Cervinia makes a great winter sports destination for all levels

What could be so difficult about planting two feet on a skateboard without wheels and gliding effortlessly down a snowy piste? A lot, as it turns out. Jane Duru harnesses the power of positive thinking, with a beginner's snowboarding trip to Cervinia in the Italian Alps.

They say it’s never too late to learn something new. This was to be my first time on a slope in any winter sports capacity - and I’d opted to learn to snowboard rather than ski. It just looked, well, cooler. And despite the warnings I’d heard - that learning to snowboard is harder than learning to ski - I was up for the challenge. Which is how I found myself up in the Italian Alps in the resort of Cervinia, a couple of hours’ drive from Turin airport.

I’ve got visions of effortlessly snaking down the mountainside, leaving nothing but a graceful blur of snow in my wake. The reality is somewhat more pedestrian and as we take the chairlift up to the slopes, taking in the scenery before us: ahead, a white expanse of forbidding peaks, below, snowy pines enclose the runs where we can spy skiers swishing down the piste below us. I think to myself that might be me in a few days’ time. It’s an optimistic prediction. Probably the thin air talking.

The morning starts out gloriously bright; a good omen for the day ahead. Swaddled in padded jacket and trousers, gloves and helmet, I’m positively warm in the sunlight. It’s just me and one other woman, being taught by our English-speaking Italian instructor, Gerard, for our first lesson on the nursery slopes. He’s part of the ski school at Club Med Cervinia, the resort where I’m staying. It’s an all-inclusive resort, meaning that as well as having food and drink thrown in, the ski pass (a card which allows you onto the pistes, which can work out as a very expensive proportion of a ski holiday) and group lessons are included too. With a hotel minibus shuttling back and forth to the chair lifts every few minutes, it makes an ideal base in the mountain. The location is ideal too, as at an altitude of 2,050m (6,725ft), it’s one of the only places you’ll find reliable late-season snow in Europe, making an April trip completely feasible.

Snowboard tutorialHaving a patient instructor is invaluable
Club Med
First up: mastering the art of sliding. Once we’ve worked out whether we’re regular or goofy-footed (whether you lead with your right or left foot), it’s time to start working our way down the slope. Knees are bent, hands are outstretched, eyes in the direction of travel - it feels a bit like I’m pretending to surf on dry land, but I don’t care if I look stupid as long as I can make it down without falling. Miraculously, this is something I manage, both with Gerard holding my hands as my guide, and later, when I go solo down the shallow slope.

I learn how to control my direction and stop altogether - by leaning on the ‘front edge’ or ‘heel edge’ of the snowboard. I can tell my calf muscles are going to complain very loudly about this later. Depending what edge you’re on, you have to lift your toes or your heels to stop, which isn’t as easy as it sounds when they’re bound to a relatively heavy snowboard. Despite the fact that the downhill journey only takes about 10 seconds, that small taste of freedom once I’m able to do it solo, is exhilarating. It’s not long before we’ve gotten used to the motion of sliding downhill; in fact it’s getting back up that’s more problematic. With one foot out of the binding, I clumsily drag-hop-drag-hop my way towards the travelator that will transport me back to the top.

Button liftThe joy of gliding downhill is worth the dreaded button lift
Club Med
As methods of getting up slopes go, it’s relatively benign, and nowhere near as irksome as the dreaded button lift that we encounter as Gerard moves us on to a slightly more difficult run later that day. The button lift works something like this: there is a plastic disc, attached to a moving pole. You stand sideways on the board, wait for the disk to come round at the bottom of the lift, time it exactly right so you catch it with one hand and sit on the disk whilst being dragged up to the top of the slope. It should be simple, but one slight jerk of the pole, a bit of bumpy ground here, or a less-than-firm grip of the pole and next thing you know, you’re on your bum in the snow, only a third of the way up, whilst a small child confidently glides onwards and upwards. The 100% no-fall record is gone before I even make it to the top of this blue run.

Before I can even start worrying about the length (it looks really really long) and steepness (seriously, I’m not sure I can do this one) of this new piste, Gerard, patient, but not one for pussy footing about, is showing us the next move. ‘The falling leaf’ is a side to side motion where you’re meant to look like a leaf gently zigzagging your way back down to earth. It’s all about controlling the board on one edge whilst cutting a sideways dash from right to left and back again. This is where I get into my element. Once the fear of falling or hitting other snowboarders abates, the sheer joy of slipping and sliding down the mountainside totally takes over, and soon I’m making it at least two-thirds down before hitting the decks. It’s totally worth the struggle with the lift.

Snowboards in snowLearning to snowboard will seriously work those calves
Jane Duru
Cervinia is a good place for learners and experts alike, with lots of blue runs so that beginners don’t get bored, and plenty of red and black for those who are more proficient. It’s particularly good for those who like to go off-piste, and for anyone who wants to experience the Swiss resorts without the Swiss price tag, the Cervinia ski pass allows you to go over the border to the resort of Zermatt, and spend the day skiing down the other side of the Matterhorn.

Our last lesson is spent practising full turns, cutting a sinuous curve down the run using both edges of the board. This move feels a little beyond my reach and I can’t manage it without holding on to Gerard for dear life. I’m still falling over a lot, which is a tiring business and occasionally scary, as I find out when I almost twist my shoulder in a fall. Still, I’m told I’ve made fast progress and having come this far, in such a short space of time, I can’t wait to get back on the slopes next season and learn some big boy moves. It might be the thin air talking but I think, armed with a bit of optimism and a judicious sense of recklessness, I reckon I’ll have this snowboarding lark cracked once and for all. After all, it’s never too late to learn.

Before you go: Make sure you’ve got all the gear you’ll need. Ski jacket, salopettes and gloves are a basic requirement. A woolly hat, thick ski socks and goggles will also come in useful. When it comes to instruction, it pays to go small. The smaller your group, the more attention you’ll get and this can be all the difference between struggling with a move all day or mastering it in a couple of hours.

On the slopes: Snowboarding uses a lot of energy and can quickly leave you feeling weak and dehydrated so take some water and snacks in a side pocket or little backpack and remember to regularly snack throughout the day.

Apres ski: Book a spa session - a massage is a great way to relax after a day on the slopes. And once you’ve recovered, depending on what sort of resort you’re in, there may be a post-piste party, either in your hotel or beyond. Club Med Cervinia lays on entertainment every evening; alternatively, head out into the town to make your own merriment.

Club Med Cervinia
Strada del Piolet 6 - Cielo Alto, 11021 Breuil-Cervinia, Italy
Four nights at Club Med Cervinia, departing 25 November 2012 starts from £645 per adult and £585 per child. Price includes flights, transfers, drinks and meals, and ski pass and tuition.
Tel: 08453 676 767.

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