Today we were back on the Alpine skis again finally! It feels like I haven’t done this in an age, and I could barely remember how to do it at first.
We drove down to Crevoux, near Embrun. I think of this mountain as being the most scottish of ski resorts for three reasons: 1) If you say it in a scottish accent, it sounds like a craggy hill outside of glasgow, 2) it is a shoe-string resort that can only afford drag lifts (more on that later) not unlike Cairngorm and 3) The last time I skied it was with les grumblies scottish friends whom I shall call The Weather Man and Shirley.
In fact that’s why we were here today. It was lovely to see those two again. They’re both very outgoing late-60’s people that are amazingly fit and able, and travel all over the world. They had moved into a fascinating house in Embrun, and are season pass holders for Crevoux.
The pistes, and the view up on Crevoux are really lovely – lots of swooping red-ish blues with nice snow. Lots of nice off-piste (which I didn’t do – as I said to BF, “non signifie non!”.
We stopped off for lunch at a really nice cafe that I remember from the last time I was here, with a very lovely waitress and very nice food, and generally had a really nice time.
My ski technique I think is getting on – my short turns now are getting pretty nice, controlled and gradual. at least that’s how it feels. In fact the better thy get, the slower I go. Is that I good thing? Must ask Bawsaxx.
The bad thing about Crevoux though: The Pommers. At least, that’s what they call them – they really are made by a company called POMA which supply a lot of the ski lifts in France. They’re drag-lifts, button lifts. Big metal poles that sit between your legs with a rubber button underneath your posterior.
I hate them – they burn your legs, long ones aren’t fun, and if you’re not careful your skis get caught in the ruts that are worn into the slope below.
I wasn’t careful today – the first time it happened I was close to the bottom of the higher lift and some idiot ahead of me was shouting stuff and messing about on the pommer. I got distracted and ultimately fell off the pommer, narrowly avoiding knocking someone else off. I quickly side slipped down to the bottom and went back up safely.
The second time I wasn’t so lucky – I was on a really steap bit half-way up the lower pommer at the end of the day. My ski got caught in a rut and I fell again, this time sliding a fair way and knocking BF off the pommer below me. By the time I’d side slipped down a really long, narrow, icy piste, I’d had enough, and sat the last run of the day out in a cafe with a chocolat chaud.
Embrun, as I’ve said before, is basically Narnia. What a lovely view!
My ribs were still pretty damn sore today, and I was tired after my last few days of ambitious ski de fonding, so I just went out for a quick 1 hour 20 minute ski today, down the field, along the meadow, up the clapiere and then round les combes. It was just a quick circuit and something that I might start to consider my “constitutional”
Although that’s maybe not doing it justice. I have to point out that skid de fond is essentially the skiing equivalent of running, in terms of calories, although it uses a very different set of muscles. It’s hard work, and to do it for an hour and 20 minutes is a pretty good work out. I’ve been generally skiing for 2+ hours, which, done daily, is starting to make me feel pretty fit.
Weather was beautiful today, which meant I got really hot and sweaty. Still, nice ski :) I tried not to overdo it today because I wanted to have some energy left to attack the big pile of work which I have left languishing over the holiday.
After the long ski yesterday I wanted again to return to practicing my gliding along the flat which I had so enjoyed down at the bottom of the valley the other day.
To that end I headed down to the meadow at the bottom via the field below our house to have a few loops around the flat. It was a nice ski. I fetched up at the Planchettes and, after some rest and thought, decided to have a crack at my current goal: to ski Les Planchettes without stopping.
As a reminder, Les Planchettes is a long difficult red piste with lots of steep-ish hills and swoopy descents with some nice loops. I have skied it a few times slowly, stopping after most of the hills for breath. My goal is not necessarily to ski this fast, but at least to do it without stopping (fast comes later).
I went for it. It was going pretty well, although it was knackering. since working on my gliding, going up hill has become a lot easier. What I have realised is that you don’t need to push especially hard. In fact you should I think be doing the same amount of work as along the flat, just at a different angle. I don’t think I’ve mastered this yet but I managed to get up the hills without feeling as knackered as before.
Descents are good for a rest before you have to start skating again and I held on tight down them. In fact descents are things I need to start working some more on so that I am more stable, less likely to fall, and more in control when I turn corners.
In fact I made it most of the way without stopping. On the very last loop of this substantial piste there was a reasonably steep descent at the top of which my lungs were on fire and my heart was leaping out of my chest. I decided to allow myself to fail on this one, this time. I had a break, drank some water, calmed down, and then headed down the rest of the piste, which was pretty much all downhill.
Afterwards, and after another swoop along the flat, I had a nice chat with Bruno, one of the pisteurs. I had been practicing my french a lot recently and it was nice to have a subject to try it on. I made lots of mistakes, but had a nice chat nonetheless.
As I had missed skiing down the valley the other day, I had another chance to ski the liaison between Plampinet and Val des Pres today. Me and BF set off down Les Arras to plampinet and GM met us there to join us down the liaison.
It was suprsingly bare, considering the reports Les Grumblies had given a couple of days ago – there was mud and stones sticking out of the tracks, and the snow was very variable, being soft and sticky in the sunlight and then hard and smooth in the shade, which through me off quite a lot.
I had kind of wanted to consolidate the gliding technique I had worked on yesterday but htere was not much chance of that down this track. It was very nice though through the trees.
There were a lot of Italians on the track as well, some of which were not great skiers. I managed to not fall over as well which was good. Taking people over on a piste is a bit awkward. First getting their attention and then trying to sidestep their pride as well as their skis is always a bit of a chore!
We stopped at the point where normally you would go off to Val Des Pres. We weren’t doing that today as the car was up at Plampinet, unfortunately (I kept on thinking of the nice flat loop down at the bottom of the valley). After les grumblies had had a quick bite to eat we head off again. There had been a substantial amount of down, so I expected it to be a bit of a flog.
Instead though I got my motor on, and burned both BF and GM off for most of the trip. I don’t think they saw my trails for dust and it felt great. I was pretty out of breath when I fetched up before the home stretch up to plampinet and let them catch up. I was myself pretty beaten by then. My technique has definitely improved but my fitness has some way to go yet.
The last hill on the way up finished me off in fact and I was glad to stop when I did. Still, the 16km we skied seemed to go surprisingly easily. Also note I haven’t fallen over in a while!
On the way up we saw an odd sight – a skier tied to his big golden retriever. I thought it was a bit of a cheaty way to do it really…
While I was in bed yesterday I thought a lot about ski de fond skating technique. In particular the image of “The Skating Minister” (or “The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch”) by Sir Henry Raeburn. This is a picture we have had on the wall for years and one which I sometimes think about. I was thinking about it a lot today. It’s a picture of a Minister dreamily pushing his skates around on a frozen pond, and I think of it a s a very tranquil image.
I thought a lot about it in the night, and how I would like to do some more ski de fond the next day (today). I think ski de fond skating technique should be like that – easy, tranquil, pushing your skies into the snow, easily shifting your weight from one foot to the other, dreamily gliding along, with nothing too exaggerated or difficult. By morning I was dying to try it out.
Luckily BF was planning a trip down tot he big flat loop down at Les Alberts. There are three loops there – one between Val Des Pres and Les Albert, a link over to the big field right beside Les Alberts, and another big field on the opposite side of the bois des Alberts.
I had newly waxed my skis in the morning, so for the first 600 yards or so I was really wobbly and slippery, but once I got used to is I got down to this idea of a new technique.
It came to fruition on my way around the big flat field by Les Alberts. This field is often used for teaching and by the locals as a constitutional. It was beautifully pisted and slidy, and the efficiency of my technique started to show vast improvement. By the time I was halfway round I was working on evening out my weight transferral by sking without poles. It was great doing so as it gave me a new appreviation of where the weight was going, how poling affects my balance, and how to skate.
As we got to the end of the loop and head off towards the Bois des Alberts, I felt it was at a point where I could keep up the neat, unfussed and relaxed pattern forever. It felt great and suddenly I was The Skater.
Not that my technique is necessarily perfect by any means, but I was suddenly burning off BF, and finding the whole thing so much easier and more powerful. It was a really great and blissful feeling.
Last time I skied the loop at Bois des Alberts I could only do it 10 skates at a time and then a rest while everyone else powered round. This time I was soaring along the piste. Admittedly stopping a few times the first time round. When we completed the loop BF went off back to the car, leaving me to make another loop.
I managed to get round the whole thing without stopping, although decidedly out of breath by the end.
It was a really lovely ski, and I suddenly feel like I’m really getting into ski de fond now. Great stuff.
New year’s eve is special for Nevache, because it’s the day that they piste the entire upper valley. BF suggested we ski it before too many people walk all over it.
We were a bit late for that though, it has to be said. We got there and there were hundreds of people trudging up the road on snow shoes, ski du fond skis, touring skis, dragging sledges and carrying children.
I had cycled this route a few times and knew what to expect: a bloody great hill. Which it was. It was fun though, and the number of people whizzing or trudging along the slope was quite nice and life affirming. Occasionally we had to dodge a sledge barrelling the other way, and there was a nice feeling of community.
It was a slog though. I was totally out of breath by the third loop in the road. it was a case of one ski in front of the other for a long way. It was relentless.
The upper valley was gorgeous in the snow though. It was totally worth it, and a great workout. On the way along top the skiing was a bit easier and we got a “Salut” from our neighbour Jacques’ kids, who were on their way down. We stopped at a nice wee chapel for a rest and to watch the ski de fonders pass by (there were a lot in the upper valley, although surprisingly little attempting the climb up there). We skied up to the fruitiere – a restaurant about 75% of the way up the valley, avoiding the topmost climb, which would have finished us off.
I was pretty faint by the time we got there – I hadn’t had any lunch. we stopped for a picnic before heading down again. The downward journey was nice and zippy, just like when I cycled it (it is down pretty much all the way). The only difficulties we ran into were walkers seemingly oblivious to the fact that someone was pelting towards them on skis, taking up the whole piste. Luckily we avoided any major collisions.
It was a nice ski and about 18km all told. We were really pooped when we got back.
After my mammoth ski yesterday I wasn’t sure that I was up to much today, but I head out anyway, as is now my custom. Les grumblies had decided to head up La Forrestiere, a 12km black piste that passed through the route of the Bois de Noir (which I had walked before). Although I’d like to do this piste at some point I didn’t really feel like another long ski today.
Instead I went out on own and had a nice skate along the meadow, I think partly to solidify what I had managed to do yesterday. I also went along the source to the bottom of the Planchettes and started up it.
The Forestiere branches off from the Planchettes as it reaches its peak, and another, shorter, black piste called Les Clots branches off at this point as well. As I approached it I thought “why not?” and skied on up.
It was actually a surprisingly easy ascent up to the peak – just a little bit tiring. At the top there were some alarming signs saying “!” and “Warning: Descent” and yes, a long, steep descent. it looks like the really good skiers tend to just launch off the top.
It was a fun descent though with a couple of humps and some swoopy loops. It descended down to the village and across a road, giving it a very postman-pat, skiiers-swooping-through-local-village feel to it. It was great fun. On the way back though I turned a corner and was suddenly confronted with a MASSIVE wall of snow – an extremely steep ascent. It was nicely pisted and I made my way up just fine using the alternative poling technique I had learned the other day. It was scary though.
When I got to the top I looked down to see a wiry, skinny man twice my age practically run up it. Maybe it takes that long to be able todo that. Who knows.
The descent from that hill was fun, although I was immediately confronted by *yet another* wall of snow. By now the skinny old man had disappeared into the distance. Again I made it up no problem though.
My ribs didn’t feel tooo bad from my fall yesterday. I felt like I had probably got away with it, so I went for a long ski de fond today. The complete route I did was:
Les Combes -> Clapiere -> Meadow -> La Source -> Les Planchettes -> Clapiere -> Home.
I didn’t really have an agenda for today. I just started on Les Combes and carried on as I saw fit. It was a nice ski. When I got down to the meadow at the bottom (a nice loop around the flat valley bottom) I surprised myself by being able to ski the whole thing without stopping. Although this doesn’t sound much, it’ a bit of a milestone for me in terms of technique and fitness. In fact a lot of this may not sound impressive to fit people, but I am,in fact, not yet that sporty.
La Source is a blue piste that branches from the meadow and just has a couple of stiff hills in it. I used to have real trouble with it but it seemed easier today. Likewise Les Planchettes was easier. I think I’ve definitely been gaining some fitness and technique recently.
By the time I got back to the Clapiere for the second time though I was completely knackered. I had been skiing for about 2 hours and had done around 12 km by then so it’s understandable. I edged my way up it and managed to get back after a considerable number of stops.
Very proud of my achievement today though. I feel I’m starting to become more competent, I think.
Hurrah! I’ve reached one hundred days into my exercise regime. I’ve not been totally good all the way through, but I feel I’ve kept it up at least as best as I can. More can and will be done I think. I’ve had most trouble keeping up this blog while I’ve been busy with other things. I think if you have a week of craziness in which you don’t have time to update, then the whole thing just piles up and you have to spend ages updating it, which is what I am doing right now, 2 weeks after this day happened!
Today I was keen to try the Arras again. I felt we had copped out a bit not going all the way down to Plampinet, and I was interested in doing the piste a)alone and b)now that it had been pisted properly and didn’t have a 5cm layer of snow.
On the way, over the clapiere, there was a number of snow drifts and a lot of wind pushing the snow about. It put me in mind of a Kate Bush music video. It was very atmospheric and beautiful.
I got to the Arras. It helps when you know the piste and, it being nicely pisted, I stormed up it a fair bit. It was a nice day and I headed on down past where we had left off yesterday. The descent down into plampinet was… interesting. It was a nice swoopy piste, but it was icy.
I was working quite a lot on my technique today, specifically trying to make myself more comfortable on the downhill, and as a result of that I had my first fall of the day on the way down a particularly icy pitch. There are two kinds of fall when skiing – fast ones where you’re on your back before you know it, and slow ones where you have to, over some considerable time, face the inevitable fact that you are not going to recover from that caught edge. This was one of those times. Luckily I had some time to choose exactly how I was going to fall, and as my feet skidded out ahead of me I stretched my arm and body out so that I landed sideways, like I was relaxing on a nice chaise longue.
I felt lucky that I did not hurt my ribs more, which had just began to get better (I had bruised my right rib cage a week or so ago) and carried on.
The field on the way down to plampinet was surprisingly scary, largely because I couldn’t see and awful lot, just a lot of white with the occasional pole delineating the piste. The corduroy was just visable on the surface. I kept a tight snowplow down there and didn’t feel that in secure on my skis.
I made it though, and perched my skis and poles, whom I have christened the Lord and Lady Skatesalot and the Pole Plant Twins, by the Plampinet sign, a la Sir Bikesalot (who, by the way, I miss quite a lot and occasionally see sadly forlorn in the cellar of our house).
The way back from Plampinet was an absolute flog of the highest order. The field is steep and seemingly endless. Unhelpfully, I kept on being overtaken by very skinny people who are much better than me at this.
During a short descent through the trees on the way up, I fell for the second time. This time I had no control over the fall. One ski tripped up over the other one and I fell sidewards awkwardly and, ironically, bruised my left ribs in exactly the same way I had bruised my right. For the next couple of days it looked like I would get away with it, but later it would hurt like hell.
I made it up the rest of the way to Nevache with no further incident – I was knackered by the end!
It had been snowing again during the night and continued to snow during the day. As a result when we went out there was about 5 cm over everything. I actually found it ok to ski through today. I think the routes had been newly pisted, and the new snow was quite easy to glide though.
Today we went off down a new route – Les Arras. It’s a piste that follows the forrest track nearly up to the Bois de Noir. In fact I’ve walked this route several times before. I knew it to be a steep ascent, although the footpath you walk up cuts off the loops which you ascend when you ski.
Having said that, up until the point at which it ascended into the forrest, there was a lot of downhill. So much that I started to become conscious of just how much I would have to ski up later.
The ascent into the woods was pretty difficult, and involved a lot of stopping. I’m not yet good or fit enough that I can blast up an ascent like that, more’s the pity. I was working on a new technique today, suggested by GM, which is to use my poles alternately on each side while climbing, pushing the opposite ski with what ever pole is down (right pushes left, left pushes right). It’s a useful technique for climbing and I got on quite well with it.
We got to the top, and to the turning point where the track follows down to plampinet. We decided not to do Plampinet today, I wasn’t sure why (I would be sure when I came back the next day).
The way back was, as suspected, long and uphill. It was alright though. I fell over a couple of times I think, but at least the deeper snow was nice and soft :)