No Huskies eaten. It appears that there are no huskies on the menu all week.
Probably the most hazardous part of our expedition was survived when John, John, Ken and Sam came through Chris and Gav's VW Transporter race to Cardiff Airport. Buttocks were clenched, by which I mean, we clenched our own buttocks, we didn't clench each others...
More buttock-clenching came on the flight to Geneva, which was a bit jouncy, to say the least. The fact that we were on a 737 which had probably done all the miles, and appeared to have wings made of something particularly bendy didn't help to settle our nerves much either. There is nothing quite like being sat behind some vomitty kids to really make the miles pass...
Eventually the Alps hoved in to view, and gratefully we disembarked in Switzerland. After a quick Burger King, we mounted up to head across the border to La Tania. A two hour journey brought us to our home for the week, Chalet Topaz.
(That's our chalet at the front)
We met Katie, our chalet person, and Lee, her boyfriend, who would be cooking for us for the week and very pleasant they were too.
Other guests arrived in dribs, drabs, drubs etc as the evening wore on. There appear to be an inordinate number of Johns and Chrises. No obvious crazies or weirdos, apart from Gav.
A very pleasant repast was enjoyed, particularly in light of the “unlimited free wine”. There will not be much profit made by the chalet owners this week, I suspect! A quick check out the window before bed shows snow falling, sweet!
Up early to look out the window and see snow still falling, That's a lot of snow... Brekkie, suit up, and away we go. The lift station is two minutes from the chalet, and we get a gondola car to ourselves. Up through the trees above La Tania, and up and up in to the gloom, with ice and snow pinging off the plexiglass bubble. Eventually we pop out at the top station and and set off down Le Folyeres, which is marked as easy on the piste map. Easy is relative it appears, particularly as I haven't boarded for seven years! It seems to come back gradually. My biggest concern is lurching out in front of a more proficient skier/boarder. The rule is that the rider/skier from above gives way to the lower person, but I feel I'm pretty erratic in the way I am proceeding down the slope so I don't want to put this to the test! Back up in the lift we head across to Courchevel 1850, which is quite busy. Chris, Jon and I grab a cheese and bread based lunch snack and then go in to L'Aventure where two hot chocolates, a coffee and a coke cost twenty euros. When the barman is quizzed about this, apparently it's “because it's Courchevel”! Ouch!
However it is quite a cool bar, loads of stuff going on: a model train running round the wall, a chromed cow skull and a couple of immaculate Aldiss Lamps which got John S very excited. His dad was a Navy signaller apparently and would have used them. Lunch over, I abandon the more proficient skiers and boarders and head back up to Col de la Loze with the intention of doing a couple of runs at “Ken Speed”, also known as Faffy. However as the gondola climbed higher, the weather really went belly up. Ice pellets were clattering off the windows and the visibility really went to hell in a handcart. Getting off the lift I was very grateful for the extensive signposts that clearly directed me back towards La Tania.Visibilty probably wasn't more than 50 metres at times, which sounds a lot but not when the thing you can see at 50 metres is the same colour as everything else. It got progressively harder and harder to determine what was snow, sky, me or cliff drop as I inched downwards. Finally I got to the lift station above La Tania, which had been our first port of call in the morning, and once back in the treeline, visibility picked up, and eventually I found myself back in La Tania. Hot tub time! Beaten to it by Sam though!
Stumbling out of bed and pulling back the curtain reveals that the cloud and snow of yesterday are long gone. In their place are blue, blue skies and stunning views. At breakfast the decision is made to head Meribel way today, as it will more than likely be catching the sun. So up we go, towards the Col de la Loze. In my nervous state I suggest we follow the Boulevard de la Loze down toward Meribel. The only problem with this is that it is quite narrow (which does not suit my “wild 'n' flappy™” turning technique, it is quite busy (ditto) and it is quite flat in places. Flat pistes are the scourge of snowboarders, but fortunately I had seen fit to bring my patented Chris Adey Propulsion Pack unit, which I can thoroughly recommend. Finally reaching something with a hint of gradient, I could slither along under my own power. The slower members of the party (Me) and the more competent (everyone else) decide to split at this point and meet later for lunch.
I head on down to Meribel, meet everyone else on their second run down, and then promptly lose them! A pause in Meribel then into a gondola and up the other side of the valley. A gentle run down to Meribel Montarret was followed by a “hot dog” (a pink balloon forced in to half a baguette), then down to Meribel and up in the gondola again to meet the others who were resting from their toils, with a beer in the sun. Tough life! Once again back to Meribel for me, then up to Col de la Loze for the run back down to La Tania. Hurty legs! Hot tub, dinner, then a Gav-hosted pop quiz, which had a very arbitary scoring system, but was won, in the dying moments by the window-side team! Hurrah!
One of the inclusive services offered by Ski Power (owners of our chalet) is ski guiding. Basically some poor guy has to spend his winter skiing round the Alps with some other skiers. How tough is that? Most of the chalet inhabitants decided to follow him to Val Thorens which is a fair old way from La Tania. Too rich for my blood, I decide to stay closer to home and hone my skills on the slopes above the village.
The unremittingly blue skies and stunning views make this such a chore... After a few hours of this, my legs decide they have had enough and suggest it might be worth having a breather. Back to the chalet, washed and changed I head in to La Tania to see if I can score a wifi signal from somewhere as no-one can get one in the chalet. By a happy quirk of fate, the Chrome Bar offers free wifi, but bizarrely this refuses to work too. It takes three beers for this to become apparent. Oh well! Back to the chalet to meet up with the weary returnees from Val Thorens. Out for dinner this evening as Lee and Katie have the evening off, so we pop down to La Tania and head to a little Savoyard restaurant. All the other chalet peeps are here, eating what appears to be all of the cheese. Chris and I pick beef and chips, John, John, Sam and Gav opt to split a raclette and fondue between them. The raclette is basically a pound of cheese on a spike in front of a two bar electric fire, the resulting run-off is then scooped on to a plate of potatoes and cold meat. All that molten cheese is a nice counterpoint to the fondue, which consists of molten cheese. Stumbling out in to the cold dark of evening we go right, heading towards the Ski Lodge. The draw of this particular establishment is it's showing of the Manchester derby in the Carling Cup. And it serves beer. Some goals are scored, I'm tired and head home. Chris follows, and instead of using the perfectly good lift, he charges up the snow bank beside the piste. He's been skiing all day and still leaves me for dead. It's the altitude!
At breakfast this morning I mention that I was considering having a refresher snowboard lesson to try and get my technique sorted but was put off by the “€135 for two hours” price tag. Rather kindly and out of the blue, John and Nicky, fellow guests and snowboarders, offer to take me under their wings and impart their knowledge. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I take them up on their offer and the six musketeers along with John and Nicky head once more in the direction of Meribel. Very patiently John slithers down with me, coaching and encouraging whilst Nicky whizzes past periodically, firing off useful morsels of advice. The result of this advice is quickly seen in (1) my new “Teapot” stance and (2) the new, more confidant, even handsomer, Snowboarding Ken! This is fun! Back to the chairlift to head over to Courchevel, where I need to use my CAPP (see Day Three) occasionally to get going. Dum de dum, this is going well, until my Arch-Nemesis, Other People, bring me crashing back down to earth, literally. I believe I mentioned my fear of Death From Above, aka skiers whizzing past me at high speed? Well, having just been pointed down the run we were to take in to Courchevel, I set off managed about half a turn before I was completely startled by the rushing noise of hurtling skier. Not knowing which way to turn, my body decided it was best for me to go to earth. Quickly. I caught an edge, wrenched my back and landed with a hell of a thump on my already tenderised coccyx. Wow, sicky pain, ouch, swear, ouch. I limped down towards Courchevel, my new found confidence shredded like a crispy duck in a pancake. Feeling distinctly bamboozled I head up in the gondola to meet the others at the restaurant at the top of the Chenus lift. They press on but I feel the need to head home and so slowly and with zero style make my way back to the chalet where a soak in the hot tub is very welcome! Dinner and wine ease the pain.
Snowboarding nadir for Ken today. Back and coccyx feel really tender but I am determined to make the most of my time here so I gingerly saddle up and head up in the bubble. On disembarking I think about getting back in and going down again. I feel so tentative, petrified about falling on my butt again that I just can't get any flow going, and despite chanting “Teapot” to myself over and over again, fail to build on yesterday's progress. Feeling cheesed, I find and follow a path that circles round La Tania which instantly boosts my spirit. It is quiet and just winds through the trees, not doing anything spectacular, but it helps me to appreciate my situation.
I might have a broken bum, but I could be window cleaning in the rain, instead of looking at snow-capped Alps! A quick change in the chalet and then down to Chrome for lunch and a beer. An hour or so later, John and Nicky come in from their day on the slopes and I join them for a refreshing beverage or two. Some time later we head up to the chalet, where further wine makes the evening pass in a merry blur!
If yesterday was Alpy Hell, then today surely is Alpy Heaven! Chris had wanted to hire snow bikes/snow scooters for a day. None of the shops in the village had them and neither Lee or Katie had seen them about. Then on Wednesday, Lee reported that he had seen four outside a shop in Praz, the next village down the valley. So this morning, Chris and I grab the bus to Praz and score ourselves a couple of these awesome toys.
We get the lift over to Courchevel 1850, where an ESF instructor suggests we try the Verdun or Alpine Jardin runs to get our snowscooty eyes in. Chris is immediately away on his bike and is giving concise instruction to me: “both feet in the strap”, “no, both feet”, “both feet”! Once I get both feet right under the strap, and the slope eases off slightly I really start enjoying myself. The piste is wide enough that I can stay well out of the way of everyone else, the snowscoot is great fun, my feet don't hurt and I haven't landed on my bum. I'm a bit nervier on the more crowded lower section approaching 1850, but have to head straight back up for another run. After that I head across to the Jardin Alpine lift. The run this serves is even quieter and wonderfully has an easy unpisted border which enables me to get floating through knee deep snow. I do come off a couple of times but rather than cursing in pain, I hoot like a loony as I bail out in to four foot deep drifts. This has to be the most fun I have had on the snow, no question. Again and again I ride this section, having an absolute blast. Chris and I had arranged to meet back at Praz at 4:30, and not wanting to tackle the icy blacks or reds that were the only runs down to the village I opted to take the Praz gondola back down. Getting back before Chris I decided to ride the unpisted section beside one of the runs. A short, if breathless, push and then, whoosh!, back down. Four or five of these mini runs and then Chris appeared, exhausted from an unpleasant run down to the village. Bikes returned, and the short bus journey over, we reconvened with our chalet comrades at Chrome before heading back for our last dinner.
As our minibus wasn't due until about half nine we could have a leisurely breakfast before setting out. A Macdonalds stop in Annecy broke the journey to Geneva Airport, where a pretty painless check-in was followed by a smooth and by the numbers boarding. Unlike the flight out, the return was a joy and before we knew it, we were swooping down over the Bristol Channel in to Cardiff. Two hours later, I was home.
What a trip!
Great company, obviously.
Not snowboarding as well as I would have liked.
My poor, poor coccyx.
Gav in a tutu..?
Beautiful mountains covered in pylons and cables, but not really minding.
La Tania being an entirely artificial village. A bit like Milton Keynes but more alpy.