Saturday, 29 March 2014

Back to snow!

The view from our apartment

It’s been a while since our last entry and that’s mainly as we haven’t had the time, Roger has kept us busy! He arrived late on Sunday night at Simon and Cassie’s and we were there to greet him as we’d been invited round to dinner (and very nice it was too!). In the interim between our last entry on Saturday afternoon and Roger arriving on Sunday night we had ‘weather’ and lots of it. The cold front that came in started as rain but turned to snow by Saturday night, snowing heavily until Monday lunchtime, depositing at least half a meter at the tops and about 200mm at our resort level, so the difference between last week and this week was quite unbelievable, green grass and rocks were covered by a new fresh layer of powder snow which transformed the resort and dramatically improved the quality of skiing. 
This was last week......
By Monday lunchtime onwards the snow stopped and the clouds lifted to give fantastic snow and good visibility, perfect conditions! How lucky was Roger, but he reckoned he is a member of a secret brotherhood of snow dancers and had ordered it specially!

And this was the same place this week
Roger and Jackie in the falling snow
Roger is a person who is very modest and reckons he’s not a very good skier and doesn’t much like moguls or off piste, but he’s actually very good, keeps going all day, did moguls to a pretty good standard and thoroughly enjoyed the off piste we took him on. He had his GPS with him and recorded that we had covered 80km one day, including lifts, which probably meant we’d skied something like 50km. On other days he recorded 50km and 65km distances, so we certainly covered huge distances, covered most of the Portes du Soleil ski area and made the best of the time. We had a great time and he said he did too, he’s such and easy guy to get on with, so it was really good fun.

This morning, after 5 days of skiing 136 separate pistes we took him back to Simon and Cassie’s chalet to meet his lift back to Geneva airport and to collect James, arriving today for a long weekend. We collected the key to their chalet last night, as they were out skiing with their friends today who were over for a week, so met the four of them in the Bar National in town, had a beer with them and heard their tale of their day of doing the 300m via ferrata on Elephant Rock in St Jean, which sounds fantastic. They were adrenalin fuelled still, having finished less than 2 hours earlier, so they were all on an absolute high, can’t wait to do it now Roger has bought our lanyards out to us.

Jackie in fresh powder snow
Jackie, Brian and Roger

This week it's 'Rock The Pistes' with bands playing on stages erected in different resorts on different days. This one was The Klaxons playing halfway up a piste in Avoriaz in the falling snow

Brian and Roger chilling out (and the mad woman in the background taking a 'selfie')

Roger checking out the Via Ferrata
This morning we were able to show Roger the local climbing area (92 bolted climbs) and two easier via ferratas as we were a little early, so Roger just had to try a bit of one of the VF’s out, soloing up without any gear! I hope Jan, his wife, doesn’t read this! Anyway, James arrived just before Roger left, so the four of us were able to have a chat, swap the gear around, wave Roger off and return to our apartment, dropped his gear off, got our ski gear on and headed off for an afternoons skiing in our local resort of St Jean. James is a keen skier, very fit and likes off piste, so we were off in a flash, so no rest for us! We’ve got tomorrow and Monday with him, so expect to be pretty tired by the time he goes home on Monday night, as he’s a ‘first lift to last lift’ man, with plenty of skiing in between. However, since the heavy snow last week it’s got very warm and sunny again and the snow is melting again. 

The brief moment when we were all together, Jackie, Roger, James and Brian
James and Jackie
There will be plenty for James this weekend, but if the warm weather keeps up we will be back to where we were before. We think there will be enough piste skiing for the rest of the season (another 4 weeks), but it will gradually get poorer and poorer, unless it snows again. We don’t mind too much though, we’ve had a fantastic time and, at todays date have skied 1250 pistes since we’ve been here (no wonder our knees are complaining!)

Those 'S' curves in that fresh snow on the left are mine, those just to the right of that line are Jackies

We found out James plays the piano and said 'that's interesting'. He looked round our apartment with a wry smile saying 'but I don't see a piano in here!'. Little did he know we had brought my roll up piano with us! He is actually pretty good, but was struggling with the strange flat keys that don't move

Saturday, 22 March 2014


It’s raining, hurrah! Ok so it would be better if it was snow, hurrah, but if I look out the window I can see it is snow half way up the hill (about the level the bubble goes up to and where the majority of the skiing at our little resort starts from), there is something really strange about seeing such a distinct line of snow, no snow, don’t suppose I’ll ever get used to that! It’s meant to snow today and tomorrow, stopping just in time for Roger (from the mountaineering club)’s visit, he arrives late tomorrow until Saturday, when we swap him for James (also from the mountaineering club! They were both on the club trip in January so have both seen the apartment so know what they are letting themselves in for!) until Monday evening.

Where has all the snow gone....
We have made the most of the weather in the last week though, enjoying the pistes (I still think the pisteurs are miracle works) though they do vary from sheet ice in the morning to slush in the afternoon. I’d sort of planned a relaxed day on Monday after the w/end, but as usual having missed 3 days B thought he might have forgotten what to do so we went out. Tuesday we met up with Cassie and Simon, the lovely couple we met on our walk to the via ferrata the other day. (How could he not be lovely when as an ex-Navy boy his personal email address is shipscat_meow@ !) just at St Jean which was very chilled, we didn’t do too much skiing, but lots of talking and siting in the sun drinking lemonade (how restrained) before bringing them back for lunch. (hope the packet soup and bread wasn’t too much of a disappointment!) 

Jackie with Simon and Cassie

Jackie, Cassie and Simon skiing 'Follys', a red run in our St Jean ski resort

Lack of snow in the Swiss sector (the pistes are OK though)
Wednesday we headed off to Switzerland again, where it was a little bit colder, not that this seemed to make any difference to the snow condition, just meant I wasn’t quite wearing enough clothes! 

Ski touring in the mountains, well away from ski areas

Thursday for a bit of exercise we went on a ski tour, though we didn’t quite make it to the col as having met a sign post saying ‘col via foret’ 1hr 15 or ‘col via something in French we didn’t understand’ 1hr 15 we thought perhaps the shade in the forest might be nice (it was jolly warm) this however was a mistake, it was a fine walking path, but not suitable for skis, so we turned round and cut across to the other route, but there is something very demoralising about turning round, and the snow was turning to mush and I could feel the warmth of where a blister would be before too much longer! 

Lunch stop on our ski tour
That's the col in the distance
What we hadn’t quite got into our heads, being far more used to walking up things and then having to walk down (which ok is faster but not by much when my knees start complaining) was how much quicker skiing down is! Having slogged up for 2hr 20 mins (which did include a toilet stop and lunch) we were down in 15 mins, and that was skiing over rises and about the place as much as possible rather than just straight down! Perhaps we’ll give it another go in the new snow, once I’ve stuck something preventative on my heel! Yesterday the car was in the ‘hospital’, fortunately we didn’t have to sit in the waiting room, mechanic Andy ran us to the nearest lift and collected us once ‘surgery’ was complete. ‘Recovery’ didn’t seem to take long, though of course he has now had today and probably most of tomorrow, so expect him to be fighting fit next week!

A refuge by a lake on our route in the mountains
You meet all sorts on the ski slopes!
We look forward to Rogers arrival, and the dinner we will have had before hand – Si and Cassie have organised the transfers for Rog and James (after the last trip through Geneva, I didn’t think collecting them was doing them any favours when they could just come back via the motorway with a transfer company) but so we get their discount it seems politic for the guests to be ‘staying’ at their chalet. In order that we are there when Roger arrives they have invited us to dinner! Yum!

Monday, 17 March 2014

Back to the UK for the weekend

It’s been birthday celebrations in Poole, UK this last weekend and catch up with our friends, which has been fabulous.

Morning walk in the park. We HAD to try the Virgin train out!
Friday morning, early! Alarm at 05:00, which we knew was 04:00 at our destination, so it was going to be a long day! “It’s the Geneva motor show at the Palexpo exhibition centre, next to the airport, so allow extra time due to heavy traffic”, we were told, is 06:00 departure from St Jean d’Aulps early enough for an 11:00 flight? “Yes it was” we are happy to report and it all seemed to go swimmingly, even having time to buy a litre of duty free gin for Phil’s house party on Friday night (must get some tonic and a lemon somewhere in Poole on the way!).

Bright blue skies when we left Geneva, but we arrived in the UK in thick fog, lading by autopilot the captain announced after landing, he did absolutely nothing apparently, which was just as well as there was a visibility of no more than 20m.

Hurn International airport just outside Bournemouth is a pleasantly small place, but it is a long way from anywhere (and they charge £2.50 just to drop someone off we found out when Ian and Helen dropped us at the airport on the way home, no possibility of just letting us out of the car and them driving off. It’s into the car park, directed by an official and £2.50 thank you very much!). There is a bus service (very infrequent) , so we shared a taxi with another couple to the train station, caught a train to Poole and walked the mile to the guest house, dropped off our hand luggage (we were travelling light) and went off to do our jobs.

Morning exercise
Watch repair (while we waited), a trip to Sainsburys for tonic and a lemon, a walk to Halfords for a new front number plate (broke the old one by parking the car against a wall of snow and suspect it froze to the snow and snapped off when we reversed out, but we didn’t notice so lost half of it!) and a walk to Euro Car Parts to buy a new front suspension spring and suspension link arm to have the car repaired in France by the Yorkshire mechanic we were recommended to, now living in Morzine.

Mike and Ella 'working out'
Taking them back in our hand luggage was an interesting experience, “you can’t take car parts as hand luggage” the security officer told us as they pulled my rucksack off the conveyor belt after it had passed through the X-ray machine. “Mmm, that will make it expensive” we thought, time for some grovelling and how we “didn’t know and won’t do it again”. She trotted off with our big suspension spring and the metal rod to ‘ask her supervisor’, returning after a while with a “we’ll let you do it this time, but don’t do it again!” The £38 we spent on them helped pay for our trip as we’d been quoted €250 (about £210) by the local garage in Morzine, so that was £170 saved for a trip we were doing anyway!

Mmmm, the bandana suits you Ian!
An afternoon snooze in our hotel room, a strong coffee and we were all set just as the others arrived at about 19:30 after their particularly crap 4 hour journey down from Birmingham in Friday evening gridlock traffic (some things never change!). Great to see Ian and Helen again, lots of hugs and laughs from the off, followed by Manu and Crystal, who brought down Mike and Ella (who we last saw when we bumped into them in a bar in Chiang Mai, Thailand, see:, a quick change and we were out again to Phil and Sue’s for their pre-party party to celebrate Phil’s 60th (I can’t believe my old climbing partner is now 60, but I suppose I will be as well at the end of August next year! How has that happened?)

The Sandbanks to Studland chain ferry
Great evening at Phil and Sue’s, a great buffet of hot and cold stuff, plenty of alcohol and a good catch up with all our friends and some new ones. Phil’s two sons, Adam and Henry were there with their girlfriends Dani and Gemma (all great people and good company), Sue’s daughter Helen was there with husband Neil and two daughters Emily and Lotti, Phil’s cousin Stephen with his wife and their two children, just a great bunch of people and a great evening (except Ian and Helen had to go back to the hotel as Ian suddenly went white and just felt really ill, but he seemed relatively OK by the following day).

The Powell family, LtoR: Dani, Adam, Phil, Sue, Henry and Gemma
Old Harrys Rocks
Saturday dawned clear and sunny with nice warm temperatures so, after a great British cooked breakfast (they really do take some beating), we set off for an earlyish walk round Poole Park and the large boating lake next to Poole harbour, just too late to join the ‘Park Run’, but trying out all the exercise equipment installed on the circuit, before rendezvousing at Phil and Sue’s at 11:00 for the planned day out in Studland with lunch and beers in the gardens of the Bankes Arms Country Inn, with tremendous views over Studland Bay and the English Channel with views out to Bournemouth and the Isle of Wight.

Out for a walk on the headland
Jackie, Ian, Brian and Manu
There are two ways to get to Studland from Poole, the long way right round Poole Harbour (regarded as the largest natural harbour in Europe and probably about fourth in the world after New Zealand’s Kaipara harbour, USA’s San Fransisco Bay and Australia’s Sydney harbour), or the short way using a chain ferry across the mouth of the harbour at the end of the spit of land known as Sandbanks, which just happens to have the fourth highest land value in the world. There are many exclusive properties on Sandbanks commanding quite amazing prices, apparently in July 2009 a 1393 sq m vacant plot of land was put up for sale for £13.5m!

Lunch stop at the Bankes Arms
We went the short way using the chain ferry, parked at the Bankes Arms and in a group of about 20, walked to Old Harry Rocks, which are three chalk lumps of rock extending out from Handfast Point into Studland Bay and, on a sunny day such as we had, giving fabulous views. The afternoon was spent in the gardens of the Bankes Arms, pulling six garden tables together to accommodate our group, which steadily increased as more people arrived, including Iain (Bev still isn’t well so couldn’t make the journey) and Fiona and John (John, being Irish was in great mood as Ireland were to play France in the rugby six nations and he was confident of success. 
Neil and Phil
If they won they won the whole championship, if they lost heavily England could win. In the end Ireland won 22-20 – and didn’t we hear about it all night!). The beer flowed (except for the drivers) and we didn’t leave until well after 17:00, got held up waiting for the ferry back (Helen passed the time with a paddle in the sea, yes, the sea was cold!), but back in time for a shower and change (we wore the same clothes we had for Ian and Helen’s New Year party, after we left them with them, they washed them and brought them down for us – thank you!) and a walk to the yacht club for the real party Phil had organised for his birthday (even though it was Ian’s birthday on the Saturday and Phil had already had his last Tuesday).

Fiona, John and Iain finally make it
Walk to the yacht club, the hard way!
Fabulous evening, a live band (helped on one song by Helen grabbing a microphone and singing – she can you know!), huge buffet and plenty of real ale made it an evening to remember. Phil’s cousin, Stephen made a great speech, Pete and Hilary were there, Hilary getting up to dance despite having her foot in plaster from a recent operation and John happy to display his green jumper in celebration of Irelands rugby six nations win (yawn!).

At the party, LtoR Helen, Jackie, Ella, Mike, Iain, Ian, Fiona and John
John reminds us Ireland won the rugby!
In a flash the weekend was gone, Ian and Helen dropped us back at the airport, we got caught in the Geneva traffic (it really is a crap place in which to try and drive) and we were back in our apartment at about 17:00, feeling a bit jaded and tired, but very happy people having caught up with all the people who we can really call our good friends.

Hilary dances despite her foot being in plaster!
Dani and Helen
Our next get together will be at Ian and Helen’s wedding on 12th July and, by then we’ll have finished our ski season, been to Richard (Jackie’s dad) and Elizabeth’s in Spain and back to the UK in time for my niece, Steph and Sam’s wedding on 24th May. It all seems a long way off, but we’ve got lots of nice things in between. Our main problem now is lack of snow, it’s been 18⁰C here today, clear blue skies and, although the pisted runs are still OK, the snow is visibly disappearing, will it last to the end of the season? Let’s hope it snows and lots of it, but there is no sign of it at the moment! Perhaps we should go to the beach!

Mike and Ella
Oh, and by the way John, Fiona and Iain, happy St Patricks day (as well as winning the rugby)!