Summer seems to have arrived, it was 20 degrees yesterday but we still went out to ski. That will possibly have been our last time this season. It is becoming a bit of a laborious trek to get to and from decent snow cover through some very wet mud rather than pristine white coverings which melt in to clear water. We have given Toby back the skis he leant us but still have our original seasonnaire equipment if need be. They weren’t too bad initially but with not having had them serviced all season and then also trying out some super-duper skis it will feel quite a retrograde step to have to use them again.
We have probably seen the last of the ‘inversions’ this season. These are the visually dramatic reversals of the air temperatures where the warmer air becomes trapped below the cold air above resulting in an almost flat top of cloud cover in the valley with the clear sunshine higher up. This white ‘lake’ over Bourg en Oisans can often be seen from the chalet but a couple of weeks ago we were actually at ‘sea’ level as this photo illustrates. It is quite a spectacular phenomenon and often it is possible to watch the ‘tide’ ebb and flow up and down the hillsides.
The weather keeps us on our toes and particularly at this time when we have to hunt around the mountainsides looking for decent snow which is neither too icy from the clear overnight freeze nor too soft from the sun’s rays. Our knowledge of the pistes is a definite advantage when we have to consider the direction the runs face to determine what time they will get sun exposure but also when the nearer to the 90 degree maximum absorption will occur or whether a lower trajectory will preserve the surface for longer. This has to be taken in to consideration along with the altitude and at what level the freezing point will have been over night and then how quickly it will rise in the warmth of the morning sun. When we have calculated all that we have to determine the wind direction and which valleys will be sheltered which leaves us with much more limited options.
The final factor is which types of lifts will be involved; our main aim is to cover as much ground without having to take our skis off if possible. Unfortunately, one of our favourite runs, high with late sunshine and minimal traffic, necessitates using a large gondola, for which we have to remove our skis, which waits until it is full before departing. At this time of the year that can be quite some time as it will hold 160 people (although not if they are wearing the space consuming backpacks which no-one seems to take in to account when they try to turn around in a crowded cabin!). When we disembark at the top there is a walk of about 100yds across the metal grille over the top of a precipice before trudging through the churned up snow for a further 100yds before putting skis on and then using poles to push our way along another 200yds of flat snow. Its not always worth the effort!
We do keep a close eye on the weather forecast as well but it cannot always be relied upon. Some would say that the local sites will always give a more optimistic than accurate outlook but there is a definite inability to predict precisely what will happen in amongst the towering mountains. In this photo the neighbouring resort of Deux Alpes is getting the weather we were supposed to receive whilst we bask in glorious sunshine observing their misfortune.
Yesterday we were quite surprised to see one of the runs closed which we had skied the previous day when it was really nice, instead of the usual ice wall I avoid like the plague. Admittedly, the lower half was extremely bare in places so we were surprised that was still open the previous day but obviously the decision had been taken to close both sections even though there is a mid-station on a lift which was still operational. Roger’s best efforts to sabotage this lift by getting his pole trapped in the door closing mechanism had been thwarted eventually when it was forcibly removed with a lump hammer. The resort doesn’t close until a week on Monday but as it is ‘snow sure’, as there is always skiing on the glacier, we were surprised that the viable runs aren’t being kept open as long as possible.
There are many more ‘peril banners’ in place but as the slopes are getting narrower, the banners themselves are becoming the biggest obstacle as they can occlude over 50% of the width. They indicate areas of…. peril, but it just seems a strange term to use so commonly. We did hear the rather dramatic news today from one of the guests who got it from the BBC news website that a child had fallen through the soft snow here in Alpe d’huez and was dragged along by the river underneath. Fortunately all ended well but perhaps peril is the correct term. These banners, about 6 feet wide and 2 feet tall, usually mark areas of particular steepness or even more so now, thin or no snow cover. However, there wasn’t one to warn Roger as he came over the top of a steep section to find a completely bare patch of exposed grass and rock in the middle of an open piste. His emergency change of direction impaled his ski in to some soft snow and he fell over and downwards on to the ground, unprotected by any soft snow, landing very heavily on his hip as the bruising attests!