7th May 2022 | James Cove, Val Thorens, France.
PlanetSKI is in the French resort for its last weekend of the season – La Grand Derniere. We have donned our race bib, waxed up the skis and sharpened our edges for a race that goes on piste and off piste. Plus we’ve been enjoying the Spring conditions on the slopes. NEW
As I awaited my turn at the start gate, my heart was beating that little bit faster and my mouth beginning to go dry.
It is like that as you approach the gate in a ski race.
Then as soon as the race gets underway all the nerves go.
I suspect the people behind me awaiting their turn felt similar.
I also had a race plan that I believed to be faultless – it had won Olympic gold and I was going to follow it to the letter.
More of that later.
The race started at midday so time for a ski with friends ahead of the event.
Considering it is early May the slopes were in excellent condition.
It was hard packed first thing but it soon softened up, and there wasn’t a bare patch in sight.
It was tempting just to carry on skiing and laughing with friends, but decided the race must be tackled.
More than 300 people were taking part ranging from the serious once in cat suits and perfectly waxed skis, through to plenty of others in animal costumes.
It has been a long, long season in Val Thorens – it is one of the first ski resorts in the Alps to open usually at the end of November, and one of the last ones to close in early May.
I mentioned it all in a preview piece that I posted on Friday as I arrived in the resort:
For the locals it is a last hurrah and farewell to winter.
For the rest of us a final to chance to slide around on snow before we put our skis away for the summer break.
La Grande Derniere race kind of pulls us all snowsports fans together – young and less young alike.
So, what about my cunning race plan?
Firstly I had to change my skis as the ones I received from a local hire shop were dire.
They refused to give me any others and I guess all the good ones had been put away as it was the penultimate day of the season.
Fortunately there was a Salomon Test centre at the bottom of the race course, so I wandered up and asked if it was possible to test one of their latest race skis.
A few minutes later a pair top of the range race skis were firmly in my hand.
As I headed up the lift to the start area I devised my cunning race plan.
There were 300 people to beat and the system is that we set off in fours with a suitable interval between each departing racer group.
All I could do was try to win my group to the best of my ability.
I recalled the short track speed skating event at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
The unfancied Australian speed skater, Steven Bradbury, deliberately hung around at the back hoping for the three in front to fall over.
Which they duly did and he took gold.
It seemed like a good strategy and I executed my plan perfectly and hung around behind my fellow speed merchants.
Except the three in front didn’t all over.
In fact not one of them did.
I came last in my group.
For the record a friend of mine, Tom Herbst, took the crown in our group.
No matter, and as I had a celebratory beer at the bottom of the course I saw many falling on the steep finish section.
I may even get a respectable overall placing.
I am writing this article ahead of the awards ceremony later today where we will have the final placings so I will be updating this article with the results later.
But of course none of this is about the result.
It is, as the old sporting saying goes, all about taking part.
La Grande Derniere is a fabulous and fun sporting event, a perfect way to round off the ski season.
There were DJs and BBQs.
And I suspect things could turn a bit messy later tonight as the celebration of the season ending continues here in Val Thorens.
After the Covid-19 ski winter of 2021/22 that we have all got through I think we probably all deserve it.