Sunday 5 February 2006

river deep, mountain high

C and I posing at the top of the ski-down to Les Menuires

Je suis revenu. After six days of gloriously sunny skiing in the French Alps, C. and I are now safely back in a rather grey and dreary Nottingham. I've just had a quick check, and I'm pleased to report that all limbs are present and correct, and that muscles are tired but happy.

French and English school holidays start this week, so we accidentally timed our trip perfectly and caught the resort in the calm before the storm. The slopes were relatively quiet and the prices were still off-peak. Next week will be twice as expensive and the queues for the lifts will be twice as long as the Three Valleys will be filled with Parisians and their screaming children: not my idea of fun. We saw the first wave start to hit the slopes on Saturday afternoon (apparently they leave the city on Friday evening, drive down overnight and get out onto the piste as soon as they arrive - frankly you are just better off staying out of their way as they ski like lunatics).

Courchevel 1850 is one of the poshest ski resorts in the world, and the sky on Saturday was filled with the buzzing of little planes and helicopters dropping the rich at the little airport carved out of the mountain - they arrived wearing skis and walk across the runway to the edge of the piste and ski down to their hotels. I arrived on a scheduled flight, queued for an hour or so to get through customs and to pick up my bags, met my coach and drove the 3 hours or so up into the mountains. I'm not jealous at all. Oh no. Although watching that lot arriving on the mountain, I did decide there and then that if I did win the Euro Lottery (jackpot was £125m last week), then in future there would have to be some changes in my travel plans....

The view across Courchevel Altiport

The weather was fantastic - blue skies and sunshine every day - making it a real pleasure to slap on some sun-block, stick on the sunglasses and head out onto the slopes every morning. The only problem with this is that temperatures that are consistently above freezing are not exactly ideal for snow. There hasn't actually been any fresh snow in the Three Valleys since 18th January, and it's starting to show. The pisteurs do a fantastic job of grooming the runs overnight, but in places on the piste it was getting a little bit thin and icy. This means that skiing conditions are getting difficult in some places, with ice and emerging rocks and pebbles making runs very much harder.

If your technique is good enough to ski on this, we were told, apparently you can ski on anything.

...from here all you have to do is to point your skis downhill

I wouls say that C. and I are competent but slightly cautious skiiers, so this year we decided to spend a morning having some intensive tuition from an instructor from the Ecole du Ski Francais.... it was well worth it too.... Much to my delight and to C's annoyance, Claude informed us that my technique was excellent but that C. looked like a toad when she skiied. In search of a steeper slope to test our control, we were quickly taken up onto a black run. Not steep enough, apparently, so we were guided off-piste from there to a more challenging slope and spent a few hours working our way down terrifyingly steep and icy cliffs. Apparently the key is to point your skis downhill and to take short controlled turns. Easier said than done when every instinct in your body is screaming at you to stay exactly where you are if you want to avoid certain death....

Cloud rolling into the valley by La Tania and La Praz

Anyway, we survived and I naturally spent the rest of the week informing people that they should call me "the technician".... until I hit a stone and went flying over my skis on stretch of flat ground on a green run.... at which point I thought I'd keep quiet for a bit.

regular coffee stops are an essential part of the training for any performance skiier...

So. Excellent company, good food, lots of fizzy French beer, the odd glass or two of wine and a spot of exercise out in the fresh air.

It was delightful.

Tomorrow: work.


How are you?


More picures of the insides of your fridges for "Guess Who The Fridge Belongs To" please....

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