The K-team plus some visiting friends headed for le Grand Bornand on Friday night where the roads where closed, the main square shut off and every conceivable parking spot was taken. The town was just a sea of red jackets. We joined 2,500 ESF (Ecole du Ski Francais) ski instructors crammed into the main bar in town to celebrate the 60th national instructor ski challenge, hosted this year by le Grand Bornand.
The atmosphere was carnival-like and the beer free flowing (in fact the outside bar was ‘beer only’ due to demand). Every red-jacket was proudly displaying the name of their resort and proving their capacity to hold beer is as great as their enviable skill at zipping round the mountain at 100 miles an hour whilst on the phone between ski lessons.
As well as the singing, dancing on tables and imaginative fancy dress costumes there was one guy who went everywhere on his skis – on the bus, to the bar, to the club and presumably to bed as well! Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny and as we arrived on foot at the Marolly valley the ESF guys really showed us what they’re made of. The Tolar red run had been turned into a steep downhill slalom course where the ESF challenge finals were being held. The crème de la crème of ESF instructors – many of whom are in the French national ski team – were racing their way down the course at up to 120 km an hour, to the sound of cheers and cow bells. The atmosphere was electric and the event was a sight to behold – beer tents, food stalls and even a very French pisoir at the bottom of the Tolar piste – all a strange sight for us, familiar as we are with the Marolly valley in its more conventional winter setup.
Sadly we never found out who won, our need for lunch getting the better of us after one beer too many the night before, but we can verify that we will never look at an ESF instructor the same way again. While you’re in your lesson next year improving your snowplough technique, just think that the guy teaching you could just be a top downhill competitor!