Thursday, 28 April 2016

Too sad to write, again!

Brian and Jackie skinning up to Mont Chery (photo taken by Cassie)

I've just looked through the blog from this time last time we were here, and it was very tempting to just copy and paste it as this entry. It was titled "too sad to write" which is how I feel now, shows pictures of us in the park with Cass, Judith and Grandma, and I think J, G and I are wearing some of the same clothes. Then goes on to tell of a big dump of snow/rain depending on altitude on the last Sunday of the resort! All very familiar. 

Jackie and Cassie skiining up the last bit
It rained all day Saturday, so at altitude it would have been snow, so on Sunday, last day, we headed off to do a run or two only to find the usual lift we take closed, decided we couldn't be bothered to park in Morzine to use the three open lifts so we drove up to the Col de l'Encrenaz to have a look at the snow there as there was a plan to ski tour up to the Col du Ratti the following day with Cass. We walked up the road, we toured up in February and decided that the tour wasn't going to happen unless we had the predicted snow, so as an alternate we suggested a skin up and ski down the piste on the back of Mont Chery, accessed from the same carpark we were in, there were only a couple of small naked patches on the path close to the carpark.....

And finally on Mont Chery summit in falling snow
Lunch on the summit
It did snow, so bright and early the three of us drove up to the carpark, ummed and ahhed as to which way to go, left right, left right, took a short walk up the barely covered road towards the Col du Ratti where we met a Frenchman walking down. Using her best French Cass ascertained that there was not enough snow cover for the tour up, so the piste it was, looking much better than the previous day, no naked patches at all! 

Just starting the ski down
Off we went in sunshine and blue sky, not that this lasted long before a small amount of snow began to fall, not much, just enough to stop us overheating. Got to the top lift, and went the little bit further to the cross and panorama marker right on the top. "Hold it there, smile" from Brian as he took our picture before realising that he was probably standing on a big cornice....

Our tracks in the fresh snow under the non-running ski lift
Bite of lunch though it was still only really elevenses and then ski down trying to make it last as long as possible, enjoying every turn in the fresh powder! Back home to tea and cake and photos onto Facebook raising much jealousy from friends near and far. More snow forecast Tuesday night, so another plan hatched, we WILL do Col du Ratti on Wednesday.

Cassie and Jackie skiing down
Have a look at these videos of Jackie and Cassie skiing down: Cassies skiJackies ski

Jackie attempting cat rescue
We stayed with Cass Tuesday night to enable an early start, to watch a film on Patagonia, high on the S.America list and to have dinner, that Grandma said she had to cook for us as a thank you for looking after her! Entirely unnecessary but any excuse.... Our comfortable group of three had grown to six, with Leanne (Drew really hurt his neck last week so not him), Jude, a friend of everyone else's who we met for about a minute on our very first day of skiing as she was on the course with Drew and Ed, her husband, was skiing with us. 
Rescue done. Jackie with cat, Joe, Leanne, Cassie and Jude
She is lovely though I had found the idea slightly daunting as she used to be a PT instructor in the army...... Lastly Joe, a young man Cassie had met while out for a night on the town on Friday, she says she's 'grooming' him to take Simon parapenting and obviously felt quite strange about picking up young men! All entirely aboveboard and he seems very nice. 

Skinning up to the Col du Ratti
More snow had fallen, making the drive up slightly interesting, so off we went, somehow with me in the front. How did that happen? Oh well I could set a steady(slow) pace, till we got to a building when I heard "miaow" after a lot of miaowing back and forth I spotted it precariously balanced under the roof. "Are you stuck?" "Miao" it wasn't really stuck, it just wanted lots of fuss, which obviously I was glad to give. 
The sudden heavy snow storm
Hurrah, someone else in front, good, and off we went up the very gentle first half, pausing for photos and to watch someone skiing down, where we were about to go up, with dog, bounding down in the snow looking to have a whale of a time. Got to the end of the gentle for the start of the steep, more clothes off? Decided not as the big grey cloud came overhead at that point, good decision, about half way up, we were in a complete white out with heavy snow! Cass, B and I forming a rear guard to the faster three ahead, amazingly nearly losing their tracks, and they weren't that far ahead! Got to the top, snow stopped, view cleared and after a sandwich we had the most amazing ski down. Absolutely fabulous.

Jude, Joe and Cassie at the Col
With a blister the size of a golf ball caused by the fact that she is touring in downhill boots without the flex that the rest of us have Cass decided enough was enough, my knee and groin were giving me gyp, so enough for me too. B however is out with Jude, Joe and someone else new doing one last tour before we really do have to dry and pack everything! I've just had a text though and he is expecting to be back much earlier than planned which is really going to interfere with my lunch with Cassie in the sunshine on their patio....!

Cassie, Leanne and Jackie at the Col
Brian at the Col with the previous ski tour in the distance
In cat news, they are eating us out of house and home, Callico I think is on heat again and Peter is very interested and Groucho is enormous, she is sleeping and eating a lot, but when sitting on the windowsill has a party going on in her belly. There is kicking and twitching and goodness knows what. Where and when will she have her babies? Will B have to drive home alone while I take on midwifery duties and fly home later?
The fabulous ski down from the Col du Ratti
 Have a look at the video of the ski down: Col du Ratti ski
Jackie and Cassie pausing on the Col du Ratti ski
Leanne, Jude and Joe pausing on the Col du Ratti ski
 And now a few pics from Brian's ski tour day with Joe, Jude and Callie
Joe, Jude and Callie heading up. The Pointe De Chalune is in the centre distance
Traversing a fairly steep avalanche prone slope
Jude heading across on steep, deep snow with Mont Blanc just visible on the left
 Have a look at this video of Jude edging out. It give an impression of the exposure: Jude video
Too steep for skis, she had to take off her skis and climb up
Joe taking a different route, which actually Callie and Brian did too
The final push, the summit is in sight
And this is the view back down from near the summit after Brian had overtaken Joe. You can just see the pistes of Mont Chery in the distance
Summit photo, Joe, Callie and jude
 Have a look at this summit video. Can you see Mont Blanc and Lake Geneva? Summit panorama
Our route down. We stayed just right of those trees on the right and then left through a just visible col back into the valley on the left
Our ski tracks down from the summit
Jude and Callie skiing
Joe pausing on the ski down with Mont Blanc in the distance
Safely down just after 11:00am before the sun made the avalanche risk too high. Callie, Joe, Jude and Brian. A great day out!
Groucho and Smutts asleep together on our balcony
Cats lining up on our balcony! Named by Jackie, they are LtoR: Smutts, Peter, Groucho in the foreground and Calico

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Unexpected snow bonus in Portes du Soleil

Jackie skiing on fresh poweder in Avoriaz

We are on our final countdown of 10 days before heading back to the UK and the skilifts, still running in Avoriaz and Chatel, close on Sunday 24th as the ski season in Portes du Soleil finally comes to a close. 

However, no-one has told the weather god as, in between warm spring like weather we’ve had one very cold spell and have another predicted for Saturday through to the middle of next week that has brought and is forecast to bring more fresh snow.

Judith, Cassie, Grandma and Jackie at Montriond lake
It didn’t seem possible last Saturday when we pushed ‘Grandma’ (Si’s grandmother) round Montriond lake with Judith (Si’s mother) and Cassie in glorious warm sunshine, stopping for a coffee outdoors by the lakeside, but the weather forecast foretold it and it came to pass.

Out walking one day up to the Col de L'Ecuelle in Abondance
Arriving in Montriond in heavy snow
Sunday was the most miserable day, constant heavy rain here, but above 1400m it was heavy snow. Monday continued with precipitation but now, at our level, 950m it was just about snowing and we could see very white scenery on the mountain opposite with a very definite snow line at about 1000m, just above our heads, so we headed out.

Poor visibility, but fabulous snow!
Skiing deep powder in Chatel
The Ardent bubble lift leading to the centre of the Chatel/Avoriaz ski area is up and past Montriond lake and, as we drove up there we saw white snow everywhere where only 2 days before we had been in tee shirts, now -1 degree C. The visibility in Chatel was pretty poor it has to be said and at the top of the lifts we were in cloud, but the snow conditions were fantastic and there were very few other people around. It was not an exaggeration to say there was a new fresh powder depth of at least 30cm, in some places just under knee deep and, with few other people about, the fresh lines we could cut were endless. Have a look at this video of Jackie skiing deep powder in Chatel: Jackies off piste skiing. 
Jackie's fall onto the piste. Can you see the 40cm drop? We couldn't!
No pistes had been groomed so on piste skiing was the same as off piste and, quite often it was impossible to tell the difference as white blended into white in the poor vis. Even familiar areas became disorientating and our only concern was to try not to ski off a cliff or at least a rocky edge. On a few occasions we disappeared into unseen dips or fell over on unseen humps, Jackie at one point thinking she was skiing smoothly onto a piste past the edge marker dropped about 40cm over an invisible edge, ending in a heap. Even then the drop was not visible! Anyway, we were careful and had a fabulous time, doing all the off piste we knew in deep forgiving fresh powder, how glad were we that we made the effort!

Next day, beautiful sunshine!
The trouble is, the sun’s been out since and the temperature at 2400m was 11 degrees today, so snow doesn’t last long under those conditions and by pm it turns wet, heavy and, in places like glue so can be quite unpleasant. Get up early, enjoy the hard packed fast pistes and go home about 12:00 midday is the rule now and then the skiing is fabulous.

Outside La Poya restaurant in Avoriaz. Grandma's view while we skied
Lunch at La Poya, Jackie, Judith, Grandma and Cassie
That is until Saturday, when it’s forecast to turn really cold again with lots more snow, so it might be similar conditions. The difference is, after Sunday there will be no more ski lifts running so any skiing will be hard won after putting the skins on our skis and ski touring up. 2 hours up, 15 minutes down. Ah well, at least it will keep us fit! We’ll be here until the very end!

Nordic skiing with Leanne and Drew
A few other things have changed since our last blog entry, written the day after a great evening at Si and Cassies with Leanne and Drew. Si has gone away to Belgium, having got a very lucrative diving job, so is earning the money while Cassie has stayed at home looking after Si’s mum Judith and Grandma, who had arranged to come out to see them both, only to find Si has gone away for a month. Never mind, we’ve been around while Cassie, and occasionally us, has skied with Judith, on her second year of learning to ski and doing pretty well. 
Drew and Leanne looking a bit more professional than us!
We brought Grandma out one day, up on the Prodains lift and dragged her in her wheelchair across the snow to the La Poya piste-side restaurant to sit in the sun and watch the skiing. She does pretty well for 94 years old! Today, after a morning of some really fast on piste skiing with Cassie we had a leisurely afternoon with Judith and Grandma walking through the park next to the river in Morzine, followed by afternoon cake and coffee on the patio at Cassies.

Funny things these Nordic skis. Long poles but very comfy footwear!
Cassie and Jackie today, Montriond lake in the distance
The other thing that’s changed is that Drew has gone away for a week to be assessed for his level 3 ski instructor and Leanne has been away for a first aid course and then lots of dog sitting. It meant that the ski tour day with an overnight in a hut didn’t happen, but we did get out with them on a couple of days Nordic, or cross-country skiing. We’ve never done that before and found it really quite hard, the skis are very narrow with almost no edges and the poles very long. The one saving grace was that the footwear is very, very comfortable. Very grateful to D&L in showing us what to do, even though they are relative novices themselves and after 2 hours we could just about skate along, but we have a very long way to go!

Today at the top of Le Linga, a steep red piste in Chatel. Hard packed, fast, well groomed and flat. Can't wait to set off down it!
Now watch Jackie, in the white jacket and Cassie in black ski down it, both going like a rocket! Jackie and Cassie skiing Le Linga 
Jackie, Judith and Cassie outside in the sun today
So tomorrow Judith and Grandma go home, but we hope to see them again in Blackpool, where they live, if we can find the time, to go Ballroom dancing in the Tower Ballroom! The weather forecast is good for tomorrow, so we will probably go out skiing again, then the weather closes in for the expected heavy falls of snow right up until next Tuesday. If it does we’ll be out playing again, but this time preceded by up-hill ski touring. Then I guess we have to start thinking about packing and the long journey back to the UK.

A couple of photos of the pussy cats. This is 'Peter', sunning himself one afternoon...
and cute little 'Smutts'