On the 2nd April 2022, after a year of preparation and complicated organisation, hindered by the COVID19 global pandemic and travel chaos, we were finally ready to set off on our Italian adventure.
On 1st April, I had excitedly informed my fellow travellers that it was snowing in Bormio, our resort, 2000 metres above sea level, in the Italian Alps, and climbing all the way to 3000 metres at the very top of the mountain. This was no April fool prank, there really was a ‘fresh dump’ of snow from the heavens, the white carpet had been rolled out for our arrival.
After battling through sprawling queues at Manchester airport, in our bright red personalised hoodies, we finally took flight around 5pm on Saturday afternoon. The flight to Milan Malpensa airport was under 2 hours, and an adventure in itself for many students that had never flown in their lives before. The coach transfer to our hotel drove us through the night, through large valleys, long tunnels, and up winding mountain roads, until we finally arrived at our home for the week, tired but excited, at around half past midnight. We were greeted by the friendly staff, along with our fantastic host Radu, with a delicious meal of warm vegetable soup, bread, and a selection of continental meats. Not long after eating we were shown to our rooms for a well-deserved sleep.
Early the next morning we were greeted with a picture postcard view of a stunning Alpine mountain range from our hotel window. Once up, dressed and ready to ski, the teachers performed the daily rollcall before heading up to the breakfast room. After hurriedly eating our breakfast of coffee, juices, cereal, croissants, jams, bread, meat and cheese, it was time for ski fit. Everyone was now equipped with their helmets, skis and poles, ready and raring to go into our first ski lessons of the week.
The first day was a tough one, by mid-morning the glorious sunshine was upon us, but as lovely as this was, it meant almost everyone got quite hot and tired quickly. Beginner lessons can be quite tough, especially because it can take a lot out of you being at high altitude, picking yourself up after a fall, side-stepping up the nursery slope and skiing in the plough position for hours. Despite the physical demands, many of our students showed great resilience and after inhaling the hot lunch, with options of pizza, pasta, salads, vegetables, meats and chips, they picked themselves up for round two. That afternoon, group 3, many of whom had either skied before, or had some lessons at the Chill Factore, were promoted from the nursery slope to the button lift and the blue graded run near the hotel. Groups 1 and 2, mostly first-time skiers, made good progress too and it would not be long before they moved on from the nursery slope. After the sheer joy of removing tight sweaty ski boots, it was time for hot showers, a change of clothes and a bit of chill out time before a large hot dinner. Bedtime was around 10pm and sleep came very easily that night.
On day two, the groups were reorganised to allow more confident skiers to move up and those that needed more support to slow down the pace a little. Again, the sun was out, and the snow conditions were fantastic, especially for that time in the ski season. Group 2 were progressing really well and had moved on to the button lift accessing the blue graded run that group 3 had accessed the previous day.
Group 3 had really impressed their instructor and by the afternoon session of day two, accompanied by me, took the 4-seater chair lift to 2800 metres, then skied down a red graded run to another chair lift, which would take us to the top of the Cima Bianca mountain pass at 3000 metres. At this highest point for piste skiers, was the aptly named Heaven café and bar, because the view at this altitude was truly spectacular, with the awe-inspiring beauty of the Alps. Our moment in heaven was short-lived however, after a few quick photos, the instructor signalled that it was time to hit the slopes again. It was fair to say that even the confident group 3 were feeling a little out of their comfort zone coming down the wide, but steep, red graded, Bimbi al Sole, Stella Alpina and Praimont runs back to Bormio 2000. There were a few falls and a spectacular crash when Jessica flew into Neve at ‘full tilt,’ luckily, they were both fine and just brushed themselves off. This crash was only topped by a couple of wild crashes from George later in the week, with one leaving a trail of his belongings, that had fallen from his unzipped bag, as he slid sideways down the piste. I was a very proud teacher as we rolled back into Bormio 2000, the students had demonstrated real grit and determination, despite a few fears. Their nerves along with mine were tested again the next day, with a very steep, icy, run down the shaded right-hand side of the mountain, I think we were all very relieved to make it to the La Rocca bar and restaurant for one of the best hot chocolates in the world, along with a well earned rest.
The middle of the week saw us get used to the routine of early mornings, getting ready to ski, ski lessons and mealtime re-fuelling. We regularly re-organised the groups to accommodate less able skiers that needed more time covering the basics, or that had missed lesson time due to mild illness, or fatigue. Through the week the students that were regularly skiing and making good progress from group 1, were moved up to group 2. By Thursday group 2 had made fantastic progress and were also flying around the whole mountain on the various lifts, hot on the heels of group 3, demonstrating real Little Lever spirit, with plenty of big smiles hiding achy, tired, bodies. The other staff and I were so proud of where they had got to in the short space of time.
Despite the fact that students who opted to stay in group 1 did not ski from the top of the mountain during the week, the majority had overcome some major fears and physical challenges throughout the week, and were able to confidently handle blue graded runs and had even sampled the steep red graded runs before they went home. This demonstrated their strength of character, which made the other staff and I incredibly proud of their efforts.
It wasn’t all just skiing though, it was also about the other life chances and opportunities that don’t exist in our everyday lives. The view at the previously mentioned Heaven café and bar was too good for everyone not to visit while we were there, so all 30 of us took the James Bond style cable car to the top of the Cima Bianca pass and were treated to delicious hot chocolates topped off with cream. A good hour was spent admiring the far-reaching panorama, committing it to a memory that would not be forgotten in a long time, with some students not wanting to leave the view and come back down to the hotel.
What is a trip abroad without souvenir shopping? One afternoon we decided to finish ski lessons slightly early and take the 8-seater bubble car lift down into Bormio town at 1225 metres, where we visited the old town, to buy keep sakes, gifts, ice creams and cakes. Our time there, unfortunately, was short, as we had to make sure we didn’t miss the last bubble cars back to Bormio 2000 and our hotel.
At the end of the week, we held the big slalom ski race, which was hotly contested by some of our more advanced skiers, who were setting a fiery pace down the course. As the names were called in order of slowest to fastest run, it was revealed that Amelia had won the race by fractions of a second.
On the final evening, before we were due to leave, we held an award ceremony, with prizes awarded for ‘Best Skier’ (Amelia), ‘Best Crash’ (George), ‘True Grit’ (Jacob) and ‘Most Inquisitive Mind’ (Daniel). All the students were congratulated however for their impeccable behaviour, they had really shown the best of themselves throughout the week and were fantastic ambassadors for the school, they had made the other staff and I incredibly proud to be their teachers. The students then enjoyed the rest of the evening, as they had all week, chilling out, playing in the games room, chatting, playing cards, dancing, singing karaoke and having fun.
Sadly, all good things come to an end, our coach arrived at 1.30am, we piled our cases on and boarded in the dark and rain, before being waved off by our host Radu. With sad faces, but happy memories, we made our way down the windy mountain roads, back through the large valleys and long tunnels on our journey home.