Wednesday, 23 April 2014

French Alps turn to Spring

This is one of the button lifts in St Jean, now 'out of place'

It’s a funny thing, here we are in the last week of our ski season, but going skiing now seems oddly out of place and no longer features on our daily ‘must do’. It makes us realise what a ‘bubble’ the ski season is, an absolutely frenetic time from just before Christmas to probably about 3 weeks ago and now everything has gone back to normal, with the crowds gone and people getting on with their lives. Building work has recommenced, tree felling has started, people are cutting their lawns and gardening, just what you’d expect in any town and village anywhere (well, maybe not the tree felling!) 

The same lift and the 'marooned' entrance gate. Not long ago we skied up to this and slid on the snow up the slope
Believe it or not, we have skied down this road!
A relatively small portion of a year, maybe 3.5 months, where all that investment in ski lifts, ski staff, ski hire shops, chalets and chalet staff, plus all the infrastructure of transfer coaches to bring all those people to and from resorts, shops and staff, is focussed, and very soon it will all be in dis-use. It seems quite unbelievable that all that investment can actually pay for itself over such a short period of the year. How can all the chalet owners and ski instructors survive, as there are only a limited number of summer jobs. True the area is used for mountain biking in the summer and the melting snow has revealed the mountain bike tracks, which look pretty breathtaking, but will there be enough to provide sufficient employment for all those people? We can see why the ski instructors are so protective of their jobs and come down hard on any non-qualified people attempting to show other people how to ski. Quite apart from the safety aspect, it really is taking the ‘bread from their tables’ as it’s their main or only source of income for the year. We hear that many become builders in the summer, but how much work would they find?

Our timid 'whitey' cat asleep on the chair on our balcony. Only once has she set foot inside and then only briefly
A bit of fresh snow makes for a good day out
The final weeks of the season have seen a huge increase in the email traffic of the ‘Vallee-Expats’ local email list we’re on. As people close down their chalets for the season, seemingly many of them permanently, the stuff ‘for sale’ has increased dramatically. If we had a property out here we could have completely furnished it with really good second hand stuff for a song. Absolutely everything is being sold from mini buses to ex-rental skis, beds, wardrobes, cookers, fridges, everything, even antique wooden skis and poles used as decorations on walls. You want it, it’s available, usually at a bargain price providing you collect today, tomorrow they’ll be gone, probably back to the UK or the local tip. We picked up a couple of 1000 piece jigsaws left by the bins the other day that someone just couldn’t bring themselves to throw inside. We brought them home and Jackies already done one and is well on the way to completing the other! While consuming Easter Eggs brought out to us by Roger, amazingly they arrived in one piece, and even more amazingly we actually looked at them on the TV until Easter Sunday.

Jackie on a lift on her own behind me. She wasn't quick enough through the barrier and had to take the one behind. The view back is into the Avoriaz valley. That's a reservoir appearing through the snow, we had no idea it was there!
A view of our apartment block. Ours is the bottom right, by the grass slope
As the snow melts the scenery changes to reveal green meadows and jagged majestic mountains. A slope covered with snow that looked very inviting for a bit of off piste skiing, now looks daunting with broken jagged rock, maybe a tree stump or perhaps a stream and somewhere you just wouldn’t go. It’s amazing how a thick cover of snow can smooth out all those jagged bits and completely alter the landscape. But the bright white of snow gives way to turquoise blue lakes with amazing reflections of the surrounding mountains, green mountainsides with impressive rock faces that become more lush green as the new season’s growth starts and purple, white and yellow spring flowers poke their heads above ground. It’s a transforming landscape and fascinating to watch!

The building here is the chalet that we've looked at across our valley all season. We finally walked to it and, this view is back to our resort. On the hill on the right you can see a channel through the trees which is where the telecabin goes up (you might just be able to see the cables going from the left, above the grassy slope and on up through the trees. That grassy slope used to be our local piste back to the resort
This is a picture of the 'chalet across the valley' during a snowy time
There is still skiing to be had, but it’s now pretty limited as many lifts have stopped running and the area now closed down to only a small resort. There’s very little off-piste skiing now and the pistes, which have stood up to the spring sunshine remarkably well, are good only for the first three or four hours of the day, before the heat of the sun softens the snow, making it quite slushy and sticky, except where it’s in the shade where it can be still icy and slippery. On a shallow angled slope we head for the shady part in order to slide easily, because as soon as we get into the sun we slow down and often have to ‘pole’ to keep going. On steeper slopes it can be just hard work as the snow collects under the skis as we turn and the skis can cut deep into the soft snow. In the mornings when it’s still fairly hard it’s good fast skiing, but it quickly changes, sometimes within five minutes between good to being ‘it’s time to go home’!

Todays walk, by the river in spring sunshine
This week a cold front has moved in, but below freezing temperatures are pretty rare now, even at the top (2400m) of the resort, so precipitation generally falls as rain, limiting outdoor activities somewhat. Generally the mornings are clear with clouds building as the day wears on, so we have got out skiing or walking, early on, but climbing has not really been on our agenda as we’re ‘fair weather’ climbers. However, we did get some snow above about 1400m a few days ago and it really improved the skiing, only between 30mm and 70mm fell, which disappeared in no time, but it was good while it lasted. As it happens, this Sunday (27th April) is the last day of skiing here, when the whole resort closes and, at the moment, the weather forecast is for the temperature to drop and as much as 10-12cm of fresh snow to fall. Typical! Great snow and no lifts running! The resort at Chamonix will still be open for a few days longer and we have two free day passes to visit there, so if the snow really does fall, we might have to drive over there to try them out. It’s just over an hours drive from here, so will only be worth it if the weather’s good and the snow really has fallen. We’ll see…

our resort from 'across the valley'
We’ve been on a few nice local walks, called in to see our friend Cassie today, who has her husbands mother and grandmother staying (Si is away working, but did come home briefly for Easter to see them), so we’ve arranged to go for a walk over a park in Morzine tomorrow, so it’s ‘normal’ things for us at the moment, which is quite nice. Short lived though, as one week today we’ll have packed the car up to the gunnels and will be heading out of here for Jackie’s dads house on the Costa Blanca in Spain. Summer rock climbing here we come!

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