Thursday, 5 December 2013

Skiing in Val Thorens

I was looking forward to having a ski, although I'm always a little apprehensive. I think I'm a barely competent skier; I can cope with blues pretty well, but sometimes I don't have the control I should and my last ski holiday really took its toll on my thighs, so much so that I called a halt to my final day after an hour and went for breakfast instead.
This year, I'm a little lighter and a little bit fitter; also we were going to Val Thorens, which is where I first skied. It is ideal for learners as it has a large green area and some nice, gentle blues. I could find my feet in my own good time.
The drive to Val Thorens takes about an hour (although Luc, the ski instructor-cum-building-labourer, who lives next door reckons it is 45 minutes driving the Savoyarde way). The route involves going down the valley to the next town (Moutiers) and then taking a winding switchback road climbing up, up and up to 2300 metres. We thought we might be able to park in the resort, but there was a large car park at the foot of the village. It was obviously aimed at day trippers and it was free, so we went in there.
It sits at the bottom of the Caron gondola lift which allows you to go up into town or take a ride to the top of the Gentian blue run. Had Margaret been skiing, it would have been ideal, but we couldn't buy a pass to just go up to town and paying for a half-day ski pass only for that journey wouldn't have made sense. Sam drove us up into town and dropped us at the edge and went back to the car park. We were able to walk down a small ski slope onto the green area and down to a restaurant on the edge, where Margaret could be based. She was very nervous about the whole thing, but I put my skis on and went down with her, and she was much happier once we had a seat and coffee.
View from our cafe seat. The resort was so quiet and snow so good!
I texted Sam and Lucy to tell them where we were and they popped along to find us. We agreed that we'd have an hour or so's skiing and then meet up for lunch. It was lovely and warm in the sun; there was a great view and lots of people to  watch, so Margaret had a pretty happy time observing the world going by. I did a couple of passes of the long run down in front of the resort and tried a couple of the steeper slopes down into the green area. I seemed to be quite competent and went back to Margaret feeling quite pleased with myself.
She'd seen some interesting sights and had also been waving at a chap she thought was me (but wasn't). I was kitted out in new Buffalo walking pants, which are ideal for skiing except that the leg is a little too tight to go over a ski boot. It wasn't a big problem as I left one side unzipped, but I had expected the pants to have elasticated bottoms. I also had Sam's old ski jacket which he had given me, so, for a change, I actually almost looked the part.
With my Giro helmet, Bolle goggles and Oakley prescription sunglasses (all from the excellent RX Sport) at least my head has some of the right brands. RX Sport is perfect if you need prescription sunglasses. They even managed to fit varifocal lenses to Oakley semi-wraps.
Margaret and I were just getting a snack for lunch when Sam and Lucy arrived. The weather was turning a little colder and so we had another hour's skiing after lunch and then called it a day. Sam gave me a few tips (get my arms further forward) and it was good to tackle a few steeper bits where I had to turn more sharply. I picked up a bit too much speed in one section, but never felt as if I was going to fall, so I was well pleased with my day. This would be a great week to visit Val Thorens - hardly anybody about, no queues for the lifts and no jams on the runs.
To get back to the car, Sam and Lucy were able to ski down. Sam took my skis, so I could more easily walk up with Margaret to the Caron station in town and get the gondola back to the car. The steep walk and the thin air caused Margaret to have a coughing fit, but she just about got her breath back when we arrived by the car. It’s surprising how the thinner air affects you even at 2300 metres.
She'd found it quite stressful being in such a different environment, but very enjoyable. She was even talking about trying a lesson next time we come. I don't think that will happen, but it's good she's interested. I'd really like it if she could ski; she'd really enjoy some of the fantastic views you get from the pistes and also the cafes.
We were able to drive back down to Moutiers in the daylight, which was nice, and a real bonus was a fantastic view of Mont Blanc (Monty) with the setting sun turning its southern flank a beautiful orange/red. I would have taken a photo, but it was in sight for only 30 seconds or so, my camera was in the back and we were in a stream of cars snaking down the mountain.
In contrast to the bright uplands, Moutiers is a dark, gloomy place in winter. It doesn't seem to get any sunshine and the colder air at the bottom of the valley was trapping a pollution haze above the town. It's hard to imagine anywhere looking as miserable as Moutiers in the midst of such natural beauty.
Margaret had enjoyed her day and to cap it off with a perfect ending, it was tartiflette for dinner. She declared it her favourite meal of all time and I have to say, it does go down very well after a day's skiing.
The next day, we're planning a trip to Tignes/Val d'Isere.
Enjoying the sun and snow