Monday, 11 April 2016

April in Portes du Soleil

A lovely photo of the six of us taken last night at Si and Cassie's

We are now into the last two and a half weeks of our four month ski season at St Jean d’Aulps in the giant Portes du Soleil ski area that is getting smaller as ski-lifts and ski areas close. Yesterday was the farewell of our local resort which finished with an on piste party and amateur slalom race that we entered (more on that later) and today the lifts are silent and the pistes left to melt into spring.

A day out skiing with Cassie, their friend Jimmy (right) and two Irish guys who were guests on a short break at Si and Cassie's. Cassie put me in charge so we did a long tour to the far resorts in Switzerland picking out all my favourite runs. They all really enjoyed it and hoped that I hadn't minded. Minded! How can having a fabulous day out skiing all the best runs with happy people be a problem?
One of our walks reaching a summit at 1492m
Many of the smaller areas have already closed and selected lifts in the remaining open areas have stopped as staff are laid off, possibly to get back to their farms or other summer jobs as fields reappear from beneath the snow and the smell of freshly spread manure fills the air. It’s a magical transformation before our eyes, little lizards are running around, spring flowers are gradually adding colour to the once white scene, buds and leaves are appearing on the trees and the birds are flitting around much more.

Another walk to and above the isolated village of Graydon in St Jean
What is left open still provides surprisingly good skiing and it is still possible to do a ‘Grand Circuit’ through the main resorts, something we did with Si and Cassie on Saturday after 5cm of fresh snow had fallen overnight and was still drifting from the sky. It freshened up the pistes and made a good day out, although the skiing was challenging in the poor visibility and the hidden icy lumps under the fresh snow, but we enjoyed it. We’ve now got just under two weeks of skiing left before Avoriaz, the highest resort in the area closes on 24th April, so we’re not done yet!

Nearing the end of the Graydon walk, back up the piste in St Jean, to catch the bubble back down
In the bubble back to St Jean, our apartment in the distance
We might even get to try out Nordic skiing (using those very thin skis) as Si and Cassie have had some lessons and will show us, and Leanne and Drew have just taken it up and had a couple of lessons, so the plan is to hire the gear and they’ll take us out, possibly tomorrow (early, before the snow gets too soft). Exciting (but also very tiring we think)! There’s also a ski tour in the offing with a night in a hut somewhere that Drew knows, so we’re hoping that will come off as well.

Drew chilling out after dinner at Si and Cassie's last night
Leanne, Jackie and Cassie
We planned all this last night at a dinner party of the six of us at Si and Cassie’s chalet. A fabulous three course dinner with leg of lamb, champagne, beer, cocktails, wine, great company and an evening full of laughs, but it blended into obscurity as the wine took hold, leaving a brain that won’t quite fire on all cylinders yet! It’s a pity, outside it’s a beautiful day and all sorts of activities beckon, but the will isn’t really there and Jackie is asleep on the sofa as I write. It’s a chilling day I think!

Si and Brian. Looks like the wine is having it's effect!
It’s been our second dinner party recently, we had Si and Cassie round to our apartment on Friday, Jackie cooking belly pork Chinese style with Asian steamed fish, spicy vegetables and fried rice, I made tiramisu with caramel vodka and a victoria sponge (Si’s favourite), washed down with plenty of beer and wine (oh dear, another hangover!). On the subject of food, Jackie cooked Beef Rendang earlier in the week, an Indonesian dish we loved when we were in Sumatra and this was as good as we remembered.

Out with Si and Cassie on Saturday in fresh snow
Si and Cassie in falling snow on Saturday
We’ve been out walking up mountains on two separate days to try and get a bit fitter and get enjoy views of mountains from different angles and I even decided to try to start running again, doing two 5km runs along the river in St Jean. However, my knee cartilage immediately started hurting again, so I think the injury I got last year is possibly something permanent, so running is probably off the menu for good for me. It looks like I will have to concentrate on mountain walking and road biking (when I get back to the UK) for fitness in future.

St Jean yesterday from the chairlift. An ice bar, music, tartiflette and the slalom uder blue sky
Jackie in her 'Vote Hilary' rosette
So yesterday (Sunday), after the bit of fresh snow up high on Saturday the day dawned with bright blue sky and no wind, just perfect for the closing party and slalom race at St Jean. The six of us met on the slopes in the warm sunshine to find they had created a huge drinks area with a bar made of snow, music was playing, a slalom course was set up down the steep red piste in front and there was a giant vat of tartiflette bubbling away.

And Brian in his. Note the fresh snow!
The advertising said to come in fancy dress with famous couples as the theme. We had nothing, but as a token gesture I tore a piece of A4 paper in half, made two rosettes out of them, wrote ‘Vote Hilary’ on one for Jackie and ‘Vote Bill (crossed out), Monika (crossed out) and Hilary under on mine. Yes, we went as Bill and Hilary Clinton, but we don’t think many people noticed! It seemed an excuse for grown men to dress up in women’s clothes, but some people made a real effort and looked pretty good.

The giant vat of tartiflette
Jackie and Cass in their vests ready for the slalom race
We entered the slalom race as couples and after some warm up skiing and a lot of waiting around Jackie went first. It was properly organised, a man (in women’s clothes!) was at the start with a walkie-talkie checking with those at the arrival gate and advising number cent, quatre-vingt cinq was about to depart. She went through the sensor and was off and out of sight, returning sometime later to give me the vest for my turn. Cassie was next, then a few other people, Drew, Si and then me. Leanne missed her turn and had to go right at the end, after everyone else did theirs, so we missed her. A good helping of tartiflette and a drink in the warm sunshine made it a very enjoyable day.

Jackie at the starting gate with a man in women's clothes
Cassie on her way with Si videoing her
Si was ‘Mr Competitive’ and although he’s only been skiing a year, he wanted to win and, when we looked at the results, he had done pretty well. Out of the six of us Drew was the best (as he should be with all the lessons he’s had), we think Si was next, Jackie and I were within a second of each other and Cassie a few seconds behind (but Si and Cassie may have been the other way round, putting Si last, we’re not totally sure!). Leanne didn’t get a result as she missed a gate, so both Drew and Leanne were disqualified. To put it in context we came in 68th out of 75, our best time was 54.04 seconds and the winning time was 33.89 seconds. We have a long way to go!

Our resort from across the valley. Our apartment block is on the left, the top of the bubble lift is on the right. In the middle it is possible to make out the cabins on the bubble lift going up the mountain. You can just see the white piste zig zagging down the mountain through the trees and green grass leading right back into our village. They kept that piste open throughout the season, even when everything around it had turned to grass at the base
A close up of our apartment, just above the bottom of the slope
The pussy cats are still regular visitors to our balcony, Jackie is convinced Callico cat has given birth somewhere as she is much thinner than before, Little black Smuts has been rogered by all the tom cats after coming on heat (keeping us awake over several nights with noise of wailing cats), so she’s probably pregnant and little Goucho is looking fat after her rogering several weeks ago, so there’s probably going to be many more cats around soon! As long as they don’t eat all the birds things should be OK. I think Jackie’s going to miss them all when we leave and I’m sure they are all going to miss her too.
A bit of a give-away from Groucho with a bird feather on her whiskers. Another bird for lunch?
This picture tells a story! That's the house across the valley that we walked to to take the photo above looking back
Little black Smuts and Groucho on our balcony
And here they are after they crept in one sunny afternoon when the door was open. If you see this Carol, they didn't go far or stay in for long!
The slalom results. We are at 68, Si and Cassie at 70, Leanne and Drew the first of the disqualified at the bottom

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