Sunday, 13 April 2014

My son might be trying to kill me ...

As ever I exaggerate; however, Sammy Ski School turned into the school of hard knocks today.
Sam thought I was skiing really well the other day and that I should now try some reds. I've done a few reds in Les Arcs - Renard (which is a red in any sensible piste marker's book), that steep bit on Golet and almost any blue in La Plagne.
What he meant was I should try some reds that were marked as red on the piste map.
He decided that the red I should try first was the Aiguille Rouge. It's actually a pretty nice run, a bit narrow in places, but I'm sure I could have managed it pretty well. However, this was one of those days where nothing seemed to go quite right.
For a start, I forgot my lucky necker and - like the aviator who loses his lucky charm - I also crashed ... and crashed ... and crashed.
Not only had I forgotten my necker, I'd also decided that it would be cold and gloomy and that I should wear plain glasses, with goggles as back up. When we got up the first lift, we were in cloud and so my glasses proved useless; the snow and cloud was one white, featureless mass. Glasses off and goggles on and immediately my vision was tunnelled and my balance compromised (but it was better than one white, featureless mass).
We skied down Edelweiss into the bowl to Arc 2000 and I even managed to fall on Edelweiss, a nice blue that I’d snowploughed down with ESF a couple of years ago. The temperature was really quite high for early morning and the snow (in most places) hadn’t frozen overnight. There were some frozen stretches, so it was a difficult combination of soft, to hard, to ice.
I’m making excuses because I know I could cope with this (and have before). So much skiing is about your confidence and about being relaxed. In this respect, it’s very much like riding a motorcycle – you do that best when you’re relaxed and when you’re looking well ahead. If you tense up, get fixed on the corner you’re in, rather than looking through it, then it’s hard to flow and get it smooth.
The Aiguille Rouge was quite busy, but I could see that it would be a really nice run. I was traversing quite a lot, but doing all right until I hit a block of ice in the middle of the piste and went flying. There was another comedy moment when I was on my back (turtle like) whizzing down the run past Sam. Luckily, I’d kept my skis on and the slope was steep enough to make it easy to get up.
After the Aiguille Rouge, the piste becomes a blue, called Lys (lilies), which is narrow, steep in places, but quite pretty. It’s lower and around the side of the massif, so you can see across the valley towards Rosiere and St Foy. As we got lower, the snow was softer and ploughed into great ruts. I was glad when Sam suggested we stop for a drink and there was a nice cafe at the side of the piste where we could sit out. The snow was disappearing fast around here and by the state of the piste, if it continues warm and sunny, the snow will be gone in a week. The day was quite grey, so I decided to take off my goggles and put my glasses back on. When I got them out of my breast pocket, they'd been crushed when I'd fallen and both lenses had popped out. It was a bit of a fiddle getting them back in, but I managed it and also managed to bend the frames back into shape. The glasses didn't seem quite right, but it was better than the goggles.
Villaroger - what happened to the snow?
Our plan was to ski down to Villaroger at 1200 metres, but as we continued down Lys, the snow got more and more patchy. On one run, there was a band just three metres wide on the piste. The last section down into Villaroger had been closed and people staying there were having to use the chairlift to get down as well as up. We went up Violettes and Droset chairlifts and then down the Reservois blue to 2000.
These were all new lifts and runs for me and would have been more interesting if I hadn't been so knackered. It was just a matter now of getting back the easiest way I could, so we skied down to Marmottes and then went all the way down Arpette to 1600. The snow here was really soft and rutted, so I was finding it really hard. Arpette is normally pretty easy, but I managed to fall and get a foot through the ski fence on one section. It wasn't quite a Bodie Miller skiing-off-the-fence moment and, to make matters worse, the piste was pretty flat and I was struggling to get to my feet. I was just about to take my skis off when Sam came and hauled me up.
This had been my toughest day's skiing and I was a little frustrated afterwards. I know I can ski better than I did and, even though the conditions and piste were a step-up for me, I could have done much better.
In the afternoon, we drove to Beaufort via Moutiers and Albertville. Sam is convinced there's another route over the mountains, but I was pretty sure that any road would be precipitous, little more than a farm track and covered in snow. The route along the valley bottoms is pretty quick and we were in Beaufort in under an hour.
The town is quite small, but famous as a centre for this large area of high mountain pastures. In summer, there would be four routes in, but for six months of the year, there's just the road to Albertville. We parked up in the town and took half an hour for a stroll around. There's a very old section around the church where many buildings are 400 years old. Some of the buildings are erected on solid rock and the walkways are chiselled out of the bedrock as well.
Lucy's picture of the old bridge in Beaufort
There's an old stone bridge, once the main bridge over the river and the view from the top is very evocative. It leads through into the narrow streets of the old town and the bridge still has the protective kerbstones in the middle and the ends which once stopped cartwheels from damaging the sides.

The snow level is quite high and we decided that we'd drive up the D925 towards the Col de Roselend to see how far we could get. The answer was: not very far - the road was blocked by a barrier only a couple of miles out of Beaufort. We decided we'd go up a different way, through the ski resort of Areches (where Sam and Lucy had skied a couple of months ago) and along the Col du Pre. This road was open for longer, but it was a very narrow road and with steep drops and tight hairpins. It was first or second gear all the way up and as we neared the top, there was a cafe car park where you could pull off and the road was blocked by a massive snow bank. The snow might be disappearing quickly from the lower slopes, but here the road was covered in several feet of snow (and it was not thawing very quickly). These routes won't be open for another six or eight weeks.