Day 101: Looong ski

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.

Day 100: 100 Days!

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Day 99: Les Arras

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.

it ain't half snowy gov

it ain’t half snowy gov

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.

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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.

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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 :)

Day 98: Boxing Day

As is traditional for us brits, we went for a walk on Boxing day. Well, actually, we went for a ski. Ski de fond is now becoming quite a regular fixture in my daily routine it has to be said.

We went round Les Combes today, a long red piste that starts directly beside the house and follows a large field above it along the length of the commune. I had seen people attempt it the other day and fall over owing to the number of people walking on it during the festival so had not been tempted to try it then. I did so now.

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The first ascent of the piste is really long and a real flog. I stopped a lot to catch my breath, as did BF. Even GM, who is quite a fit man for his age, was out of breath at the top of the climb. It was worth it though – the piste has a really nice skating swoop to it, with lots of nice easy descents.

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There were quite a few newbies out on the piste today and we saw some reasonably hilarious falls. Going downhill on skinny skies is not the cakewalk that alpine skis allow you. It’s scary and unnerving to go down the smallest of bumps, and unless you relax, take your time, keep a good snow plow and body position then you’re going down (unless of course you’re really good, when you don’t have to do all those things).

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Anyhoo, we got round it in 40 mins or so. At the end GM headed off for a bit more round the Clapiere and BF wanted to go home. I felt I needed a bit more so I went round the clapiere again. This time it was much easier and I got round quite quickly. Something can be said of how much easier it is if you warm up first.

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In passing, GM pointed out a very odd structure on the side of the piste. Apparently it cost €6,000 and is a dry toilet. I have no idea how to use it.

weirdest toilet I have ever seen...

weirdest toilet I have ever seen…

Day 97: Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone! Unsurprisingly, for christmas I did no exercise at all, except that of the jaw, and the stomach. We had a lovely, indulgent, huge meal with a couple of friends, over which my French, German and belt was tested to the max.

Hope you all had a lovely day!

Day 96: Serre Vierre

The last time I had been up at this ski de fond track I was an enthusiastic beginner. It was three years ago and, characteristically for les grumblies it seems, they decided to take me up the hardest piste there was – a black piste that carried on up through the trees at about a 50% slope seemingly forever. At the time I could barely herring-bone. I managed it through sheer stubbornness, lots of stops and doing tiny, tortured skates 10 at a time and then stopping.

the beginner piste

the beginner piste

That was three years ago. Luckily this time we didn’t plan to do anything too challenging. It has to be said that this ski de fond area at Serre Vierre is a really nice one. Lots of lovely wide tracks through the forrest and not too many people. Friendly locals and a fun descent at the end of each run. It’s situated not far from Briançon, right beside the Col d’Izoard, where I have been before.

mm trees

mm trees

We took a turn around the red piste. It was hard going but after a while my skating got better. On the way round I began to feel a bit more comfortable on my skis and a bit more confident going down slopes. I think I’m starting to get a good glide on the skis, and although I didn’t really enjoy the exercise the first time around the track (I moaned when we took a branch off to the red part of the piste), we went around again just on the blue, and I started to realise that I was getting a good glide on my skis.

mmm mountain

mmm mountain

I think my technique is in general starting to improve, and I’m enjoying it more now that I’m achieving a bit more efficiency on my skis.

Day 95: Ski de fond Festival

Today I didn’t feel up to much – I was still recovering from the previous week really and we were all a little pooped. Outside our house though was the yearly Ski de Fond festival.

Dashing through the snow....

Dashing through the snow….

This is designed to get more people into Nevache and interested in local sports, and it’s quite jolly. Right outside the chalet were a big pack of huskies pulling children along in a sled. In fact when we came out I had the dubious pleasure of seeing two of them fighting in the snow. In the rest of the area under the ski lifts there were food vendors, ski people, ESF instructors, a little ski de fond obstacle course and laser-based shooting range to simulate the rifle part of olympic cross-country sport.

The ski de fond festival

The ski de fond festival

I wasn’t too interested in it though to be honest. I enjoy the skiing most, and I wasn’t in the mood to socialise. GM was involved in the organisation and helped out at the fête, but me and BF decided to take off for a short Ski de Fond instead.

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Nothing special today – we had a turn around the clapiere and the meadow at the bottom. The clapiere was pretty rutted with the load of people walking on it to the fête. It was pretty jolly to see so many people around.

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On the way back our way went past the now slumbering pack of huskies. These are pretty big dogs and while they looked nice, I was a bit wary of them, having been barked at by them before when passing their cage down in the forrest.

Doggy Woggies

Doggy Woggies

Day 94: Total recovery day.

I totally needed a day to recover today. My ribs, continually giving me grief since I bruised them in Villar d’Arene a week ago, were absolutely killing. I was also comepletely knackered from my week of socialising and working with Bawsaxx and Ms Minx, and just needed to stop, recover and reset,

I spent most of the day in bed, napping, playing computer games, reading etc. I had no inclination or energy to do anything, and was completely exhausted.

However, the weather was beautiful, and by about 3.30pm I was chomping at the bit. I decided right at the last moment to go for a ski de fond in the Valley. It is the best thing about de fond that, just like when I was walking and cycling, all it requires of me is to get changed and head out of the door.

Today I took a loop over the Clapiere, along the meadow on the other side of the valley and then back up on the hill. It was hard work for me and took me about an hour. Not bad-ish considering how knackered I was.

The other thing to note is that eating has not been that disciplined at the moment – it’s hard to keep up a regime when people are around celebrating, and nice things are continually put in front of you. Also – getting up early in the morning has created a dilemma about when to programme lunch in a way which means that I am not too hungry when it comes to dinner.

We never really came up with a good answer to that BF feels I should split lunch before and after exercising in the afternoon. My worry is that will lead to snacking, which I absolutely want to avoid at this point.

Either way, the christmas season is not an easy time to be good about these things.

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.