26. A Great Day Off

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.

Meribel

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.

Orelle

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.

25. Not skiing

Icicles!

The sun is forecast to shine for the next fortnight. Temperatures are already on the rise and even reaching double figures at 1000 metres. I hope this is just an interlude and not an early spring because it is far too soon. Despite our back-to-back changeover days we thought we’d better get out on the slopes on Monday, before the snow starts to disappear. However, the owners of one of the chalets are out for this half-term week and we are their slaves for the day, every day. Even the company has said that anything they ask, say yes, and if we can’t do it they will sort something out which somewhat engenders the attitude.

On their arrival they had us clearing a season’s worth of snow from the terrace on the north side of the building as they would want to sit out there. The fact that not a drop of snow had melted probably endorsed my surprised comment that the sun isn’t high enough in the sky to reach this area. But no, they still wanted it cleared for what? To sit in the shade in sub-zero temperatures?
Our suspicions were aroused when we received a message 15 minutes before they were due at the door, instructing us to change both sets of sofa covers and their 12 cushions. We had just finished the dusting and hoovering so a cloud of fluff and feathers coated all the pristine surfaces. In our haste I had omitted to notice that the base cushion had a right and wrong side; they looked the same at a glance. So we had to come back in from chiselling the snow off the terrace to swap the cover over but heyho, at least it was a pleasant temperature outside, even shoveling in the shade, and a reprieve from inside.

We had been warned that they wanted 3 hours ‘house-keeping’ a day, which we were prepared to oblige and wondered how we could fill that time. Opening the door at 9am this morning demonstrated why, although it was difficult to see how such a mess could be made by a relatively straight forward breakfast. Cleaning and resetting the fire, which had been specifically requested, was going to prove difficult without asbestos gloves if they were going to re-kindle it in the morning. But they do say ‘good morning’ and ‘good-bye’ each day and know our names.
A quick check of the work phone later in the day revealed that we had been texted 4 times before 9am asking the location of their tea-lights and Nespresso pods (of which there were 10 in the drawer). I think it is quite fortunate that we were in the bathroom initially – without the phone! – and that the very noisy kettle must have been boiling at another time, but we can genuinely say that neither of us heard the text bleeps.

A call later in the morning went unanswered when one of the big kids didn’t have a ski pass and Roger was requested to down tools and trot up to the bottom of the slopes with it. The phone was in my coat pocket hanging on the peg at the other chalet, where I was doing their daily clean. I can’t put it in my trouser pocket as I have lost sufficient weight for them to fall down quite easily now, and that’s without an extra load. An absence of belt loops don’t help. (A tiny bit of deja vu!)

By the time we finished, three and a half hours later (I’d helped before and after doing my chalet so they’d actually received 4 hours of cleaning but had only been in situ for less than 20 hours) we were too tired to go skiing. The weather was beautiful and we’d not really had a chance to enjoy it so took our books to our private garden via our personal lift, just out the back of the building. Someone has been kind enough to place 3 seldom-used picnic tables at the top of the gondola over-looking the valley and barely 5 minutes from our room. The sun is now high enough to shed glowing rays onto these benches for several hours in the afternoon. Just the perfect setting to read books and complain about demanding guests/owners.

24. Sublime snow-shoeing

Apologies for the lack of posts. We’ve been having some technical problems which hopefully are resolved.

We have experience of snow-shoeing at night in Finland which could not be surpassed, but this came a very close second. The conditions were excellent: plenty of fresh powder and glorious sunshine, albeit dappled at times but sufficient to send cascades of snow off the trees as they caught the warmth of the rays. The other factor was a disparate group of people. Complete strangers just over two months ago but now instant friends. No history but a camaraderie as we shared a mutual environment and circumstance, the ups and downs. Some of the highest highs, as this afternoon transpired to be, but coupled with some of the lowest lows, which we are pleased to have left behind us, but which others are in the midst. And two boisterous affectionate dogs, the ever loyal Bill (collie, kelpie cross) and the very vocal, award winning mutt, Corrie. One chef, one admin assistant, two hosts and four self-catered house keepers accompanied the very versatile Pip on a tour of the lower reaches of 16,50. Another unforgettable experience we have been privileged to participate in.

23. Rather a lot of Snow

Whilst not falling in the quantities of last year, we are being subjected to significant dumps of snow. It came down continually for the 2 days and nights over the weekend, light but persistent, to add to the not insignificant amount which fell last week. Roger seems to have been clearing snow from outside Mollard almost daily, even in the absence of guests, but veterans of this environment know that it is considerably easier to clear one foot of snow twice than to attempt to clear 2 feet, once.

The weather did concern the incomers to Loft, who arrived nearly 5 hours later than planned, although not due to road conditions. The heating wasn’t working in the luxury apartment and they weren’t mollified by the rise of the outside temperatures to -5. We managed to get the radiators fully functioning again an hour after they arrived and fortunately the inside temperature hadn’t dropped below 19.5 although dad conspicuously wore his coat. Their delay didn’t worry Roger as it meant that he could watch all of The 6 Nations match where Scotland trounced Italy and most of England beating Ireland.

The new people in Mollard are Aussies who live in Singapore. The adults hadn’t been in snow for 26 years and their three kids had never seen it. They were so excited to drive through falling snow and get out the transfer van into a deep blanket, being quite little they almost submerged into it. Walking through the gully to the chalet presented too much temptation not to lean over and lick the fresh snow. It was still very clean.

They arrived at 11am so we were finished by 1pm but instead of taking advantage of the time to go and play in the powder, and lacking Ruth and Lewis as incentives to get us out in poor visibility, we fell asleep whilst reading last Sunday’s Telegraph (I am just grateful for any newspaper we can obtain, ranging from The Mirror to The Times) and woke at 5pm. The snow had built up on the central reservation to such an extent that it was nearly the height of a van. The roads are systematically cleared, usually at 5am for the stretch outside our window, but pavements seem to require 2 days of fall to justify equipment, by which time the surface has been compressed into ice. Snow gathers on our inside window sill by morning as we open the window slightly at night because the radiator is not very adjustable. During the day, two tea-towels, which had been used to soak up the over-night condensation, act as draught excluders. Now they are convenient to clear up the snow inside at the start the day.

I have become preoccupied with the crows which alight the building behind us in the mornings. However they are just circling now, not knowing where to land. Their usual perch on the balcony railings have too many inches of soft cover which, presumably, they’d sink into. The flock have to suffice with landing on the tree tops, swinging around on spindly stems, causing cascades onto branches below and creating avalanches down to the ground.

There is plenty of opportunity to ski on Monday afternoon as the forecast is sunshine and continues into Tuesday, when we will go snow-shoeing, courtesy of the company! So lots more photos after that.

22. End of the Holiday

Ruth and Lewis have returned home after a 4-day break. ‘Break’ is an unusual word to use. They didn’t break anything, fortunately, no bones, ligaments or equipment. They can’t feel rested and rejuvenated. They skied all day every day, catching almost each first lift and on one occasion nearly missing the last lift. Lewis conquered the vertical Grand Couloir and Ruth improved her accomplishments on black runs, mogul fields and fresh powder. We managed to keep up with them for about 50% of this time so return to our work with considerable relief to both be in one piece, even if the grunts and groans emitted as we try to rise from the low bed supply the sound track to our aching knees and muscles. Fortunately falls in the soft powder damage only the dignity, and after the first few, not even that.

Overcast skies and light snow of the past two days would have deterred us in normal circumstances but a piste date with Ruth and Lewis provided sufficient incentive for us to get off our backsides and put on our skis. On Wednesday we met them at the bottom of the 18,50 runs and headed downwards to explore the network of tree-lined runs linking the lower out lying villages within the Courchevel valley. ‘Village’ was our first stop at 1550 metres. We can see the western side of this hamlet from our room window and often watch people negotiating the winding blue run. The next stop took us around the back of the 1992 Winter Olympic ski jump in La Praz, at 1300m, (think Eddy the Eagle) location of the company’s flagship chalet and one of the self-catered properties. It was with much relief that we were able to lower the hood of the chair lift on our ride back up and wish that there’d be similar on the freezing Chapelette lift in 16,50.

GoPro Couloir, other side to Grand Couloir

As our stomachs rumbled, I lead down Folyers, reputedly the prettiest run in the 3 Valleys, towards La Tania. The guard of snow laden trees on either side of the piste endorsed the reputation but the chewed up surface of only a blue run made it quite tricky to travel so eyes were distracted from the scenery. Releasing the bindings outside a creperie I spotted a familiar hairstyle. Not many people can carry off a very short blonde cut. It was Emma, one of our colleagues we hadn’t seen for weeks, it was lovely to have a little chat with her. Bumping into people we know makes me feel as though we are part of the community, even if only slightly less transient than the guests.

L&R

We sat outside and enjoyed crepes and galettes in the sunshine which just managed to bring the temperature up from freezing to just plain cold. Donning all the gear afterwards, and despite a chocolate chaud, I realised how cold I was. Fingers and toes were refusing to thaw, no matter how much I stamped. Roger and Lewis went off to do a black run, scoping for suitability for us two. I declined, despite reassurances that it was quite nice. I hadn’t felt to be on my ski-legs all day and with increasing cold, felt stiff and unsure so Ruth accompanied Lewis down a second time. We left them at the summit between the 2 valleys and headed for the bus home and took several more hours to thaw out properly despite getting into bed in full PJs and a hot shower.

Suisse

Thursday dawned in a snow storm but it was the last day to ski with R&L. We agreed to meet at the top at 10am but fierce winds deterred any prolonged wait. I sheltered behind a huge red gorilla brandishing a set of skis above its head! When gathered we decided that the only real option was to go down on the lee of the mountain into relative shelter. A short ski down a ridge took us to the left turn we’d skied several times before. 3 tracks sliced the fresh snow so we took great delight in descending this deep blanket of undisturbed powder. Reaching another familiar junction I noticed that only 1 set of tracks turned left, towards the black Suisse run we’d not explored. The words came unbidden from my mouth – ‘shall we go down there?’ I pointed to the tracks disappearing over the brow of a hill into a gully guarded on each side by high rocks. The alternative right turn took us into familiar territory on the relatively easier red. There were no objections and I found myself leading our party over the edge of a precipice into an amazing gully. The single set of tracks were minimal as we criss-crossed the deep powder on top of a sure surface, squealing and cheering with sheer delight as we floated through the soft snow. Joining the main piste 100 metres below we continued in slightly more travelled powder but still wonderful. So much so that we jumped straight onto the lift at the bottom and took the same route again where we found only 5 sets of tracks at the top of the gully. No-one had been down it in the interim and it was just as excellent the second time, lacking the trepidation of the unknown.

Lewis and Roger!

We headed over to 16,50 for a couple of runs before an early lunch. We took a couple of trips down Rocher; the red chicane piste which is quite different to almost all of the other red runs. Grabbing some vin chaud from the restaurant, we headed over to a heated picnic room to eat the somewhat distorted sandwiches which had been in the backpack since the previous morning. This room was equipped with tables and chairs, sofas upstairs on the mezzanine, microwaves and sinks, as well as a redundant table football. The sun beamed down on us through the windows, as we scoffed our lunch followed by far too many addictive Haribos.

Lewis!

The temperature was considerably warmer, by 10 degrees at least, although we struggled to believe the +5 we saw at one station. However, it was a relief to not feel as perished. We headed back to the other side of Courchevel, to be nearer for R&L’s heading back point. Lewis fearlessly undertook the incredible Grand Couloir. Even the access to the drop over the edge looked terrifying as he set off along an extremely narrow ridge of snow with sheer drops on either side, before tipping himself off the cliff at the end, just to the right of his left knee, near the head of the third person along in the photo. He negotiated this signature plunge successfully and we met him halfway down the red piste. After completing a few more comparatively tame runs (although Roger was very brave) we said a sad farewell as they headed back to their car to catch n evening flight home.

Exhausted but exhilarated we headed to the ski hire shop to drop off our skis for a mid-season service. We knew we would need some rest and recuperation before going out again. However, we had done some marvellous skiing which we probably wouldn’t have otherwise completed. We missed the hourly bus back to 16,50 by about 30 seconds. It is difficult to run downstairs in ski boots without risking life and limb on slippery steps, so had to take refuge in the Tiaga bar for 55 minutes before making our way back to our room after 4 wonderful days of holiday. Whilst technically still ‘on holiday’ today, Friday, we are going into the chalets later today to ensure that everything is ready for us to prepare for incoming guests on Saturday and Sunday and clear rather a lot of accumulated snow, before the Six Nations starts this evening.

21. First Tracks

The forecast for Tuesday was good, plenty of sunshine even if still -10 degrees. Ruth and Lewis were heading to Val Thorens, a bit of a trek for us so we arranged to meet again on Wednesday but decided that Roger and I would aim for first lifts in 16,50, provided they were open this time. More snow had been forecast overnight and the ploughs were hard at work at 5am again. However, we woke to clearing skies and little evidence of further fall. The website said that all lifts were planning to open and that most in 16,50 had been pisted. The fresh powdery snow of the previous day would be smoothed and slightly compressed into the corduroy stripes by the piste-basher’s rollers. This leveled but ridged surface provided sufficient purchase for skis as we descended at approximately 45 degree angles across their vertical ribs. Ideal for controlled speed.
Leaving the boot room shortly after 9am we turned right towards the Petite Moriond lift to take us to the main lift up the hill. A gaggle of Frenchmen waited at the entrance, which was slightly more promising than the previous day. However, on our arrival we noticed the lift attendant busying himself with I don’t know what, but I was able to discern that the lift wouldn’t open for another 10 minutes. Stupidly, I had assumed that ‘lift opening time’ meant the time when the lift opened, not when the attendant rolled up, but heyho.

We stood in the shade of towering mountains, exuding all the heat we’d brought from indoors, until all 15 of us crammed into the little cabin on our brief voyage up to the main resort. At least the early queues for the main lift had dispersed and the ski schools were still getting organised as we jumped onto the Ariondaz bubble. At the top I opted for the short red run down to the Chapelettes lift as I could only see evidence of 1 previous skier. The descent was wonderful as we carved the second and third set of tracks down the newly pisted surface.

Sailing above the Tetras run on our arial chairs we noticed that the gully had been pisted (it was supposedly left unpisted) which offered a less treacherous and, at this time, trackless surface. Temptation dominated and we tipped over the lip of the gully onto pristine corduroy. The run was beautiful, nothing like as daunting as its unpisted state appeared.

We perched back onto what must be the coldest chairlift in the whole resort as it skims the bottom of the shaded gully in plummeting temperatures before rising up and over the ridge into the rays of the rising sun, which had yet to warm the atmosphere. A trip down Rocher was even more exhilarating than previous days. The top half runs down a pisted gorge, twisting and turning like chicanes on a toboggan run, before descending a stunning true tree lined slope back to the bottom of the lift. By the third ascent the sun had crept further down the hillside so we endured less time in the freezing shade. My fingers and toes were still losing circulation, not helped by continually taking a glove off to capture the amazing vistas on camera.

Where’s Roger? Follow the single set of tracks

The next run would complete the set of this exciting little corner of the 3 Valleys and didn’t disappoint, even if we were not in the first 10 people to descend this morning but there was still plenty of untouched cord to enjoy. Our final lift on this chair was almost all in sunshine but still perishingly cold. The slopes would only be getting busier and the surfaces more cut-up so we decided to return to the flat via the route we had searched for since the start of the season. The top part of our home run hadn’t been pisted and I expected deep powder and potentially hard work but it transpired to be just a couple of inches of fresh snow on top of a firm surface. Cutting fresh groves on this slope we travelled yet another new path before joining the familiar descent to the back of our apartment block.
We were back in our room at just after 10.30am having enjoyed some of our best skiing so far. A hot shower soon thawed the tender extremities before warming from the inside with milky coffee enhanced by a dollop of Nutella, now that the wonderful Indigo Valley hot chocolate left by earlier guests was finished. We could do this first lift skiing before work on other occasions, if we really wanted to!

20. A holiday?

We were tempted to catch first lifts on Monday morning. 30-50cms of snow had fallen during Sunday and that night. The snow ploughs had been busy since 4am but I managed to fall back to sleep until 8.30. But what about work, I hear you ask. Neither chalet has guests this week! This didn’t stop us from completing full days on Saturday and Sunday but without the time pressure of incoming guests, frequently before the planned check-in time of 4pm. Sweat didn’t drip down my back and face as I didn’t have to literally run around the buildings and up and down stairs, even if this has improved my fitness levels. Although not finishing the set up for next weekend, which would allow dust to accumulate on everything and need repeating, we carried out some of the additional jobs which are too far down the priority list to ever get done in the usual fracas of changeover. In fact, we had a complete schedule for both chalets which we had proposed to submit to the big bosses to justify our two hours a day over the course of the week. However, the owner preempted us and suggested we have Monday to Friday off as holiday! So not sacked yet and who were we to reject such a kind offer?
Our location, half an hour out on an unpredictable bus route, didn’t lend itself to redeployment at an alternative venue, unlike our self-catering colleagues. They hadn’t had a booking in one of their chalets for 3 consecutive weeks so had been assigned all sorts of odd jobs at various times for this period. I felt very guilty when receiving this offer of holiday and had a quick chat about it with them one evening. They were completely magnanimous, demanding that we had a great week off. We would. Ruth, my niece, and Lewis, her husband, were coming out for a flying 4-day visit, staying in the next valley of Meribel, so free mornings as well as afternoons would be superb.

The forecast hadn’t been good for Monday, no sun and probably more snow and Ruth and Lewis needed to sort our their kit and passes, so we were in no hurry. However, opening the curtains revealed a patchy blue sky and the anticipated depth of fresh snow. We were booted and suited by 10am and, with skis aloft, headed towards our little lift at the back of the building only to be met by people walking towards us, away from the inert structure. We turned around and trudged up the path to the piste leading to the main lift. I had to get my sweating in somewhere!
As we were carried up in the relative comfort of this 8 seater bubble we noticed that neither of the lifts we would take to the next level were operating. Perhaps we should have checked lift status before leaving our room. We could ski around the bowl and down the other side, over to 18,50 where we could see some of the lower lifts working. We would be in a better position to meet Ruth coming over from the far side of that valley so began to head round. As we traversed the path I noticed that one of the green/easy runs off to the right had not been pisted. A thick layer of fresh snow blanketed the smooth piste beneath, much more predictable than true off-piste when one doesn’t know what lurks below the benign-looking surface, but I had passed it too quickly however, took the next right and glided through knee-high powder, leaning back slightly to keep ski tips up.

We jumped onto a button tow at the bottom which would take us back up to where we would have been without the delightful diversion. However, nearing the top of the rise the tow stopped. This often happens on beginners lifts as it is easy to lose balance when trying to shove the disc on a pole between your legs as you are yanked forward when the slack is taken up. A helping hand from the attendant resets the operation within a few minutes but this delay was considerably longer than it takes to plonk someone back on their feet/skis.
I wasn’t too far from the top but a woman had interceded between us so Roger was about 50yds lower down the slope. We were too close to the top to go back down but too far apart to hail so I took a unilateral decision to get off the lift and my skis, picked up the latter and started climbing the last section. More sweating! As I reached the summit the repair guys drew up in their snow mobile and restarted the mechanism. I had just about recovered my breath when Roger appeared over the lip, definitely not sweating.

We could just discern that the higher lifts which connect with Meribel were not functioning so warned R&L not to come over in case they couldn’t return, and set off to find some empty slopes with deep fresh snow cover. A few runs had been pisted but much of the snow had fallen since that task had been completed the previous evening. We descended a couple of favourites which could be rather icy, but not on this occasion. We poled and waded through a flattish section on the top of a run we hadn’t tried since before Christmas and were rewarded with another wonderful descent through an untouched section, before joining the main piste which was already churning up.

I kept a close eye on a long cruisey blue which hadn’t been pisted but was closed off at that time. Booms reverberated around the mountains as explosions dislodged loose snow, creating controlled avalanches which may land on these closed pistes. The closed sign had been removed on our next ascent. We headed towards this run as quickly as possible and found that a single lane of piste bashing had been carved along the wide route, leaving a broad section of deep powder beside. We headed straight for this but before long my thighs burnt from the continual lean back and I conceded by returning to the pisted section. Not so Roger, although I didn’t know this until I reached the bottom and waited, and waited. He finally appeared with an unusual amount of snow around his ears! At least it had been a soft landing, taken in preference to disappearing over the edge when tired legs declined to make a turn.
By this time the higher lifts were moving and skies cleared a little. We took one to another run which had caught the wind. Ice still dominated one side of the narrow piste of Park City, whilst we cut through thigh-deep snow merely yards away. We arranged to meet R&L at a mountain restaurant on the ridge between Courchevel and Meribel. We were early but didn’t mind. A seat in the warmth was preferable to the excess muscle activity and pervading cold.

After a light snack and a hefty bill we set off with them down some of the pistes we had enjoyed that morning plus an additional one. I had been considering a black run near the red beside the Altiport. Normally icy, it was covered in a soft blanket, but I had thought that perhaps tired legs were not best to rely on when doing my first black run of the season. But we’d had a rest and it was still light and fluffy. Ruth and I agreed that one can take more risks in these conditions because it would be a soft landing and minimal risk of sliding all the way down the slope and off the edge. I didn’t realise that she’d take it so literally!

Ruth (pink trousers) Lewis, Roger

All too soon time had leapt onwards and we needed to head back towards the adjoining mountainsides for R&L to get back across before the last lift at 4.30. We took a final lift up Coqs chair and descended part of the way down to La Tania before sending them over to the other side on another chair lift after a great few hours. On the way down this section of piste I had lost all definition of the ground which is most disconcerting as one minute knees almost hit one under the chin, the next the ground disappears from underneath as it does when going over a humpback bridge unexpectedly, but without the protection of a metal shell. I bottled out and chose to continue down to La Tania, from where we could catch the bus back to 16,50 and returned to our room at 5pm, infinitely fitter but more decrepit than when we left that morning.

19. A Grand Day Off

The alarm pierced our repose at 7.30am on Wednesday, earlier than a normal work day, but we planned to catch the first lifts as they opened at 9am. We decided it would be quicker to take the bus up to 18,50 if we were going to meet Steve and Co at the top of the Vizelle lift at 9.30. The ski route from 16,50 might take more than half an hour. In the event we arrived 15 minutes before lifts opened, even before a queue developed.

A sheet of high cloud flattened the light but, thinking that we’d be well ahead of these friends, we took the opportunity for a quick ski down a virgin piste. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to carve wide sweeping swirls across the fresh corduroy created by the piste bashers. We met Steve and Rob at the top of Vizelle and headed down into Meribel, the second valley, and up the other side towards Val Thorens, but didn’t go quite that far up the third valley, staying around the middle in Les Menuires.

The forecast hadn’t been too favourable but was accurate as the visibility decreased with the temperature, around -12 degrees. I was relieved to stop for a mid-morning chocolate chaud in a mountain restaurant and enthralled by the ski museum lining the stair case to the toilets. It was a little galling to see the old bindings and leather boots I remember wearing when I first started skiing in the 1970s, but fascinating.
I had thawed out inside but quickly froze again as we continued to sweep up and down the slopes of this west facing hillside. My fingers, toes and nose felt like blocks of ice. My buff was up over my mouth, trying to minimise the area of exposed skin, but kept catching on something. This felt like a splinter on the area between my top lip and nose before I realised it was the frozen hairs of my inconspicuous moustache.

I was desperate to warm up again and dived into a restaurant at the bottom of the piste where we stopped for lunch, on the pretext of nabbing a table for the four of us, not realising that we were going to be joined by 4 junior doctors, Rob’s son and friends. Leaving helmets in occupation we queued for delicious French Onion Soup (or is it just called onion soup here?) and a large portion of tartiflette served in a lidded billy can. We devoured half a portion of both each and felt quite replete.

Spot the mountains looming through the mist

Rob went off to ski with the boys in the afternoon whilst the three of us wove our way back to the bottom end of Meribel along some wonderful ‘cruisy blues’ just hampered by the light snow fall which reduced visibility further. We were dutifully stood one below the other at the side of the piste whilst discussing our route across the valley bottom when I glanced up the icy section of the run we had just negotiated. A tall guy was in the process of losing control and heading straight towards me, feet first. Somehow he managed to alter his trajectory sufficiently to skid merely inches past the tips of our skis and continued down the slope on his backside. If he had careered into me, I would have sent Roger and then Steve flying like three dominoes being flung down a mountain. A bit close for comfort.

We made it over the next crest and back down into Courchevel valley where we bade a dieu to Steve and caught the bus back to the flat. After a quick shower and change we returned to the bus stop to go to La Tania for apres ski with these guys where a band was playing who’s drummer was the son of one of Steve’s clients. They were pretty good, as the heaving dance floor endorsed.
A super meal followed: raclette with meats, potato and salad, before returning to the SkiLodge for a drink after being chucked off our table to make way for the next sitting. We finally headed down for the 10.10pm bus back to our room, via La Praz, where one of our colleagues was celebrating his birthday. We discovered another colleague waiting at the bus stop who informed us that the party had moved to La Tania, in the bar opposite. We quickly dived in to Tiaga bar to wish Gordy happy birthday and found a few more of our colleagues who we hadn’t seen since New Year.

Keeping an eye on the time I opened the bar door to see the bus about to pull away across the road. I ran over in front of it and the lovely lady driver waited whilst Roger caught up. Our colleague wasn’t on it but we did find the resort manager from another company who has chalets next to both of ours, so have bumped into him a few times.
We were back in the flat by 10.30 and asleep by 10.35. Thanks for a great day Steve.

18. A January Week

This week has felt quite strange. The Loft guests slipped from being very tidy to realising that there was someone clearing up after them, even if they hadn’t listened to what we did and didn’t do. The towel change was illustrative of this point. I explained that there was a towel change on Tuesday, but to only put the towels they wanted changing in the tub/shower, bath and hand towels only. However, everyday, I found the bath, hand and hot tub towels dumped, instead of hung up, for no apparent reason other than that they were damp. So much for saving the planet for this generation! I just folded them neatly and replaced them on the towel heater until Tuesday when all towels, including bath mats and dressing gowns, were overly conspicuous in the bathroom floors. Heyho.

These guys became less considerate of their surroundings, despite initial awe, and I returned from 1 day off on Thursday to an absolute tip in the space-challenged store room which houses the washer and dryer and from where I am supposed to work. This chaos was compounded by the excess towel wash I had left in Tuesday but now the clean/dry towels were mixed up with the damp dirty ones still waiting patiently on the floor. At least they’re not my towels and I know where mine have been.
These guys hadn’t been too bad overall but I had found it difficult to warm to any of the party. They weren’t ever rude but there was a dismissive element to their demeanour without the arrogance of wealth or standing. They played us beautifully on departure when they weren’t due to leave until 2.15pm, despite check-out being 10am. On Thursday they confirmed that they would be picked up at the earlier time of 1.30 on Saturday so would enjoy a leisurely lunch but be out of our way, just leaving their suitcases. In the event they were still milling around at 10.30 whilst Roger and I started work on emptying the hottub and then progressed to full scale furniture removals. We had to swap double and single divans between bedrooms and double and single mattresses between floors; the former going upstairs. Heaving a double mattresses through an apartment via the corridor and kitchen and then up the open-plan staircase, adjacent to the sitting area where six guests, including 3 young men, lounged uninvited, was not easy, particularly when trying to lift by the handles but only being met with ripping and tearing sounds. We were going to kill ourselves, or each other, much to their amusement. It is as well that they had already donated three quarter bottles of vodka and rum! Their transfer was supposedly only half an hour away; they left shortly after midday. Fortunately their replacements seem delightful.

We knew that the husky owners in the other chalet would provide their own challenges. Roger didn’t expect to be reprimanded by our supervisor for not setting the fire when he spent half his time on his hands and knees trying to remove dog hairs from the large expanse of coconut matting in the entrance. Even the owners said that it wasn’t for him to clean up after their dogs, but dog owners have a different standard to non-dog owners which is what we had to deliver for the following week’s guests. An hour to clean one sofa and adjacent rug plus another similar period to vac and mop a boot room, followed by scouring another section of coconut matting, did put us behind schedule, despite our 7am start.

An offer from our supervisor to come and help resulted in one washbasin cleaned and the three balcony doors allegedly wiped of dog drool. However, once the sun came round the glass was even worse than before the dogs arrived, so her ability may not be quite as high as initially implied. I had chucked a hair covered mat outside so that the tendrils couldn’t waft around and land somewhere which had been cleaned. Apparently she didn’t think the mat looked too bad anyway. I begged to differ and think that the photo demonstrates who was correct! I had lost the will to live the previous day when she inspected one of the bathrooms and found product smears on the mirror, commenting that even she just seemed to be moving the problem across the glass. I couldn’t see what she was referring to from my angle, so re-aligned the spot light. This was not the correct answer as she could no longer see the smudge, but knew it was there. I left the room with a smile glued to my face.

We have met-up with some lovely friends twice this week who were holidaying in the neighbouring resort which was a real treat after our relative isolation of the past few weeks. This was supposedly addressed by sending the ‘super’ out to inspect us more often. A double dose of criticism has done little to reduce that feeling! However, on Sunday morning we woke to discover that there had been a massive fire in an accommodation block in the resort above us. 2 people confirmed dead, 14 injured, 4 seriously after jumping from 3rd and 4th floor windows. Who cares about a bit of smudge! But Roger is back in to Mollard this evening to discover why the fridge has stopped working. Perhaps we might have noticed earlier if we hadn’t been so busy picking labels off fruit and dusting light bulbs (nor left a bag of rubbish in the entrance – oops.)

17. Scavengers

One of the actual perks of this job is being allowed to retain whatever the guests don’t use from the starter pack or their own shopping. Groceries left in the fridge or cupboard are available for our consumption, consequently reducing our food bills. However, this is completely unpredictable (despite frequent scrutiny of the larders on Thursdays and Fridays) and we make our own purchases alternate Friday mornings, on the weekly shopping trip, without knowing what will be available to us on either of the following days.
Sometimes guests can understand this but on other occasions, they can be particularly ‘helpful’ and clear out their fridge and cupboard to save us the trouble! It is not beneath us to scavenge through the bin bag to discover what treasures may have been inadvertently discarded. (I frequently find myself delving through rubbish to retrieve glass and plastic bottles for recycling anyway, despite providing a separate bag for this purpose.) Washing debris off the outside of packaging can reveal or revive a treasure: curry paste, mayonnaise or even carefully wrapped peppers and cucumbers.

The freezer can deliver unexpected bonuses as we are not the only ones to forget about it. Last week I discovered a bag of oven chips, after the incoming guests had arrived, and Roger and I had to determine whether they’d been left by the previous group or brought in by the new guys. We decided on the former as the new arrivals seemed to have brought only drink, therefore a bag of frozen oven chips was highly improbable. The absence of an oven didn’t deter us and added oil made a very acceptable fry-up.
The tub of vanilla ice cream was more challenging. We don’t have a freezer, just an ice box full of half thawed meat, and a whole litre would have been too much to eat at one sitting. The window sill is barely 3 inches wide and slopes downwards towards the ground, four floors below. Even the ski locker is in a heated room but this delicious dessert was too much to lose. I finally devised a hanging fridge, suspending the ice cream in a carrier bag from the top catch of the window shutter by a piece of elastic, designed to hold glasses around one’s neck. We have nothing as practical as string. The sub-zero temperatures at night did the job but the slightly higher temperatures during the day enabled the ice cream to separate into a cream coloured mousse with vanilla flecks and a buttermilk liquid. Mashed together, it tasted reasonably okay but was the weirdest texture, but needs must. It was too good to waste and made a refreshing change.

We do buy some items, the most regular of which is our new tipple: a bottle of fizz for €2 from Carrefour. Whilst only €1.60 down the mountain it was too much trouble to go that supermarket when we did the shopping only to find a limited selection. We keep buying up the stock at the local Carrefour, just metres from our apartment block, but they don’t refill the shelves very often. When they ran short a couple of weeks ago we took the free bus up to the extortionate resort of 18,50 to check out their stock and price. Surprisingly it was the same cost as 200 metres lower. Price usually rises with altitude. So we have a spare supply if needed, even if the means of acquiring it seem rather desperate.

This week’s guests were difficult to read but the Saturday departures from Loft replenished our rapidly diminishing cocktail cabinet. They didn’t really cook, I don’t count pizzas, but made the occassional omelette so we were the happy recipients of eggs, bacon, cheese and ham as well. No chance of any salad ingredients. The guests at the other chalet, with their beautiful wolves/ huskies, were self-drives and going on for another week elsewhere in the Alps which enables them to pack everything into the car. They left one egg!