Archive | December 2012

Day 87: Clapiere

Well, during the night last night we had about 40cm of snow! The place is a massive white carpet. I don’t need to be dreaming of a white christmas this year it seems. As a result the road out of the valley was closed today due to avalanches.

Il y a beaucoup de neige!

Il y a beaucoup de neige!

It’s another unusual feature of life in the alps that you often hear the occasional “crump” as a slope avalanches naturally or, more frequently, is avalanched on purpose. During more snowy days the local mountain rescue services frequently close areas of road off and carry out controlled explosions by helicopter to set off avalanches.

The Clapiere not-quite-piste

The Clapiere not-quite-piste

In addition to this, both cars had broken down in the cold, and one car was not to recover for several days and a maintenance job. We were stuck.

As a result, we couldn’t go alpine skiing today. Me and Bawsaxx spent the morning digging out the drive and cars – a frequently needed job. Then our plan was to go ski du fond in the valley.

Bawsaxx is not a fan of Ski Du Fond so him and Ms. Minx stayed at home while me and les grumblies went out for a ski. From a distance it looked like the “clapiere” piste – one that travels from right outside the house all the way to the village – was properly pisted so we head out across the field to it.

deep snow

deep snow

The field (the space between us and the champ bellet ski lift) was definitively not pisted, and as I put my skis on I sunk in up to my knees. Although it’s way better than trying to walk across the stuff, skinny skis do not have the same ability to redistribute the weight as alpine skis do, so a lot of the next 10 minutes involved me and GM pushing through deep snow, occasionally stopping to dig ourselves out, while BF followed behind on our tracks.


I was the first one to reach the piste. When we got there however we realised that although it had been pisted, a good 10cm of snow had fallen since, creating an effective off piste ski-du-fond ascent. It was hard going on the way up. The piste itself is graded red, and I have memories of trying to cross it with a terrified ex-girlfriend once, not realising how difficult it was. The snow made it much harder though, and on the way down to Nevache I had my first fall of the season.


Not too bad a fall as it happened, and fairly expected in the hard conditions and the steepness of the slope. Another feature of skinnies is that they don’t turn in the same way as alpine skis – instead you have to keep a sturdy snow plow or do scary step turns on the way down, which can lead to disaster in some circumstances, as it did here.


Falling is very much part of skiing however, so as per usual I got up, dusted myself off and carried on.

When we got to the bottom we crossed over to the other side of the valley and joined the piste at the bottom, which had in fact just been pisted, and was a beautiful, crisp corduroy. After that skiing was very nice. We headed up to Nevache as far as we could go.

nice wide piste :)

nice wide piste :)

On the way up, BF had quite a bad fall. I stayed back to help her up, and when we were ready to go again we set off. After about 100 yards in which I messed a bit with my technique (so often the cause), I planted my pole between my skis, and was straight over. In true domino effect, BF saw me and fell over in surprise.

It took a little while to recover from that one! Again we got up, dusted ourselves off and carried on, having no more mishaps until we completed the loop back home.

Close-up of the piste corduroy

Close-up of the piste corduroy

It was a good ski in general, and very warm. The pisteurs greeted us very enthusiastically – they’re a very nice bunch around here.


Day 86: Montgenevre

Second day of skiing today and the plan for the day was to look at getting me some new skis. The skis I am currently using are Fischer Wateas. They were handed down to me by the Grumble Meister last year when my skiing became competent enough to start trying bits of off-piste and to start taking it a bit more seriously. They’re fun enough to use but they’re getting tired and I need to move up a level now that my technique has improved.

There were two options originally for a new ski,based on what deals we could find. There were Movement “Zip”s, on offer at a local ski shop in Montgenevre, and Atomic Black Eye TI’s, available to order and the exact copy of Grumble Meister’s current pair of skis. We rented out the Movements, and as me, Bawsaxx and GM have similar feet sizes we planned to do some hot-swapping of skis to try out the others.

Bawsaxx himself remained at the bottom of the mountain with Ms. Minx for another ski lesson while we headed out in the morning. The conditions were claggy and horrible, although this didn’t really deter me. I started the day on GM’s Atomics. I have to say I took to the Atomics instantly. They were zippy and fun to ski and edge like an absolute dream.

We took them up the POMA lift near l’Observatoire chair lift. Up there are two of my favourite runs – in this case a lovely swoopy blue run and I had a great time on it. On one hand, the Atomics are great fun to ski on piste, however they’re not so great off piste, not floating too well above the snow.

The movement ZIPs, on the other hand, while being probably a better all-rounder, I didn’t take to at all. I found them awkward to turn and a generally unpleasant ski. GM liked them when he tried them, and I started to get better at turning them after I’d had a session with Bawsaxx on my technique, however they just never felt fun. I think it’s a bit like bikes – you have to feel like the ski is right for you, and it didn’t feel that way. It was a disappointment for the Bike Fairy I think, as it’s her preferred brand of skis.

During a brief break at the bottom of the hill, chatting to Bawsaxx and subtly examining the progress of Ms Minx, I was eyeing with slight jealousy his twin-tipped Armada skis. I half-jokingly said that I’d like to try them, thinking he’d be too protective of his stuff. He said I totally should, and we swapped, which was awesome.

Twin-tipped skis have basically the same at the back as at the front i.e. a large shovel and a true parabolic shape. It allows you to ski backwards (“switch”) in the same way that you ski forwards, and they’re usually used by freestyle and park skiers, which my brother is i.e. something analogous to skate-boarding and skating, where you through tricks and do 180-s etc.

I don’t even pretend to think that I’m at that sort of stage yet, although I do like to “play” on skis, occasionally trying to ski switch and doing little hops, catching the occasional bit of air. I took the Armadas up for a couple of runs and at first didn’t take to them, at least not in the same way as the Atomics, although I did enjoy them more than the ZIPs. By the end of the second run however I was tearing up the slope, really enjoying the feel of the skis and the edges.

We met BS and MM again at our favourite restaurant/coffee place (called “MFW” after GM’s Favourite Waitress – I call it GM’s Filthy Waitress). The first thing I said as I undid my boots was “I f**king love your skis”.

By a stroke of luck, Bawsaxx told me that he was in fact planning on getting a new pair of skis, and would sell me these really cheaply, or just give them to me, when he gets a new pair. It’s an extremely tempting offer, especially if we can find a good deal for him. See how it goes!

Again no photos today – sorry! More soon.

Day 85: Arrival of Bawsaxx and Ms. Minx

Actually, technically they arrived last night. We waited in the freezing station of Oulx (‘Oulx, I did it again’ was the simultaneous pun me and my brother Bawsaxx made as the train pulled in) and then a few hugs, kisses and back patting later we were sitting in an Italian restaurant having a nice pizza.

Bawsaxx is a brilliant skier and trained instructor, and a pretty good musician now, so naturally today we packed the piste skis and headed off to Montgenevre for the first day of Alpine skiing of the season. (Later, we played music). He spent most of the morning teaching Ms Minx to ski while me and les grumblies headed off for a tour around the available lifts.

Alpine skiing is so much fun, it has to be said, and there was some really nice snow up on the mountain. It’s not the best of exercise though, once you’ve mastered some technique. It’s basically falling down a mountain gracefully. However it was tiring and I’m sure I burned off some calories. We were out for a shortish time – around two hours, fairly standard for the first day.

Unfortunately I didn’t get around to taking any photos today. I’ll be better about this soonish. I’ve actually started to implement a new work schedule. At the moment my plan is to get up every morning at 7am, work 5 hours until 12pm, and then I can do what I like with the afternoon. It’s working well, however with Bawsaxx around I’ve had to move that back an hour to 6am (getting up 5.30am) and have had no time in the afternoon/evening to update this blog. I will be better presently though. I’m sorry if you’re missing the regular updates!

Day 84: Ski DE fond

Finally got back to some meaningful exercise today in the manner of Ski De Fond! Or Nordic Skiing, or, if you believe those English swine, Cross Country Skiing (although technically, there’s Ski Touring and Nordic Skiing, and they’re often branched under the same term).

My "Skinny" Skis for Ski De Fond

My “Skinny” Skis for Ski De Fond

It’s that thing, you know, that you see in the winter olympics, with, like, the guy in skin-tight PVC skiing really fast down a track, then stopping and shooting at a target, and then skiing again etc. etc.

Local ski de fond base. The people are really friendly and offer you tea as you go around :)

Local ski de fond base. The people are really friendly and offer you tea as you go around :)

I don’t do the shooting part, of course – the skiing part is quite enough. The skis you use for Du Fond are really skinny and quite long, with a bow shape under foot. You wear special soft but supportive shoes that are attached to the ski by a clip on the toes, leaving your heels free. It’s quite disconcerting and scary when you first start. They feel very precarious.

The piste - long, straight and flat. This one has been recently pisted - you can see the corduroy pattern of the comb.

The piste – long, straight and flat. This one has been recently pisted – you can see the corduroy pattern of the comb.

There are two types of Ski de fond – Classic and Skating. I started on Classics, which is when you ski down deep-ish tracks dug along one side of the piste. To ski classic you basically walk and run on skis, using your poles on the opposite side to the forward ski in the same way as you do when walking.

Beautiful views.

Beautiful views.

The second type, and it’s the one that I use most, is skating. This uses the same motion as ice-skating (one foot/ski sent in one direction to build up momentum, and then use the momentum to push the other ski the other way). With every second skate step you push your poles behind you to give you momentum, although there are other patterns you can use, and part of the fun is mastering ‘natural’ (whatever side feels best to push off on) and ‘goofy’ (the other side) skiing.

The grooves to the right of the piste are for ski de fond "classique" which I don't do much.

The grooves to the right of the piste are for ski de fond “classique” which I don’t do much.

I think as beginners go I’m pretty good. I only started a couple of years ago and would like to do more work on my technique, getting it fluid.


Today, les grumblies being ill I decided to head out alone along the local piste along the bottom of the valley.

Yeah I basically live in Narnia

Yeah I basically live in Narnia

I followed the red piste “Les Planchettes” (pistes traditionally follow a four-teir difficulty level – green, blue, red and black). It’s not one I had done before but I felt I needed a challenge. I got one too. My goal with Nordic Skiing currently is to be able to do Les Planchettes without stopping. I was egged on in this by a class of children charging around the track. It looked so energetic and fun to see them plunging around the swoopy piste. One day when I’m fitter and better at it I’ll do that.


Nevertheless it was a beautiful ski and everything was really pretty in the snow. I did the lot in an hour and 15 minutes. I did feel pretty unfit though. Ski de Fond is hard work. I shall get better. I would say that it’s about equivalent to cycling in speed, but swimming in terms of effort and technique.

Day 83: Son Eminence Graisse as retourné!

So we’re back! And I’m re-installed in my room in the chalet. There was quite a lot to do today to get things straightened out on our return. My brother, Mr McHuge’nDong’nThong (or something, can’t remember his full name. Ah siblings) and his new girlfriend (oooh! McHuge’nDong’nThong’s got a girlfriend! Woo-oo- McHuge’nDong’nThong and MissTeacher up a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. Urrggh he kissed a girl! that’s yucky!), whom I shall, and already have called MissTeacher (no prizes for guessing her occupation).

So I’ve had to completely move my office out and into my room, and that took some time in the morning. I also, kinda, may have bought Skyrim on a (Sky)whim, and the ski du fond piste didn’t look too open. Those are my excuses anyway. By the time it came to afternoon I didn’t really want to do anything else so I spent most of the afternoon just chilling out.

Back on the horse tomorrow!

Day 82: Beze and Furniture.

Today we started off by taking a 30 min walk around the, frankly, totally beautiful town of Beze, where we had stayed the night.

look! Christmas trees on every lamppost and sign!

look! Christmas trees on every lamppost and sign!

There is a certain Tom’s Midnight Garden quality to the place, with lots of greenery and a sort of faded, over-grown quality. Every street had something different and beautiful to look at. Even the lampposts had christmas trees.



But the crowning glory of Beze is the river flowing merrily through it, a river which comes out of the ground fully formed at its source, about 400m from the town centre. The source was quite a sight to behold, and I took a short video of it.

The source of the whole river. I know.

The source of the whole river. I know.

A thin mist hung over the whole place adding to its charm and beauty, and the river forked through the village in all sorts of windy unexpected ways. There were many small bridges, and a large abbey with a beautiful pagoda that jutted out over the river and was once used as a washroom.

mmmm misty

mmmm misty

looking out from the wash house pagoda thing

looking out from the wash house pagoda thing

Reluctantly we headed off down the road and 5 hours later, and about a 5th of my Yeats book, we were back in Nevache. It had grown dark and there was a thick layer of snow over everything.



Despite having travelled all day we then had to spend not an inconsiderable time moving furniture out of the car trailer. We had to do this because water had got in and was in danger of ruining the grumblies new bed.

So the day wasn’t without its exercise, although I’m not sure I can call it that.

Check out more photos of Beze – it’s beautiful to the maximus:

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Day 81: Zeebrugger onwards!

So, really nothing happened today apart from a lot of sleeping in the back of the car, and the avid reading of Game of Thrones, which I’m finding a good read. It’s surprisingly tiring Doing Nothing for a whole day. I certainly didn’t deserve the big meal we had in the evening in Beze, where we are staying overnight.

Day 80: Goodbye York :(

I regretted that curry today – my guts were in turmoil. With all the good habits I formed in france, it seems my constitution has moved on. Probably a good thing over all. No more curry for me.

Most of the morning was uneventful today. I packed, I watched some videos, then said good by to Sweety Darling and Honey Pie and head off for the station. I started missing York the day I got on the train and still miss it.

An uncomfortable train to Hell (I mean Hull, No I was right the first time) commenced and I was reunited at Hell station with Les Grumblies, the Grumblissimos, First Legion of the Grumblecross Regiment in the Big Argument, Bike Fairy and Grumble Meister.

Sea crossings on a ferry are such boring things so I won’t harp on about it. In this one I was home sick for York, depressed and missing people in general. The fetid, drunken and loutish inhabitants of that bucket rode the dark waters with loud behaviour and sea-sickness sat lonely and ignored in a corner as a bored pianist noodled a wrong chord tune like a pervasive fart in a moonlit elevator.

I was reminded during the night of one of the exhibits of the Cutty Sark, which emulated the rocking of the boat, as I could feel the room swinging back and forth quite noticeably. It made me miss the UK even more.

Days 79: Christmas Shopping

Hey all! The last few days have been pretty uneventful and have mainly involved travelling back to France. I’m here now, and the snow is really deep. I’m totally looking forward to some skiing and everything will be back on track probably tomorrow!

Either way, I have drifted a bit from my purpose. Granted, it’s difficult while you’re travelling and saying goodbye to friends and enjoying the treats of Yorkshire Ales. I’m pretty sure I put on some weight while I’m away but I’m ready to start again. It’s good to have a break (although luckily not a total break) so that I can come back refreshed and ready to start again.

I spent most of today meeting friends for coffee and then walking around York’s great set of shops looking for Christmas presents. In the evening I attended a concert up at the University of interesting works for actress and bass clarinet, including a premiere of a really interesting piece by the composer William Brooks based on a study of W.B. Yeats’ experiments with “Chaunting”, a kind of reading technique that is pitched to the strings of a psaltery but not sung. I had seen Bill’s seminar on the piece on Tuesday and was really interested, and I found the piece very moving. I was so impressed in fact that I bought a kindle copy of the book that his research was chiefly derived from (“The Last Minstrels: Yeats and the revival of the Bardic Arts” by Ronald Schuchard) to read on the long car journey home the next day.

After that I had a nice evening with composer friend TwoBlueNotes and two writer friends who I shall call TheDeadPoets. Much gayety was had and, because it was the last night in York, I just had to go for a curry. I had been missing curry ever since the day I left – York has some of the best curry houses in England, and drinking, eating curry and talking crap about music used to be pretty much my life.

Day 78: Swimming!

Today I returned to the York Sport swimming pool for a second round :) It was a nice swim although after the first 12 laps or so I felt my technique floundering. I spend a good 30 minutes or so working on various exercises that my swimming teacher had given me a few months ago.

The pool was nice and quiet so for most of the time I had a whole lane to myself, which was an absolute luxury. It was a lovely day in general, apart from the swimming, I had a lovely lunch with an excellent musicologist, and spent the evening with my newly married friends GentlemanTom and w00t. It was lovely and relaxing and I ate too many snacks, however I did own them at Halo, somewhat :)