Sunday, 12 February 2017

Not another skiing holiday!

As if I wasn't battered enough after the last one. Sam had a week's holiday to get in and wanted more skiing. He asked all his mates and, finally, in desperation, he asked me. So here I am in Arc 1950 in a ski chalet with Sam, an Irish couple and an Irish chalet host. We got a cheap late deal, which you can do if there's just the two of you and you can be flexible.
I like 1950, I've skied through here a few times while staying with Sam and Lucy at Villaret sur la Rosiere, but I always thought it was really expensive – not so this week, thanks to that deal. We're with SkiBeat which Sam booked through Igloo.
There was, predictably, a late scare with the Jersey weather. This time it was a threatened force 9 gale which would ground all aircraft, so Sam wouldn't be able to fly out. As it happened, the weather was not so violent; he was able to get off (good old EasyJet) and we met at Gatwick on Friday evening, stayed overnight at a hotel by the terminal and made a 4am start for a 6.40am flight.
The flight was on time, but our coach transfer (quite a long one from Lyon) was held up waiting for just a couple of people from Manchester to arrive. Most people on the bus were heading for La Rosiere, so we were dropped off in Bourg-Saint-Maurice and had a taxi to take us up to 1950. We got here around 3pm.
View from our chalet window
There had been a big snowfall on the previous day and it was snowing slightly at 1950. The taxi took us into a massive underground car park below the village. This is a fantastic feat of engineering. The village was built as a one-off development (apparently in the style of Whistler in the US) and it's a real feat. I quite like the place, but of course, it's completely fake. At least it's pretty fake, unlike Arc 2000, 1800, Les Menuires and Val Thorens, which are monstrosities. You can also ski right through the village, which I also like very much. Just imagine being able to ski through Thorney – clip your skis on and cruise to Mo's for your paper or along to school for a meeting.
Our chalet host is an odd mix of earnest and chilled, very keen to be helpful and a very good cook. We thought he'd gone to work in the Alps for the season to forget a girl. We had a fantastic opening three-course dinner and a really high standard all week. For breakfast, he's fond of his porridge, which suits me very well.
There was heavy snow when we went to bed and we woke up to the sound of explosions from the piste workers using TNT to dislodge the snow banks threatening to avalanche. Lots of lifts and runs were closed and we couldn't get across to 1800 or 1600, so we were restricted to 1950 and 2000. Up in the bowl, it was quite hard to see – pretty much a white out – and the runs further down, with more trees about, were better, but have a really slow lift feeding them. I have never skied in deep powder before and it was different. It would have been better if it hadn't been so busy; lots of people were on the fewer runs open for business and there were lots of ski schools and lots of kids.
I did have one fall. No injuries, but it was spectacular. In the white blur, I missed the edge of the piste and shot off-piste into about three feet of soft powder. It was a nice comfortable landing, but I spent an awkward minute stuck on my back like a beetle kicking my legs. Luckily, my skis had stayed on, so I was able to get myself pointing in the right direction, then upright, then ski through the soft snow back onto the piste. I'd had enough after a couple of hours, so Sam went off to do some other runs (he's quite patient, but it's not much fun for him pootling around on blues). I had a chillax and then went to the spa, which is part of our deal, and had an open-air swim, sauna and steam room. The pool was fairly warm, but you did have to walk through snow in your bare feet to get in, so anything might have felt warm after that.
Rob cooked up another three-course meal in the evening (chicken in cream sauce for the main). I’d bought a bottle of Genépé and introduced Justin and Lizzie (an Irish couple and the other guests in the chalet) to it. We polished off the best part of a bottle of Genépé between us.
On Monday I decided to ski in the afternoon. Lifts were not open when Sam went out so he got the bus down to Arc 1600 and met three chaps who were from Knutsford on their annual ski holiday. He showed them the runs around 1600 and they offered to buy him dinner, but he had to come back to meet me. One of them goes to Jersey for his holidays each year and so Sam might get a bit of business out of him if he's taken ill while over there.
I was skiing like a plonker in the afternoon and had a few tumbles, but no pain. In the end, I found a nice gentle and quiet blue above 2000 called Marais; it was as good as Gollet. Sam let me do it twice, but then we had to do something a little more testing so we skied down Vallee de l'Arc to check out a restaurant that we might use for dinner on Wednesday night (Rob's night off). The run was really, really busy and, near the bottom, we ran into cloud, so you couldn't see more than 50 metres. The restaurant is only open in the afternoon and it wasn't open that afternoon, so despite our efforts, we'd have to find somewhere in 1950 for dinner.
I'd had enough skiing, so I caught the bus back up to 1950 and Sam went on a late tour above 1600 and 1800. He almost missed the last lift back.

On Tuesday, I was out good and early to ski across to Vallandry, which we did via Plan Bois, Foret (an old favourite) and Grizzly. We then took the Grizzly lift and skied down Foret (past the top of the infamous Renard) to 1800. Sam wondered if I'd like to do Renard as I was now a more experienced skier than my previous two attempts. I took the stance that Holly uses when she doesn't want a wash, I dug my front paws in and arched my back. The runs were getting busier and busier. It's the first of Paris ski fortnight, so just about the worst combination you could wish for – lots of people and lots of rude Parisians. Most of the locals don't like them, despite all the money they bring in – it makes you wonder what they say about us when we're gone.
The route from 1800 to 1600 is simple enough – Gollet all the way – but Sam took us up Vagere lift and then claimed he didn't know how to get to Gollet. I quite enjoyed the route we took (Arpette 1) which was a favourite of ski schools. After a drink in 1600, Sam went off to ski in La Plagne via the Vanoise Express and I caught the bus back to 1950. It was snowing when I arrived and it's been snowing steadily since. More snow is predicted for Wednesday.
Wednesday was a grey old day and we went across to ski above 1600 because the visibility was so poor. I was skiing like a novice, leaning back, I kept trying to snowplough and coming off the top of the Comborciere lift down the little ski road I couldn't do a skid stop at the end and went flying past Sam to stop 15 yards further on. I think he felt sorry for me because he said I could do Gollet. I said “OK, just for old time's sake.” Actually, Gollet was quite uneven and Sam almost fell over – what an embarrassment that would have been. We took the lift back up and I said I'd do Gollet again and then stop for the day as it was snowing hard. Sam came with me to do the black (see below for his evil plan) and Gollet was much easier this time as a couple of inches of powder snow had fallen. I said I'd get the bus back up to 1950 and Sam shot off to ski on his own for a bit. On the way down, I missed the edge of the piste and fell over. It was quite flat and I couldn't get up and struggled for a couple of minutes before I gave up and took off a ski.
Sam called later in the afternoon to say he'd finished and was going for a drink in 2000, so I got the bubble lift up to join him. He was in the restaurant just at the entrance to the village and when I got there he had a glass of Chablis and a dozen oysters – still a GTC – although he did give me a couple oysters and they were rather good. In the evening, it was the chalet host's night off so we went to La Vache Rouge restaurant for dinner. The exterior looks a little odd (there's a full-size model of a cow, painted red, for a start) but it's very good. We both had fillet steak with chips, followed by a local cheeseboard.
On Thursday, conditions were perfect, about as good as it gets, so we were out reasonably early, but so was everyone else; the lifts were really busy below 1950, so we skied down to Comborciere. We were almost the first people to ski the piste (Vallee de l'Arc). It's a nice run, but has been so busy at times this week that it's been a nightmare. Anyway, we went up the slow Comborciere and then down the ski road past Mont Blanc onto Belvedere. I was really concentrating hard on body position and kept control all the way down, even when someone had fallen in front and the ski instructor was taking up almost all the piste pulling them up. We went down to Arpette lift which takes you up onto a ridge where you can ski round back into the bowl above Arc 2000 and take a couple of nice blues back to the lifts. We did both Edelweiss and Plan. I remember Edelweiss from my ski-school days. It's a good run on which to practise your parallel turns and it was pretty quiet. We took the lift back onto the ridge and pootled about on the blues above 1800 and Vallandry before working back via Grizzly and Derby to the mid-station of the Trans Arc bubble. We finished the day with a run down Col de Chal and Vallee de l'Arc 2 and then down into 1950 to finish. I'd skied about 26 miles and it was the best I've skied this year, so I was very pleased with myself.
On Friday, I took the bus and the funicular down to Bourg-Saint-Maurice. It was sunny at 1950, but misty and freezing in the bottom of the valley. Nice to see Bourg again and also visit some favourite shops for mugs and Christmas tree ornaments. It was not nice to see the development going on in front of the church and war memorial. This was where the market was held, but now it's a huge hole and building site where they're putting up a development of apartments up to five storeys. It will spoil the aspect from the church and the little square that once existed.
Massive development in from of the church in Bourg-Saint-Maurice

There was some drama later in the day when the host of the SkiBeat chalet opposite, burned his hand cleaning the oven. He had to be treated in Vallandry and a reserve host (a lady, who looked to be about 45) skied in at a few hours notice to look after the guests. Our chalet host helped as much as he could, telling her where things are and lending missing implements, but she looked very capable. I wonder how a woman of that age comes to be doing chalet hosting. There must be a back story.
Our chalet host had recommended an app called Yuge at the start of the holiday; it's a ski app which will track how far you've skied during the day, average speed, top speed and descent. Sam put it on his phone and tried it the first day. It told him he was 150-something out of 600 users and Sam immediately set a goal to reach the top 10. Halfway through the week, I asked him if he didn't mind skiing all these boring old blues with me. He said he didn't, but it turns out that Yuge gives you points for skiing new runs. He even wanted to ski Gollet once to cross it off and again, so he could do the little black link. One day, he clocked up over 60 miles skiing and on the last day, he wanted to ski the Aguille Rouge from top to Villaroger in order to get a virtual badge. He clocked 87 kph on the run down – much too fast, said I.
Setting sun on Mont Blanc - lovely
On our last day, we went out about 5.30pm for a wander around the village and final drink. The sun was just setting on Mont Blanc and we had a nice view of Monty. What a magnificent sight.
It was a great holiday, nice to spend some time with Sam and I like the runs around Les Arc (there are so many). Arc 1950 is great, our chalet was good and SkiBeat did all they said they would. The transfer was a little long (to Lyon), but worked out OK. We were there for 3.30pm and I got home about the same time. I really like Aer Lingus (the carrier), who did a great job and even fed us a snack and free drink. I think I've got used to EastJet, so a wrap and a coke seemed like the good old days.