May 7, 2022 | Anse James, Val Thorens, France.
PlanetSKI is in the French resort for its last weekend of the season – La Grande Dernier. We put on our bibs, waxed the skis and sharpened our edges for a race that takes place on and off the track. In addition, we took advantage of the spring conditions on the slopes. NEW
As I waited for my turn at the starting gate, my heart was beating a little faster and my mouth was starting to go dry.
That’s how it is when you approach the gate of a ski race.
Then as soon as the race starts, all the nerves go.
I suspect the people behind me, waiting their turn, felt the same way.
We were 100.
I also had a race plan that I believed was flawless, he had won Olympic gold and I was going to follow him to the letter.
More of that later.
The race started at noon so time to ski with friends before the event.
Considering it’s early May, the trails were in excellent condition.
At first it was hard, but it soon softened and there was not a bare spot in sight.
It always surprises me why more people in the UK don’t go skiing in April and May.
There is a lot of snow if you go to the good resorts in the Alps.
Val Thorens is one of them.
It was tempting to keep skiing and laughing with friends, but he decided he had to tackle the race.
More than 350 people attended – ranging from the most serious in cat suits and perfectly waxed skis, to many more in animal costumes.
It’s been a very long season in Val Thorens – it’s one of the first ski resorts in the Alps to usually open in late November and one of the last to close in early May.
I mentioned everything in a preview article I posted on Friday when I arrived in the station:
For the locals, it’s a last hurray and farewell to winter.
For us, a last chance to slide on the snow before putting away our skis for the summer break.
The Great Last Race brings together all snow sports enthusiasts, young and old.
So what about my clever race plan?
First, I had to change my skis as the ones I had received from a local rental store were disastrous.
They refused to give me any more and I guess all the good ones had been put away as it was the second to last day of the season.
Luckily there was a Salomon test center near the bottom of the race course, so I walked around and asked if it was possible to test one of their latest race skis.
A few minutes later, a pair of high-end racing skis were firmly in my hands.
As I rode the elevator to the starting area, I devised my clever race plan.
There were 350 people to beat and the system is that we start in fours with a suitable interval between each group of runners at the start.
All I could do was try to win my group to the best of my abilities.
I remembered the short track speed skating event at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Little-known Australian speed skater Steven Bradbury deliberately lingered at the back in hopes that the front three would fall.
Which they duly did and he took the gold.
It seemed like a good strategy and I executed my plan perfectly and hid behind my fellow speed traders.
Except that the three in front did not all fall.
In fact, none of them did.
I arrived last in my group.
For the record, a friend of mine, Tom Herbst, won the crown in our group.
As I drank a celebratory beer at the bottom of the course, I saw a lot of them falling on the steep finish section.
I may even get a respectable overall ranking once the results are released.
But of course, none of this is about the outcome.
It’s all about, as the old sporting adage goes, “participating”.
La Grande Derniere is a fabulous and fun sporting event, perfect for ending the ski season.
There were DJs and barbecues.
And I suspect things could get a little complicated later on as the celebration of the end of the season continues here in Val Thorens.
After the Covid-19 ski winter of 2021/22 that we’ve all been through, I think we probably all deserve it.