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  • Writer's pictureHenry

The Perfect Line: A Love Letter to Skiing

As I staggered up to the rest of the group at the top of the admittedly too-short bootpack, I finally got the chance to catch my breath and look up. I always forget to look up when skiing; am I used to the terrain surrounding me? Barely. Instead I’m too much of a perfectionist to look up from my skis and the snow in front of me, worrying about my technique, my pole plant, how low I can sink my ass in the next carving turn.


I looked out over the valley that links Tignes le Lac and Tignes Val Claret, and lost my breath – again. We were just, just, under the cloud that had blinded us completely on another run moments before, the blind leading the blind as we followed the red speck of our guide disappearing further and further into the fog.


Below us, 400m of vertical led down Le Golf itinerary route to the road that links the two highest villages of the Tignes conglomeration. Not huge by anyone’s imagination, but special nonetheless. I had ridden the bus between these two villages countless times, on school trips, on Club business, and on holidays with friends to the region; trying desperately not to fall over in my ski boots as the bus lurches and leans along the road.


Every time, I caught a glimpse of the individual tracks leading down through otherwise untouched powder to a deserted road, save for a few chalets, post boxes and a bus stop – seemingly only to serve these powder fields. I had dreamt, many times over, of stepping on to the bus from one of these stops, covered head-to-toe in powder and with a huge grin on my face, advertising to the locals and tourists just trying to get home after a long day exactly what I had achieved.


This was my chance.

 

 

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My friends needed no reminding that I happened to be out skiing in one of the best Decembers on Alpine record. Metres of snow had fallen by the middle of the month, providing a fabulous base and endless choices of untouched powder fields to hunt for. I had lost count of the number of times they had booted me from our group chats, smiling selfies from behind my goggles and picturesque mountain views met at every turn by their small, envious shots of retribution and revenge.


Of course, it didn’t have to be like this. The Alps have become accustomed to poor starts, or at least stuttering opening weeks made worse by poor middles and rain; lots of rain. Fresh in the mind of many will be the opening weeks to 2022/23, when rain washed away the lacklustre bases of many alpine resorts. Even if you weren’t skiing over Christmas and New Year, the opening rounds of the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup, broadcast the world over set to the jaunty tones of Pop Looks Bach every Sunday, were skied on ribbons of white amidst a valley of green, setting it in everyone’s mind that Global Warming was here and there may not be much we can do about it.


We looked on in horror at the weather reports from resort as we made the drive from Geneva Airport, a deep sense of irony notwithstanding. It had rained in Tignes all day. Sitting not-quite-pretty at 2,100m elevation, Tignes boasts one of the highest resort bases in the Alps. Surely, surely, it can’t rain here, especially with the good start it’s had?! With little to no snowline until we crossed the dam and wound our way through the lower villages to the resort, a deep apprehension set it.


 

I was skiing on the invitation of Völkl, a German ski manufacturer that will be well known to many for their high-tech approach to ski manufacturing. Not afraid to chuck every bit of technology known to mankind and skiers the world over into each individual pair of skis they make, the brand is proudly celebrating their centenary in 2024. This year marked 100 years since cartwright George Völkl decided to stop reinventing the wheel and began reinventing the ski instead. Blasting their way onto the World Cup scene fifty years later in 1974, Völkl continue to push performance at every turn, still sponsoring four-time Olympian Chemmy Alcott and a host of other successful World Cup stars.


This trip, therefore, was to kick off the celebrations for UK retailers, those who have bought into the brand reps’ tales (tall or otherwise), owning shops up and down the UK and deeply, passionately proud of their craft.


I started my skiing life in a shop. Fitting boots and selling skis demonstrated the passion people put into their skiing, and the pleasure you can take from helping people grow their passion (sound familiar?). Here was a crowd that continue to do this, from the farthest reaches of the Scottish Highlands to the bustling heart of Covent Garden, London. They fitted ski boots, wrote blogs, ran local ski clubs, and always, always found time to share their passion for what they did and why they do it. These three days in Tignes were a unique insight into the UK retail market, and how these happy few play a huge role in sustaining the sport we all love.


After all, boot fitter is for life, not just for Christmas …


 

 

This celebration of skiing took place across the slopes of Tignes, on the next generation of Völkl’s skis. I have long had a soft spot for a fair number of Völkl’s skis, headlined by the genre defining Mantra 88 and Mantra M7. Previous generations of these skis were called the Kendo 88 and Mantra M6 respectively, and will be known to members of the Ski Club for the Club’s unabashed adoration of them, as well as to my nearest and dearest for how incessantly I bang on about them. They are the perfect ski. Powerful, strong, controlled and precise on piste, they grip on the corduroy as well as any waif of a carving ski, but have enough stiffness, width, float and stability to shred in the powder too. The Mantra 88 remains unchanged from the Kendo 88 previously (albeit with a new name and topsheet), whilst the M7 adds a fourth dimension to its already tripled-radii'd sidecut, helping wide skis engage the toe edge quicker and with greater precision, but feeling slightly like its quickly becoming the “Gillette Mach 3” of skis: With 16 blades to lacerate your face …


Chased to the top of the podium are two new offerings from Völkl, both of which I was eager to try. On day one, I hopped on a pair of Peregrine 82s, a rebranded Deacon 82 that has long been a bit of a big deal in the on piste market. They handled immeasurably well, especially in the powder we faced, handling with the skill and finesse of a much wider ski, only once throwing me up onto the snow – I will strongly argue I made the choice to go down, others in the group may beg to differ.


 

At the top of the boot pack, I heaved my pair of Blaze 94s off my shoulders and let them clatter to the snow, the dirty look from the Völkl rep reminding me that he had all the power in the world to make me walk down. I’d been enjoying the Blaze 94s, an improved-upon version of a 2023/24 invention from Völkl. Previous versions had been skittery and jumpy, a small yappy terrier of a ski unsure of the new smells and voices around it. This year was more of a sheepdog; surefooted, controlled, able to lead the helpless but happy to let the confident fly free.


Clipping in, I watched as our guide set off, followed in turn the rest of the group. I set off last, both happy to play tail-end Charlie and grateful for the extra few seconds to catch my breath. I let the skis build some speed, happier as all skis are in powder with a bit of oomph behind them. Feeling them begin to take off as the rocker and stiffness of the ski lifts them to the top of the snow, I popped up, aware of the inefficiencies in my technique but conscious I didn’t want to cock up what could be a truly brilliant run (damn my perfectionist brain) and rocked into my first turn. The skis responded. My god how the skis responded. With consummate ease I settled into the sweet spot, so beautifully positioned right below the mid-point of the sole of my boot. The skis flowed confidently through the snow, sweeping over the fall line and leaving a perfect track behind me. As easily as they allowed me to sink into my turn, the thin metal plate in the ski combined with the rubber dampening running the length of the ski encouraged, cajoled and nudged me upwards and forwards, out of turn one and towards turn two. All the while I remained focused on what my body was doing, my yogic breathing working overtime to ensure I breathed in coming out of the turn, and breathed out going in to engage my core muscles and provide a firm based to ski from. Turn two over, I barrelled into turn three, then turn four. The snow was perfect. Utterly, purely perfect. You drifted and floated with ease through the top few inches, before a springy, lively, spritely based met your skis as you powered through the turn and nursed you back to the top of the snow. It was the easiest snow I had ever skied, fun yet flattering, encouraging yet exhilarating.


Rinse and repeat. I staggered to the bottom of the slope, nipping across the bridge at the bottom of Le Golf and approaching the group by the bus stop on the road, as the bus pulled up. Covered in snow, huge grin on my face, I clipped out and got on the bus. As it pulled away, I slid halfway down the length of the bus, the lack of gripwalk on my boot soles really being a pain. I look up, at the tracks leading down the hill, to the smattering of chalets, post boxes and bus stop seemingly in existence to serve these plucky skiers, then around me at the locals and tourists on the bus who cared not for my existence. I smiled, internally as much as externally; I’d done it – my perfect run, with perfect snow, passionate people, and precision kit.


Welcome to Season 2023/24.




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