Saturday, 10 February 2018

Skiing, another week – Days 110 to 115

Haig, Jackie, Cassie, Si and Gabby at the top of Mosettes Swiss/French border
Another week here in Portes du Soleil and it’s been cold – a good thing in a ski resort, but cold! A little bit of light snow, some sun, not much wind, but temperatures rarely above freezing. The snow is still in good, powdery condition as there has been no ‘freeze-thaw’, but it’s now fairly ‘tracked out’ with little fresh powder, but off-piste is still good and worth doing if you’re happy negotiating moguls.

Si looking round to see Jackie and Cassie waving
We had a good day out on Monday, skiing with Si and Cassie and their relatives/chalet hosts Gabby and Haig. A fairly cloudy day, with a bit of light snow but the plan was the ‘Swiss Loop’, which is a 60km+ circuit through six linked resorts, starting off in the French resort of Montriond, through Chatel and Super Chatel and then into Switzerland (in a seamless border crossing), but skiing alongside a road on a snowy path, to Morgins, Champoussin, Les Crosets, then back up and over into France and back to Montriond. We’d done it on our ski orienteering only two days before, but who were we to argue, fabulous runs, good company, a nice circuit and built in hot chocolate stops! 66km and nearly 6 hours later with 48km of skiing and numerous lifts we came back happy people and in time to look after Gizmo dog at 3:30pm.

That'll be me 'n 'er. Photo taken by Cassie
Our plan was to have a day off on Tuesday as we’d had long days out since Friday and needed to rest our bodies, (and do some washing as I was nearly out of pants!) but Si and Cassie asked whether we’d like to ski the off-piste Valle de la Manche, which is an 8-9km mountain descent, not only off-piste, but also outside any ski resort. We had already skied this descent as part of our ‘Big Day Out’ ski tour in February 2016 (see: and know it to be a fabulous descent, so our day off had to be postponed!

On Col du Fornet looking back at the resort before we ski off
Although the route is outside the ski resort, it is possible to get up on ski lifts in Avoriaz as high as they will go, then take the skis off and walk up to a col at the resort boundary and look over the edge at the huge expanse of the valley beyond, click the skis back on and head off down. It’s a serious route in a snowy mountainous area so we needed to be prepared with full ski touring gear: skins for the skis in case we needed to ascend and transceivers, probes and shovels should we be caught in an avalanche. We had to position a vehicle at the end in order to get back to the start so we met them at Nyon, left their van there and drove round to Montriond to get three lifts up to our start point, the Col du Fornet. Having checked out transceivers were working and switched on we set off.

At the top looking down the Valle de la Manche. Jackie in the foreground, Si pointing out the route to Cassie. We headed down over and to the left of those bumps, the round to the right of that nose and on a long way past down to the bottom well beyond
The three of them are down there, I'm still near the top
The descent involved a short walk up along a path in the snow to access the valley, ski down a small chute that caused a few butterflies and down left into a huge bowl, avoiding the steep avalanche prone slopes to the right. Although many people had gone before there was still fresh, deep powder to be had and superb scenery. The navigation was relatively straightforward, just being aware of steep slopes to the sides, so we were able to just enjoy the experience completely away from any marked pistes or ski lifts.
A group of six deer or goats making their way across the snow
Lower down we came across a building with pitched roof, deeply buried in the snow, perfect for skiing over, so it just had to be done! Cassie went over, followed by Si and Jackie and finally me. As I went straight over I saw a gap between the edge of the iron roof and the snow bank on exit, with no time to make a change of route. It all worked, I just heard a slight scrape as I contacted the roof edge, but fortunately glided smoothly back onto the snow and a quick stop. ‘Didn’t you hear me say go left or right, but not straight on?’ said Cassie. Well, possibly, but it all happened so quickly.
Half way down, looking back up of where we've come
The final section was quite icy and not so pleasant, but apart from a slight mistake, taking our descent towards a river, followed by a backtrack to find the correct route, it all went smoothly and we were back at the van, connection to our car and home again feeling happy people. It was at the return to the van when we unzipped our jackets to turn our transceivers off that I realised mine wasn’t on. Don’t know how I managed that and it was a good job nothing happened. There’s a lesson there (a very basic one!), check and double check in future!

Teddy adding load to my exercises (I didn't realise how badly I did pressups!)
Wednesday was our day in, very cloudy and miserable, we chilled! Well he chilled, I spent all day up and down making a chicken biryani and vegetable curry, which although I say it myself was fabulous! Thursday we thought we’d go out, but it was still miserable and cloudy. In the hope it would clear we went up the lifts in Avoriaz hoping to break through the cloud into blue sky and see a cloud inversion below us. No! As we went up it just got foggier. At the very top of Avoriaz it was almost sunny, we could see the top of the cloud and blue sky above, but we were about 50m short of altitude and, as soon as we started to ski down the cloud thickened. After following the side of piste pole markers in thick fog we gave up and came home.

Looking down the Torgon black 'Freeride'
Friday was much better, clear blue skies and fabulous sunshine, although it was still bitterly cold. I had a plan, I wanted to head off towards the Swiss Torgon ski resort, ski a lovely black run down to a remote ski lift, try out the several red runs there then go and look to see if the unpisted black ‘Freeride’ run that is the only run left in the entire PDS that I haven’t done. In the last two and a half ski seasons I’ve never seen it open and, although I’d have gone down it while officially closed, Jackie was dead against it. A lift goes up over it so it’s possible to inspect it first and we have done this many times in the past and seen it looking very doable, but still closed. This time, as we went up the lift we could see yellow marker posts with orange tops, indicating a very hard unpisted black descent. It looked open and, as we got to the top, the fence blocking the entrance had a small gap in it with a flag alongside. I asked a ski patrol man if it was open and he said ‘yes’. ‘Be careful at the top, it’s very narrow and you have to go a long way across the top until you get to the start, then its straight down. Be careful, but if you can do it, you’ll be able to do anything in the Portes du Soleil’. That was it, off we went. The scoot across was very uneven, narrow and difficult to control speed, but it took us away from the lift and appeared at the top of a very steep lumpy slope down.
Although very lumpy, the snow was not too bad and it was possible to plant the poles, skim round the edge of a mogul and slide down its side, repeating as we went. It was very steep but so enjoyable and I was so excited. Jackie skied brilliantly and we got to the bottom in what seemed like no time, deciding it was probably the hardest, yet most enjoyable run in the whole of the resort. We skied down to the lift, got back up to the top and did big thumbs up to the ski patrol man, who seemed quite surprised we were back so quickly.

We did it! At the bottom of the Torgon black 'Freeride'
This blackbird vists us most days to eat cat biscuits. Here he is checking us out
We finished our day by continuing through Switzerland to re-join the Swiss Loop we’d done with Si and Cassie a few days earlier, completing a day of 50km of skiing and 74km total distance, feeling very tired but very happy people. A great weeks skiing. It also tipped us over the 1000km skied distance since we arrived in December.

Today is the start of the half term holidays and, if previous seasons are anything to go by, everywhere will be full of people, so our enthusiasm to go out skiing on crowded slopes of unpredictable skiers, queue at lifts amongst people who don’t believe in queuing and intend to get in front no matter what and then find people get off lifts in front and then stop to regroup with their friends and to chat, blocking exits and pistes, completely oblivious to anyone else – no, I think we’ll do other things for two weeks, go ski touring and/or try to find less used lifts and slopes. Grumpy old man? Not me surely!
And here he is with a cat biscuit in his beak. We saw him eat seven in one sitting earlier

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Skiing, walking and ski orienteering! – Days 102 to 109

The Nyon cabin just setting off in a clear blue sky
Well we feel we've had a little variety this week, but anyone else may be hard pushed to notice the difference! Sunday to stop him 'bleating' about exercise, we skied half of the local circuit before putting the skins on the skis in order to 'walk' up the piste. Despite having put tape on my foot I hadn't covered the whole danger zone, but fortunately we got to the top before a blister formed. Must try harder!

A section of the waterfalls at Nyon
Tuesday and Wednesday we actually did some short, very pretty walking. B wasn't feeling perfect so we did a walk from the Nyon car park along the river to Morzine and back via some very pretty waterfalls. We've seen the departure point and always wondered where it went. Now we know.

Wednesday we were going to ski but as I put the comfy inner boot into the hard plastic shell I realised that the pivot from one side of the hinge was in my hand rather than acting as a hinge. A sheared rivet. This was not good. 
Taking Gizmo dog out
We went to our nearest ski shop, they said "non, try Ardent Sports" their branch by the ski lift said, "non" the other ski shop said "non" the other branch of Ardent Sports said "non, try Intersport"! So into Morzine feeling fairly despondent, when finally Intersport said "oui, I'll try, come back tomorrow " it was better than that, he rang about an hour later and said "it was easy, €10" HURRAH!!! So with a spring in my step we headed off to look at the possible exit from an exciting descent, to decide it wasn't possible, but at least it'll stop him peering at the map!

Trying out the fresh powder in St Jean
Thursday we woke to snow, so didn't rush up. By the time I'd made stock and then soup, from the chicken carcass, and we'd had lunch it had stopped so we nipped up to do the circuit, fresh powder a good test for newly repaired boot! This was all followed on Friday by a trip to Mont Chery in Les Gets, the last area we haven't been to yet. We did some 'interesting' routes.

Our apartment
And the swimming pool on the floor below us
We've spent the weekend on a mission, remind me next time I see a little 'game' advertised to ignore it! This was the Cross Border Challenge, 22 beacons throughout the whole resort. On Saturday we did 13, the easy ones, which took us to silver level, but was that enough? Don't be silly, we'll get up at 06.30, drive to the furthest outlying area, be there at 08.30 for the first lift..... I was dubious about the first lift time, and he couldn't then find where he read it, though on ringing the Chapelle tourist information she said 08.30/08.45, so I gave up the unequal struggle! We were there at 08.30, he let us on the lift at 09.00! 

Orienteering with a difference - and a view!
We got up the bubble and up the next lift, but no sign of the little orienteering clip we had to punch our card with. The lift guy said it would be there in 10 minutes, well we have one more from here, so off we went, the snow was fab, the pistes empty, back to the previous check point. Still nothing, so with no French and the lift attendants no English, I thought he was going to sign the card, he drew some little dots, but did then sign it too, we took a photo of where the punch should have been and headed off, back in the car, to the next area, up in the lift, to the one check point, down back in the car, next stop for one.... time was passing and we could see all 22 as a no chance, it would have meant the three from Nyon before getting the train across Les Gets for Mont Chery, and back in the car to get back to the final check in by 15.00 - no chance, so having decided the last two were too much we were thrilled to find mulled wine, and cheese, at the one we chose to do last! Obviously time for that! 

The very nice lift attendant who signed our card to say the orienteering clip was missing
Clipping the 20th and last orienteering control
Back to Ardent, to the finish point, as we left with 20 minutes before closing, there was us with 20 each, and one man with 22 in the draw for the gold prizes! Keep everything crossed.....!

A happy Jackie with her nearly completed card

Just two controls missing, 17 and 18 (No. 3 marked up by the lift attendant!)

Won't mean much to those not familiar to the area, butthe 22 red markers are spaced all over the huge PDS area. When we finished only one person had done all 22, we were joint second with 20

Some lift attendants have time on their hands. This ice sculpture of a shark is at the top of the Mont Chery ski lift

This little train is a free shuttle that takes skiers the 300m between ski lifts in Les Gets town