I’m in a ski resort and beaming with pleasure when my teacher Lucile occasionally boosts my confidence with words of praise. ‘Tres bien Rob, c’est excellent.‘
No, I’m not having ski lessons. This is altogether a more mind-bending, rather than knee-bending, experience and involves more brain power than I’ve ever used on the slopes. I’ve come to Morzine, in the Portes du Soleil, to improve my French – I say improve it, more a total makeover from scratch!
And what an experience it is. I’ve become a student again, getting home to my charming bedsit each evening avec mon devoir, my homework, and trying to understand at least some scraps of rapid-fire dialogue from a French movie on the television as I revise my passe compose ready for a test tomorrow.
The easy part of life at the moment, whether icy, foggy and zero vis or perfect new snow in the sun (we’ve had all in the past few days), is getting out to ski for a couple of hours in the middle of the day between lessons.
I’ve enrolled as a student at the Alpine French School, which is acquiring an ever-growing reputation as by far the best facility in the Alps to learn or refine your French language skills as well as enjoying all the mountains have to offer. In winter of course that means skiing and boarding – or snowshoeing and winter hiking for some of my fellow students – during time off from the classroom. The school runs all year, so in summer many students will be climbing, walking or mountain biking between working.
The summer months of June, July and August are in fact the school’s busiest time, with many families and youngsters taking courses.
I’m taking a super-intensive course, which means I have four hours of lessons a day, from nine to 11 in the morning and from four to six in the afternoon – leaving a nice chunk of time in the middle for skiing.
Classes are small – five in mine – and the pace is quick and lively with the teacher able to give plenty of attention to each student. The focus is on communication, rather than an obsession with pronunciation, so days are full of conversation exercises, expansion of vocabulary – and of course the keystone, tenses.
Lucile, a demanding but brilliantly motivational and encouraging taskmaster, stresses the need for repetition, repetition, repetition, until what at first seemed a thorny and challenging concept becomes second nature. Ah, so there are some parallels with skiing here!
She challenges herself too between lessons by eschewing les remontees mechaniques, grabbing her touring skis and skins and heading off to remote slopes.
My class has a wide range, both in age and origin – Amy, an author from America, Carl and Manuela, both from Australia, and Rachel from the UK.
The school, founded by Briton Helen Cunliffe-Watts and now run by her and her business partner and Director of Studies Christelle Thorel, has a number of purpose-designed classrooms over two floors of a newly-renovated building near the Super Morzine telecabine, which links in directly with the skiing of Avoriaz and the expansive far-flung reaches of the Portes du Soleil. The Pleney telecabine for the lovely skiing of Morzine and Les Gets is also within easy reach.
All is handy, including the excellent Intersport ski rental shop next door to the Super Morzine lift – where you can also store your ski gear, for a quick getaway to the slopes at break time. Their impressive range, including award-winning Rossignol 7s, Head Kore and Atomic Redsters, reminds me I’m here to have some fun sliding about too! Customers are free to change their skis as often as they like during the hire period to take advantage of changing snow conditions.
There are two comfortable apartments within the school building which students and their families can rent. My excellent student digs, a studio apartment, is at a chalet called La Cremaillere, in the oldest part of town near the town hall. Even in the thick snow, chickens near the old farmhouse opposite my window scurry about the yard pecking for titbits. It’s idyllically rustic, perfect student lodging.
And the best part of all is… the delight Lucile is taking in converting us from tourists to locals. We know when to say bon journee, bonjour or rebonjour. And she has eliminated the ‘c’ from Mont Blanc and the ‘z’ from Avoriaz. As she says, much more chouette…that, apparently, means cool as well as owl.
Alpine French School, Morzine,+33 450 79 0838
Rob hired his skis from Intersport ski rental.
MadDogSki.com money saving tip: Intersport bi-weekly discount codes are released via facebook.com/intersportskifrance.
(MadDogSki.com has a deal with SkiSet offering 50% off all pre-booked rentals)
Rob travelled to Morzine by car from Geneva with Rentalcars.com.