun! Snow shoeing, snow men, hot maen, and sunburns: you got it all in this post.

  2. Wow seems like you had quite an adventure my friend! I'm glad you enjoyed yourself!! ^_^

    great stories!

    <3 Hanny

  3. This post was great. Your photos are so breathtakingly beautiful! I'm glad you didn't get injured. The first (and only) time i went snowboarding, I got whiplash. The vampire story was great. And that mini snowman is fantastic!

  4. Melody: Thanks! As for your question...Mimi and Pierre both fell to the ground with tickles and at one point, Mimi's weight accidentally crushed his hand. She felt so bad about.

    Coffee Bean: I can't wait to hear about your vacation to the Bahamas! :-D Enjoy it, my dear!

    Jay: My fear was honestly getting hurt on the slopes. I saw a couple of people being taken to the local hospital with broken legs and collar bones. o_O" My feet were a bit sore after my 2 1/2 hour walk with the snow shoes.


  5. Wow, those pictures were simply breathtaking!! I am so glad you had fun.

    And I am still laughing about Pierre. My nephews do that to me too, but the only problem is that I can't draw worth a damn.


  6. Great post, beautiful pics, beautiful dog.
    Sorry for laughing when you fell out of the sled. :)


Apparently, leaving comments on this blog is a hit-or-miss game of Russian roulette: you are either lucky and can comment away, or you are required to log in when the settings are CLEARLY set to allow trouble-free commenting (sorry 'bout that, folks). If anything, the Facebook page is always a viable option. :) -Barb