Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Non-skiing in Saint Jean d’Aulps

New cat on the block. This one likes strokes so Jackies happy

Our skis have not seen the light of day since Christmas Day firstly because of the snow conditions, which have deteriorated since our last entry due to continuing warm weather and no precipitation, but also because of the huge crowds that have descended since Sunday. Other than the February French half term weeks, this week is the busiest in the resort and we can see it just from the volume of cars in our small resort and the fact that every apartment seems full. It’s very hard to find somewhere to park in our ‘private’ car park and, on one occasion had to park in the main public car park a little down the hill. We also have not ventured down to our swimming pool as we have heard the crowds of children running and shouting down there. We’ve heard Avoriaz are restricting sales of lift passes in the resort to try to limit the number of skiers on the limited number of pistes so, all in all it’s crowded with poor snow conditions – we’re just keeping out of the way and away from any skiing!

Sitting in our apartment with views out over the mountains
Walking up to Abondance, St Jean ski area in the distance
The weather, however, is at last on the cusp of change, the high pressure has at last moved away and we have some cold fronts moving in, forecast to bring a good dump of snow starting on Thursday (New Years Eve) night and continuing through to at least Monday and probably beyond. At last! The winds are, however, still from the SW, so relatively warm, meaning the snow line is above us, at around 1200m, so we may get rain or sleet here, but lots of snow up high.

On the col. Abondance ski-run and chairlift in the distance
In the meantime it has continued warmish and sunny, so we’ve taken the opportunity of getting out and about in our walking boots, yesterday doing a 9km walk with 650m of ascent up the mountain on the other side of our valley to the top of the Abondance ski resort. In the last entry I mentioned how that resort is the most inaccessible to us as, by road or ski lift and bus it is a huge distance, so last season we were here in 2014 we didn’t ever get there. It is only about 5km away ‘as the crow flies’ up a 4 wheel drive track from Saint Jean village and I was interested to walk up there and explore the possibility of ski touring up there using our touring skis with skins attached to enable us to walk uphill on them.

Looking down into the Abondance valley
We drove up a sealed road to the point the seal finished and continued as a gravel track. We were around 1000m altitude, parked the car and continued on foot in warm sunshine, up a relatively steep incline into an opening hillside of grass, evergreen trees and the occasional house. Ahead, above the col we were aiming for we could see the top chairlift of the Abondance resort and a grass slope through the trees that would become a red ski run in condition. Although the temperature was not much above freezing, there was no wind and clear blue sky, so the warm sunshine and effort exerted made us quite warm and we were walking in ‘T’ shirts.

Jackie decides it would be fun to climb up the skilift stanchion
Encouragingly, the slope was always uphill, which meant that if we ski toured up, it would be possible to ski back down and, although the track is not that wide and quite steep in places, there are sections where we think we would be able ski on open countryside, so it all looked possible – as long as there is sufficient snow and the track doesn’t get too churned up.

After just under 2 hours of walking we emerged on the Col de l’Ecuriele at 1534m. It was a flat area, still covered in snow that was sufficiently frozen to support our weight without breaking through the crust. From here there is apparently a Blue ski run leading down to the bottom of the top lift, so here we think we’d be able to remove our ski skins, put the skis in downhill ski mode and take off to ski the Abondance ski resort once it opens.

That'll be her on the platform then!
Higher up the stationary chairlift provides a nice seat
For now though we needed to carry on uphill, following the track of the blue run up into the resort proper. We reached another col at the top of the Grand Fremoux ski drag lift and had our first view down into the valley that contains the Abondance ski resort and, a little way along the Chapelle d’Abondance, Super Chatel and Chatel ski resorts, but we couldn’t see them far down into the valley.
Instead we decided to head to the top of the chairlft, to a point at 1674m but, on the way we passed the exit point for the Grand Fremoux drag lift with a couple of high stanchions supporting the cable, pulleys and mechanisms. 
In fact a nice place for lunch
All these poles have ladders to give access for staff to ascend in the case of problems, ice, seized bearings etc and, of course the general public (like us) are not allowed up them, particularly when they are running. Well, it wasn’t running and there were no people around so Jackie, obviously harbouring a secret desire to climb up one set off up the ladder, alighting on the platform at the top in amongst the machinery. I stood and took photos and expected to hear a whistle or see someone approaching on a vehicle, but no-one came!

Look, this is the inside of a ski lift attendants hut (that hut you can see in the photo above). Apart from the big control cabinet her has a microwave, a heater and a coffee maker. Never feel sorry for a lift attendant!
From the ski lift back towards St Jean d'Aulps
After she had fulfilled her desire and came down we continued up hill and had our lunch sitting on one of the chairs at the top of the chairlift in warm sunshine and splendid isolation at a place that, in season would be packed with skiers and lift personnel. We felt quite naughty people, but it was a nice rest and with great views all around.

St Jean d'Aulps. Our apartment is at the bottom of that ribbon of snow
After lunch it was all downhill, starting with the red ski run, all on grass other than a few snowy bits and we realised just how steep a red run is, causing us to be quite careful not to slip and slide down. How different it would be in snow and with skis! The walk downhill gave us fabulous views across the valley and we could see our Grande Terche ski resort, the long red run down to our apartment and all the buildings and roads right down to Saint Jean village. We took a brief detour of the main track to a small lake set in amongst the trees before getting down and back to our apartment in time for tea and cake.

A close-up at the end of the snow. Our apartment block is in the centre, our actual apartment is on the right by the trees
Jackie on the red ski run. Hopefully we'll get a photo of her actually skiing here
Harbouring my desire to climb the pointed mountain of Pic de la Corne (2048m) very nearby I managed to talk Jackie into it for Wednesday 30th, the day before the snow is due to come in and effectively seal it off until next April/May. We sent out messages to Si and Cassie and Leanne and Drew to see if they want to do it and got positive replies from them, so all seemed set for tomorrow. We even went out today to recce possible parking places for the start and found some for a few cars very close to the end of the road, so all look set. Today the weather looked cloudy, as forecast, but sunny for tomorrow. By pm today it had started to drizzle and, as the day went on it turned to rain which, with a temperature of 5 or 6°C probably meant snow higher up and, sure enough, just before it went dark we could see a fresh layer of snow all over the summit of Pic de la Corne and on the mountains round about. Good news for skiing, not so good for mountaineering. The forecast is still clear and sunny tomorrow, but it’s overcast and still drizzling/raining, so what it will be like in the morning is anyone’s guess. Tomorrow we will decide.

The lake on the detour back down. Didn't try the ice
In amongst all this Jackie spied an email on the valleexpats email list we’re on from a musician looking for someone to look after his dog on NYE while he plays a gig in Morzine. We’re not planning on going out so we offered, as long as we can have him here. ‘No problem’ was the reply from Alex so, this afternoon we went off to ‘The Cottage’ Inn, restaurant and bar in the centre of Morzine to meet him his girlfriend Ella and Gizmo the dog. He and his fellow musician, a saxophonist had just set up and were about to start so we had a beer and watched them for a couple of numbers before heading back in the Morzine end of the ski day rush hour traffic. Gizmo’s a nice quiet dog so he should be fun, we’re looking forward to it.
Alex, on the right is the owner of Gizmo, the dog we're looking after on NYE
Oh, and this was the route we took from St Jean, on the left, to Abondance on the top right of the red streak

1 comment:

  1. It looks a pretty place even without the snow. .... And you are very naughty climbing up the ski lifts and going into the little huts! Naughty people! Hee Hee! Let's hope it snows soon or Jackie's bored behaviour may have you resorting to climbing chimney pots and lamp posts! Lots of love xxx