The atmosphere was filled with excitement and anticipation when we gathered in the foyer of Dublin Airport waiting for the commencement of the Carve Leonardo Di Vinchi Ski Trip 2013 to begin. For many of us, it was our first ski trip and everyone had been looking forward to the coming week of skiing and partying as well as meeting new friends and seeing how other instructors in another sport work. We departed Westport, Mayo around 5am and after filling the car with supplies from the West and begun our journey to France. Stories, laughing and teamtaskswere among the things that kept us occupied during the journey. And finally, after 24 hours of traveling we arrived in the French Alps.
Four of us were all staying in the Chamonix UCPA youth hostel. The rooms were small with two- six bunk beds each. It was a tight squeeze but where there is a will, there is a way and somehow we managed to fit many people into the dorms and learned that the window frames could be used as cooling minibars and the balconies as deep freezers.
UCPA served us three meals a day and all were considerably impressive. We woke up to a l selection of cereals and yogurts as well as a bounty of French baguettes. Lunch and dinner were both full spreads with a wide assortment of cheeses, several hot dishes, and more baguettes. Every night after dinner we’d finish with a team task called the Flan Challenge which involved eating a French Yogurt dessert from your plate without using your hands. This challenge was tricky enough as it was a race against time to get the whole flan into your mouth as fast as possible.
UCPA provided all of the equipment for skiing or snowboarding and the lessons. The kit is top quality and new and was a workshop for any adjustments or changes you may require daily from the intructors. Some of us were confident skiers, able to independently tackle the mountainside but I became a lot more experienced and felt I improved greatly from the challenges put to us by the expert instructors.
I couldn’t believe how big, beautiful, and impressive the Chamonix mountain range were. The slopes and selection of off piste was fantastic. The reviews from all the groups were all positive and many of the more experienced skiers raved about Chamonix as a world-class skiing area, especially if you enjoy off piste.
Alongside the excellent equipment, lessons, food and accommodation, is the atmosphere and integration among guests at the UCPA. I met amazing people with fantastic stories and we left UCPA having made our own memories. From sharing a ski lift with our own personal Opera singer to learning about Eco Architecture in France, is only a few to mention some of the interesting stories at the UCPA. Every evening UCPA hosted in entertainment before the groups would move on to the bars of Chamonix all conveniently located about a five minute walk from the hostel. The most popular one wasChambreNeuf where you were guaranteed to see people dancing on tables and maybe even some Irish crowd surfing in fancy dress Cake suit!This is the place to be when you’ve just come off the slopes. Packed with Swedes, it has a great atmosphere with a friendly vibe.
The ethos of the UCPA’s is filtered down through the management and integrated to staff through the clients in promoting snow sports first. The atmosphere among staff was very inclusive. There was a real community sensefrom within, perhaps because most of the staff stayed close by and used the centre as a base it became a hub of activity. The level of technical instruction was very high, along with the French style of being more focused and direct I noticed they practiced a lot more sequential learning in their classes. It was also very evident they had an exceptional skill base.The structure and organisation of the instructors, i.e. rotating from beginner to expert group etc worked well and always ran smoothly. I liked their model of having an instructor for the entirety of the week along with a notice board with messages and notes from your instructor with details like weather, what to wear and usually a funny comment from the day on the slope. It seemed to connect the journey of the week within the group and make the experience a lot more structured. The outdoor industry in Ireland is not yet supported or regulated in a way that promotes best practice in a sustainable way for instructors. In France the UCPA originally was set up by the French government to promote sport for young students. A similar model could work in Ireland for the young where the students would spent a week doing a more specialized sport of their choice for the week, e.g. sea kayaking for a week. The opportunity to work in the centre’s allowed a relationship to develop between staff and clients. The staff were informative and interested as were the clients when were introduced as Leornardos by our centre manager to the group at the beginning of the week. This introduction and connection all allowed for access to learning about the model of centre and its operations.
One concern I did notice within the UCPA was the environment. Within the centre there was no recycling facilitates in the kitchen or around the lobby. Also on the mountains there was little focus on the environment and looking after this. I mentioned this in our de-brief that it would be a positive partnership for UCPA with the likes of Leave no Trace France to incorporate the 7 principles of conserving the environment into their centre and lessons.
Thank you to all involved in the Carve programme, It was a life changing trip, I cannot wait till next year when I go skiing again!