Monday, 6 January 2014

St Jean d’Aulps, French Alps

Jackie on one of our first ski lifts

So we’re here in our apartment in the French ski resort of St Jean d’Aulps until 30th April, giving us nearly four months of skiing and, already it feels like home. Ash and Simon, who we let use the apartment from 28th December have moved out and into a hotel in Morzine, 15 minutes drive up the road, to give us space to move in and sort out.

The drive down from Reims was uneventful, except for a minor lapse of memory when I went the wrong way round a roundabout in a motorway services, but no harm was done and it was enough to imprint on the mind ‘drive on the right!’ It always is so much harder taking your own car on the continent with the steering wheel on the right, as opposed to renting a car with the steering wheel on the left, as it’s the familiarity that makes it easy to slip back into UK driving habits. We both took turns driving and arrived at the resort at about 14:00, texted Carole who we rented the apartment from and she met us in the village, our Sat-Nav with European maps taking us straight there, except for a minor detour off the main road, onto a tiny mountain road and the back onto the main road further up, avoiding a perfectly good stretch of main road (why do they do that?)

View from the chairlift
Although there was plenty of snow on higher ground the temperature was up at about +4⁰C and it was drizzly rain. Our resort is at about 900m, so unlikely to get full snow cover until the season is well established, probably mid-January, so the sparse snow cover at this level was not a surprise, but the rain did put a bit of a dampener on it. It’s very hilly here and the main village of St Jean d’Aulps (apparently pronounced St Jean doe) is on the main road at the bottom, our bit at the upper end of a hilly, wiggly stretch of road that ends with a little one-way system that contains several apartment blocks, a couple of bars, a convenience store, a couple of restaurants, a couple of ski hire shops, ski school and a ski lift up to the smallish St Jean ski resort, which has 16 lifts and 24 ski runs, rising up to 1800m.

Jackie (in red jacket) in action
Our apartment building, two minutes walk from the lift, is built on the side of a hill and we drive down a steep driveway to park, enter the building then walk down one flight of stairs to the level of our apartment, which has a big window and balcony that gives the appearance of being on the third or fourth floor. The mountainside slopes steeply away down to a river and another tree clad mountain rises just as steeply up the other side, giving a fabulous view. There is one building on the far hillside that doesn’t appear to be occupied, so there is no need to draw the curtains as night as no-one can see in. One floor below us is an indoor heated swimming pool (we haven’t tried it yet) and even that has great views over the mountain.

Our apartment from one corner showing dining table, kitchen area, the little gap is through to the bunk beds, Jackie sitting on our sofa bed and the TV that received all UK freeview programmes, UK radio, plus wifi and a phone with free calls to UK landlines
Although the apartment is relatively small, it’s got all we need, is quite comfortable and quite warm, there seems to be quite a bit of background heat, so we don’t need to use our own heaters much. Just outside our room is ‘the cave’, which is a storage area for skis and we have our own lockable room (as does each apartment on our floor) which not only takes our skis and boots, but all the climbing and summer gear we’ve brought to take to Spain in May after we leave here, so it’s a handy space that allows us to keep our apartment clutter free.

The apartment from another corner, in this one you can see the door to the bathroom (that also has a washing machine!)
Jackie consulting the piste map
One of our first jobs after arriving was to purchase our ‘season lift passes’ to allow us to go on any lift in the massive ‘Portes du Soleil’ ski area (the largest lift linked ski resort in the world), which was a scary prospect: €895 each, that’s about £1,500 for us both. Sounds a lot, but the Portes du Soleil area has 194 lifts, 296 ski runs (28 black, 106 red, 127 blue, 35 green), 11 snowparks, 90 mountain restaurants and a huge quantity of quality off piste skiing, more than enough for four months and, I suspect, we may not manage to do them all even in that time! Not only does it give us unrestricted access to the whole area, including St Jean d’Aulps and another couple of small resorts not linked by lifts, it also allows us 6 days to ski at other ski resorts and three days at nearby Chamonix (I’ve always wanted to ski the very scenic off-piste glacier Vallee Blanche, down from the Aguille du Midi and past the base of Mont Blanc, now’s our chance!) so, when you consider a standard 6 day lift pass costs over €200, it’s very good value.

Jackie with Ash
Day 1 for us was Saturday 4th January and, after an early night and a late morning (we were still suffering our head colds), we wanted to get out and ski, despite feeling relatively grotty, but the weather was less than ideal, rain, lots of it! The freezing level was up at about 2200m, well above the top station of St Jean, but at least the rain should be just about snow at the top. We went out and, surprise surprise, we were almost alone on the slopes! We did a few runs, got thoroughly soaked and, at the top, snowed heavily on, which was very wet snow, and gave up after an hour and a half, retreating to one of the bars in the village where Ash and Simon very sensibly were sitting drinking coffee in the warmth.

Ash contemplating the 'view to die for'
Our lunch stop today
Day 2 was different, the temperature had dropped overnight and the rain had turned to snow, giving a light dusting of white to everything. The sky had cleared, the sun was out, the temperature about -4⁰C and everything looked ‘picture postcard’, time to try out the Portes du Soleil area! Threw the skis and gear into the car (put a sheet of polythene in the boot first!) and set off for the Ardent area, where Carole had told us you can park for free next to a lift and immediately get up into the heart of the resort. It was very cold and, although the main roads were clear, as soon as we turned off slush had turned to ice, so the mountain roads were pretty treacherous, but our car handled beautifully and I am really grateful Ian convinced us to put winter tyres on the car before we left (well, two on the front only), £150 well spent. The car park was more than frozen slush, it was packed snow and on quite a slope, but we still had no problems with the handling of the car, not a slip or wheel spin occurred (I’m totally sold on winter tyres now!).

A section of the Avoriaz section
We had a fabulous day of skiing, met up with Ash in the afternoon and did a few runs with him and came home very happy people. Day 3, today, was equally as good, another fine day we parked at Ardent again , went up on the same first lift, but this time went off to another area called Chatel, where the pistes were wide and beautifully groomed and we just kept blasting down run after run. Only done up to red runs so far, haven’t ventured onto blacks yet, but did to an un-pisted red which was deep powder snow and a steep run which made the thigh muscles burn and was quite challenging. The skis disappeared under the snow, making turning difficult and slow. There was absolutely no style in that run, probably a bit early for that sort of thing, but we both felt we did OK on the groomed pistes so, with tired legs (well, me anyway), we headed home for tea and home-made cake (baked it on Saturday afternoon), with Ash dropping in as well (Simon was having a massage after a mammoth day skiing yesterday).

At the top of one of the Chatel lifts today
So far so good, this really is the life, we’re very happy people. Trouble is, I suspect subsequent blog entries will be pretty similar to this, so we will have to try to pick out only interesting things and events to avoid boring the pants off all our readers.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you are enjoying yourselves. The chalet looks great - bigger than you suggested it was. Hope it snows for you and looking forward to skim reading your adventures over the next few weeks (hee hee). Lots of love xxx