Saturday, 26 December 2015

Christmas in Saint Jean d’Aulps

At the top of the Mossets lift in Morzine. The snow doesn't look too bad here...

We would have liked to have had a title that said ‘Christmas skiing in St Jean d’Aulps’ and, although there is some skiing, it is very poor. Our weather is still dominated by a high pressure system that is blocking all weather fronts and instead forcing them up over the UK, giving them lots of rain and flooding, which is really sad for them. Its position, slightly to the east of us means it’s dragging warm air currents up from North Africa, meaning sunny, warm days, typically 7° or 8°C and no fresh snow.

This is what it looks like on the other side of the ridge in Switzerland. In condition there are 3 or 4 groomed pistes down those green slopes and can you see three gulleys to the left of the pointed peak left of centre? Last time we were here we had fantastic off piste skiing down those when Steve Mac and friends came to visit
Our resort in St Jean. Our apartment is 400m below at the bottom of the gondola
The last snow here was at the end of November and, although the snow blowers and piste groomers have done remarkable jobs of keeping some linking pistes open, allowing some skiing to take place, it’s now very hard packed and thin. Very hard, icy pistes make it very difficult to get a ski edge in to slow down and it’s only possible by getting weight fully over the front ski and a getting a large angled edge to the slope. If the ski edges are not perfect they can just slide away under you so you fall into the slope and slide down. The thin surface often means earth or stones are poking through, if you hit one of those at least you’ll blunt your ski edges and possibly score the base of the skis and at worst stop dead catapulting you forward down the slope! Couple that with the large amount of Christmas skiers now packing the slopes, many inexperienced or going too fast for the conditions and it’s a recipe for a disaster!

Blue or Great Tits feeding off the fat balls on our balcony
Groucho cat eating the bread we'd put out for the birds
For the next few days the same looks set to continue, but there are signs that the high pressure system will break down around New Years Eve allowing some fronts to move in and, a few days later the wind may change to the North, which should bring some colder temperatures and some snow. We hope so!

Another black kitten that has joined us. Jackie has named him Smut

Si and Cassies chalet in St Jean d'Aulps village
In the meantime we have been making the best of it and we are not at all unhappy here. We have been out skiing but as the days have gone by and conditions gradually deteriorated we have done less and less. Now, until more snow comes, if we want to ski we’re just going up the gondola into our local ski resort in St Jean, the Roc d’Enfer. There are only 4 pistes open with one longish red run right back down, finishing within 2 minutes walk of our apartment, so we don’t need to use our car and can go out for one ski run (albeit icy) if we want to. We’ve done that on a few days finishing with a swim in the indoor heated pool in our apartment complex. The sunny days and the local scenery is stunning and even though there’s not much snow, it’s a great place to be. We’re planning some walks up nearby mountains and even climbing at the nearby ‘elephant rock’, 2 minutes walk away from Si and Cassie’s chalet in the village. There are 92 bolted climbs on the crag, ranging from 4a to 7a+, plus 2 fabulous and long via ferrata higher up, so enough to keep us busy.

Christmas carols on Christmas Eve in the Bar National. LtoR: Leanne, Drew, Cassie, Brian, Si (blurred) and Jackie. Si and Cassies guests are behind me, almost obscured by my head
A nice photo of us that Leanne took
Today we went for a drive over the mountains into the Chatel valley, going up over the Col du Corbier at 1237m along a winding mountain road with fabulous scenery and down to the small Abondance ski area that is part of the Portes du Soleil area but not yet open as you can’t ski on grass! It’s actually the furthest and hardest to reach resort for us and, last time we were here we didn’t ski there. The mountain pass we went over today is closed when it snows and the only way to drive there is a very long road drive almost back to Lake Geneva, so in snow it has to be done by skiing over the mountains into Chatel and then catching a bus down the valley. It’s only a small resort, but I really want to get there this season so, when it snows we must make an early start and try and do it this time! Jackie is really keen as you can imagine! It is ironic that we can actually see the top chair lift in the Abondance resort from our apartment in St Jean, on the top of the far mountain, but there’s no direct access from this side, making it hugely difficult to get to. Maybe we could ski tour up the mountain to it from here, now there’s a thought!

Christmas Day skiing. At the top lift in the St Jean resort
Jackie sliding on ice at the St Jean mid station
Today is Boxing Day and we’re having a second day of roast turkey with all the trimmings, followed by the second half of the rich chocolate dessert I cooked. Christmas Day involved scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on toast for breakfast, a local ski in St Jean followed by a swim, then sparkling wine while dinner cooked then, after dinner the Queen’s speech on TV at 4:00pm for us, a film, Dr. Who and Strictly Come Dancing, wine, nibbles and then a Skype conversation with all my family who were celebrating Christmas at Steph and Sam’s house back home. Also, we must not forget all the pussy cats who came to visit us on our balcony for their share of turkey offcuts. All very, very nice.

Sitting down to Christmas Day dinner
Christmas Eve was also pretty special. We had decided to go down to the village to the Bar National, run by a Scottish couple, who were putting on a carol concert and handing out free mulled wine and mince pies. We met up with Si and Cassie who walked there with a couple of their guests and Leanne and Drew came down too, so we had a few drinks, very loud carol singing and lots of laughs. It was great to finally meet up with Leanne’s husband Drew, who is an immensely likeable guy and the evening was made even better when they invited us back to their place for dinner.

A Crested Tit with a Mohican hairstyle that we saw
Leanne and Drew you may remember from Jackie’s last entry are the couple doing the Housesitting assignment in Morzine that we originally applied for before backing out due to our commitments to Si and Cassie, so we finally managed to see the two apartments they are looking after and their small studio that they are restricted to when the apartments are full. Fortunately the lower apartment was empty so they served us dinner in there which was great food and they were both great company. We hope to see a lot more of them over the season as we all seem to get on very well, they are both accomplished skiers (Drew taking ‘stage 3’ French ski instructors lessons, Leanne having done stage 2) and they like ski touring, which of course we do too.

The view from our apartment car park. The buildings below are Saint Jean d'Aulps village. On the horizon just left of centre is the top chairlift of the Abondance ski resort and, do you see that bright, craggy peak just right of centre? That's called Pic de la Corne. It's 2084m high and I really want to stand on it's summit before we go home! 
A 'zoom'of the previous photo. The Abondance ski lift is left of centre
So far, apart from the snow, it’s turning out to be just what we hoped the ski season would be. We’re starting to feel like locals and are enjoying helping Si and Cassie on the odd occasions they need a bit of assistance and are looking forward to their and Leanne and Drew’s company on the slopes and/or touring when time allows. So far so good, it’s fabulous so far!

Even more zoomed in. You might just be able to see the stantions of the chair lift against the blue sky above the clearing. That clear grass slope is one of the ski runs in Abondance. So near and yet so far! I think we could ski tour (in condition) up to it from the houses in the above picture. It's only about 3.5 miles and 650m of ascent - how fabulous would that be!

No comments:

Post a Comment