Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Skiing, walking, sunbathing and the odd beer or two

Our blog entries are taking on a familiar feel, but nevertheless different things happen that are worth speaking about.

See how the snow has slid off the roof, but not broken off
Apart from plenty of skiing (Jackie remarks that we’ve only had four days off from skiing since we’ve been here, but that’s now five including today – it has snowed and the cloud was low, so we’d rather not ski in a pillow case when we have the choice!), we are now in the middle of French school holidays and what a difference! We thought our little resort was a little out-of-the-way to attract many people, but we were wrong, this week it’s very hectic. Our apartment block must be fully booked and the car parking in our private car park normally has plenty of free spaces, but not this week, it’s packed with people parking cars in the strangest of places, leaving us to park quite a way away in the free car park down the hill. 
Ice sculptures
We were warned about this and it’s not too bad, we just drop our stuff off and then go and park and walk five minutes back. The resort has plenty of car parking by the lift station, three large car parking areas and a fourth car park down a bit (where we have been parking) and, when we first arrived we thought they would never be full, but this week every available space has been taken and every verge and road space also parked on. What it must be like up on the slopes we can’t imagine, we haven’t been up there!

A ski pole acts as an aerial on a radio at one ski lift
We skied on Saturday in Morzine, which is the best day of the week, all chalet employees are busy with ‘change over day’ and people on ski holidays are returning home or just arriving, leaving only locals who drive up for the day. They are usually good skiers, so keep out of the way, ski in a predictable way and are relatively few in number. Car parking is usually a bit more crowded, but a small price to pay for pleasant skiing. It was another fine sunny day on Sunday with a good fresh covering of snow, so we decided to go out again, but what a mistake. Not only were all the locals still there, plus the many local kids classes (the equivalent of taking kids to Sunday football in the UK), but also the new influx of people on their first day of their holiday, plus French half term holidaymakers here for the week, it was a nightmare! Packed slopes, huge queues at the lifts of ‘me first, we don’t queue’ people and groups of skiers who get off lifts and stop to decide what they are going to do, completely blocking the exit for others and who gather on pistes to regroup, forming a barrier to other skiers, seemingly oblivious to other people. We gave up and came home, deciding to do something else the next day!

Our pleasant walk through La Vernaz
Our next day was very pleasant, again clear blue skies and warm, we went for a walk on a snowless hill about 20km north of here, towards Geneva, at a place called La Vernaz. Other than dramatic mountain scenery in the near distance it was a walk on grass covered and forested hills, through a couple of villages, with a section of a nice exposed traverse on a rocky path with a chain to hold onto. The best thing about the walk was the two friendly village cats we encountered, first cats to stroke since leaving the UK! 
With an exposed rocky ledge section
Happy Jackie!
It only took us less than two hours so, on the way back we diverted to look at a climbing crag near to our village. According to the ‘UK Climbing’ website the crag has about 30 bolted routes, most of which are within our climbing grade, but we were diverted before we got there when we found signs to two ‘via-ferratas’, up the main part of the rock face, each 300m high, graded ‘red’ and ‘black’ in the same way ski pistes are graded.

And again!
Who lives in a house like this? Actually, it's for sale (I wonder why?)

The Via Ferrata rock face

A 20 minute walk up very steep ground took us to the start and they look absolutely magnificent, but pretty scary, particularly the black. Via ferratas are routes up and through mountains protected by a metal cable and some artificial foot and handholds, originally an Italian invention to allow troops in the First World War to ascend the Dolomites to get access to their front line to conduct battle. The original Italian VF’s are still there today and it’s possible to do multi day hut-to-hut tours on these remote mountain passes, but the idea caught on and more modern VF’s have been put up throughout the Alps and Pyrenees, with the accent on sport climbing. These two routes we found are just that, each taking about 1.5hours to do according to the notice, but scaling an improbable looking rock face, using some natural rock holds, but mainly by standing on metal hoops drilled into the rock and clipping a special harness and rope arrangement, called a lanyard into the metal rope. The black route appears to go over an overhang and, higher up, traverses a bar that spans a gap between rocks with nothing below your feet, amazing and very scary. That should get the heart pumping and the adrenalin going! We just have to do them, but we left our lanyards at home. Our cunning plan is to ask Roger to go and get them and bring them out when he visits us at the end of March, when all three of us will do them together!

Jackie free climbs the first section
The view back to our ski resort from the crag
On the way up to the crag we met a couple called Simon and Cassie just on their way down. They have recently bought a chalet in the village and have started a ski holiday company called Alpine Action Adventures. They have a fantastic chalet (we called round there on the way back) with amazing views, can take up to 14 people and offer a fully catered for ski holiday. They are aged around 30 and are the nicest people you could meet and we really wish them well. They have a mini bus and, although they are not near any ski lifts, Simon takes guests to and from the resorts car parks to access the lift system. It’s probably better than being near a lift as that gives access to only one part of the resort, whereas Simon can take guests to lots of different lifts making the best use of this massive ski area. Their website is and we would recommend anyone to them. They have excellent reviews on Trip Advisor and they are such great people! AND they have two cats, so complete overdose for one day!

Tea and cake on our balcony...
Tuesday, another clear blue sky day, we decided to try out skiing again and were pleasantly surprised. Car parking, no problem, lifts not too busy and slopes not too bad, maybe we had jumped to conclusions about half term being mad after all, maybe it’s just best to avoid Sundays!

Followed by a beer!
Two piste groomers ready to set off for a nights work in St Jean
We’ve enjoyed the sunshine, even sitting on our balcony in tee-shirts, enjoying a beer, but the sun has taken its toll on the snow. However, it’s been cloudy and snowy today, so we haven’t been out, and the forecast is for moderate amounts of snow over the next few days to a week, with freezing levels dropping quite low. 

A local band provide music at St Jean lift station in falling snow
Tonight we’ve had quite heavy snow in our resort, so it’s looking all very white again. Tomorrow is sun in the morning so we’ll be out to enjoy the fresh powder, before it clouds in and starts snowing again tomorrow afternoon and night. All looking good for the snow depth and quality.

1 comment:

  1. Hi J & B, so glad that you have managed to find the local-ish cats at last :-) The snow-less mountains look fabulous and we would have enjoyed the walk. I can feel your both itching to do the big climbs and its nice that you have got that to look forward to in March. Hard to believe it is snowing again for you. Our weather is now looking towards spring! The daffs are almost out :-) Have fun (we take it Jackie's head is repaired?). xxx