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Day 111: Crevoux!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Day 93: Off Piste

One thing I forgot to say about the skiing yesterday – the Serre Thibauld lift was open. This is my favourite part of Montgenevre – the other side of the mountain, a lovely easy green along a dramatic ridge, some lovely swooping blues and reds and a fantastic couple of steep black pitches to cut your teeth on.

We went back to Monty G today for the last day of skiing before the pistes became overrun with people. The conditions were really excellent on the piste. I was given first pick of the runs so we head up the Rocher de l’Aigle for a warm up, down the Brousset black and then the up the Serre Thibauld (my favourite bit of the mountain!).

A couple of things put me in a bad mood today though. While I enjoy the encouragement of Les grumblies and Bawsaxx, who all assert that I am a “natural” at skiing (their words), for a time Bike Fairy has been pressuring me a bit to do some ski touring. Ski touring is basically walking up mountains on Skis (with skins on the bottom and a special detachable heel) and then skiing down any which way. It’s often guided and usually off piste.

I have two problems with this – 1) I am definitely not confident off piste yet. I’m sure I have the technique, but I have nowhere near the experience. By the end of this ski season I definitely will have that experience (through playing off the piste on resort) but I am currently terrified of heading off into the wilderness. 2) I have already been bought a new bike and lots of equipment, I do not want Damocles to hang yet another financial sword over my already guilty head, in the form of yet more ski equipment.

In short, fueled by an argument a few nights ago, I felt like I was being pressured into something I was scared of, and although I was getting on well with some off-piste play as we went down the Rocher de l’Aigle, I couldn’t help but feel that there was an ulterior motive behind BF encouraging me to do it.

Up the Rocher d'Aigle

Up the Rocher d’Aigle

Before I go on, something very nice did happen to me today – I bumped into my ski friends Claire and Andrew and their two children. Those two had been in two ski classes with me in the last couple of years, and they seem to be coming back every year to montgenevre. It was really lovely to see these friendly faces, although I felt a bit guilty for having advanced somewhat ahead of them in technique (largely I’m sure down to the amount of time I am able to spend out here – Claire is especially good I think and they do very well for the short time they’re able to come out for).

After that niceness though bad things started to happen. Not so much bad, but anxious. There is a fantastic bit of off piste up the Serre Thibauld side of the mountain – a big off-piste bowl between the ridge and the piste, which is often skied, and it was in great condition. I chanced my arm at a shallower point of the piste.

I made it! It was scary, but I managed a couple of turns and got back to the piste ok. I followed les grumblies off to the left from the piste after that and followed them down to The Gully.

The Gully I’ve heard of alot as a good fun thing to do – basically it’s quite a long section of half-pipe-like gully with no stream at the bottom and a pleasant riding-and-falling path down to the piste. Lots of people ski it, although I never have. Slightly bouyed by my success at the bit of off piste, I followed the grumblies into the gully for my first time.

For the most part, it was fine. I was completely terrified, but soon got on with the fun side of the gully – picking up speed down one side then losing it on the next ascent. The powder was beautiful to ski down and I began to see the appeal of it.

However, right at the end it all went wrong. I hit an icy pocket made by a snow board and one of my skis fell off. My body shot forward and I Face-Planted into the snow, unwittingly eating a good deal of it.

Normally, I would be fine with such a fall (it’s a regular part of skiing), however I was so anxious and felt so pressured about the ski touring thing, that it put me in a stinking mood for the rest of the day.

We went up Serre Thibauld a second time – I was thoroughly fed up by then. At the top I tried the bowl again and ended up stuck waist deep in the snow right at the top (I think I just chose the wrong spot to head off piste). I finally got free and managed a couple of pretty good turns before I got back on the piste again. I didn’t do the gully again.

Afterwords we headed into Claviere in Italy (about 1km from Monty G) to the Sandy Bar. We had a Bombardino – something that is a bit of a tradition for us when we go skiing, although a little indulgent. It’s a shot of coffee, something very alcoholic which I’ve forgotten, and about 2 inches of squirty cream.

I had it out with Les Grumblies about the Ski Touring. Thankfully, they’re not going to push it any more. I feel glad to have the pressure taken off. It jsut goes to show that skiing is 50% confidence and 50% technique. Within a reasonable expectation regarding risk v. gain, if you’re really totally not happy with doing something, you shouldn’t.

Day 92: Skiing with BF

Well, it’s nearly Christmas, which means that within a couple of days the slopes will be swarming with people, mainly French and Italian, celebrating Christmas and New Year with a good old ski. For that reason we tend to avoid Montgenevre during that week. It’s never fun, and there’s often some very bad skiing going down, which can lead to accidents.

So we eneavoured to make the best of the next couple of days to get some alpin skiing in. GM stayed at home today however to get some admin done, so it was just me and Bike Fairy, and Monty G (Montgenevre).

on top of a big ridge. Yes, I know you can't see it. You have to trust me.

on top of a big ridge. Yes, I know you can’t see it. You have to trust me.

In fact that was pretty much all there was. The slopes were pretty much bare and we had the pistes to ourselves. The conditions were lovely and the skiing was good. After my wipeout the other day I wanted to work on some advice from BS, which is to get my turns as gradual as possible. I spent most of the day practicing long, slow, gradual turns.

mes skis

mes skis

It was very relaxing in fact. I ended up feeling that I could take on pretty much anything. Black piste? No problem – let the skis run on the down hill and then gradually bring them round across the whole piste until my skis were pointing slightly up. No problem at all, no stress, no need to power through, just slow linking turns. It was quite liberating!

view from a cafe up serre thibauld

view from a cafe up serre thibauld

In fact it’s a thing with me to work on technique – it’s my favourite thing to do – I’m never happy with things being “good” or “doing well” – I always want to get it as good as I possibly can, so this work illuminated well what I needed to do first to get my short turns coherent and technically competent.

BF for some reason often characterises this striving for better technique as me being hard on myself – I think it’s easy to mistake self criticism for self deprecation…

After we finished skiing I took a walk down the gargouille in Briançon to get some christmas pressies for les grumblies.

Day 90: Tearing it up

Today was the last day with Those Two here and the last day of skiing with Bawsaxx. We didn’t really have that much time as we planned to spend at least a few hours with Ms. Minx in the afternoon, however we decided to have a morning skiing with BS and GM.

The Chalmettes lift, the path to all of our dreams.

The Chalmettes lift, the path to all of our dreams.

We worked more on the carving today and tried out some video analysis of our skiing. It was afun morning and we tore the slopes up somewhat. I think I just about managed to execute some pure carving turns, and also had a couple of lessons on switch (backwards) skiing. It was good fun!

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BS had also got his new skis in the morning and had a good time tearing up the slopes on them.

Later on we headed down to the Montpelier hot spring spa. This is a beautiful place to come and relax, with a large indoor pool and similarly sized outdoor pool which is always warm and open, even in the winter. Inside there are also a number of novelty pools. There is are the Frigidarium, Tepidarium and Caldarium pools – freezing, tepid and warm respectively. The Caldarium is absolute bliss. The tepidarium, after you get used to it, is also nice to relax in. I got one toe in the frigidarium and decided not to bother. Those Two seemed to love spending some time in there though.

There’s also a large steam room with “dipper”s – a bucket of ice cold water that you poor over yourself while you’re in there (I did this). There’s also a “microdroplet” shower (not that effective) and a music bungalo, in which you lay back in the water and listened to music. I didn’t really like the music, and the fact that bits of you stick out of the water while you’re there, so I didn’t stay long there.

I know these baths before of course. Last time I came I was with someone and we went up to the VIP section on the roof, where there is a jacuzzi. Seriously, sitting on top of the building, enjoying the warm bubbly water and the snow laying around, feeling snowflakes dropping on to you, all safe in the warm water and looking out onto the vast dark mountains. It was the most romantic thing I have ever done.

I found returning there difficult (although I didn’t go to the VIP bit). It is a very romantic place, and there were a lot of beautiful couples, everywhere I looked.

Day 89: Hurrah new skis!

Have been really bad at updating my blog recently. Spending some time getting up to date so that I can go back to updating it daily. Sorry about the delay folks! The last week or so has been really busy with Those Two staying and trying to get work done at the same time.

My work schedule is going well in fact. I’ve been getting up at 5.30am every morning and working for 5 hours until 11am, and then having the afternoon for whatever I and the others want to do. There is a flip side though in that I’m getting pretty tired, and timing meals has become difficult without snacking in between.

Today we went skiing up and Montgenevre, leaving Ms. Minx at home to catch up with some of her work. I personally feel bad about leaving guests behind, however Bawsaxx wanted to do some proper skiing, so off we went. Main task of today – trying out BS’s Armadas again to make sure that I want them.

At the top of the Etoile lift. Lovely!

At the top of the Etoile lift. Lovely!

I do, I totally do. Me and BS had a couple of runs first to try them out, however my feet were killing a fair bit (I stupidly did my boots up a bit tight this time) and I couldn’t really enjoy them. Instead we stopped by MFW for a coffee and to meet up with Les Grumblies.

After a cafe longue and a loosening of the boots we set off again. It’s great having BS around because we get some great skiing tuition. This time he gave me some great lessons on Carving and on powering through my turns in preparation for Off Piste skiing.

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The highlight of the day was a beautiful, swoopy, lovely ski down a beautiful piste that was covered in about 10 cm of snow and had not yet been skied much. It was truly wonderful to let rip through the beautiful powder and we whooped and swooped are way down it.

Bawsaxx, such a show off

Bawsaxx, such a show off

The undoubted low point was realising that my short turns are really not that good, in the form of a high speed wipeout on the way down the rocher d’Aigle. I’m not sure what caused it completely – I think it was my feet getting ahead of my body and causing me to lean back. Either way I managed to spin myself mid fall to minimise the damage, and got away with a snow burn on the backside.

mmmm yes

mmmm yes

One thing though – I think I got pretty close to mastering pure carve today – I totally love it. If you get it smooth enough you can pretty much ignore everything else and just swoop down the piste. Awesome.

Vin Chaud, the glue that sticks this mountain together

Vin Chaud, the glue that sticks this mountain together

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 59: Skiing (Hells Yeah!)

Yesterday BF, having mentioned previously that the ski-du-fond pistes were opening early, asked if I would like to go skiing with the grumblies, and a tiler they had brought over from scotland to work on the new extension. I had assumed that she meant ski-du-fond, and I wasn’t up for it. SDF often ends up being too long, cutting too much into my time, and not worth it unless you take it quite seriously, which I wasn’t prepared to do while I had the orchestral piece woes circling my cranium.

However, it soon became apparent that she meant downhill skiing, and that the local resort, Montgenevre, was opening early for a weekend with limited number of runs.

My resolve dissolved instantly. “Just two hours” was the cry that went up. Which invariably means The Whole Day.

Oh skis, I have missed you so

Anyway, I really, really love downhill skiing so I couldn’t pass it up. We quickly dug out the salapets, ski trousers and boots from the attic. I was very happy to be reaquainted with it, especially my bright blue trousers and Nordic boots.

Looking across the border into Italy at Claviere

The resort was surprisingly busy, and well skied. A number of the locals had already “skinned” up on rando ski’s (not as druggy as it sounds) and taken a lot of the good powder by the side of the slopes. The lower pistes were pretty scraped, but the higher ones, up the rocher de l’aigle, were really very nice indeed.

At the top of the Rocher de l’aigle

I had, of course, completely forgotten how to ski. I got back into it though, and enjoyed remembering and working on some technique.

Montgenevre is sooo beautiful

On the way back we shopped for some wedding presents for a friend, who I’m told enjoys this blog. I hope they like them :) When I got back it was late, and I was too knackered to work.

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