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  • Writer's pictureAndy Marks

Back In The Alps (Without a bike)

It's Friday night, I've finally finished work for the week and I'm packing my bags. Six months after my last visit, I'm heading back to the Alps tomorrow and I can't wait. However, unlike the last time I was there, I won't have the bike with me. I'm going skiing in Italy - this is the first time I have been away without a bike, or on a plane, since December 2019. I haven't skied in over six years either and, when I finish packing at about 8pm, I can't help but feeling a bit nervous. I've got used to travelling light on the bike and 23kg of hold luggage seems easy, maybe too easy, even with all the clothes I need for a weeks skiing.

An easyJet plane sitting at the terminal
My first flight since December 2019

I don't need to be at the train station until 10am on Saturday but I am up and pacing by 8:30, I pop out to buy a sandwich and a drink to eat at the airport, come home, have another cuppa and keep checking the time. Already I am remembering why I prefer traveling by bike and on my own schedule - a theme that will keep repeating itself this week.

The train to Gatwick is packed and I have to stand up for the first couple of stops. Once at Gatwick I get through check in and security easily enough and find a seat to wait for a gate number - I'm waiting again...

Airports are great places for people watching, the huge number of destinations make for some stark differences in clothing. It seems odd to me to see someone walk past in t-shirt, shorts and flip flops; closely followed by someone, like me, in a ski jacket.

I'm working as a ski rep for the week to pay for this trip, I've never done anything like this before and have no real idea what to expect but, it's worth a try if it gets me back on the slopes. Because of this I need to update my employer when I board the plane to say we're taking off on time and I should be good to go for the transfers at the other end. Again - I'm not used to having to keep others informed of what I am up to, especially when the only news is 'All OK so far'.

Mountains out of an airplane window

After 90mins or so in the air the pilot informs us we can't land at Milan yet because of a thunder storm so we spend the next 30 mins in a holding pattern waiting for it to pass. While circling near Milan I am struck by how flat everything looks and how straight all the roads are, this probably isn't an area to visit on the bike. The pilot suggests at one point that we might have to divert to Turin. If they let me get off there it's about 2.5 hours closer to my final destination! No such luck, we land in Milan Malpensa about 30 mins late and I make a dash for my train.

Milan Centrale station
Milan Centrale station

2.5hrs and two trains later, I arrive in Torino Porta Nuova station. With the brief stop in the stunning Milano Centrale train station I have now visited two of the three busiest train stations in Italy, with only Rome Termini eclipsing both of them. I have an interesting hour on the train to Torino (Turin) with a guy sitting opposite me who is clearly high as a kite and drunk. He keeps popping off for another fag and talks very loudly to nobody in particular the entire way. After he gets off I'm able to chat to Cristina, an Italian girl with very good English sitting opposite me. Apparently it's just as well I didn't understood a word this guy was saying. He had a real problem with me, women and homosexual people - in that order.

Once off the train it's a mad dash across the station to get my next train, which is cancelled. An hour later the next one is delayed, and then cancelled. I meet James while waiting for the train, he is another rep working for the same company as me - as a fellow newcomer to the job he has no idea what to expect either so I don't find much out about the coming days.

By 10:30pm we have given up on the trains, there is a driver strike and we are told there may not be any running tomorrow either. While waiting around we have met Fynn as well, a snowboarder heading to Bardonecchia to meet his mates. That's the same direction as us so the three of us book an Uber together, it's going to be €150 but split three ways that's cheaper than getting a hotel in Torino and trying the trains again tomorrow. Five minutes later the first driver turns up and tells us he wont do it for the agreed price, but he will do it for €300, oh, and it has to be cash. After telling him to take a hike we wait for the next car. This guy loads all our luggage in the back, lets us get in the car, then looks at his satnav and decides it's too far so kicks us back out. Third time lucky, this guy is happy to drop James and I off at Oulx before carrying on to Bardonecchia with Fynn.

It's gone 11pm by now but even at this time of night there is enough traffic in Turin for our driver to scare us! He is to busy chatting to Fynn to watch where he is going, weaves across lanes, cuts up other cars and, when in doubt, leans on the horn to let people know he is coming through.

We get to Oulx in one piece where James and I say bye to Fynn and transfer to another taxi. This one was pre-booked by the company we are working for and takes us up the mountain to Sestriere. At 12:45am on Sunday, 14hrs after I left home we finally walk into our hotel room, turns out we are sharing for the week.

Sestriere from the hotel
The view from our hotel room

I'm not very good at lies ins so after my first look at the incredible view from our hotel window, I'm down for breakfast by 8am the following morning where I meet the other reps that are here for the week. The group I am looking after aren't arriving until tomorrow so I have an easy day. I muck in and help a couple of the other reps with their groups in ski hire and check in, partly for something to do and partly so I know what I am doing tomorrow.

Sestriere from the hotel
Also from the hotel room

After lunch in the hotel I go for a walk around Sestriere. As with most ski resorts it's pretty clear that the holiday makers account for the majority of the trade in town. There isn't a lot here other than bars, restaurants and ski shops. Google tells me it has a population of about 900 in the summer but upwards of 20'000 in the winter. I also discover on my walk that Sestriere is home to Europe's highest 18 hole golf course.

Old church in Sestriere

Sestriere town centre
Sestriere and the mountains
A few shots from my walk around Sestriere

Back in the hotel for dinner and a drink with a few of the teachers and other reps - I finally go up to bed when the hotel bar closes at midnight.

On Monday morning I don my hire skis and head out to the slopes for the first time in six years, what could possibly go wrong? After one run down a beginners slope it becomes apparent that it really is like riding a bike, so I get on the lift to the top of the mountain. By the end of the morning I am feeling good on my skis and enjoying being back at it, I even managed a black run, though it was unintentional - I just went the wrong way when I was looking at the views.

Ski slopes from the lift in Sestriere

I was within about 15 miles of here on the bike last September and, despite the snow, the mountain landscape looks very familiar and I'm very happy to be back in the Alps. I can hardly keep the smile off my face when I cross the road back to the hotel for lunch and a shower. I have to work this afternoon so that's my lot for todays skiing.

Over the course of the week I get out skiing every day, sometimes on my own but often with other reps. A couple of days in I ski with Maya, who is a very good skier. Keeping up with her pushes me that little bit more and a realise that my skiing isn't quite where it was, but I can live with that given how long I have been out of it and as the week goes on I continue to improve. I wont be leaving it another six years so it bodes well for next time I come skiing.  

A ski slope and the mountains in Sestriere, Italy Alps

It snows a lot during the week and the conditions are the best I have ever skied on. The visibility however is not as good again as it was on that first morning so I am all the more glad that I got out for those couple of hours.

A very hazy view from a ski lift
People taking photos on a ski slope

Skiing above the clouds in Sestriere, Italy

On Thursday the snow conditions are so good I stayed out on the mountain all day instead of having lunch back at the hotel. While having a drink in a mountain side bar I can't help but notice the posters, signs and display cabinet full of Dell'Orto carbs - I've obviously stumbled on a popular summer stop for bikers. Back outside I can't work out where the road would be and, not for the first time, I think about how I would like to visit the same resort both skiing in the winter and riding in the summer to compare the difference. My plans for the bike this year wont bring me back to Setriere but I will make it happen one day.

A mountain side bare in a ski resort

Display of Dell'Orto carbs
Motorcycle signs in a bar

Off the slopes I have some work to do in the mornings and the evenings but I still find time to sample the Apres Ski. One of the highlights of the week for me is the Wales-Poland football match on Tuesday evening. I am not a football fan at all, but there are 100+ Welsh speaking students and teachers in the room and when it goes to extra time they all join in singing in Welsh. The atmosphere was incredible, despite me not understanding a word!

Far to soon it is the end of the week and I am saying my goodbyes. Most of the other reps are here for another week but I set my alarm for 1am and get an early night. I catch a ride back to the airport with a school group on a coach and by 6am on Easter Sunday I am sitting in Milan Malpensa airport again. My flight isn't until this afternoon but being Easter Sunday transfer options on the trains are limited. I pull a couple of chairs up in a corner and fall back to sleep for a couple of hours.

Statues in Milan airport
These statues in the airport were about 7ft tall

I wake up as the airport starts getting busier and just in time for two Italian coppers to come over and ask why I'm sleeping in the corner of the airport instead of going through security and checking in - fortunately one of them speaks good English so I am able to explain that I shared a transfer and now have to wait until 3hrs before my flight to check my bag in before I can go through security. They seem happy with this but still ask to see my passport and boarding pass, which they take photos of.

The day drifts past quickly enough with the aid of a book and headphones. I have my laptop with me so I can do some work but it doesn't happen. 8hrs after arriving in the airport I board my plane, whilst in the air I change my watch for the second time today, I lost an hour when the clocks changed at 2am and got it back when I came back to the UK. I finally get home via trains and a lift at about 4:30pm, 15.5hrs after getting up. I'm exhausted and I'm coming down with a cold - but I've had a great week and by the time I've had my dinner I have already put my name down for next year.

A group of people in ski hire
Helping in ski hire on my last evening in the resort

The skiing was fantastic, the job wasn't too onerous and kept me occupied in the evening (as well as paying for the trip) and I met some great people. The travelling however... As I said at the beginning this was my first time flying since 2019, and after 14hrs getting there and 15.5hrs getting back I can safely say I'd take the bike and a ferry ticket any day!

Thanks for reading, I'll be back to writing about bikes next time - if you would like read about my exploits please subscribe to my blog for future posts any updates.



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