"Skiing has been something I’ve wanted to try since I was young. My brother and friends would come back from school trips with tales of how much fun they’d had, but I was training seriously for gymnastics, so I wasn’t able to go. For an athlete, doing another sport for fun just isn’t worth the risk of injury and missing competitions. One of my best friends actually represented her school in ski competitions and, if I was round hers at the weekend, she’d always want to watch Ski Sunday, so I followed ski racing a bit, too.
More recently, I’ve become friends with former British racer Chemmy Alcott, who was on Dancing On Ice the year before me. We have a similar mindset – every athlete has to be very focused – but Chemmy is fearless. The number of bones she’s broken is incredible but she usually just jokes about it. I’ve had my share of falls, but her injuries are on another level. It didn’t put me off skiing though!
Before Dancing On Ice, I had tried ice skating once before on a winter training camp in an Austrian ski resort called Lofer. They also turned tobogganing into a training session – we would sledge down, but had to run to the top of the hill again! It gave me a taste for the mountains.
So I was really excited on the hour’s drive, through little villages, from Geneva airport to the chalet. Au Coin du Feu is beautiful, with a central fireplace in the living room, and themed bedrooms (ours had music memorabilia all over it). The chalet is just outside Morzine itself, near the cable car to Avoriaz, in a dramatic setting, with the cliff on one side and forest on the other.
We arrived the day before ski school proper started, so we took a private lesson on the first day. Mark, from Avoriaz Alpine Ski & Snowboard School, was brilliant, really patient. I think a lot of people they teach have already tried skiing in the UK, on indoor snow or on a dry slope, but with us he had to start from scratch – we didn’t even know how to put the skis on. And it was difficult deciding how much to wear – I soon learnt the importance of layering.
We took the cable car to a beginners’ area to learn the basics, before taking a chairlift to a blue run. My gymnastics background helped – I was able to find my balance pretty well and, when things went wrong, I was sometimes able to pull it back. Not that I didn’t fall, but my confidence wasn’t affected – falling was always a part of gymnastics – so I just laughed about it and got back up. Going so slowly we were unlikely to hurt ourselves and I’m never worried about making a fool of myself, so it didn’t bother me. I’m not going to lie, I did come off the button lift. The drag doesn’t stay constant all the way up – I guess it depends on the gradient of the hill – and when it slackened off halfway up, it caught me unawares. I just crawled off to the side of the track and skied down to try again. At least I didn’t take out anyone else!
My Dancing On Ice experience helped since you use a snowplough technique to stop in figure skating, too. I think that experience definitely helped me feel the edges and control the sliding. But Andy took a while to get his head around it – you think you’ll catch an edge, but of course snowploughing does work and the ability to slow yourself down is pretty important.
Splat! Beth's skiing is not quite as gracious as her gymnastics
That first blue run had a steep section (well, it seemed pretty steep after an hour’s lesson!). Mark said I should be fine to snowplough down but recommended that Andy walk. He wasn’t having that, so he went for it – and stacked it. I couldn’t really stop to help him, so I just shouted, “I’ll see you at the bottom!” as I passed him.
Having done well on that first day, I was moved up a level for the group lessons. It was a bit intimidating when my classmates said they’d skied for a couple of weeks and I’d done half a day! But it was a small group, just six of us, and a very supportive environment. Andy only had one other person in his group, so he basically had private lessons all week and progressed really well.
The advantage of a small class was that each skier received one-on-one advice from the instructor and I was also able to pick up tips by listening to what he was saying to everyone else. I spent so many years in an environment where we as a team were constantly being taught, so it seemed familiar to me and I knew to keep my eyes and ears open.
From London to Morzine: Beth tries her hand at another sport Photo: DANIEL DEME
On the slopes we progressed to, I went through a real rollercoaster of emotions. As you begin to link some turns, you feel calm, controlled and confident, but that tends to make you pick up more speed and you panic a bit and have to slow down before getting the calmness back. But it’s fun to push it a bit further each time.
I really enjoyed making parallel turns, when they went smoothly. I was better turning in one direction than the other, which I’m told is common, but it was frustrating. The more it becomes an issue, the more you think about it and then it becomes even more of an issue. So I found something my gymnastics coach used to say really useful: “Don’t think about it; let your body do it”. What really helped was skiing through slalom poles – all I focused on was getting round them and my legs seemed to come round naturally.
The only thing that did make me nervous was when better skiers went flying past while we were traversing the slope. The instructor kept saying that it was their responsibility to avoid us, but it was still nerve-wracking. I really enjoyed jumping – we found some little kickers one day. I might have been an inch off the ground but I was really proud of myself, until someone said, “You do realise this is the kids’ park, don’t you?” So I’m not quite ready to follow in Jenny Jones’s tracks.
Morzine is an ideal beginner resort, with easy blues aplenty to progress to
Andy and I don’t drink, so we didn’t get involved in that side of après, although I did enjoy a few hot chocolates and crêpes in mountain restaurants. At the beginning of the week, when we got back from skiing we were shattered anyway, so it was good to have a rest for a couple of hours before dinner in the chalet hotel.
It was low season and there were only about 10 people staying there, in a space that can house 40 or so. There was a big Irish family group and two young women from Brighton and we all got on really well. I think they did know my background but nobody made a big deal about it and it was very relaxing – the conversation was mainly about our days on the slopes.
Later in the week, we did a few activities, which were organised by the tour operator. Morzine’s ice hockey team, the Penguins, is in Ligue Magnus, the equivalent of football’s Premier League. Chilly Powder’s co-owner, Paul Eyre, who actually plays in one of the Penguins’ amateur teams, took us down to watch the first team. The atmosphere was amazing, very family-orientated, with everyone from grandparents to tiny tots in the crowd. It was a must-win game for the Penguins to avoid relegation and was really close throughout, but they managed to hold on and take the win.
We went sledging one evening, too – on the Pleney piste – but, even though I’d done it that time on the gymnastics camp, I was terrible at it. I spent most of my time going backwards or sliding down without the sledge! We even toured Morzine on Segways, through the winding little streets of the old village, past lovely old wooden buildings and out into the forest. It was great fun. Morzine is really cute and quirky and I really enjoyed wandering down there in the evening, looking in the shops and enjoying the Christmas lights, which were still up at the end of January.
On the night before we left, there was a massive snowfall, and in the morning we woke up to see a blanket of snow on the ground. The chalet owners have a dog, so we all went outside and played – there was so much you could only see the dog’s head poking out of the snow! Most of the time we were there, there wasn’t great visibility, but we still got a sense of the scale of the Alps. I could see the places where people were going off piste and I got a real urge to improve because I realised that the more skilled you are, the more you can explore and experience the landscape. In gymnastics, you used to see girls retiring in their teens, but now careers can go on till your late twenties. I think it’s good to be able to say to a young girl, you don’t have to be pressurised to achieve everything straightaway. And, similarly, if you have the opportunity to try something later in life – like skiing for me – don’t worry that you didn’t start young enough, just have a go at it; you might find you love it, as I do.”