After the deep blue skies of successive mornings we were looking forward to an early start on Wednesday, our day off. The sun filtered under the thick dark curtains, already noticeably sooner than a month ago. I drew them back as I took our mugs of tea back to bed whilst we came round, but something wasn’t quite right. The glass of the microwave door wasn’t reflecting the sunshine capped mountains on the opposite side of the valley. Peering out I found that there was a thick haze across the sky. Typical! But the pale blue was sufficient to tempt us even if we did decide to allow the ski school queues to die down before we ventured out at 10am.
A short run down Bel Air to reach the Chapelets chair lift raised our spirits. It was fantastic, not the usual corduroy but some other roughened surface which held our skis true as we flew to the bottom. Every turn and edge caught exactly where intended as we weaved between other slower and probably more careful skiers.
By the time we reached the high ridge between our valley and neighbouring Meribel we could easily discern a layer of pale brown mist. Presumably the pollution of wood fires in this manufacturing industry-free area, but weirdly similar to the ‘smog’ of the West Yorkshire conurbation during a spell of high pressure. This sustained good weather has its draw-backs wherever one is. At least we were heading to the heights of Mont Vallon at nearly 3000 metres and then over to the Val Thorens glacier, higher still. Surely we would be above this mucky air and into the brilliant sunshine which had been enjoyed by everyone in this peak week.
The addition of the British half-term to one of the four French holiday weeks of February means that this is the busiest week of the season. Christmas and New Year weeks are still early in the season to not always have good snow but mid February is virtually guaranteed, hence the price hike. The slopes were certainly busier than usual and we had to queue to get on the lifts which is most galling.
We took an icy red run down into a Meribel crossing, stopping to note a Zeppelin shaped balloon below, of course, being buzzed by three para-gliders. Hot air balloons are quite common and I cannot imagine how cold the riders must be as it is chilly enough on the ground, but the views are presumably amazing. We took a sharp left turn and headed up to the top of the valley towered over by Mont Vallon, our first destination. We jumped into a less than full cabin and joined 4 English ladies who probably shouldn’t have been discussing second hand knowledge of Royal personal protection teams! I don’t think they were trying to impress us but just being rather indiscreet. Presumably friends or partners of the poor PPOs.
We had been down one side of this mountain in December but had yet to venture down the other so grabbed the opportunity to complete both red runs before heading off over the next ridge and into Val Thorens. The lifts were surprisingly but very pleasingly quiet and not just because it was lunchtime. We were treated to relative luxury in the Piglet gondola (actually Piclet). I’d never come across individual seats inside a cabin and did manage to bag one despite the first person in deciding to plonk himself on the seat nearest the door, almost blocking it. This wouldn’t have been so bad if he had positioned himself to make a quick exit at the top but we all had to climb over him again as he got off last! But the seats were wonderful.
A couple of runs down and a different bubble up took us to the ridge over-looking Orelle: the 4th of the 3 Valleys – hmm? It was too late and not tempting enough for us to dip down onto those blue and red runs but at least we’ve seen it, including a surprise zip-line to get from one peak to another. It was somewhat less than zippy as demonstrated by the rider at the time.
By this time we started to head back from the top right corner of the piste map to the bottom-most left sector. A portion of French fries and a drink were beckoning but I wanted to get well down into the middle valley (we’ll ignore that ‘fourth valley’) before we stopped. We would be able to guage the time needed to jump over into Courchevel and catch a bus if we missed those last lifts. However, we had plenty of time and decided to soak up some of the rays outside a little snack bar beside the piste where I wiped myself out earlier in the season, but not this time.