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Find your ski legs; Hannah Stephenson takes a beginner's course in skiing at La Plagne in the Savoie area of the French Alps, attempts to keep up with her husband and discovers it's not such an ordeal after all I hadn't been on skis since my schooldays, when lessons were regimented, you were constantly cold and side-stepping up a nursery slope was the only option to warm up.

If you don't know your snowplough from your schuss then, like me, you are probably a novice on the slopes.

So it was with some apprehension that I agreed to go skiing with my husband, who is a pretty good intermediate.

My decision to go came after years of being the outcast of endless discussions he had with fellow ski addicts about moguls and white-outs, piste runs, village heights and snow reports before they went on their annual jaunt.

But taking the wife? Could it be a recipe for divorce, I asked myself. Would I hold him back, would he lose his patience trying to teach me, would I end up throwing my ski sticks down the mountain in frustration and stomp off to the nearest bar to drown my sorrows?

Happily not. But it does help if you have a patient husband, fine weather and a great resort in which to learn.

Probably one of the best places to start is La Plagne in the Savoie area of the French Alps dominated by Mont Blanc, where snow is almost guaranteed because you are so high up.

La Plagne's vast terrain and lift network allow you to ski to a variety of villages and it has plenty of nursery and blue runs, some of which are fine for beginners, others more suited to intermediates.

Though some of the purpose-built villages of the resort were not pleasing on the eye, we stayed at nearby Belle Plagne, which is traffic-free and feels more exclusive than Plagne Centre.

I hadn't been on skis since my schooldays, when lessons were regimented, you were constantly cold and side-stepping up a nursery slope was the only option to warm up.

Being of different standards doesn't have to put a dampener on proceedings, but it is best to book lessons. Instructors stream you at the beginning; this way you can both improve as well as ski with others who are of the same standard. It's also a good way of meeting other holidaymakers who are in the same boat.

To conserve energy for skiing, it's best to stay at a hotel which is near or even on the piste, so you don't have the hassle of bus journeys or long walks in ski-boots to get you to your starting point.

Our hotel, The Turquoise, was right on the piste and the ski school met directly outside, so the start of the lesson was on our doorstep.

If you go as a couple, whatever standard, I think half-days are enough for lessons. A full day means that you will miss the chance to chill out at some of the wonderful mountain restaurants for a leisurely lunch and the chance to explore some of the other pistes yourself.

Once I had found my ski legs which took a couple of days, I could get down the long, leisurely blue runs fairly easily.

Skiing holidays, it has to be said, are not cheap, but many people we met had sacrificed a summer holiday for a week of skiing. It's wise to go for a catered chalet or hotel on a half-board basis because the last thing you want to do after a day's skiing is cook.

If you choose to eat out in Belle Plagne there are plenty of restaurants, offering everything from burgers to haute cuisine. A small beer will cost around pounds 1.80, a glass of wine pounds 1.50 and meals range from pounds 10 to pounds 40 a head.

Local Savoyard specialities include raclette and Savoyard fondue - gooey local cheese, spicy sausage and ham. Specialist shops can help you select local wine which is good and costs around pounds 3 a bottle.

Once you've booked your holiday, don't forget to budget for the essential extras.

A lift pass will cost around pounds 100 for the week in La Plagne (smaller resorts offer their own lift passes which can be cheaper if you pre-book), while boot and ski-hire will set you back another pounds 60 for the week.

And one word of warning. Take out the extra insurance offered by hire shops for loss or damage to boots and skis. While boot rooms are offered by most hotels in which to store your equipment, on the second day of our holiday someone took my husband's skis by mistake, which cost him half a day's skiing. We ended up keeping our skis and boots on the balcony of our room.

When your legs have run out of steam, there are other attractions in Belle Plagne and La Plagne, or in nearby Plagne Bellecote.

Take the plunge in an outdoor swimming pool heated at 29C in Plagne Bellecote, or go skating or tobogganing.

For the more daring, there are opportunities to take a fast ride on a bobsleigh at the nearby Olympic bobsleigh run, travelling at more than 100kph, with a professional driver, for around pounds 46.

Those who have an endless budget might also take up the chance to be James Bond for an hour or two on a skidoo, a sort of jet ski on snow.

Tamer options in the region include snow shoe walking or relaxing after a long day's skiing with a massage or sauna.

But really, you come to La Plagne for the snow. The ideal way is to plan your runs, get up early to avoid lift queues, ski to one of the many pretty mountain restaurants for lunch and soak up the atmosphere.

And don't forget the sunscreen. We had a week of brilliant sunshine, which gives you an instant tan (from the neck upwards) and by lunchtime many skiers had peeled off their ski jackets and were sitting outside sipping hot chocolate in their T-shirts.

Incidentally, for all you beginners out there, you don't have to spend a fortune on ski wear before you go. I went to my local charity shop just before Christmas and was kitted out with designer salopettes and a quite presentable ski jacket for pounds 20.

It is true, skiing is an addictive sport - and I'm hooked. I too have found myself talking about piste runs and white-outs. I can't wait to get home and call up the snow reports ... before my husband does.

Travel Facts

Hannah Stephenson travelled to La Plagne with Crystal Holidays who offer seven nights skiing at La Plagne during the 2001/2002 ski season, based on catered accommodation at the Crystal Club Hotel Turquoise, from pounds 435 per person.

The price includes breakfast, afternoon tea and three-course evening meals with wine, return flights from Gatwick and transfers. Regional flights are available from airports throughout the UK. Details and supplements on request.

Reservations: Crystal Holidays 0870 848 7000. Brochure hotline 01235 824324. Website: crystalski.co.uk
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 10, 2001
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