35. Snow mobile outing

Wednesday

Our first prize from the company quiz night at the end of February is an hour ride on a snow-mobile; have I mentioned this? Early March wasn’t very convenient due to visitors, followed by some bad weather then the sunshine arrived but Gareth sustained a nasty injury to his shoulder which we had to let settle. Finally towards the end of March I thought I’d better check how much longer the excursion would be available as the 18,50 resort had started closing down and the buses reduced to a skeleton service, although we still have 3 weeks of guests. They would be closing down in 10 days.

Our fellow team members are both drivers so are rota-ed on until 6.30pm. Consequently their easy-going ‘we can go whenever, just let us know’ was rubbish. We could go ‘whenever’ as we don’t work evenings. I narrowed it down to Thursday or Friday, finally opting for Thursday as Max would cover the last 2 hours of another colleague’s shift on Tuesday so that he would reciprocate, allowing Max to get off early enough on Thursday as 5.30 was the only time available. This information was duly passed to the company owner (CO) who would book us in (and pay).

Wednesday’s forecast for miserable sleety weather was correct, we didn’t venture outside the apartment door all day. At 5.30 we received a message asking why we weren’t stood beside our snow-mobiles.
‘Its tomorrow’ we replied.
‘****!’ came the reply. ‘I’ve booked you on the wrong day. Can you get up there now?’ I looked out at the horizontal wet snow. We would have to catch one of the less frequent buses which meant not getting to the rendez-vous until 6.15, nearly an hour late for a one hour trip. The CO managed to sort something out and not lose his money as predicted (€140!) and booked us for the correct evening, Thursday, when we should have better visibility, fresh snow and a lift in one of the company minibuses.

‘Wait, I thought it was Friday’ came a plaintive text from Gareth 10 minutes later. What? He was the one working late on Friday which is why Max had swapped hours with Gordon (only just back at work following surgery to his shoulder after cavorting in the snow park and almost identical injury to his A/C joint as Gareth) for an early finish on Thursday. Surely Gareth wasn’t serious, he is a chemistry teacher and they aren’t renowned for a sense of humour (which might be why he has given it up to cavort around a snow park on a plank and cause himself more damage than several seasons of rugby ever did.) But it is Wednesday, I thought, staff day off and early evening on a bad snow day so he’s probably been in a bar for several hours and become confused. I didn’t like to imagine what the CO was thinking but suspect that his surrounding air was turning purple, but left that between them. A few minutes later it became evident that Gareth had been on the juice as he admitted that it was a joke. This 6 footer has now been booked onto a kids bike, haha!

Thursday

I opened the curtains to several inches of snow with more floating down. At least it wasn’t the driving sleet of the previous day. Visibility still wasn’t great but although considerably further didn’t tempt us to plan to ski, unless there was a significant improvement. This was just as well as a text message arrived as we were putting boots on. My guests, who are very nice, weren’t going out either so didn’t want their daily clean until after 12. Oookay, so what if we had something planned for the afternoon? This perpetual ‘on-call’ doesn’t really suit us. I suspect that the guests had said not to bother at all but as we had nothing else planned I complied, leaving Roger to go to Mollard as usual.

I had an hour to spare before donning all outdoor gear for our snowmobile excursion. The temperature had dropped, but not massively, the cloud cover containing some warmth. Eight of us were taken up to the altiport, followed by another 5; guests from one of our other chalets so best behaviour. We paired up and set off on our mounts but quickly came across a tricky sideways traverse followed by a short steep lip which our bike declined to navigate. Roger veered off down the hill and circled round, through untouched snow, to join the back of the line, much to people’s surprise. I think some thought we were doing a runner.

We continued onto the freshly groomed pistes of 18,50, after the lifts had stopped, so no skiers in sight. We chased up and down the slopes, from a different perspective to usual, especially when going up pistes. We took a track across to 16,50 and stopped on a ridge as the clouds began to part in the valley below. Swapping drivers we continued into the centre of the 16,50 ski area and then went off piste, or off the groomed piste at least. I had been a little reluctant to take control but had been persuaded by Roger and our sweeper. My main concern had been how cold my right hand was feeling after repeatedly taking my glove off to operate my phone camera. Once on the handle bars I wasn’t able to retract my fingers to resume circulation.

We stopped again after 10-15 minutes for a final swap before heading back across to 18,50, a closing sweep around the pistes surrounding the runway and back to the HQ where a fire and vin chaud awaited us just as snow began falling again. It had been a great prize, for which we are suitably grateful to our fellow team members for helping us to win and to the company for their generosity. They do get some things right.

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