Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Towards Spring and end of Skiing - Days 152 to 161

A sunny day stop for a hot chocolate
It's feeling more Spring-like every day, we've moved the clocks on an hour, the days are longer and the sun is gaining strength. Having said that though, it's still quite cold, keeping the snow deep and in quite good condition and the on-piste skiing excellent. Off-piste is still possible and not too bad as we've had fresh falls of snow, with much more forecast this week at higher (above 1400m) altitude, but there's a general feeling of the season coming to an end.

View from the chairlift. The slopes await!
This Saturday (31st) marks the first of our thirteen ski resorts to close, with Abondance closing for the season, followed by Chapelle d'Abondance the next day. Our own, St Jean d'Aulps closes on 8th April along with Morgins, which then prevents the long 'Swiss loop' being done and, on 15th most major resorts close, leaving only Avoriaz, Montriond and Chatel open for one final week, everything going quiet on 22nd April. There will still be huge depths of snow remaining, but operating ski resorts is a huge logistical exercise and closing dates are predetermined by staff contracts (ski lift, piste groomers, first aiders, security and mountain restaurant personnel) and the booking of huge quantities of electricity demanded by the lifts, so dates cannot easily be moved once everything is booked and agreed.

A domestic scene. Pre-ski breakfast in our apartment
We've been out most days enjoying the huge expanse of the Portes du Soleil ski area while we still can and the skiing has been fabulous and fairly quiet now most crowds have gone and we'll no doubt be taking as much opportunity as we can in the final days, not knowing when we may ski again. We may have skied every marked piste in the Portes du Soleil ski area (that is slightly debatable as marked pistes are altered, added or deleted, but broadly we have done them all) and know the whole area very well, but there are still challenges. For example, to date (28th March) my ski app shows that we have skied a total distance of 1958km in 83hours 40min since we arrived on 19th December, travelled a total distance (including skiing and sitting on lifts) of 3024km in 270hours 15min and skied at a maximum speed of 96.1km/h (60mph). Today is our 100th day here and we have been out skiing for 73 of them. I have crossed off the possibility of trying to break the 100km/hr barrier, tempting as it is, as 96.1km/hr was pretty scary, but we obviously need to exceed 2000km of skiing, something that is easily possible with only 42km left, bearing in mind we could do that in a day quite easily and two without much effort, so thats reason enough to go out. Not today or tomorrow though, it's snowing above about 1500m today and tomorrow (rain here), with strongish winds. Friday through to at least Monday look a bit better so we'll go out then.

Another ski photo! This one's in the Abondance ski area
So, since the departure of our friends from Solihull Mountaineering Club things have been much quieter and it's just been mainly the two of us. We've seen little of Si and Cassie as, although they thought they'd have much more time available this season by employing Haig and Gabby to run their chalet, it hasn't happened. They've taken on more airport and slope transfer driving jobs, much more marketing and have found the familiar man-management problems every employer confronts, leading to frustration and apologies from them that it hasn't turned out as they hoped. I'm sure that by next season they will have it sorted - but we probably won't be here!

This is at the top of Abondance and, beyond is St Jean d'Aulps
On a lovely sunny last Friday we hit the slopes in a big way, visiting nine of the thirteen ski resorts, skiing our favourite runs, covering 90km and skiing 59km of them and, in fact, in three consecutive days (22nd to 24th) we visited every one of the thirteen resorts skiing a total of 115km of runs. I like stats, but I'm sure this is of no interest to anyone else! Never mind, it'll be over soon and we'll be able to talk about other things other than skiing!

Here's a closer view and I've marked on it our apartment and the red pistes from the top down to the village and, dotted behind the mountain, the long circular route we can do. The black lines are the ski lifts. Click on the photo to get a bigger view
What about ski touring? Jackie and I went out one day and skinned up 450m ascent over 3.3km on marked pistes, all good excercise, but she wasn't very happy (actually she bailed about halfway and caught a ski lift up, while I carried on skinning)! Encouraged I decided to go out one morning to skin up the red piste right by our apartment, leaving Jackie reading in bed. It didn't go quite to plan, I started up the quite steep but groomed piste until I came to the first bend and then went up off-piste up a steep, icy and grooved slope. Going up in zig-zags and doing kick turns was much more of an effort than gently sliding up a groomed slope, but I was not put off on rejoining the piste as I could see another narrow track leading off up away from the piste.
I wasn't the first to go there, but not many had been before and I thought it would be interesting and maybe I'd find a good off-piste slope we could ski down. Well, it wasn't to be, it wandered a long way from the piste into trees and steepening slopes, kick turns becoming more difficult, icy slopes more difficult to keep a grip on, occasionally sliding backwards or to the side, skis getting stuck under tree roots or branches and a steep slope in avalanche 3 conditions. Should I be here? probably not. Does anyone know I'm here? No. Would anyone hear if I needed to shout? Maybe, but not sure. It's not looking so good, the slope above through the trees is steep and a long way up, I'm using loads of energy and have no food. Skiing back down is not an option, so I have to go on, stopping frequently for rests and to get my breath back. But press on I did and I eventually regained the piste close to the top. As I bust through the last bush and onto the slope two skiers had stopped to watch. 'Hi' I said, trying to look as cool and relaxed as possible and carried on skiining up hill, leaving them to ski on down. Well, I reached the main ski area of St Jean at an altitude of 1400m in 2 hours, a distance of 3.4km and an ascent of 450m, very, very tired. Not a very good time and not a very sensible route. Will I do it again? Probably, but next time I'll stick to the groomed piste!

The brown, scraped ski runs down the mountain from Chatel towards Mogins
Last night we had an invitation to dinner at Si and Cassie's chalet. We'd contacted them earlier to see if we could get together and us cook them a meal as Si is going off on a diving job in the UK on Friday and we may not see him again before we go, but instead we got invited to theirs for a meal and to take part in a publicity movie they are having made. They've got a couple who run a movie business in Cornwall to stay this week and offered them a free ski holiday in exchange for a big discount so we are to become part of their promotional video. Gabby and Haig were there, Si and, eventually Cassie after she returned from an airport transfer, guests Peter (an ex Navy colleague of Si's), his wife Emma and their two children and another couple Richard and Sarah who have been in the area for two years and are refurbishing an old house in nearby Cote d'Abroz. They were all very interesting people and we had good conversation which was just what the movie maker wanted. Fizz and canapes were served as we sat in the lounge, chatted and were filmed, followed by us sitting around the dining table eating dinner, drinking wine and chatting, all while the camera rolled. Will it be interesting when complete? Well, they seemed quite professional so possibly, but they were a bit put off when Jackie told them she used to work at the BBC and her first husband was a cameraman and video editor. We'll see and maybe post a link, but only if it shows us in a good light!

Anyway, that's it for now, tea and cake are calling!

1 comment:

  1. The filming sounds exciting. However, remind me to give Brian a good talking to about going off on his own when he could have got into trouble and there was no Jackie to save him! Xxx
    Love you both lots.... want you both back safely! Xxxx