Not long now!

Beginning the countdown to going back to Alpe d’Huez.
Loads of packing and goodbyes to finish.
Haven’t been doing nothing over the summer so may tell you about our sailing adventures. Didn’t know I could sail? I couldn’t. Inability didn’t stop me learning to ride either. (Roger can sail, of course)

31 Final Week

We haven’t skied during this final week, it really is not worth the effort to trail all the way to mediocre snow and back again. We have been spoilt with the great skis Toby leant us so would have to make do with poor equipment again and whilst the weather is sunny there are quite high winds at around 50km/hour which is less than pleasant. But we are pleased that we have made some more progress this year as we didn’t really expect to. Also we have skied a few new runs including the steepest I’ve ever done. It has helped my confidence considerably even though I only did it once. I think that there is something about going faster and/or steeper than one has ever gone before and then taking a metaphorical step back by about 10% in speed or gradient and suddenly that doesn’t seem so scary or intimidating. I suppose this is all about pushing boundaries, which we had thought we would no longer be doing but apparently this isn’t the case.

The hillsides are turning a verdant green. The piste past the chalet looks more like a tortuous golf fairway than a ski run. The degree of brightness resembles a scale of intensity as it graduates from brilliance down in the valley bottom to the green mixed with some brown at the town level and minimal green but plenty of brown higher up, dappled with the white spots of crocus heads. Even the daffodils have started to bloom, although I notice that they are nearly all of the dwarf variety. Presumably these high winds are quite usual at this time of year. On the exposed rocks on the glacier we noticed some almost luminous purple flowers erupting from the crevices. People who stay here all year have all commented on how beautiful the scenery becomes as the fauna blossoms. We must come back to see this spectacular contra-season sometime, we have some open invitations.

Everywhere seems to be closing down. Even those place which are open in the summer as well tend to close for a period to recoup after often working 7 days a week over winter. Underground had its closing party on Monday night. We went there on Sunday evening, just to have a final chat with everyone as Monday was always going to be manic and finally rolled back at about 12.30, after several complementary shots, so didn’t make it the following night. We were sorry to miss the last chance to hear the music but not so upset at missing the inevitable hangover.

We went to a new restaurant to us on Tuesday evening, our ‘Friday’ night, with cash from our hard-earned tip the previous week. Several groups of guests had been to Edelweiss in our first season as it was closest to that chalet, so on the basis of their reviews we had booked some groups in there this year and thought we’d better try it out for ourselves and it didn’t disappoint. We had tried to book last week’s guests in there but they had taken too long to make a decision and they were fully booked. We managed to get them a table at Genepi, the Fawlty Towers of the resort. We did warn them of this but they still chose to go there. I think their experience will be a dinner table conversation for many years to come.

Sara and Tim invited us to join their family group from the chalet at O bar for our Wednesday night off meal so that was very pleasant, particularly after our ordeal at the end of the walk (see previous post). We also had to pop back in on Friday as they are closing but also to say goodbye to Vicky, the owner who had taken such good care of us in our first 2 seasons but has been away from the bar this year as she had twins in January. She is now back doing 3-4 two hour shifts to keep her hand in, or perhaps just to have some adult sanity time. She is covering the early doors 4-6pm so at least doesn’t have to deal with the drunks sounding even less intelligible than her 3month olds!

We leave the resort at dawn on Sunday for the drive straight back to Yorkshire. We are probably coming back next year, even with a vehicle. How that turns out remains to be seen. Reality will no doubt be somewhere in between Tim’s blasé optimism and our doom-laden pessimism, but time will tell. Meanwhile, the sea beckons and we will be off to get some sailing, skipper/crew qualifications this summer hopefully.

30 Last Day Off (and photo gallery)

Whilst the sun still shines brightly the temperature has dropped considerably, aided and abetted by a startlingly cold wind. However, wrapped up nice and cosily (we do have the gear) we decided to go for a walk to an area we had only passed over in a chairlift. Preceding this we thought we’d better stoke the furnace of our bodies and enjoyed the last of our treasured bacon with a full cooked breakfast.

The bus dropped us off at Bergers and we wound our way past the ‘compact golf’ and around the end of the runway – not so much traffic on that now. We emerged along the top of the Sarenne Gorge and came upon the gun club which we didn’t even know existed. If not for a scattering of fractured clay pigeons we wouldn’t have realised that was what the area was. Further on we found the archaeological site which we knew existed but is hidden from the chair lift by a large rocky outcrop. Some elementary translating of the information board gave us a little detail but not enough to entice us to linger, particularly not in that biting wind. We found a more interesting artefact further on, a little wooden hut. To all intents and purposes it looked like an old shed but Roger noticed the faded and discoloured sign on the side indicating that you should put both poles in one hand. It must have been the bottom of a lift, long since abandoned, but we still can’t work out how one would have reached the bottom of it in the first place.

The track wound along the hillside, steep precipices above and a deep chasm below where the ski run winds along side the river. We could see clearly over to the Signal de l’homme ski area, looking very sad in its nakedness. The previously white runs were just swathes of brown cutting down the hillside although I do suspect that they will return to green before too long. Despite the sun the little streams were still iced up but a very strange phenomenon presented itself. A wall of water had frozen across the face of a flat rock but was beginning to melt behind the ice. This melt-water was descending against the rock face with many dark air pockets in their journey. The effect was hundreds of black slug-like aliens running down the rock behind a thin veneer of ice (I did record it but can’t load it here) We did check at the bottom that it was just water and not some invasion which proved to be the former but weird.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Huez village in the gap at the end of the gorge


We had wanted to read the noticeboards we attained at the end of the main path but without a stepladder were unable to see them! Presumably they are only required in deep snow conditions.  The walk had been intended to be just out and back along the top of the gorge. Whilst stopping at our furthermost point to absorb the view and have a snack we decided to descend to the now uncovered ski run and walk along the bottom all the way to the village of Huez from where we could return by gondola. This took us along a familiar route, albeit usually white, until we passed under the chair lift and entered uncharted territory for us. The river was in full flow from melt water, tumbling over rocks and tree trunks. We came across a number of ruins, evidencing a previously industriousness, possibly water mills where flour or such like would have been ground by the huge round stones. A picturesque triple arched bridge marked our departure from the river side as it continued its cascade further down the valley but we stayed on the level to arrive in Huez at Bend 6 of the legendary 21 bends of the Tour de France.

We made our way up and across the narrow (too narrow for a vehicle) paths between the higgledy-piggledy buildings clinging on to the steep hillside and eventually emerged at the gondola station. It was very quiet, far too quiet, not even the sound of the motor. It was closed. The next bus back up would not be for another hour and a half and there was nothing open, no cafés or bars, only the toilets! We could just sit on a wall in the sunshine, it was much more sheltered down there. We had noticed little pieces in the air, I thought they were seeds, Roger determined that it was ash and we could smell wood burning. You might have thought that after three winter seasons in the Alps we would recognise snow when it hit us but apparently not. The sun disappeared behind an ominous great mass of cloud and mist from the descending snow.

Our options were somewhat limited. Wait for a long time in the snow or toilets for a bus or walk, either up the steep ski run or the lesser gradient but longer distance of the road. None appealed but we had to decide and chose to walk up the piste, a mere 250metre ascent in a fairly short distance. We can ski down it in about 2 minutes but it took considerably longer to walk up, extended by having to lie down at one point to stop my heart from exploding through my chest. Eventually we started the climb of the 3 flights of stairs to our apartment to collapse on the bed exhausted and nearly an hour later than we had planned. A lovely walk ruined by a closed lift. We’ve yet to find out why it was closed, the run hasn’t been open for nearly 3 weeks and the gondola was running the previous day, why?!

29 Penultimate Guests

Last week’s guests proved an ‘interesting’ bunch in more ways than one. They comprised the same family structure as both our worst (Christmas week) and messiest groups at Breche, the chalet in our first season. Three generations with an age range of 3 – 76, with 4 of the children under 10 and 2 teenagers, or so we thought!

The advance party arrived, 2 daughters and some children. They were pleasant enough but whilst waiting for the second group to arrive one of the Mums/daughters/wives asked about a separate high tea for the children. We explained that we didn’t provide that and it isn’t in the details of the website. She countered stating that she assumed we would do so because the details didn’t say that we didn’t! I don’t think that would hold much credibility in a small claims court. We had a hunch that this would be requested and had considered that we would deliver it as we had had such a quiet period. I tried to make a point of the fact that we would do it as a favour (which it is) but I think it may have missed the mark.

We have often modified some of the dishes to make them more child friendly i.e. leaving out chilli etc but not actually had 2 sittings before. There was some discussion about what time they would like the children to eat but when that conversation extended to them considering whether they thought that the adults might like to eat later we intervened and said that we would provide high tea at 5.30 and the evening meal at the usual 7pm. We were prepared to come in early for the kids, as we could get on with preparing the adult meal, but we weren’t going to stay late as well, not for anyone!  

It was almost a waste of time though. Despite the whole idea being so that the children would be able to go to bed early, they were still up when we left after the adults’ meal. The son/Dad chose 6.58pm to start reading a bedtime story one night and on the evening following, when the kids were still running around at 7pm, the parents decided that they would put them to bed between courses. Wouldn’t that just make the end of the meal as late (for us) as if we had just served it later? We found that one of us could manage the kids meal and preparation by going in earlier and the other would arrive at the usual time. However, on the first occasion when I arrived, after Roger had started their high tea, they were yet to have dessert because they, parents and children, decided to have games between main course and pudding. Apart from prolonging this meal at the expense of the later one, it also delayed the clearing up. This was a major undertaking because the table and floor looked like the ground at the end of the day after a town market – food strewn everywhere and then walked on!

The following day I went in early, all ready to take issue with this sort of behaviour, to find no-one there at all. Great, I’d come in especially early to deliver a high tea early as requested and they weren’t there. I decided to proceed and would serve up, even if there was no-one around, just to make the point. The Mum ‘B’ who had requested the high tea initially came in and informed me that the younger ones were at the swimming pool. She didn’t mention whether they would be delayed or not so I continued and, to give them their due, they did turn up 10 minutes before dishing up.

Whilst the children were eating I was informed of their drama earlier in the day when the 5 year old boy got a splinter in his finger, fortunately at the playground, not the chalet. Mum and Dad, a GP and an orthopaedic surgeon, had tried to extract it, much to son’s dismay and distress. They abandoned the procedure at the playground when other children’s parents started enquiring what was happening to this screaming child who was being forcibly restrained by said adults on a bench at the side. However, the minor surgery resumed after high tea and I am still surprised that none of the neighbours called round to check there was no child abuse under-way as he can certainly scream! I had wondered why there was a little bowl of now thawed frozen peas on the table but they had been used earlier in the day, in place of ice that we don’t have (see below re ice saga!) to desensitize the finger. Time was creeping on and the splinter remained in place, mainly because child wouldn’t let parents near the affected finger without challenging the decibel levels. They decided to use ‘ice’ again. I assumed that would be more of our peas but when they didn’t come back in from the boot room, where the freezer is located, I found them using a pack of bacon. Not just any bacon, there is no such thing out here, it is unavailable hence why James and Ben had kindly brought out our most-missed-item in January. We had been very careful with our consumption and were down to our final 2×6 rasher packs for our last 2 days off. One was now being used for ‘therapeutic’ purposes when there was a freezer full of alternatives. This was probably the most precious item in there!

With the stubborn splinter still in situ Dad decided this would be the time to go to the pharmacy for some local anaesthetic cream so he set off at 7pm! We stood around waiting for him to go up to the town and return. The broccoli and carrots were cooked and ready, along with the rest of the meal, for serving time at 7 o’clock. He returned over 20 minutes later and suggested a game with said son, we countered with serving the starter! Instead Mum, who had been there all along, agreed to play a card game with him at the table during her meal! The incident had occurred around the middle of the day and they’d been swimming and in the hot tub since as well as having his own tea but suddenly it was a medical emergency – not! I was ready again the following night that if there were any more 7pm activities, other than sitting down for the meal, anyone not there would have theirs plated up. Of course, there wasn’t a repeat of the same instances, just other different ones.

This son nearly did require some emergency medical attention the following evening when I was talking to Roger in the open-plan kitchen mid vegetable chopping and perhaps gesticulating quite vigorously. Boy had come up behind me to show me his splinter but I was unaware of his presence and waved my extremely sharp vegetable knife in the direction of space that was occupied by his head. Fortunately no contact was made and it was only the speechless expression on Roger’s face that gave me any indication of the impending but narrowly missed decapitation. Then there would have been something to really scream about!

B had asked about ice on the first evening. She likes it in her white wine. When the outside temperature is low we have some spectacular icicles outside the door to the hot tub and guests seem delighted to use them. The chalet is let self-catering in the summer so there is an ice tray for their use. However, there is this interim period when ice is desired but there are no external stalactites, particularly now it is so warm. Guests have used the ice tray before but due to food hygiene principles we do not encourage them to go in to the freezer (or fridge apart from for milk haha!) and we aren’t going to interrupt our work to run back and forth getting ice cubes for their gin and tonics, although perhaps we would be offered a few more if we did but I doubt it. They also have a habit of being less than careful when using the ice tray (its not their freezer!) so water gets spilt all over the food and then freezes, strangely, leaving us with a solid mass to deal with. The previous guests wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer and had filled a Tupperware container with water which they had to smash to extract  the. Not content with destroying one container, they then filled 3 more which, fortunately for us, they didn’t even use. We use them to transport our evening meals from the chalet to the flat for reheating. What is wrong with these supposedly intelligent people when they are on holiday?

Anyway, to continue with last week, when the first 2 groups of this party had arrived they started talking about the baby, the new niece they had not yet met. We knew that the youngest was three years old and had already decided that they wouldn’t need a cot. This was buried at the back of the long narrow low cupboard in the eaves off the upstairs bedroom, along with the Christmas tree and decorations. As we were not going to need it I had crawled in to return all the linen and towel bags as well, these would not be required this week, and crawled back out in reverse as there is no space to turn around. Ensuing conversation revealed that there was, in addition to the 14 adults and children on the booking form, a 3 week old baby on her way with the final group.

The people in this upstairs room, the grandparents, had yet to unpack so I decided it would be expedient to retrieve the cot before they blocked the doorway. However, this was going to be a horrendous task as I’d have to remove all the laundry bags first and despite managing finally to yank the cot out I was unable to locate the bedding so just used a big sheet folded up. They were grateful for the cot but after the first night it was collapsed in the corner of the largest room which they were allocated as there is space for the cot normally, but there is nothing normal about this family (see photo!)

We do not provide snacks or lunch, the chalet is a half board basis. That was not a problem, they were going to make sandwiches and had bought everything they needed, including butter which most sandwich making guests forget so use ours (each day for 14 people!) They did request that I bought more bread for them every morning for which they would pay. I have done this for previous guests and it is not a problem. However, once the sandwiches were made we were asked for sandwich bags or cling-film! I said that we didn’t have any spare, we don’t, we are trying to run stocks down and do use both a lot, but did manage to produce a half used roll of tin foil for which they were barely grateful. Butter would have been cheaper.

The morning after our day off, the son/Dad/brother started rooting around in the fridge. What for we asked? ‘Some of that cream cheese I had yesterday’. What? The cream cheese we need for the cheesecake? Not your cheesecake of course, you’ve already had yours, but we had ordered sufficient for both weeks. In unison, Roger and I said that he couldn’t have any and we were even echoed by his sister B (she had worked as a rep in the ski resort of Chamonix some years previously so knew how the system worked. On learning of her experience we had hoped she would be a little sympathetic to our position but no, she had moved over to the dark side. She was aware that you just keep asking for more and more until the hosts are put in the position of having to say ‘no’ to guests which is undesirable, especially if a tip is a possibility – or not). He beat a rather rapid retreat.

They are not unpleasant people, there is just a little edge sometimes, particularly with B. I think she feels she needs to keep us on our toes. A comment was made, fortunately retrospectively, when the adults came back in the afternoon to find very little chocolate brownie left for afternoon tea. ‘They’ felt that I must have made insufficient; I aim for 2 pieces per person. One of the older children did confess to having 4-5 pieces, followed by another one admitting a similar consumption, which probably means 5-6 at least. I should be flattered but I think I narrowly missed an overt criticism. I did manage to retaliate one breakfast when there was a loud comment to one of the children from parent B that she would just have to make do with orange juice as there didn’t seem to be any apple juice on the table that morning. The jug was there, just on the other side of the table, as I pointed out. Oh how these little victories keep us going.

Not only are they untidy there are some rather disgusting habits which go unchecked. It does make one wonder if this is how they live at home or whether they have relaxed because they are on holiday and don’t want to nag the kids or perhaps they consider us to be their skivvies? There seemed to be a total inability to use a toilet brush, despite someone having a rather upset stomach, but as they were all using each other’s toilets we don’t know who the culprit was but did know that they didn’t confine themselves to one toilet!!!!!

Even if a parent admonishes a child because it is bad manners to spit food out on to the floor, one might have thought that said parent would at least pick it up, but no! This parent, the nicest of them all, chose to illustrate how unpleasant this particular action was by chewing a piece of bread herself, which she then proceeded to spit out in to the hand of her son to show him how horrible it was and then left the yucky soggy lump on to her plate for us to clear up! One of the pitfalls of an open plan kitchen is to see all of these antics I suppose?!

We did see the warning signals on our first morning with them when we arrived at the chalet at 7.15AM just as the Dad and small boys were heading off in to the hot tub. There seems to have much fewer returns through the door than exits from the same and we suspect that they are climbing back in through the bedroom windows. However, they aren’t the first to do that. We turn a blind eye so that if there are any accidents we can feign horror at their antics.

We were sinking under a mass of clutter, there wasn’t even anywhere to tidy their belongings to after a couple of days when we needed to lay the table or clear the coffee table for breakfast cereals. Every surface had been covered and strawberry jam had even managed to get smeared along the side of the upper staircase at my arm’s stretch. We were dreading what state we were going to find the place in after our day off but it wasn’t too bad. One of the husbands/Dads seemed to have reached the end of his tether with the mess and had started doing quite a lot of the tidying up. He was a nice bloke, a retired ballet dancer from Kentucky, having performed with Rambert in the UK prior to contracting as a systems engineer to the government gateway website.

Individually the adults were all ok and an interesting bunch. Granddad went out skiing every day and had been doing ski-touring for over 40 years. His partner/wife was about 20 years younger but still went with him. Presumably she came to the activity late as she was from the Philippines and was delightful. The doctor couple had lived on a 33 foot boat for 3 years when they first moved to Plymouth and had sailed it cross the Atlantic and around the Caribbean. We have an open invitation to go and visit. The other daughter had been a ‘jillaroo’ in Australia, (cowgirl) not dissimilar to what we had been doing but had to select an unbroken horse each day to use and train on the job.

They had no complaints about the lack of snow as the were such experienced skiers they knew it was too late in the season to expect much but were delighted when they discovered some unused gully off the piste map area. One day they decided not to ski in the afternoon when the snow was too slushy so went down the valley to find a rock-face to climb. They’d brought all their own equipment and gave us detailed directions in case we wanted to go! Golf was one of the few activities they all admitted to never having tried, couldn’t see the point. We’d have to admit that our abiding memory of them will be as a good group but hard work because they left us a very decent tip, particularly as families tend to leave less per head. It is sad to admit that this final gesture, or absence of, determines how we remember people.

Roger did unwittingly make one retaliatory gesture. A tooth came out on one of the lifts and was carefully kept in order to leave for the tooth fairy who does come to France. However, there was a bit of a commotion one morning when the tooth couldn’t be found in the lounge. I thought the tooth fairy had been to collect it but apparently she had been asked and complied to leave the tooth as well as the €2 coin. These had been placed on a book on the floor which, not surprisingly, had been hoovered as everywhere needed that every day. Roger hadn’t seen a tooth though did recollect a book and coin on the floor. Evidently, the tooth must have gone in to the bag and I’m not sure if child expected us to check through the bag but she wasn’t too distressed until she located half a tooth under the sofa. This seemed to have been the final straw as she started to bawl her eyes out (personally I thought she’d be pleased that she at least had some of it, but no). The guess was that  some ski boots had been dropped down on top of the tooth which broke and half was hoovered up. I seemed to be the only one questioning what the hell ski boots were doing in the lounge! Neither of us couldn’t bring ourselves to be too sympathetic and certainly not apologising for hoovering up a tooth which had been placed in the floor, particularly when we usually only need to sweep round during the week and only hoover at weekends. For myself, this slight feeling of annoyance extended to a total lack of participation in the rendition of the happy birthday song to a b****y cuddly toy!

28 Searching for Snow

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!

27. Sandals on!

Despite some pathetic little flurries the snow has gone for the season, apart from the glacier. We do remember a late big fall last year but that isn’t going to happen any time soon, it is far too hot. The showers we have had have melted almost as soon as they’ve touched the ground or even before that and landed as rain, melting the snow yet further.

As we face north in the apartment we have ventured up the hill to a bench in the sun overlooking the lower end of the resort and valley down to Bourg. Roger donned his shorts and we both dug out our sandals to go up the ascent, after-all it had been sunny for some days. What we didn’t take in to account was how wet the ground was as the melt-waters seeped down the slopes if they decided to avoid the streams! We had to cross this muddy quagmire, not enjoying the sensation of purée squelching over the soles and in between our toes. The orange hue didn’t make it any more appealing!    

After a very steep climb and negotiating the gunk we found someone daring to sit on our target bench. We could see it out of our window. Fortunately, there was another one, without occupants, a bit further round. We had to overtake a group of people walking the same path, in case they had the temerity to chose to rest on our allotted seat. Our haste prevented us from really appreciating all the beautiful crocuses which had braved the elements and weight to open up along this path. We had seen these at this time since our first season and wondered where the leaves were, there are none in evidence. Also they seem to predominantly be a very pale lilac with only the occasional purple, never the bright yellow or rich creamy tones of home. All the same, they make a lovely carpet.

At the bench we removed our caked sandals and tried to get the worst of the mud off both them and our feet, leaving them to dry in the sun. We had a superb view from a slightly different angle to usual and enjoyed a disturbed period of book reading. This footpath was like a busy motorway. Everyone seemed to have concurred with us and abandoned the slopes for a lovely walk and all say ‘bonjour’. I don’t know if it is because we have several terms of greeting but the French here seem to always say ‘bonjour’ whenever they come across anyone. Only some of the children will occasionally try not meet your eye and pass without comment. Fellow customers in shops and supermarkets will greet total strangers without hesitation. People getting on the bus or in to the cable car say a token good-day. When did we Brits lose this friendliness?

Our apartment at the back of the white block on the right

Roger noticed that our original destination bench had been vacated and as we were finding that the current one tipped forward slightly we high-tailed it back to our initial target. We settled down to another lovely vista only to find that this one tilted sideways. Still, it was beautiful just to be out in the fresh air and sunshine and we settled down again to read some more with less interruptions. Once the rays started to feel like they were burning somewhat we clambered back down the hill to the flat for a siesta before going back in to work for the early start to the evening session. This week’s guests comprise a father and his partner, his 3 children with their spouses, 4 under 10s, 2 teenagers and a 3 week old baby. We knew nothing about the latter but she is the quietest of the whole bunch.  

We don’t provide a separate high tea for kids at an earlier time but the first mother stated that she assumed we did as the details didn’t say we didn’t! Not sure that there is much validity to that argument but as we had had a light 3 weeks we did agree to do so but drew the line at making the adults’ meal later. We weren’t prepared to have our working hours stretched at both ends particularly as we would have to walk back up the hill at the end of the evening as the bus is on a skeleton timetable and the night service no longer runs. This doesn’t seem very sensible for the 2 weeks of the Easter holiday but then we know that this bus service isn’t really here for passengers.

Left of the strip of snow on the hill is where we would have skied back to the flat

Ski shop Toby, who leant Roger his fancy skis, offered a pair for me to try. These are the ones his Mother uses when she comes out. Yes, we are akin to most of our friends and colleagues parents. I had been struggling with, what I thought were, my boots from the beginning of the season. Whilst I had managed to improve a little more on last year it had felt hard work. We headed up the lifts with these new skis and I inadvertently suggested we go directly to the top of the glacier. Roger suggested that I might like to try these skis out before going straight on to a black run, particularly as the previous time I felt (and looked) like a beginner for some reason. We stopped off at the second of 3 stages and popped down a red run. The skis were fantastic, even to the extent that I thought something had happened to Roger when I had to wait some time for him at the bottom only to find that he hadn’t fallen, the usual reason when he isn’t right behind me, but he been able to keep up! I have wheedled a couple more sessions with them out of Toby, we have paid in advance with excess baking and puddings.

26 Powder Hounds

Beautiful fresh snow from Saturday night’s storm and glorious sunshine hauled us out last Sunday morning. We nearly impressed ourselves by being just 15 minutes late for the first lift, or so we thought. Guess who missed the clock change? So we were only an hour and 15 minutes late for the first lift (and consequently untravelled snow), less than hour ahead of our usual time if we are rushing after breakfast service! At least the resort has quietened down considerably so there hadn’t been as much traffic on the pistes although it was with some surprise, on our first run, that we noticed the extent of the tracks. The clock at the bottom of the first main lift gave us the  indication of our lapse.

We decided (when we were still on ‘winter’time) that we would give Sarenne, the longest black run in Europe at 17km (not!), a go as we would be early, before it got too chewed up. The sun rises on it so it does soften first but obviously we were an hour later than we thought – having decided to make the long trek up there anyway – so it was pretty messy. My contempt for its grading is because it is only black for the first 4-500 metres, then reddish, in places and allegedly you can’t get off it therefore the whole run has to be designated as black, but you can at 2 points reasonably high up and there certainly isn’t any black sections after that. The bottom 4km is an easy green, almost flat. However, on this particular day, the top was in a horrible state when it is inadvisable to have one ski on the icy section between mounds of soft snow, where the surface has been scraped off and the other penetrating one of the aforementioned mounds!  It did not end well or at least, neither elegant nor cool! but no serious damage. Only 16.5km to go! There was so much soft slushy snow all over the piste that it was quite a laborious descent, not something which is compatible with my lazy technique.

By the time we reached the bottom of the next lift my legs were exhausted and my quads were burning. I was immensely grateful for the slow ascent on the decrepit old chair, about which most people complain, but the rest with the warmth of the sun on our backs was very welcome. Our next descent should have been a quick and easy zoom but this hadn’t been pisted either and we could barely discern where the piste was actually meant to be. Fortunately we are quite familiar with this area so knew that there were no significant hazards lurking under the white blanket so enjoyed a bit of fresh powder hounding. Until I failed to manage to turn my skis and ended up heading straight down the hill with no means of slowing nor stopping apart from the one I had to utilise, sitting down! That part is easy, it is  trying get up again when there is nothing to push against that poses all the problems. My ski poles disappeared almost up to the handles when I tried to make use of their leverage. Again, most inelegantly, I turned on to my feet and hands, backside in the air, and finally managed to get up and proceed, shedding clumps of snow from every crevice along the way.

As the sun was obviously having a significantly detrimental effect on the snow we headed for a north facing slope; one we usually avoid as it tends to be sheet ice. One side had been pisted but the other had been left to play in. We chose the ‘playground’ and had great fun making our way down, even if we did have to have frequent comfort breaks, literally, for the comfort of our weary legs. The snow here was beautiful and the sun was just edging over the top of the hill to deliver us decent visibility and contrast as well as some lovely heat even though we were generating plenty of our own!  We would have loved to do the run again but agreed that the legs weren’t up to a repeat performance without the risk of injury so took a side route  which had been groomed and was much easier until we met the red cut through we had intended to take. It had been neither pisted nor travelled much. It was beautiful, so much so that we had to do it again (it was shorter than the previous one).

Yes that is Roger

Roger couldn’t resist the urge to go off to the side of the unpisted piste in the real off-piste, I declined to follow and became photographer. He managed really well, helped by Toby’s fancy skis which a friend had leant him for the end of season soft snow. Once filming was completed I opted to do the previous run again with a bit more confidence and hopefully panache. It was doing quite well until a block of ice jammed under one ski and over I went again!

By this time we decided to head back to the main resort as the legs were objecting strongly. Roger wanted to do another run from the top of the main lift (his special skis meant he wasn’t having to work as hard as me) but I reneged and went directly to Le Spot via a face plant! fortunately in powder but not cool as it was just off a green/beginners slope. The piste was actually closed but looked to have a covering of lovely snow, short and not steep but crossing a busy green run at the bottom, where I was looking to ensure there were no collisions. I still don’t know how it happened but with crooked goggles and snow behind your sun glasses, vision can be problematical! All in all a fabulous few hours on super soft snow, which doesn’t hurt when you fall, but is super tiring to move in with glorious sunshine and finished off by chips and coke reclined in a deck chair at Le Spot. None too shabby.

25 Week off

We had no guests last week. Not a situation we actually relish, providing us with much time on our hands but minimal income with which to fill said time. So just kicking our heels, trapped in resort (yes there are much worse places) during a prolonged spell of poor weather, not even fresh snow, just overcast and even rain at one point which rid us of the the little snow remaining at this level.

So, how to fill the time. Well for the first time in 2 years I made some of the banana bread and choc chip cookies which are on the menu for afternoon tea every week, but this time, with gluten-free flour. I must commend myself, they were rather delicious so didn’t last long. I made a bit too much cookie dough; half of the amount made 14 rather large cookies so the rest is in the fridge. Whether it will be serviceable remains to be seen, probably tomorrow.

The vegetables that were still in stock would go off before needed so I made the vegetable soup (any left-over stuff that needs using up, but don’t tell the guests!) and broccoli soup (yellowing doesn’t show!) so both are now in the freezer. They are home-made from fresh produce, just wont have been freshly made on the day.

We decided that it was about time we visited a local landmark after 3 years, the church: Notre Dame des Neiges Church, with 13 stained glass windows. This church is renowned for its architecture, made to look tent-like which also assists in preventing too much build up of snow on the roof and also  the stained glass windows and organ as great works of art. It is just up the hill from Undies so we have walked past it innumerable times but never really made the effort to go in. It didn’t disappoint but once seen, I can’t really see us going back again, not even for the Thursday evening organ recitals. We heard the practice whilst we were viewing the window art so that’s our dose.

We hunkered down on Saturday afternoon as the weather closed in and we were blasted by horizontal snow as the light faded. No hot tub session in these conditions! In fact we had to batten down the lid and shutters and were just getting a hot meal ready when we lost power as well. This could have been rather unpleasant as that took our heating (other than a gas hob) and light apart from 2 weak torches. Fortunately Roger found the culprit fuse (not the usual one) and normal living could be resumed after a fairly short interlude.

Sat morning

Sat pm

Sun am

 

 

 

 

 

We had made a rather long and ever increasing list of jobs we could do in this period to reduce the amount of work required to close down in the day and half we will have to do it this year. We were starting to tick off the tasks when we received an email from the owners stating that they would be implementing a vehicle next season for taxiing departing and arriving guests on departure days as well as ferrying them up to the slopes in the mornings and offering a lift in to town in the evenings when we finish dinner service. This had been mentioned previously and we had said that we would do it for either extra pay or someone to do the cleaning on changeover day so that our 40-45 hours work a week would just be redistributed rather than increased. We are not prepared to add ‘driver’ to our list of jobs and responsibilities without suitable recompense as this is potentially significantly time consuming as well as complex (driving people around in very adverse conditions) and physically demanding (putting on and taking off snow-chains and digging out the vehicle with monotonous regularity). However, ‘nothing’ additional is being offered so this could be the parting of the ways and our motivation to do those extra jobs has diminished somewhat!!

24. Summer Weather

We had some glorious weather last week, it even tempted us out on to the slopes 3 times. On our ‘rest’ day in between skiing, we even walked to one of the beautiful mountain restaurants. The resort has quietened down considerably, awaiting the final surge of the Easter break. The only real problem is that the temperatures were far too high, even in the shade. I don’t think any of the nights dipped below zero degrees and during the day, in the sun, it must have been hitting the 20s. This resulted in some significant slush at lower levels by early afternoon so our midday skiing programme worked quite well. The only drawback was that we tended to go over the back of the resort to ski, where the sun reaches the slopes later, but does mean that we have a bit of a trek coming back home via the south facing pistes. These had been basking in sunshine since 9am and were distinctly churned up, consequently, pretty hard work on the old legs! But we’re not complaining. Just those 2-3 hours is about the right length of time for us, particularly if carried out 2-3 times a week. Translate that in to time spent running or cycling and we are exercising quite hard, oh, and its at altitude!

Our walk was not too strenuous. We did use the ski lift for the first section but the walk of about 1km was undulating with soft snow underfoot making the going fairly arduous despite the limited distance. We had tried to book but only got a French answering machine. My spoken French isn’t too bad however, my comprehension is pretty dire and over the phone it is almost non-existent. As the place was quieter we decided to take the risk and just turn up. It appeared that everyone else had booked as it was full on the terrace when we arrived. Despite the cooking over the open wood-fired oven inside, we didn’t want to sit at one of those many vacant tables. Our only option was to have a drink in one of the deckchairs on the snow outside the terrace and wait.

We chose a pair which faced the terrace so we could monitor what was going on, feeling reasonably sure that we were going to be forgotten as no name had been taken and no suggestion of how long we would have to wait was forthcoming. We had our backs to the sun which was no actual hardship for a while. Our faces and those of our colleagues, even the guests last week, are suddenly becoming very tanned, goggle and sunglass lines dominating those of seasonnaires. We were just considering an optimistic second drink or resigned departure when the young waitress stood at the top of the steps shouting for the ‘2 Eeenglish’. Yes, we were the only non-French people there.

We enjoyed delectable mixed grills, Roger’s with dauphinoise and mine with chips. Well, Roger did. I just got a portion of chips! Something certainly got lost in the translation of ‘deux’ and ‘pour deux’ i.e. to share. Once the confusion was cleared up I received mine, with dauphinoise as well, from the waitress who had remembered us for the table so we didn’t mind. The protraction just meant that we had to spend longer there and have another carafe of wine, hey-ho!

The return walk did seem longer but that was probably due to the snow being even softer under foot (nothing to do with the wine!) and had taken on the beautiful pearlescent sheen we remembered from the spring melt last year. Fortunately this was our day off so we didn’t have to drag ourselves back to the chalet for evening service.

Roger

Roger

Roger!

 

 

Our next skiing excursion took us back over to the new favourite black run as it is not icy in these conditions. Being on a north facing slope it was a skating rink from top to bottom the first time we tried it but now it is super and very quiet over lunchtime.

Moi!

It had the misfortune to end at a really slow cronky old gondola which has to be taken across the valley to meet up with the main cabin back up to this back side of the resort. After having skied this 5km run without stopping it can be rather nice to have a bit of break in the lifts, unfortunately these two are standing only but you can’t have everything. These lifts carry us over the trees between which the snow is melting rapidly, exposing huge clumps of primroses and tasty fresh green shoots. The latter proving very tempting to the chamois, of which we have now seen quite a few. These seem to be a cross between a mountain goat and sheep but is actually part of the antelope genus. We have yet to see any marmottes this year, having only seen them at the end of our first season (similar to ground-hogs) and are local celebrities with a major lift system named after it and is used as an emblem for everything.

23. One bad day

On the first evening with this group, a three and 2 singles, we were informed of the 3’s previous experience of catered chalets, a luxury lodge in the very expensive resort and lair of Russian oligarchs, of Courcheval. We jokingly made a comment about the cost of holidaying there to be told that they hadn’t paid. They had been treated by a friend with whom they normally went on regular ski holidays. However, she had had the ‘good’ fortune to have written a recent best seller ‘Girl on a Train’ and, being her usual ski partners, she took the group to this super-duper place. They struggled to adapt to the extreme the level of service and ended up chatting with the staff, who were quite numerous. They heard tales of the upper level of the inside of the lodge being turfed so that the children could be given some puppies to play with whilst in resort, I kid not. Another ‘job’ was to sit and watch TV for several hours with one guest where the role was to use the remote control to change the channels! I did reassure them that there was no risk of their receiving that level of service with us! Start as we mean to go on!

As there were only 5 guests we did feel that it wouldn’t require both of us to be there all the time and no, we weren’t going to offer a Courcheval standard of service. We had both gone in each morning the previous week as there had been 7 guests but also the afternoon tea has to be baked in the morning and is a bit time consuming. At the start of that week there were only 3 booked in for this, although the other 2 did materialise during the following few days. So with a bit of foresight, I baked a full quantity (14) of each of the cakes last week and kept half for this week, so no baking was required, enabling one person to do breakfast, clean, prep the evening meal and deal with the hot tub.

I was delivering Sunday’s service and should have realised that it wasn’t going to go well from the outset. Whilst negotiating the descent of the ice cliff at 7am with the bag of bread, my left leg disappeared in to the softish snow to above my knee. Due to the steep angle I was thrown forward, my right leg crossing over in front of my truncated left lower limb. I put my hands out to prevent a face-plant in the dirty snow which had been cleared off the roads prior to dumping it at this spot on the path (have I mentioned that previously?!) and landed in a well-developed wild rose bush. With hands bloodied and muddied, I had to try and push my upper body back up the slope in order to exhume my buried leg. The bread bag was long abandoned and making its slippery way independently, and more successfully than I, down the dirty icy precipice. I was relieved that my morning audience from last year has abandoned his early morning cig so I think that there were no witnesses to my demise. Actually, I think he may have shuffled off this mortal coil as his chest sounded considerably worse at the start of this season compared to the end of last, which was bad enough, and he hasn’t appeared on the balcony since December. That’s what comes from expectorating on a daily basis, over 5 months, in front of a physio! Diagnosis from the footpath outside your flat.

I arrived at the chalet without too much further ado, having retrieved the runaway bread bag – what people don’t know, doesn’t hurt them – and managed to clean up my hands before anyone appeared for breakfast. Despite some comments on here to the contrary, we do try to create an atmosphere of competence in the chalet in order to instil confidence in our guests that their hosts are reasonably capable, but sometimes karma is conspiring against us. I laid the table and prepared the buffet; cereals, bread (ha!), pastries, yoghurts and preserves, set up the tea and coffee, including the spare jug in case they all wanted that.

First day breakfasts are always a little tricky. We don’t ask people for their order the night before, apart from getting an idea of numbers for porridge and eggs. So the first morning is a steep learning curve for us, from which they are not allowed to deviate all week! Actually they are, but surprisingly most people don’t. The porridge was done, the eggs were being scrambled, everyone was arriving at once, wanting either eggs or porridge or both and the coffee jug, on the other side of the room on the hot drinks station, ran out. I’m unsure why but my body decided that this would be the perfect time to knock over my full mug to tea, from which I had not even had a moment to take a sip, all over the work surface, down the back of the units and on to the floor. The only saving grace was that I don’t think it struck any of the guests!

Breakfast progressed reasonably smoothly after that and they all left for the 8.45 bus which is our goal for all guests every day. The sooner they are out the chalet the quicker we can get on with all our jobs and get away. At this time of the year our persuasion is assisted by the fact that the snow deteriorates quite significantly as the day progresses, from the sun shining on it for hours so it is quite true that it is much better in the morning. This argument was wasted on the group of 3 who didn’t aim for that bus for the rest of the week. You can’t win them all.

My next task was to prepare the chicken for that evening’s Thai green curry. Normally we have breasts which can be cut up quite quickly however, with our low numbers we had been asked if we could manage to do the shopping in resort for this week. We agreed as we knew that there was little dry food needed but were surprised to find that chicken breasts were unavailable and we had to make do with chicken thighs. These proved an absolute pain to strip the meat off, after skinning. Rather than use the scissors I chose the sharpest veg knife and on the first ‘strike’ striped the meat off and sliced through my own finger! At this point I was relieved that the guests had left as my blood merged with the evening dinner. Everything was washed, repaired and covered before I continued with the task which took nearly an hour just to do 12 thighs! We wont be using them again, ever.

Fortunately there isn’t much cleaning to do on the first morning as they haven’t had enough time to mess the place up so I was able to catch up some time and managed to escape at 11am. The cleaning has been a bit more of a chore this year as we have new towels, huge bath sheets, which are much better for going out to the hot tub. The only problem is how much they moult, despite having been washed 5-6 times this season they are still shedding everywhere, leaving a dusting of grey fluff on every surface. Yes, they are grey so the whole place just looks dirty as it isn’t immediately apparent that it is only towel fluff and we have even received a couple of comments to that effect on the feedback forms for the first time this year. Every action has a consequence. This includes starting to provide free wine with the meal which means that we have to store many more bottles in the downstairs cupboard, both blocking up the storage space but also necessitating umpteen trips up and down the stairs for us as well as larger loads of empty bottles to be carried up to the bottle bank. Keeps us fit I suppose but that’s not really an issue.

I was back in to the chalet later than usual that evening as they had requested that the evening meal be served at 7.30 rather than 7pm. They actually wanted 8pm but we resisted as we are not too keen on eating at 9.30pm each evening and 7pm is the published time. They wanted the delay to enable them to go to a bar for ‘apres ski’ which we didn’t really mind as that is all part of the holiday, however just this half hour delay meant that we would miss the bus and have to walk up the hill (again, telling ourselves that the exercise was good for us!) I was a little less than pleased when I arrived at 6pm, for the hour and a half meal cooking and assembling time, to find that 4/5 of them were there, having decided they were too tired to go to apres and the fifth arrived only half an hour later! Unfortunately I couldn’t expedite the cooking time. They actually only went to apres twice but we were stuck with the 7.30 serving time and the walk back up the hill every night for the week.

The incidents of the day hadn’t finished yet. They were just clearing up the remnants of their starters from the plates, tomato and red onion brushetta and I was getting the main course ready to serve, Thai green curry and rice with a rather nice vegetarian Thai curry for the one, quite strict veggie, the pale guy with ear piercings! He snuck up behind me, just as I was checking whether the rice was cooked, and asked how the curry was made. I proudly showed him his own pan-full and told him the method. He transpired to be more concerned about the paste and scrutinised the tiny ingredients list on the jar. There it was, quite clear when you look closely, prawn paste! He also pointed out that his sister had an allergy to crustaceans!

Whilst we did have this information on their booking form, neither of us had noticed that prawns are in the paste, perhaps we should have. All the other veggies, for 2 seasons, have been served it! Do people who make these lifestyle choices and then come to a fixed menu establishment, not have some personal responsibility to take for their own demands? I was more concerned for the sister but she wasn’t bothered and said that this was the same paste that she used!? (Not an allergy then??)

The guy was adamant, in the nicest possible way when you are being fussy and picky, that he couldn’t eat it, literally minutes before it was about to be served. I had plain rice ready and that was it. We had cooked him a vegetarian bourguignon the previous night from which there was some left over in the freezer. He suggested I make him egg fried rice! He had microwaved bourguignon with rice!

No photos could illustrate this day so I’ve just added some pretty pictures to calm my karma!