Andorra La Vella, Andorra • January 2011 • Length of Read: 10 Minutes
I started taking snowboarding lessons in February 2010 having spent weeks marveling at some of the Winter X-Games greatest moments on YouTube, and from the minute I strapped in my boots I was hooked. The indoor dry slopes of Glasgow quickly lost their novelty however and before long a bigger challenge was needed, which is why in January 2011 I found myself on a winding bus journey through southern France with my friend Twiggy towards the Pyrenean nation of Andorra; a hot-spot for those in search of real powder but who seemingly can't afford winter sports elsewhere.
Our accommodation for the week was so close to the slopes that you could almost jump onto the resort's primary chairlift from our hotel room window, and across the landing from us were four similarly aged lads from Stoke who had started drinking before they'd even checked-in. In the words of Cooper Harris from the teen comedy Euro Trip: "This is definitely where I parked my car."
Smuggling some food from the breakfast buffet the next morning I used our dressing table as a chopping board to produce a family-sized picnic of Norwegian smoked salmon with cream cheese baguettes. Unfortunately however I had no bag in which to put them so had to find somewhere on my person. Thankfully the jacket I had bought came with approximately 5,431 different pockets and I found a nice break in the lining where they would stay moderately 'fresh'. Perhaps Karl Pilkington's theory that Napoleon invented the baguette as a space-saving snack isn't 'bullshit' after all! He claimed to have read on the wall of a train station that, whilst marching through the Russian tundra, the French Army were so laden down with warm clothing that there was no room in their backpacks for supplies. To resolve this problem they therefore invented a sandwich that could be slipped down their trouser leg. I still question the validity of this origin, but at that moment was happy to run with it.... or board with it as the case would be.
The Adrenaline was pumping through my veins as we picked up our rental gear and started to ascend the mountain. The panorama was breathtaking; not just because we were 10,000 ft above sea level but due to the sheer awe and scale of the distance the mountain range ran. This spectacle was unfortunately broken in the most ungraceful manner however when I attempted to disembark the chairlift.
Raising the safety bar I positioned my board left-foot-forward and when the moment seemed right pushed myself from the safety of the seat. For a split second I'd nailed it, like a gymnast's perfect 10 dismount from the high horse, but then I soon hit a piece of ice that flung my whole body into an entranced spasm. Looking like some ecstasy fueled raver I spammed out of grace and control before crumpling onto my tail-bone and howling out: "fuck my ass"; much to the bemusement of a Twiggy bent over in stitches beside me.
"No thanks" he trolled back.
This was going to be a very painful week.
After one particularly bad fall that afternoon in which my safety gear ended up sprawled about the slopes like I was having a yard sale, I dusted myself down to find a crumbling mess. I'd been travelling at what felt like supersonic speeds only to become momentarily distracted by a group of toddlers easing effortlessly past me in squadron formation, levering the twists like they'd popped out their mother's wombs wearing a set of skis. This lapse in concentration was all it took to send me careering into an off-piste minefield of rocks and boulders; the resultant crash leaving me covered in a oily and slimy substance. The baguettes in my pocket may have cushioned the fall but the salmon had also escaped its cling-film wrapper and was making it's way into every crevice of my jacket. For the rest of the day I smelt like a travelling fishmonger... and was frightfully hungry.
But bruised buttocks aside, winter getaways are just as much about what happens off the slopes as on them. The holiday reps had decided to break us in gently the first evening with a pub crawl that featured free shots at each stop along the way; much to the delight of the four lads from Stoke. We made drinking buddies with them straight off the bat and carnage quickly ensued, culminating in myself being the sole occupant of dingy nightclub's deserted dance-floor whilst Twiggy was being violently sick all down the hotel stairwell. Not only was this place I found myself completely void of almost any other human presence, but it was also of questionable legality due to – and I kid you not – a secret knock having to be given on a steel shutter before the bouncers let us inside.
You're probably now thinking: "Ahh Crobs, that doesn't seem like an ideal scenario to be in. Did you decide to immediately leave this Andorran Underworld and go assist your friend in need?"
I'd like to say "yes", but that would be (a) far too sensible, and (b) not make a great story.
Instead I found myself standing at the bar hitting rounds of Jaeger bombs with the lead singer of a local cover band whilst making absurd additions to their future set-lists until I blacked-out.
Needless to say the drinking over the next couple of evenings was taken a little more feebly, despite our Irish waitress’ best efforts to switch out starters for vodka-jelly shots each meal-time. She apparently didn't get commission for serving just bruschetta. Then, instead of occupying the seemingly male-only bars until the early hours of the morning, Twiggy and myself became somewhat experts on the Egyptian political crisis that was gripping the world. BBC News was the only channel that broadcast in English, and having failing to grasp the Spanish version of ‘Deal or No Deal’ we settled down for marathon runs of Tim Wilcox's commentary on the Cairo uprising whilst stuffing our faces with potato chips. To this day it would probably still be my niche topic of selection on Mastermind; that looped footage of a man being dragged on a rope by a camel through Tahir Square etched on my brain.
Friday night rib night soon came around and entering a room that had been set up in the form of a school dining hall we were ordered to sit ourselves in teams of twenty along the wooden benched that lined tables groaning under the weight of meat and beer. International drinking rules applied and it seemed that every resident in town had turned out with the sole goal of getting as drunk as physically possible.
This was none more-so than the Stoke lad who was celebrating his birthday that day and whose party trick was to down a pint in under three seconds flat. As the band came on stage, the lead singer giving me a cheeky wink, Chris was singled out by the compère to do dirty pint after dirty pint until he was staggering about like a toddler learning to walk.
Standing on those rickety benches, stuffed to the brim with meat and belting out drinking songs with strangers equally-clueless as to the true lyrics really sums up Andorra’s apres-ski in a nutshell. And in a way this is what my Bucket List is really about; not just conquering the ‘things I want to do before I die’ but acting as a platform reminding me to go out there and do cool shit, to experience new things, and to meet some amazing people I otherwise wouldn't.
...and the band never did play the Geto Boys' hit 'Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta'.