Columbia Star

1963        Celebrating 60 Years      2023

Christmas in Italy

Part 4: taking a tumble down the Alps

Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in western Europe at at 15,771 feet.  It looms over the city of Courmayeur, Italy.

Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in western Europe at at 15,771 feet. It looms over the city of Courmayeur, Italy.

By Sydney Kornegay

The weather did not bode well for skiing; nor did Francesco’s stories.

As we drove north from Milan for several days of skiing in the Alps, our car was enveloped in a thick and monotonous fog. Francesco, meanwhile, regaled me with stories from his previous skiing trips. It seemed that broken ankles, dislocated shoulders, and fractured knees were common themes in each.

“Am I going to die on these slopes?” I asked.

“Not likely, but you might break your legs,” he replied.

By the time we reached the small skiing village of Courmayeur, my confidence in my skiing ability had evaporated, as had the fog. The mountains were now perfectly visible, looming like snow- covered giants over the tiny town.

The Alps didn’t just dominate the skyline of Courmayeur, they were the center of the town’s culture as well. Everything in Courmayeur was dedicated to skiing – from the winter sports shops that lined the cobblestone streets to the warm cafes catering to tired skiers to the buses that shuttled skiers to and from the giant cable cars. The cable cars, in turn, carried passengers over the top of the town, across the valley, and up the side of the mountain to the slopes.

As I packed into the cable car with about 80 other riders the first day, I was a little nervous. The slopes we were rapidly approaching seemed steep and impassable from that vantage point.

“We can do the easy slope the first time,” Francesco said. “And then move on to something harder.”

The “easy” slope, however, turned out to be brutal. I fell twice before even reaching the ski lift, and then again as I got off at the top of the slope. And while I thought that I might get better once I built up some speed, the momentum just made my falls more spectacular. It took me 15 minutes of flying, falling, rolling, and sliding before I reached the bottom.

“Maybe we should try that one again,” Francesco advised, and I spent the entire day mastering the easy slope.

The next morning, unfortunately, was even worse. Moving on to harder slopes meant taking even harder falls, and I managed to twist my knee, lose my ski, and hit my eye against the end of my pole all in one fall. Meanwhile, a group of five- year- olds skied by me in perfect coordination, zig- zagging back and forth at the command of their ski instructor. I stood up again in optimistic determination and whizzed past the uniformed children. Seconds later, I plowed into a mother and her toddler, sending all three of us sprawling down the ice. I apologized in broken Italian and decided to call it a day.

Finally, on the third day, I started to get the hang of it. I managed to move on to some harder slopes and avoid most of the other skiers. This gave me a little more time to enjoy the scenery and the breathtaking views of the Italian Alps.

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