Alberto Levya and Juan Megias Muñoz
A taste of home
Two young Madrilenians discuss life as professional ski racers, how they ended up in Switzerland, and the annual summer trysts of a global ski elite in Saas-Fee.
Alberto stands at the window, beer in hand, looking out into the darkness. He’s wearing faded jeans paired with a grey jumper. Thick black dreadlocks poke out from under his light blue hat. Wind whistles around the corners of the house. It’s a cool night in Saas-Fee, and the summer season has already started. At their home in the Dorfblick, an apartment block named for its views over the village, the kitchen is filled with warm light and the scent of hot oil. Standing next to the cooker, Juan opens a packet of jamón, Spanish ham. His long hair is tied up in a bun and he too is wearing blue jeans, but with a patterned flannel shirt. There’s a large frying pan on the hob and an enormous pot of soup simmering away beside it. Tonight, the two Madrilenians are making a traditional Spanish supper of tortilla, sopa castellana, and toasted tomato bread. Alberto takes another sip of his beer and sits down at the kitchen table, where a mountain of potatoes are waiting to be peeled.
It all started in Madrid
Both Juan and Alberto, originally from Madrid, now work as ski instructors at Ski Zenit Ski School in Saas-Fee. Juan Megias Muñoz is 27 and currently spending his fourth season as an instructor here in the glacier village. For 25-year-old Alberto Lavya, this is his third season. They started skiing in Spain; Alberto at the age of two and Juan when he was four. “There are three big ski areas near Madrid. We have some beautiful mountains close to the city limits,” says Juan, throwing garlic and jamón into the hot oil. Both started skiing thanks to their families. Alberto’s Swiss mother put her son on skis as soon as he could walk. Juan’s uncle Jaime was a seasoned skier and registered him with a ski club at an early age. The smell of sautéed garlic slowly fills the kitchen, while they tell their stories. Fellow Madrilenian David Prades discovered Alberto and Juan when they were young, skiing at a French resort and Spanish ski camp respectively. David, head ski coach at Ski Zenit immediately recognised their talent and took the pair under his wing, turning them into high-level ski racers. “I was Spanish Champion at the age of 12, then 14, 15 and 16,” says Alberto, as he finishes peeling his pile of potatoes. “He was unbelievably good. I was good but not the same level,” says Juan. He slices bread thickly on a large wooden board and looks at Alberto, who is beginning to chop up the potatoes. “Too thick Alberto - they need to be thinner,” he instructs.
From professional racers to coaches
Alberto and Juan got to know each other at a training camp when they were five and seven years old respectively. The pair trained together until they were teenagers and both raced professionally. “When we got older, our paths diverged for a while. I was totally burned out after more than 10 years of ski racing. I wanted nothing to do with skiing and actually started a degree in Sports Psychology,” explains Juan. He throws half the bread into the soup pot, puts the other half into the oven to roast and starts chopping tomatoes. “But, after a break of a couple of years, I started working as a ski instructor alongside my studies. Then, five years ago I got a job at Noroeste Ski Club,” he puts down the knife down and turns to Alberto. “I turn up to the first meeting and this guy is sitting at the table,” he grabs a bowl of peeled onions and turns to the table. “We hadn’t seen each other for four years and then we end up at the same ski club again!” he laughs and plants the bowl down in front of Alberto. “Just like the potatoes, but not too thick this time.” Juan turns back to the cooker and puts the sautéed garlic and ham mixture into the soup pot. Then he pours a whole litre of olive oil into the empty frying pan and leans against the worktop, arms folded.
“My pro career was over when I broke my leg. But I wanted to carry on skiing, which is why I trained to become an instructor,” says Alberto of his own path to becoming a coach. “After I graduated, I was offered a job at Noroeste and took it.” He has now fetched an oversized pair of silver ski goggles and puts them on over his hat to cover his eyes. He looks like a futuristic smurf, chopping onions as he continues his story.
World Cup racers in the next lane
He first went to a training camp in Saas-Fee back in 2005. “I trained here a lot in my pro days,” says Alberto. “I immediately fell in love with Saas-Fee, both with the pistes and with the village,” he recalls. He takes the chopped onions over to Juan at the cooker, who has just finished whisking six eggs in a bowl. “The first time I saw these mountains I was so in awe - they struck me like lightning! I too trained here through the summer and autumn for many years. The first time was in 2007 I think,” says Juan as he tips the onions and potatoes into the frying pan.“You know, the mountains in Spain are just not as impressive. When we arrived here and saw the Mischabel Chain and the glacier, it was pretty insane!” laughs Alberto, who has pushed his ski goggles up onto his hat. He opens up another beer and Juan joins him. “And the training! Do you remember, Alberto? When we were little and the World Cup guys were training near us on the pistes? That was unbelievable at the time!” Juan playfully jabs him in the ribs. Alberto grins: “Yeah, it was incredible. We’re used to it now because the best skiers in the world are here every summer. But we just couldn’t believe it at first.” The two stay silent for a while, like they’re reminiscing. Behind them, the tortilla is sizzling away and the soup is simmering. Finally, Juan adds the eggs to the potatoes and onions in the pan with a flourish, takes the toast out of the oven and both of them go to the table.
The path to Ski Zenit in Saas-Fee
“When David asked if we wanted to be ski instructors here we didn’t even have to think about it,” continues Juan. He is drizzling olive oil onto the toasted bread, and Alberto rubs them with cloves of garlic. “I really wanted to be here – where pros from all over the world come to train on the glacier. You can watch how they train, you’re so close to the action. We do have pros in Spain, of course, but it’s nothing like here in Saas-Fee. The atmosphere is unique,” explains Juan and he returns to the cooker. It’s time to flip the tortilla. He turns out the contents of the pan onto a large plate and neatly returns the tortilla to the pan to cook the other side. Alberto compliments him on the successful manoeuvre and rubs the sliced bread with fresh tomatoes while Juan sits back down next to him with his beer.
“Saas-Fee is international, you meet people from all over the world here. There was this Japanese guy at Zenit who had never skied before in his life. He came here and booked us as his instructors
for two weeks. He didn’t speak a word of English!” declares Juan and takes a sip of his beer. Alberto nods: “We spent two weeks out and about with him, and I had to communicate with my hands and feet. Then there were some Russian students who didn’t speak English either. Challenges like these help you grow, both as a person and as a coach”, continues Alberto, clearing the knives, bowls and chopping boards away, while Juan arranges the toasted tomato bread on a plate.
“I love living here. But I miss the Spanish weather. And the beach,” says Alberto. Juan is now stood at the cooker and has taken the tortilla pan off the hob. “Yeah, I miss the weather too. And the food,” he adds, grinning. Alberto sets the table and places the golden-yellow tortilla in the centre. Juan puts two bowls of steaming soup on the table. They each cut themselves a large piece of the tortilla, help themselves to the toasted tomato bread and dip their spoons into their soup. At least tonight they’ll miss home that little bit less.