Saturday, 30 January 2016

Warm, sunny days

With Mike on our way to Morgins, the Dents du Midi in the background

The wind direction has changed, another high pressure system has settled over us, the skies have cleared and we’ve had warm, almost hot, sunny days. At first that’s nice, great views, good definition and great snow, but it quickly changes. From -11°C at 1100m on 18th January rapidly increasing to +6°C (in places even into double figures) one week later it is not difficult to imagine what has happened to the snow; it’s disappeared faster than one of Paul Daniels magic tricks! Well, not quite as bad as that, but it is going in that direction.

On top of the Pointe du Nyon with Morzine town far below on R
The powder snow has consolidated into thick concrete like ice in the mornings, making off piste skiing challenging to say the least and, where the sun goes to work, making it very soft and slushy by the afternoon making it heavy to ski on, almost stopping the skis even on steep slopes – most unpleasant. From yesterday the first of many fronts that are forecast came through bringing precipitation, mainly rain to all but higher slopes and with a freezing level hovering between 1800m and 3700m it’s going to be mainly rain until possibly next Thursday. At this rate we might be putting the skis away again until more snow arrives .

Jackie and Mike with Mont Blanc in the distance
However, we have thoroughly enjoyed the conditions while they have lasted and with few people here we’ve enjoyed relatively empty slopes , no queues at ski lifts and clear sunny days. All that coincided with Mike’s visit. An old friend of ours from Solihull Mountaineering Club, he arrived on Monday evening to stay with us in our apartment for 4 nights, so we had three great days skiing with him. Over the years we have done a lot of rock climbing, skiing, ski touring and mountaineering with him, so we know him well and we all get on very well, so even living close together in a small space it was not a problem and we all thoroughly enjoyed it.

It was while we were looking that Mike told us about his ascent of Mont Blanc. He apparently set off from the hut (arrowed) at 3:00am, got to Mont Blanc summit at 6:00am and was back at the hut by 8:00am. Fit or what!! I've put an arrow on the Aiguille du Midi as we've been climbing there
This little train takes skiers the 300m between Mont Chery and Les Gets
Our days were relatively relaxed, we weren’t up and off early, maybe getting on the first lifts around 10:00am and were generally heading down 3:30pm’ish, but between those times we were covering a lot of ground. On Tuesday we did a grand circuit, heading over into Chatel after parking the car in the Ardent car park and heading up from there. 

Couldn't resist a photo of them. Even the Spanish lad waved!
We caught the new ski lifts into Super Chatel and then headed towards Torgon to catch the magnificent views of the Dents du Midi mountains, then headed on to the Swiss resorts of Morgins, through Champossin and Les Crosets, before catching the lift back over into France and back down into the Lindarets bowl and back down to the car – a long but fabulous day on mostly good snow, only the occasional thin covered piste. Wednesday we spent the day in the Morzine, Les Gets and Mont Chery area, ticking off a few black and off piste runs, experiencing our first heavy, wetter snow. 
Mike launching himself out of the slalom starting hut
On Thursday we had a day in the Swiss resort of Les Crosets and the French resort of Avoriaz, finishing with the fabulous off piste black run of ‘Crozats Snowcross’ which goes down a huge wide, steep valley between mountains from the top to the very bottom of Avoriaz. Sadly it was not in great condition, a bit icy so, in places it was quite difficult and energy sapping. Good job we came back to big portions of cake and tea each day, followed by carb loaded meals like Tartiflete and Boeuf Bourguignon cooked by Jackie and bread and butter pudding and apple crumble and custard cooked by Brian, plus of course plenty of wine!

Halfway down the fabulous Crozats Snowcross
We were up early on Friday to see Mike off on the mini bus back to Geneva airport and, after looking at the low cloud and drizzly rain coming out of the sky we had decided to do nothing. However we had Facebook messages from Leanne and Drew saying it was Drew’s birthday and would we like to meet up for a ski. Unenthusiastic we parked the car at Ardent, went up on the lift to meet them and waited 20 minutes under the cover of the lift looking at the drizzle, thinking we would wish him happy birthday and then come down. We even met Andy Cavet, a ski instructor and brother in law of the owner of our apartment, who was waiting under cover for clients to arrive on the lift. ‘Surprised to see you today’ he said ‘if I hadn’t got clients I’d have looked out of the window and turned over in bed!’

The cloud lifting on Friday morning to reveal a beautiful day
Lunch in the sun with Leanne and Drew
In the 20 minute wait the rain virtually stopped and Leanne and Drew’s optimism grew on us and we decided to do a short circuit round to and through Avoriaz. When we reached the top of the resort the sun poked through the clouds and suddenly it looked good so we skied down into Switzerland’s Les Crosets and had some fabulous skiing in bright sunshine, stopping eventually at a piste side bar eating hot dog and chips outdoors in the sun, finishing up with a few more great runs until the cloud came in again and we headed home.  A nice birthday outing for Drew.

A kiss from Leanne for the birthday boy. In the distance and just to the right of Drews head is the notorious 'Swiss Wall' ski run. Very lumpy, very long and very intimidating!
Morzine today (Saturday)
After all the skiing with Mike and then another day with Leanne and Drew we planned a day of nothing today (Saturday), but the forecast said otherwise and when it got light the sun came out and it looked great, albeit a bit windy, so out came the skis and we were off to Nyon for a ski over there and into Les Gets. We did about 2½ hours of skiing, picking out all the best runs and, even though off piste is off the menu until more snow, the pistes are in amazingly good condition and on piste skiing is fabulous. The people who maintain and groom the pistes certainly do magic, we had 2½ hours of perfect, enjoyable skiing!

Tomorrows forecast: all change. A front is due to come through this evening and tomorrow with a large amount of precipitation and a freezing level of 1750m, rising to 2550m. That will be rain in all but the highest places, let’s hope Thursdays forecast of a lower freezing level with precipitation means snow! We’ve planning a late start with brunch and we’ve got a chicken with all the trimmings to roast for dinner and plenty of wine, we don’t care!
Look at these sequence of pictures taken from our apartment balcony at 950m altitude. This one was taken on 16th January
This one on 25th January
And this one today, 30th January. It's the snow vanishing trick!

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Settling in to the Ski Season

Digging the car out one morning.17-18cm of fresh snow overnight

As we near the end of January we’re getting more into a routine. We had a December of little snow and an early January of a lot of snow but cloudy, occasionally windy and foggy days. You can’t have skiing without snow and it has to fall from the sky sometime and early January has been it for us. It started around the 7th of January and continued almost continuously until last Wednesday, 22nd and in that time somewhere between 1 metre and 1.5 metres of the stuff fell from the sky in its very powdery form. Super snow to ski on, but unstable powder on top of ice is the stuff dangerous avalanches are made of, so we ski off piste with great care!

A fabulous off piste powder day with Jackie and, in the distance, Leanne
Little Groucho kitten enjoying some cat biscuits
From Thursday of last week the sun has been out, but with it the freezing level has gone up along with the temperature, changing completely the texture of the snow and its ski-ability. On the first really nice day the snow was superb and, coupled with the bright sunny weather the skiing was absolutely perfect. We spent the day in our local resort of La Grande Terche, here in St Jean, skiing with Si and Cassie and their friends/guests and had a whale of a day and by far the best days skiing this season.

Hiding behind the wall waiting for birds to land.....
...Then leaping up in a vain attempt to catch one. She didn't!
We only had a short day out on Friday as Jackie was feeling a little below par (she’s fine now), Saturday we were helping Si and Cassie in the chalet on their change over day (Brian drove some of the guests back to Geneva for their flight home, Jackie helped change beds etc), so today, Sunday, has been our second day out since the warmer weather arrived. It wasn’t quite as sunny as forecast, so the snow definition wasn’t perfect, but we went travelling nonetheless, making our way over to Super Chatel, Torgon, and La Chapelle, using the two new lifts installed to link the two ski areas without the need to catch a ski bus. It was fabulous to travel so far in a relatively short time, but the snow over there wasn’t brilliant; even though so much has fallen still more is needed to fully cover all areas, so we’re hopeful of some more.

The coldest we've seen so far. Colder up high!
We had to rush back in order to meet up with Leanne and Drew and Jill and Tony, the owners of the chalet they are looking after. It was to them that we applied for the chalet sitting job in Morzine that Leanne and Drew got. We saw it advertised on Trusted Housesitters last July, applied immediately and got a fast reply from Jill saying we sounded ideal, could we see if we could get out of the apartment booking we had made. After thinking about it we politely declined as we didn’t want to let Si and Cassie down after promising to help them, this let Leanne and Drew take it, so it all worked out for the best. As Jill and Tony are over here for a week we took the opportunity of meeting them for possible future chalet sitting once Leanne and Drew have moved on. Quite when we don’t know as we want to be in South America next year, but keeping in touch with them keeps some options open for the future.

Getting ready in Ardent car park to head up on the skilift
A winter wonderland
The only other thing to report is on the cat and bird front at our apartment. I have been encouraging the birds, but Jackie (and me to an extent) have been encouraging the local wild cats. In the supermarket I head for the section selling fat balls, Jackie buys cat food so, on our balcony we have food for both, which obviously is not compatible! My poor birds are the ones that have suffered. None have been killed by cats I’m happy to say, but they no longer visit our balcony, in favour of another one higher up that the cats can’t reach.

Jackie being pulled up on a drag-lift in Super Chatel, with the village far below
The view through my goggles on a snowy, foggy day....
It took a while, but eventually after a few near misses from little kitten cat ‘Groucho’ leaping up as they settled to take some bread, they have fled for easier takings elsewhere. The cats have settled in to an easy life on our balcony and we now have about four of them as regular visitors, Groucho kitten even getting a toy mouse bought for her by Jackie, which she loves. They are all feral so won’t be stroked or hand fed, but they eat huge amounts of cat biscuits and enjoy the water with a bit of milk that is put out for them (and changed regularly as it freezes!). We even almost tempted cute little Groucho kitten in the other day, but she is too timid to come too far in through the open door (which we are not prepared to leave open too long as it lets all our heat out), but she is getting a little tamer. Perhaps Jackie will have her tamed before much longer! (She will be hand fed, if it’s nice bits of fat that she wants, after she has hissed at me!)

And the view as it really was. Poor definition and snowy!
But here's when the sun came out, cloud inversion as well!
Tomorrow we have our first visitor. Mike from our mountaineering club is coming over for three days of skiing, staying with us in our small apartment so it’ll be cosy but fun. No doubt we’ll be out skiing from the first to last lifts of the day to make full use of his time here. More on that in the next entry.

And here's the view the other way. That peak is the Roc d'Enfer and there's a narrow arrete that leads up to it. I'd really like to do that when the snow melts!!
And here's the group we skied with. Jackie is second from left, Si and Cassie third and fourth from left. The others were their friends/guests
Off piste skiing in our local resort. That's Si on his back in the snow
A few tricky bits to negotiate
And watch out for those avalanches! here's a small slab avalanche partially covering a piste
Jackie and others skiing down in beautiful afternoon sun
Watched by Simon as he waits to ski down
Lunch stop. Me Simon, Cassie and Jackie together at the back
What is that face mask Cassie has?
View back from the top of Follys in St Jean before we skied back home

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Snow,snow, snow!

The view from our apartment car park down into St Jean on Wednesday morning

Tuesday we went back to Nyon, and had a much better time than on Sunday, we did a couple of runs in the snow, which was cold but not wet, before it stopped, hurrah, we had a good time, before coldness got the better of me and we headed back to the lift, waiting for the bubble to go down the snow started with a vengeance, so good timing or what.

Getting ready to ski in our local resort. This is the foyer of our apartment block, so we can gear up there and walk 2 minutes to the lift, leaving our slippers in the post box on the wall!
Making our own tracks off piste in the Graydon area of St Jean
Wednesday, only gentle snow and we decided to head up the hill to the local resort as it had been snowing all night and B was afraid we’d never be able to get out of the carpark. Amazingly the drive had been cleared, the snowplough hadn’t left a pile across the end of the drive and a man was out with a snow blower! That’s what the residence charge is paid for I guess, still impressive though. 

Jackie skiing the powder
And skiing on down in knee deeppowder
Slightly disappointed on getting to the lift to find that the circuit still wasn’t open, oh well, we can go over the top to Graydon for the first time! What a day, the sun came out and the powder was amazing, we had a whale of a time. We were the first two down an unmarked piste twice, because we knew where it went, it is a lovely feeling losing your legs up to the knees in fluffy snow. We were aware of our surroundings though, didn’t go down the piste closed due to avalanche risk, just the one we did, not beneath a steep slope and between the trees! Nipped home for lunch and a warm up and then back out for a few more runs. Still able to find some untouched snow we had a good afternoon too.

The Grande Terche in St Jean from the top of the bubble lift
Cutting our own tracks
Today woke to more snow, waited a bit, studied the website as to what was open where, thought it had eased off so went off to Nyon again only for the snow to start again with a vengeance so we didn’t do much, but it’s all looking so good and tomorrow may be a snow free day….. I know,some people are never happy!

Nearing the bottom of the red run back into St Jean Station, where we live. Our apartment block is the furthest building away, beyond which you can see down into the valley
And our reward after that hard day of off piste skiing? Lemon drizzle cake and vin chaud!
This is the current view from our apartment window. A bit of a transformation
The Great Tits have been fluffing themselves up due to the cold weather
Trying to get a photo of the Great Tits without scaring them away is a bit of a trial. Here's Brians attempt at making a 'hide'