Here we are again, chalet hosting in Alpe d’Huez. When we left at the end of last season we vowed to never again subject our selves to the abuse and exploitation of last year. We hadn’t even bothered to contact the private chalet owners who had been recommended to us. However, on return home, guilt set in at not even telling them that wild horses couldn’t drag us back so I sent a brief email saying thanks but no thanks and here we are! Sara and Tim seem lovely people and genuinely concerned that we are content which will save them much stress and return trips to resolve problems, unlike their first season experience last year. So hopefully we will be able to enjoy this winter even more, because it wasn’t all bad in 2014/15.
We were picked up from the house (good start!) at 6.30am and arrived at the chalet at 9pm with only one little wobble. As we began our ascent of the notorious (in the cycling world) 21 hairpin bends my stomach made quite a lurch and I could feel myself tensing up. This was quite unexpected as I have very few misgivings for this season, mind you, we had very few at the same stage last year and how naive did we transpire to be? The feeling soon abated and despite previously only travelling the hill 4 times in total, once in thick fog and no visibility, places started to look comfortably and excitingly familiar.
En route Sara told us more about the chalet, their company, how they wanted it run, what we were free to do our own way (quite a lot), their business back in the UK and their backgrounds. We seemed to talk almost non-stop until the sun went down somewhere 2 hours north of Lyon. We were unsure of how much space would be available for our luggage and had tried to keep it to a minimum as we knew what would and wouldn’t be useful this time. However with the addition of an acquired pair of ski boots (long story, not illegally appropriated) in a boot bag stuffed to the limit of the zips; 2 pairs of snow boots; 2 helmuts (essential after last year’s experience) and 2 bigs bags, one containing gluten-free bread and pasta, so expensive in resort, and another containing a DVD player and bottles of gin and whisky as well as our ‘hand luggage’, drinks, snacks and reading material for the journey, we weren’t exactly travelling light!
When Sara pulled up in a transit van it looked completely full already; I wasn’t even sure where the 3rd person would sit. Amazingly we did manage to squeeze everything in and there was space on the back seat next to a large bean bag which seemed to melt surreptitiously across the seat and encroach onto the lap of that passenger whenever one’s attention was diverted. At least it was soft. We travelled via the Chunnel, to some relief due to the inclement weather we were leaving behind, but as my first experience of this and with some degree of late onset claustrophobia, I was a bit anxious. We had been told that we were too late to embark on the train we had hoped to catch but with some natty driving round the massive circuit we did manage to hop on in time, one of the final vehicles, and set off without delay, negating any period of increasing tension whilst waiting. We popped up in Calais in what felt like no time at all and set off south again. Sara had planned to drive all the way but Roger did take a stint for a few hours. We only stopped for comfort breaks and were surprised at how relatively quickly and smoothly the journey passed.
We pulled up outside the chalet, we were familiar with its location, and stepped out into the patchy snow. Just unloading our overnight bags we entered our working environment for the next 4 months and were not disappointed, if a little chilly! With the radiators turned on full to blast some heat into the place Sara gave us a tour and then opened a bottle of wine – always a good sign! We would be stopping here for our first night before finding our accommodation the following day.