Le neige arrive…

Well, the snow arrived as promised yesterday. So did the wind. The advice, posted on blackboards at each lift, was to stay in one’s own resort – this for us in this case meant the Arc 2000 valley. So naturally, we headed over to the Arc 1600/1800 valley – last week’s stomping ground – with a view to skiing through the trees above Vallandry where the visibility was better. We got there, and the visibility was better, but the pistes were difficult to ski, with large piles of snow between patches of icy hard-pack. I am the skiing equivalent of a cricketing flat-track bully – fine and in control when the pistes are groomed and the sun is shining. At other times I struggle. Above the trees it was hail falling, not snow, and after a few testing runs, we decided to make for the lift back to our valley.

This is where the fun began in earnest. Many of the lifts up to the top were closed due to the high winds, but the Arpette wasn’t, so we gratefully jumped on. The lift seemed to move incredibly slowly, and as we got higher the wind was getting stronger. Not far from the top the lift stopped, and we could see the empty chairs on their way back down, swinging wildly in the wind, which still seemed to be increasing in strength. The lift started up again, and then stopped after a few metres. This pattern continued. Kirsty was beginning to get giggly, and started singing a hymn. A couple of chairs back, we learned later, Mandy was getting ready to inform DC that he was a great bloke and she’d really enjoyed his friendship over the years. After what seemed an eternity, certainly it was even longer than we normally spend waiting for F… to strap herself back into her snowboard after getting off a lift, we made it to the top, and gratefully issued forth on to the summit, where a kindly pisteur directed us to the relative shelter of the leeward side of a small building. The wind was whipping the snow into a fine icy mist, and flinging it against any piece of exposed flesh. Gloved hands were clumsily and frantically readjusting hats and scarves and collars and anything that would keep the wind and ice out. Once our lift had emptied of skiers and boarders, the pisteurs arranged us into groups according to the valley we intended to end up in, and we set off in a large frozen convoy. Periodically the wind would intensify and reduce the visibility such that the skiers only a few metres in front would disappear from view. This was fairly disconcerting. Apparently it was at this point that I skied off from the other three. I have little recollection of this, although I do recall turning my head to see where the others were, and getting a generous quantity of ice blown into my face, and ear canal in particular, for my trouble. Safely back in Arc 2000, I noted that it was the first time since we arrived that DC didn’t look keen to keep skiing.

Today was mercifully much less eventful. It snowed on and off, but the visibility was generally good. Despite an unusually good sleep last night, my legs felt tired and so after a lengthy lunch break, I headed back to the chalet early. I located an empty bathroom, found a bottle of something called “Hawaiian Spa” and poured some of that in. Mindful of MacRae’s experience last week, I checked the clearance directly above the bath carefully, then the water temperature, before gingerly lowering myself and all my bruises into the bath. I did forget to estimate the volume of water that would be displaced by my entry, but got away with it. Although, of course, the volume of water displaced by MacRae would be of a different order of magnitude than by myself. I shall say no more.

Now, later, after two cups of tea, two Cokes, a Twix and a jam sandwich, life seems quite alright. Skiing does make one feel quite justified in eating lots of chocolate and sugary foods. Energy replacement, y’see. DC, having finally had his day’s skiing ended by a combination of lift closure and impending darkness, is in the corner reading Hello magazine.

Altitude does funny things…

Halfway through…

One week is over. Gillian, MacRae and Tom departed, tearfully, this morning. Us five hard-core stalwarts have made the ascent from Arc 1800 to Arc 2000, and are in our new chalet, pondering our afternoon’s activities. All is quiet. It is the calm before the storm – Mandy and the other reinforcements are currently in the air somewhere over Europe, and our peace and tranquillity will be short-lived.

Arriving at the chalet ahead of the others has meant we have nabbed all the good rooms, which I feel is only fair. Wiseman and I have been reunited room-wise, after undergoing a trial separation last week. Wiseman was sharing with MacRae, which I believe was a sonorous experience for both of them. This week we share an ensuite room with something of an open plan feel to it. That is, there is no door to the shower room. Might make for eye-popping visual experiences in the morning.

The last six days have had beltingly-good weather and perfect visibility. The only thing interrupting the blue vastness of the sky has been the sun and an odd wispy cloud. Today more clouds are in evidence, and the temperature has risen noticeably, a sure sign that the promised snow is on its way. At least a foot of fresh powder has been forecast, and the resort is badly in need of it, the last snow that came this way having apparently dumped all over all the resorts nearby, bypassing Les Arcs completely. The pistes, while ok higher up, and covered with artifical snow lower down, are accordingly pretty hard, and unforgiving to those of us trying to learn new tricks.

Several of us were privileged to be under the tutelage of MacRae this week as he attempted to teach us 360 turns. Many hips and egos were bruised over the course of a few days, but many laughs were had, and the accompanying video footage will amuse us during the dark summer months (sic) that lie ahead.

MacRae didn’t restrict his entertainment to the slopes. One evening he arrived back in the living room, somewhat discombobulated, having landed heavily in a very hot bath, displacing most of the water onto the bathroom floor. The higher-than-anticipated water temperature then sent him shooting upwards in some distress, where he smacked his head off the low ceiling. Mercifully, he retained enough composure to remember to dry and clothe himself before running up the stairs to regale us all with the tale.

DC, also known as the Duracell Bunny, is itching to get back on the slopes, and even €29 for half a day’s ski pass hasn’t made him flinch. Kirsty, Filipideedoodaa and Wiseman are also heading out to get some skiing in. Me, I have decided to give my body a break, not to mention my throat, which has been sore all week. The sunny balcony is calling. However, being out on the slopes when the new arrivals appear is surely compulsory, otherwise some of the advantage of being here for two weeks will be lost…

Sunshine, snow and blonde moments

7.35am, Edinburgh airport. MacRae moved towards me threateningly, I took a step backwards and fell over my large cricket bag, landing hard on the unwelcomingly hard floor of the airport. The first injury of the holiday, and we hadn’t even checked in. I should point out that the cricket bag doesn’t contain cricket gear, but rather more prosaic items more suited to a two week skiing holiday. Such as two pairs of underpants. Plus an emergency pair.

Despite both Kirsty and MacRae being on board, the flight passed off relatively uneventfully. As we began our descent into Chambéry, the stewardess requested that I remove my jumper from where it was lying on the centre seat, and either put it on or place it under the seat in front. I wondered, aloud, to MacRae in the aisle seat, whether there was a risk of my jumper being thrown across the cabin in the event of a bumpy landing, and inadvertently warming an innocent fellow-passenger. It’s a very fine, 100% lambswool jumper, and the risk of incurring warmth when wrapped round one’s head would be quite high. The stewardess, if she heard my comment, remained impassive as she stood and waited for me to do something appropriate with it. Chastened, I put it on.

Dinner on the first evening in the chalet, the conversation turned to the temperature at which water is at its densest. I know. I think it might have been MacRae that brought it up. Embarrassingly, Wiseman knew the answer. 4 degrees C. Apparently, if it wasn’t 4C, the sea might freeze from the bottom up. We all agreed that this must be what happens to snowboarders, as they spend so much time sitting down on the piste.

In the evening, Wiseman and I took a walk into the village, to get our bearings a little. It was a stunningly clear moonlit night, some might say romantic, although we didn’t see it that way. Especially after I took a tumble on an icy path, meaning that I had landed hard on my backside in the late evening as well as the early morning. It gave the day a pleasant symmetry, I decided, while suppressing swear words and beginning to freeze from the bottom up. Wiseman, naturally was full of kindness and sympathy.

The sun rose this morning just to the right of Mont Blanc, and stayed in the deep blue Alpine sky all day. We headed over to the sunny side of the valley in the morning, and cruised down some blue and red runs until lunch. We have all opted for packed lunches this week due to the strong Euro, although the rumours of £50 lunches in “mid-priced” mountain restaurants, read in some newspaper only days before coming out here, proved to be outrageously wide of the mark. Unless the writer had three course lunches with two bottles of wine. In which case one assumes he didn’t do much skiing in the afternoons.

Kirsty is gaining a reputation for blonde moments. After heading to the entirely wrong gate at the airport yesterday and only just making the flight as a result, her rucksack (containing her passport and other unimportant documents) was left immediately beside the pile of luggage belonging to the outgoing chalet group (somebody moved it, apparently), and we only found out they had taken it when they phoned shortly before boarding the snow train. After lunch on the mountain today, she misplaced her bag (someone had “moved it”) and then wondered loudly where her sunglasses were. They were on her head.

The award for the most ironicly-named ski run of the day goes to a long steep black run full of moguls. They call it ‘Refuge’.

Adventures in the South

Mum and I spent a very enjoyable Christmas in London this year. Maggie, my mischievous niece, is nearly two. She finds noisy toys a little frightening at this stage, so perhaps a plastic chainsaw, complete with pseudo-realistic sound effects, wasn’t the perfect gift. Never mind, she got approximately one thousand other presents, and won’t have noticed. The chainsaw can remain in the toybox until her little brother arrives in March.

I managed to acquire a cold at the beginning of Christmas week, and so I lived mostly in self-imposed exile on the top floor of my sister’s house, and read books. Part of Christmas Day, however, was spent pram-racing in the back garden. It’s backbreaking work, pushing a tiny pushchair with a snowman passenger through the mud, and after each lap I longed for the blessed words “Dinner’s ready”. But the light would be snuffed out at the end of that particular tunnel with a cry of “Again!”, from about four feet below me and to my left, and off we would trundle.

Now that the festive period has passed, our two week holiday on the French slopes is fast approaching, although it hasn’t felt desperately fast as I’ve been looking forward to it eagerly for some six months. However, now that it’s actually imminent, I have upped my McDonald’s intake accordingly in order to be ready, expanding my usual order to not only include the scientifically-proven-to-be-helpful chocolate milkshake, but actual “food”. I use the term cautiously. I have taken a liking to their Chicken Selects, which, I feel, are a marginally less synthetic version of Chicken McNuggets. And they’re bigger, which is always a bonus. But back to the milkshakes. Why do they always taste of banana, even when you order chocolate or strawberry? And is there really any milk in them? I was reminded recently of an occasion in the mid-nineties when I fetched three milkshakes from McD’s in a friend’s brand new (only recently launched) Audi A4. Not a good moment to spill strawberry milkshake all over the footwell, so that’s what I did, swinging extravagantly into the car-parking space after having been the very model of ultra-cautious driving all the way home. The pink stain remained in the fabric until my friends replaced the car, but curiously, it never smelled… which if there was any milk involved, you would have expected it to.

Anyway. Last Team Gym session this week, and it looks like having a record attendance, as we all strive to become lean mean skiing machines. Even Wiseman has hinted at an appearance. DC has still not darkened the door, but claims to have climbed two mountains last weekend. He may also be spending the time profitably by devising inventive ways of spending as little money as possible in France, what with the Euro pounding us into submission at the moment. Leisurely lunches in mountain restaurants look to be a relic of years gone by. Current proposals include having picnic lunches on the piste, using the snowboards as a windbreak (knew they would come in useful eventually), and taking flasks of espresso onto the hill and adding it to mugs of free hot water from the bar.

The potential reduction in café time may explain why Nasty Jen has elected not to join us this time around. In her absence, it follows that someone will have to take up the mantle of being the sartorial envy of the pistes. I feel I am up for the challenge, what with my sister having knitted me a hat for Christmas and everything. And having taken some ski lessons recently from a pretty dark-haired Austrian ski instructor, I may even be able to ski while looking elegant, something Jen never managed…