Thursday, 22 February 2018

More from the French Alps – Days 116 to 127

Afternoon sun on the Col du Corbier
One week, and judging by the car park, most of the UK half term has been and gone. The car park is still full though but now of French number plates. The weather has been variable, clear blue, rain, cloud and now cold, and getting colder! 

We did go out on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of half term, before the rain, and it wasn't too bad, though we did make the effort and drive round to some of the other outlying areas which seemed worthwhile. We did Brian's nemesis freeride run a second time, so that's it now, I expect no more bleating. 

Brian tossing a pancake on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras)
Eating last week was traditional English, pancakes for Shrove Tuesday, with either lemon and sugar, or homemade butterscotch sauce and banana (what to do with half a jar of butterscotch sauce?) Then steak and dauphinois (a nod to the French) potatoes for Valentine's Day. Cooking does become an enjoyable part of life here, with the challenge of trying to cook a varied set of meals, on a reasonable budget from only one supermarket, so no competition, catering to the French palette, except for the 'British ' shelf which you have to walk past with your eyes shut. Mmm Cadbury creme egg, a pound? I don't think so! The supermarket is not the best, it has to be said, no tinned tomatoes, or basic ordinary rice, for three weeks? There also seems to be a shortage of 'duck in a tin' or confit of duck, we haven't seen a tin yet, so don't get too excited Denise! 

Its been cold this week and forecast to be even colder next. Here's an attempt at art with an icicle outside our apartment
A band playing at Chapelle d'Abondance
I do, wherever we are, try and cook 'local' though this can mean we are ruined, the avocados, mole (as in seasoning pastes, not small furry animals) and tortillas in Mexico are never to be repeated. So when the bourguignon beef was on offer, that was the first thing on the menu, though I couldn't bourguignon 2kg of beef so I did make a rendang with some of it, using coconut from the tin of Quality Street. Tartiflette is another firm favourite, a traditional potato dish with lardons and onion, baked with Reblochon cheese to go all gooey and yummy. Traditional since the '80's when it was invented by the Reblochon marketing board anyway! 

I do have to branch out occasionally though, two weeks ago we had a fabulous chicken biryani, with a spice mix brought from the Indian supermarket in Hall Green, and a vegetable curry, that was almost too hot, even for himself! This weeks adventure was homemade falafel with hummus from scratch and salads in a wrap. I always worry that there will be something 'missing' in a veggie meal, but we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Just as well as it did two meals, and there is still half a pack of dried chick peas to go! Next week will probably be another fish extravaganza, although there is a wet fish counter in the supermarket it is all very expensive and always looks, and smells slightly sorry for itself so frozen fish it is. The problem with that is we have an icebox, with a note on it saying "do not keep frozen food in this compartment "! (So what do you keep in it?) But that means a packet of fish has to be eaten on three consecutive nights, last time it was breaded fish and chips, fish chowder and fish and chorizo with butter beans. Three different meals, worked well I thought. 

Our local resort of St Jean d'Aulps and the peak of Roc d'Enfer behind
We don't have many puddings, though pineapple and butterscotch crumble, with custard was last weeks offering, but we do have cake every day. When we came on the first ski season B said he'd need cake 'obviously' as you get when in a chalet for a week, so I told him he'd better learn to bake! So he did, though he's almost got to the stage of the baking being more enjoyable than the eating. 

A rescue dog and trainer practising in the snow
So which came first? The eating or the exercise? This week the exercise has been a little more varied, we went snowshoeing with Cassie and Judith (Si's mum) on Monday which was interesting though the children in the group did slow us down a bit which was a shame. Tuesday we headed off in the van with Cassie, Si and Judith and Gabby and Haig to Chapelle Abondance, a first for all of them, but a little quieter and less frenetic for the novice skier Judith. 

Jackie, Cassie and Judith with snow shoes
Setting off in the Col du Corbier
Yesterday we had a relatively big day out, but it was cold. We started off ok but very soon found that the forecast cloud was correct, but it was low, so more accurately was fog! An interesting black run was fortunately well pisted as we couldn't see from one marker pole to the next, so that's less than 100m. It gets to the stage when it is so disorienting you don't know if you are stationary or moving, which way is down and balance really becomes an issue. We've just been to an activity open day at the Col du Corbier (where we went snowshoeing) as they are trying to present themselves as somewhere to go, since people bought apartments at what at the time was a small ski resort, only for all the lifts to be taken out, leaving them with a half hour journey in either direction to go skiing! (Depressing or what?) We hit it at lunchtime, so we had a snack of cheese and cold meat but saw no sign of the activities, except for some very small ponies, also having lunch. Hopefully there will be some more snow before next week when they repeat the activities and we'll be able to give ski jouring (being towed on skis behind a horse?) or electric fat tyre bikes (?) a go. 
Cassie, Judith and Jackie snow shoeing in the afternoon sun
Home made tea and biscuit stop on our guided walk. Our guide is on the right at the back

Si, Cassie and Jackie at Chapelle d'Abondance ski resort

Scenes in the hills around Col du Corbier

Jackie stroking one of the ponies providing childrens pony rides at the Col du Corbier


Saturday, 10 February 2018

Skiing, another week – Days 110 to 115

Haig, Jackie, Cassie, Si and Gabby at the top of Mosettes Swiss/French border
Another week here in Portes du Soleil and it’s been cold – a good thing in a ski resort, but cold! A little bit of light snow, some sun, not much wind, but temperatures rarely above freezing. The snow is still in good, powdery condition as there has been no ‘freeze-thaw’, but it’s now fairly ‘tracked out’ with little fresh powder, but off-piste is still good and worth doing if you’re happy negotiating moguls.

Si looking round to see Jackie and Cassie waving
We had a good day out on Monday, skiing with Si and Cassie and their relatives/chalet hosts Gabby and Haig. A fairly cloudy day, with a bit of light snow but the plan was the ‘Swiss Loop’, which is a 60km+ circuit through six linked resorts, starting off in the French resort of Montriond, through Chatel and Super Chatel and then into Switzerland (in a seamless border crossing), but skiing alongside a road on a snowy path, to Morgins, Champoussin, Les Crosets, then back up and over into France and back to Montriond. We’d done it on our ski orienteering only two days before, but who were we to argue, fabulous runs, good company, a nice circuit and built in hot chocolate stops! 66km and nearly 6 hours later with 48km of skiing and numerous lifts we came back happy people and in time to look after Gizmo dog at 3:30pm.

That'll be me 'n 'er. Photo taken by Cassie
Our plan was to have a day off on Tuesday as we’d had long days out since Friday and needed to rest our bodies, (and do some washing as I was nearly out of pants!) but Si and Cassie asked whether we’d like to ski the off-piste Valle de la Manche, which is an 8-9km mountain descent, not only off-piste, but also outside any ski resort. We had already skied this descent as part of our ‘Big Day Out’ ski tour in February 2016 (see: and know it to be a fabulous descent, so our day off had to be postponed!

On Col du Fornet looking back at the resort before we ski off
Although the route is outside the ski resort, it is possible to get up on ski lifts in Avoriaz as high as they will go, then take the skis off and walk up to a col at the resort boundary and look over the edge at the huge expanse of the valley beyond, click the skis back on and head off down. It’s a serious route in a snowy mountainous area so we needed to be prepared with full ski touring gear: skins for the skis in case we needed to ascend and transceivers, probes and shovels should we be caught in an avalanche. We had to position a vehicle at the end in order to get back to the start so we met them at Nyon, left their van there and drove round to Montriond to get three lifts up to our start point, the Col du Fornet. Having checked out transceivers were working and switched on we set off.

At the top looking down the Valle de la Manche. Jackie in the foreground, Si pointing out the route to Cassie. We headed down over and to the left of those bumps, the round to the right of that nose and on a long way past down to the bottom well beyond
The three of them are down there, I'm still near the top
The descent involved a short walk up along a path in the snow to access the valley, ski down a small chute that caused a few butterflies and down left into a huge bowl, avoiding the steep avalanche prone slopes to the right. Although many people had gone before there was still fresh, deep powder to be had and superb scenery. The navigation was relatively straightforward, just being aware of steep slopes to the sides, so we were able to just enjoy the experience completely away from any marked pistes or ski lifts.
A group of six deer or goats making their way across the snow
Lower down we came across a building with pitched roof, deeply buried in the snow, perfect for skiing over, so it just had to be done! Cassie went over, followed by Si and Jackie and finally me. As I went straight over I saw a gap between the edge of the iron roof and the snow bank on exit, with no time to make a change of route. It all worked, I just heard a slight scrape as I contacted the roof edge, but fortunately glided smoothly back onto the snow and a quick stop. ‘Didn’t you hear me say go left or right, but not straight on?’ said Cassie. Well, possibly, but it all happened so quickly.
Half way down, looking back up of where we've come
The final section was quite icy and not so pleasant, but apart from a slight mistake, taking our descent towards a river, followed by a backtrack to find the correct route, it all went smoothly and we were back at the van, connection to our car and home again feeling happy people. It was at the return to the van when we unzipped our jackets to turn our transceivers off that I realised mine wasn’t on. Don’t know how I managed that and it was a good job nothing happened. There’s a lesson there (a very basic one!), check and double check in future!

Teddy adding load to my exercises (I didn't realise how badly I did pressups!)
Wednesday was our day in, very cloudy and miserable, we chilled! Well he chilled, I spent all day up and down making a chicken biryani and vegetable curry, which although I say it myself was fabulous! Thursday we thought we’d go out, but it was still miserable and cloudy. In the hope it would clear we went up the lifts in Avoriaz hoping to break through the cloud into blue sky and see a cloud inversion below us. No! As we went up it just got foggier. At the very top of Avoriaz it was almost sunny, we could see the top of the cloud and blue sky above, but we were about 50m short of altitude and, as soon as we started to ski down the cloud thickened. After following the side of piste pole markers in thick fog we gave up and came home.

Looking down the Torgon black 'Freeride'
Friday was much better, clear blue skies and fabulous sunshine, although it was still bitterly cold. I had a plan, I wanted to head off towards the Swiss Torgon ski resort, ski a lovely black run down to a remote ski lift, try out the several red runs there then go and look to see if the unpisted black ‘Freeride’ run that is the only run left in the entire PDS that I haven’t done. In the last two and a half ski seasons I’ve never seen it open and, although I’d have gone down it while officially closed, Jackie was dead against it. A lift goes up over it so it’s possible to inspect it first and we have done this many times in the past and seen it looking very doable, but still closed. This time, as we went up the lift we could see yellow marker posts with orange tops, indicating a very hard unpisted black descent. It looked open and, as we got to the top, the fence blocking the entrance had a small gap in it with a flag alongside. I asked a ski patrol man if it was open and he said ‘yes’. ‘Be careful at the top, it’s very narrow and you have to go a long way across the top until you get to the start, then its straight down. Be careful, but if you can do it, you’ll be able to do anything in the Portes du Soleil’. That was it, off we went. The scoot across was very uneven, narrow and difficult to control speed, but it took us away from the lift and appeared at the top of a very steep lumpy slope down.
Although very lumpy, the snow was not too bad and it was possible to plant the poles, skim round the edge of a mogul and slide down its side, repeating as we went. It was very steep but so enjoyable and I was so excited. Jackie skied brilliantly and we got to the bottom in what seemed like no time, deciding it was probably the hardest, yet most enjoyable run in the whole of the resort. We skied down to the lift, got back up to the top and did big thumbs up to the ski patrol man, who seemed quite surprised we were back so quickly.

We did it! At the bottom of the Torgon black 'Freeride'
This blackbird vists us most days to eat cat biscuits. Here he is checking us out
We finished our day by continuing through Switzerland to re-join the Swiss Loop we’d done with Si and Cassie a few days earlier, completing a day of 50km of skiing and 74km total distance, feeling very tired but very happy people. A great weeks skiing. It also tipped us over the 1000km skied distance since we arrived in December.

Today is the start of the half term holidays and, if previous seasons are anything to go by, everywhere will be full of people, so our enthusiasm to go out skiing on crowded slopes of unpredictable skiers, queue at lifts amongst people who don’t believe in queuing and intend to get in front no matter what and then find people get off lifts in front and then stop to regroup with their friends and to chat, blocking exits and pistes, completely oblivious to anyone else – no, I think we’ll do other things for two weeks, go ski touring and/or try to find less used lifts and slopes. Grumpy old man? Not me surely!
And here he is with a cat biscuit in his beak. We saw him eat seven in one sitting earlier