36. Winter, spring and back again

The snow has been melting apace and green is creeping up the other, sunny, side of the valley. The town is bare and we don’t have to negotiate icy or compressed snow on the pavements. This has meant that the path to Mollard has reverted to its pre-winter muddy quagmire where heavy plant has accessed the building site of the chalet being erected in front, destroying the previous cinder covered route. This lack of snow caused me to be puzzled by the instruction to fill a carrier bag with some clean snow in order to maintain a sufficiently cold temperature for a fresh chicken which had been on one of the chalet guests’ shopping list last Friday. They weren’t due until Sunday and the previous week’s guests were still in residence so I couldn’t put it in the fridge and ours is far too small to cope with out own food, never mind a bald avian package. I couldn’t decide whether our supervisor was actually joking, she’d just missed 1st April. The only snow in distant sight was a murky shade of beige, which would inevitably melt and seep through the non-waterproof packaging. I was a little surprised that a company which specialises in catered chalets was so cavalier with food hygiene processes, even we knew that raw meat shouldn’t be stored above 4 degrees. My suggestion that one of the fridges in these chalets may have a space was met with derision. The following week my colleague bypassed the supervisor and the self-catered food found fridge and freezer space without problem! You have been warned.

More snow arrived last week but the 10 inches that fell one night had all but disappeared by that afternoon. The heat in the sun is enough to burn, as my face discovered and I’m back to using factor 50 again. The snow becomes very slushy as the day wears on, the sun is high enough to bask these north facing slopes and has even reached our window freezer first thing in the morning. We were able to get out on the first lifts after a few inches had fallen over another night and enjoyed making tracks down a couple of black runs.

Our afternoon reading spot has changed as the Petite Moriond lift has closed, far too early, so we now sit on the benches at the bottom and inform disgruntled skiers of its demise. We have to catch the bus up to 18,50 again, and sometimes down as well for our skiing, but I took the closed but pisted husky ride route down to the first bend bus stop on Tuesday. It was stunningly beautiful to glide silently through the trees on pristine snow, not a soul or canine in sight, nor Roger, who opted to heed the closed sign after injuring his thumb on a ‘closed’ piste the day before.

We have changed our work/ski routine to going up on first lifts for 2-3 hours on the slopes, then back to shower and change, getting in to work between 12-1 and should be finishing before guests return in these conditions. The lads in my group of guests are coming back early afternoon, ungrateful wretches. They’re nice people but not the tidiest. They keep switching off the lights at the wall socket and then leaving me a message to say that the internet, which is plugged into the same multiblock as the lights, has gone down, could I fix it? Yes! The curtains are unopened so they don’t admire the fantastic views of the sun rising over the snow capped mountains. They don’t flush, coupled with poor aim and an inability to use a toilet brush! but are otherwise ok.

First lifts enable us to enjoy spectacular runs down the fresh corduroy. There isn’t even time to take photos as someone or 10 might overtake us and it is definitely exhilarating to be able to take whatever path you want down the deserted pistes, not having to decide the best place to turn because the surface has been carved up by earlier skiers. Total confidence that the narrow ridges will hold the edges of the skis at speeds exceeding my normal pace, from top to bottom is marvellous. Three runs down the same slope has been our maximum, each successive one slightly less wonderful as the first is always the best, even our own tracks mar the surface the next time. By 10am the place is getting busy and queues are forming, or we have to share our cabins, so we pick our route via favoured runs and head back for hot chocolate with a spoonful of Nutella and brunch before work.

34. Not Long Now

We had a fleeting visit home for the wedding of the son of Roger’s best mate from university. This was a wonderful interlude in the Peak district in an idyllic location with amazing catering and fabulous cupcake, courtesy of the very glamorous mother of the groom (in the photo).

We had a super opportunity to catch up with old friends. M&S (not the retailer) had been very accommodating as I’d sorted out all my stuff in November and left it with them to bring. I was relieved to find that the only thing I’d missed was jewellery, which I could live without, even if I seemed to have very rare naked nails and eye-lashes and completely natural eyebrows.

This week on our day off (yes, we still took one) found us on the route I had planned last week. The lifts seemed a little more temperamental than usual as we found ourselves suspended over pistes, watching others fly past below us, but there are worse places to be stuck. We enjoyed some superb skiing in brilliant sunshine, even as low as St Martin.

Snow canons created white ribbons through the newly uncovered brown flatten grass from last autumn. Some south facing areas were looking very bare but there is still plenty of snow higher up and on north faces, but slushy at the bottom after lunch.

Our bin store roof reflects this contrast as it still sports thick snow on north side. Although there is more sunshine this is due to a high pressure area which contains pollution, which is really surprising considering the reputation of clear mountain air.

We were back to the usual problems on Thursday: EDF had reduced the supply from 18 megawatts to 3 mw as they thought the season was over. Nope, we have 3 more weeks of guests, although some of the 1850 chalets have closed for the season.

We have more ‘slebs’ in other chalet. I overheard a conversation which included Rob Lowe and his wife, the Geldorfs, Nigella (there is only one isn’t there?) and Rowan (Atkinson) I felt a little awkward when one guest, who I didn’t recognise, asked about the antics of another, who’d been out the previous week and has been plastered all over the press, named and shamed several years ago. My lips were sealed. But it is a relief to learn that they still do stupid things like forget passports or bring expired one instead of current.

We had to go to La Tania, after doing Loft and Mollard on Tuesday and Thursday, to help out the person who covered our changeover at the weekend and was enjoying a 40th wedding anniversary trip to Paris (on which he didn’t want to go.) We jumped on the 11.45 bus, after watching an arial display which the Red Arrows need not heed, but finishing the other chalet at 1.30 meant a 40 minute wait for the 2.10 return bus so we indulged in a burger and chips and tartiflette at the bottom of the piste in yet more sunshine.

It was nearly 3 pm before we returned, after Roger diverted to Loft to see if they had any more power, they didn’t. This was too late to go skiing but we wont get a chance Fri/Sat/Sun due that annoying thing called work. By Monday the snow will have receded and deteriorated further, so we took the books and a bottle of claret up to our picnic table overlooking the valley until last lift down at 5pm (and repeated the following day with a bottle of our bargain fizz.)

It transpires that that the EDF electricity bill hadn’t been paid! Oops

33. Another Grand Day Off

We didn’t quite make the first lifts on Wednesday but by 9.30 were heading over to the third valley but becoming distracted. Chapelets looked beautiful, freshly groomed, so we diverted across there for a swoop down the softly rutted cordorouy. The piste called Jean Pichod was next on our route but the run down there revealed the surface to be the best we’ve known it so we felt compelled to do it again, only just resisting the urge to fly down it for a third time. Taking the Marmottes lift up the other side of the valley we glided over the top of the namesake run which demonstrated some of the smoothest terrain we’d seen on that slope for the whole season so we had to shoot down there too.


Finally we headed across the top of the ridge and down into the second valley of Meribel on a slippery slope which continues to deliver anxiety rather than pleasure, and this day was no different. Up the gondola on the other side from Meribel Mottaret took us to an unexpected peak as I ‘d misjudged which lift to take, not that it really mattered. We were in the right area, just not precisely where I’d anticipated us being.

We took a run down to the left and back up the next lift, then another left, continuing to zigzag our way along the mountainside towards Val Thorens. A priority became to find a toilet, (not for me, I dehydrate before we go out) but there is never one when you want one. Thankfully Roger is reluctant to use the piste as a men’s urinal, unlike far too many others. A beautiful open space of manipulated nature is now contaminated with male excreta, and noise pollution. Why don’t people use headphones? Why do people, who insist on subjecting everyone to their personal musical preferences, have such bad taste? I had to ask (tell) 2 different people on separate occasions to turn down or off their blaring backpacks as they sat next to me on long chair lift journeys. One was fine about it but you’d have thought that I’d asked the other to inhale my cigarette smoke judging by the look she tried to give me. (No I haven’t taken up that habit, it is just a similar illustration of someone demanding their freedom to subject everyone to their own choice.) Rant over.

We finally decided to stop for an early lunch at the top of the Pecklet (Piglet) lift after searching for the gondola we’d discovered on a previous visit to this area which offers proper seats, such luxury. The 7€50 tartiflette was irresistible, even when my lack of glasses revealed that it was actually 17€50, but still delicious.


High winds had been forecast on the radio that morning and a notice warned of the same at the bottom of the lift. We were almost as far away from 16,50 as we could be so decided to descend Christine, the run we’d come in search of, before heading back towards the Meribel side of this third valley, zagzigging back along the same side we’d arrived on. This area is unfamiliar to us so I just headed right, instead of left at each junction. At one inter-section I was unsure if the access was open. I could see long swirly blue lines painted on the snow which usually demarcates a race course but there was no sign of the alternating blue and red gates. Then I saw them, lying in a bundle at the side of the piste. There had been an event but it had just finished and we turned up as the run re-opened to Joe Public. We grabbed the opportunity and sailed down this piste in the early afternoon which had been subjected to so little traffic that it was still groomed as if it was early morning. What a stroke of luck.

Keeping a close eye on the clear blue skies we continued on our route along the hillside but after a couple more runs were deceived by a red run starting off to the right – correct direction, heading down towards Les Menuires – correct valley, before it deviated even further right at a point where we couldn’t cut back and took us down into Meribel valley too soon. I had planned a lovely route of cruisey blues back to the bottom of Meribel when we reached an area I knew, and then intended to cut across to La Tania, from where we could either ski back to 16,50 or drop into The Ski Lodge for a drink, probably bump into some of our colleagues, and catch the bus back. Instead we headed straight into Mottaret and caught the gondola to the top of Creux, the run which takes us back to the head of 16,50. But quite honestly, after 6 hours our legs had had enough and even Roger was sunburnt across his cheeks and nose, his forehead being covered by his helmet and eyes by sunglasses. The wind never rose above a light breeze.

32. Ups and downs

The weather doesn’t seem to know what’s going on. One hour the snow teems down, obscuring the other side of the valley or sometimes even the bottom of the high street. The next time I gaze out the window the sun is shinning through the sheet of melted snow cascading off the roof.

We have even had rain at this altitude which leaves unusual rivulet patterns on the surface of the deep snow slopes and strange indentations on the flat roof of the car park below our window which is sporting the impromptu freezer again. We gained a lot of foodstuff from our messy group this weekend, hence the ice cream dangling outside. 4 half drunk bottles of spirits, 2 cases of kronenberg and 2 unopened bottles of wine were accompanied by a variety of unhealthy but much appreciated food. They didn’t leave a cash tip but did buy me a genepi shot when they found me, much to their surprise, in Bubble Bar on Saturday evening. This did make me miss Scotland’s 5th try in the epic second-half comeback in the 6 Nations against England. One of the biggest treats from watching this series is having a comfortable seat for a few hours if we can nab the sofa.
The clear up of this group’s visit took us 10 hours on Sunday, instead of the 6 expected, facilitated by the evening arrival of the incoming guests, the owner and his celebrity friends. There was minimal damage to the fabric of the building but 8 sacks of rubbish and recycling, a jumble sale bag of discarded clothing, our 3 bags of goodies, a disgusting hot tub and severely depleted stock of wine glasses reflected the devastation they left behind.

I refused to change the sofa covers again at 5.30 (we’d started at 8am) because one cushion had been in the firing line of a red wine splurge which at least wiped off the walls reasonably easily. This was the first time I’d had to wipe and polish the outside of the wood burning stove to get rid of the beer splashes from the glass and mug rings from the granite top.

We haven’t been able to go on our snow-mobile prize trip yet as one of our team members has injured his shoulder snow-boarding so will need to wait until he has the strength to handle these heavy bikes, but it might suit to wait for more settled weather.
I have between 4-6 blokes in Loft this week, none of whom seem to know how to clear up but hey, that’s what I’m there for. The first morning revealed a Sotherby’s catalogue amongst the cereals and pastries. I’m not sure whether they are buyers or sellers but I don’t think the main man, another Roger, is anything to do with his namesake in Pink Floyd, despite being grey and wrinkly. I hope I have impressed him with my prowess with the heating system and air-conditioning in the hot tub room. However, he has guests coming and going this week so I have to keep changing rooms from twins to doubles and back again as well as changing bedding and washing towels and gowns thus keeping me busy.

I was rushing a bit this morning as I straightened his bed, which was not strewn with personal possessions as is often the case, but I froze when I heard a metallic thud. A hidden watch landed heavily on the wooden floor. Inspection revealed that it was no longer going, oops. Salient lesson, don’t leave valuables secreted within bedding when enjoying house-keeping services. And this wasn’t retaliation for the talc covered floor in the bathroom which had been trodden through to the bedroom.

We did manage to have a super morning on the slopes last week. The clouds were breaking up from the overnight snow as I opened the curtains just after 7 o’clock. Early enough to catch the first lifts. We headed down to the boot room at 8.45 and exited through the back door 10 minutes later into snowfall. By the time we reached the first main lift the cloud had descended and visibility was down to 20-30yards. After all the preparation we decided to carry on and hope that this was just a patch.

After a few super runs down our back-yard reds, following the three people who got there before us, we headed across to the edge of 18,50 where we found a pocket of sunshine on reasonably unskied piste at the back of the resort. After a couple of runs down there the surface became rather churned up and clouds gathered over us again so we headed for home. In the murk of the final stretch a Frenchman on his outward journey asked whether the lifts were open. I was genuinely able to answer yes and that there were patches of sunshine higher up. Snow fell from low cloud for the rest of the day as we peered out the window from the warmth of our room.

31. A few issues.

The weather has been rather unsettled so we haven’t been snow-mobile-ing yet. Last week it even rained and the zero isotherm was at 2000m which is higher than most of the resort. This has felt more like April, when spring really sets in, but is far too early for these temperatures. We want to get in some more good skiing before the serious melt. Great clumps of snow have fallen off the roof onto the side terrace at Mollard. The owner had insisted that we clear the winter snow off it when he was out in February so he could sit there for breakfast, even though we pointed out that the sun wasn’t high enough. He’s back out again at the weekend so the ice pick will have to be utilised to break up the now frozen slab from the roof which has accumulated several more inches of fresh snow.
Loft owner has been out this past week, causing havoc as her precious wooden floor is showing signs of wear and tear. This, apparently, is our fault for not being diligent enough with our care, nothing to do with the footfall that has been trailing in and out (strangely the entrance is her main concern) which provides her with a sizeable income for the weeks she isn’t in residence! And the hottub wasn’t clean enough. Despite being less than three years old and wedged into an internal room, it isn’t plumbed in. We have to use a portable electric pump and attach a hose leading to an adjacent bathroom where the end is shoved down the toilet, but this only drains to about 6 inches. The remains have to be ladled into a plastic bowl from standing inside the tub, and poured down the sink in the bedroom, a two-man job on our busiest day.

Snow-less!

This last week the children became a little over-exuberant and water leaked into the apartment below. Our maintenance guy had to strip the existing sealant off the surrounds from inside the full hot tub and re-do the seal. I’m sure he made a good job but I was fishing bits of scraped sealant out the water all week. On Friday I gave up scooping it off the surface as I could see blobs sitting on the bottom so locked the door, stripped off and got in to pick these offending pieces from the depths. On Saturday I was back in the water, but at least was able to keep my underwear on as there was only a few inches depth, trying to catch the remaining bits but apparently this still wasn’t good enough. I hesitated to suggest that she should have had a plug hole in the bottom but the operations manager was impressed with my ‘commitment to the cause’ when Roger described my efforts.
The kids hadn’t been bad, just having fun in small pool and the adults apologised for not supervising them closer. These guys had been very polite to me and most complementary about the breakfasts I’d delivered, sealing their approval with a generous tip, which is just as well as it appears I wont get paid the promised overtime. The hours I worked will be offset against the empty weeks in the chalets! It is hardly our fault if the company have not managed to sell those slots and we didn’t request ‘holiday’. Good will is very fragile and easily crushed.

1day-off!

The group in Mollard this week have set a record for producing the most rubbish and most disgusting hot tub. The water was more murky after one night than after a week of kids! They had taken my point of not allowing it to overflow onto the balcony and into the lounge by emptying buckets-full out before over-occupying it. It is supposed to take 4 people and there are 10 of them. As a result, when they all get out, the water level drops below the level of the filter and stops circulating around the pump, which would burn out, but fortunately has a cut-off which only results in the potential for the pipes to freeze as it is outside. Heyho.

I did clean the vomit splattered toilet and walls so must like them really but will have to have words if they keep helping themselves to fresh bed linen as I wont have enough for changeover day. I don’t think they are that hygienic but suffice to say they are more coupled up than when 1 couple, 4 blokes and 4 girls arrived. They have managed to shatter the glass in the oven door by cooking no more than pizzas, but admit that this is not their fault as it developed a hairline crack last week after putting it on the auto-clean cycle. They leave at 5am on Sunday which at least lets us get in and scourer the place before the owner arrives for his lads week.

12hours!

We are struggling a little with a conflict of interest with our employers. Our customers are the guests for whom we are supposed to, and we try to, provide an excellent holiday. The company’s customers are also these guests, from whom they want excellent reviews but, also they view the chalet owners as customers, for whom guests are a nuisance and mess up their property. We are supposedly the guardians of these buildings but are torn between these loyalties. However, not once has an owner left a tip!

30. Bumps and bruises

Injuries seem to be the norm, which is not a surprise when considering what we do in our spare time: hurtle down slopes of various states of lumps and bumps or polished concrete-like ice, at a range of speeds in myriad levels of control, with two slippery planks secured to our feet. In reality it is more of a surprise that we aren’t in worse condition when taking our age into account. But we aren’t out of the game yet and can shame some much younger than ourselves.

Whilst not as bad as previous years my splatted left boob remains uncomfortable to lie on, although my left side is my sleeping position of preference, but I now struggle to lie on my right side at night. A Henry hoover launched itself off the top stair on changeover day and landed on my upper arm, somehow taking out my right little finger in the process. I lurched as I missed my footing when retreating backwards down the steep staircase I was vacuuming. A tug on the unstable casters saved me from potentially far worse consequences but that’s the price of rushing.

My forearms are already covered with bruises from dancing with door handles which successfully resist as I try to squeeze through when they are at the limit of their hinges. Unfortunately The Loft has several of these tight combinations as a few doors seem to by hung the wrong way round. Much do-si-do-ing has to be executed to get from our store room onto the back corridor or just to gain access to the bathroom in room 2, after entering the room and squeezing around the end of the bed. I do wonder how much consideration is given to opening directions by architects or whoever makes these decisions. Continuing to work and ski are probably good rehabilitation strategies, in my now extinct professional opinion.

I have to confess to injuring another on the slopes, unfortunately a rather small child. I demolished this little girl at the Waikiki snack bar beside a green piste. I could argue that her instructor took her too close to this establishment which meant that she was inside my left knee as I tried to turn in to stop. Her little body prevented me from executing the turn so I ploughed through her and into all the abandoned skis outside, including the bifurcated board advertising burger and vin chaud. I sustained injury only to my dignity but she was very brave for a little ‘un who had just been wiped out by a great lump of a woman (at least I’d lost some weight). The instructor managed to look concerned as he came charging back up hill on his skis to retrieve his poor student.
The signage may never recover but at least I was able to reunite the ski poles with their correct owner. I had collected myself and my kit from the pile and grabbed the blue poles which were set at opposing angles several feet apart as they would have been in my approximate landing position. It was only as we came to leave after chocolate chaud et frites that I realised they weren’t mine. Fortunately the owner was about to set off and searching for hers. Perhaps she may think twice about leaving her kit in such disarray, looking like a train crash, next time.

I spent some surreal time on the final morning of this past week’s guests discussing potential locations in Scotland for hunting (actually he meant shooting) with a Belgian who had booked a ski holiday in France via an English agent. This is not really my forte and I’m sure something was lost in translation, but triggered by the English Ski agent using a stag’s head as their logo. I am very cosmopolitan.

29. A busy week

A delightful group of Belgian guests wanted breakfast set up, served and cleared each day in Loft this past week. Overtime would be paid as they are charged €25 per hour, plus shopping. I’m not sure how much I’ll get, I suspect about €10 per hour, but we’ll see, it has still been 12 additional hours for the week so not to be sniffed at. The advantage has been that I could segue seamlessly into housekeeping and be finished by 11am after 4 hours.

I have been introduced to the local boulangerie/patisserie as these guys have not only had a sizeable bread and pastries order each day but also wanted a tarte or afternoon tea cake. I had been concerned that they might have wanted me to bake this as well when we learnt that they would have preferred a catered chalet but one wasn’t available. I’m happy to go out and buy one (they aren’t delivered to the patisserie until 9am) but didn’t want to start faffing around baking and delaying my finish time.
My training involved helping Heather, the host, do breakfast in one the catered chalets in La Tania last Friday when Sam, the chef, was on early morning shopping for the week. I must have sounded overly joyed to do so as the message came in at the same time as an offer from my tenant to buy my house! But I wasn’t upset about the former. I did high-light the drawback that the first bus would get me there for 8.30am, which might be a bit late, so a driver was laid on and I was picked up outside our apartment at 7.15 and brought back at 10am.

I decided that my own breakfast table must have been fairly impressive when one of the guests took a photo of it, the father of the constipated toddler who is afraid of the hoover (the toddler is, not the father). I was somewhat deflated though this morning when he took another photo of the brown paper sack which contains the bread order! You can judge whether the spread is worthy. They are only asking for either scrambled or fried eggs as the cooked option, which I’m relived I can accommodate (even if I did melt the fish slice on the second morning) and have got used to the latter being termed ‘sunny-side’ which sounds much more healthy than ‘fried egg’. So I’ll let them off the fact that they have commandeered my white towel cupboard.

My alarm for 6.20am was perhaps less than welcome to our fellow occupants each day but at least this meant that I could use the bathroom at my leisure, leaving it free for the three boys to fight over later. Joe and James have been sharing our cupboard for the past week, which has been a tad cramped and stretched the kitchen facilities to absolute limits.

Despite mixed weather James and Roger have been out every day and Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday found us guiding around favoured slopes of Meribel. Joe and James will be out on Friday, in what is forecast to be glorious sunshine but we have the chalet shopping to complete in Moutiers. One of the son’s of our colleagues, Sue and Pete, is also out this week so weren’t interested in swapping, but I think Roger might be grateful for the rest.

We went to the Bubble bar quiz night on Sunday but were not able to repeat our previous success, although the score was quite respectable. We took them to La Tania for a meal in Ski Lodge on Wednesday, where I had a super gluten-free pie which will definitely need repeating. A light and music show was scheduled, followed by more fireworks. The former transpired to be a weird portrayal by five marshmallow men on stilts unwrapping a swathed mushroom, for 20 minutes. Bill, Sue and Pete’s dog, had given them an appropriate treatment and had to be constrained on a lead so that they didn’t deflate, but I think his verdict was fairly universal. The five minute firework display was excellent, albeit brief. The whole firework festival closed tonight at 18,50 and James and I went to watch a great display by next year’s French entry, after hearing GB announced as 2019’s winner. I think I’m fireworked-out for this year.

28. Pyrotechniques

The International Festival de Pyrotechniques has been held in Courchevel for 17 years spanning three weeks during February and March. I remember watching it from Chris and Carole’s room in 18,50 eight years ago, however it is somewhat more extensive now. Six events are held in different centres of the resort over this period, with ‘desambulations’ through the villages by pirates (this year’s theme) earlier in the day. A torchlight descent by ESF instructors and various champions open the evening proceedings followed by the fireworks display by companies from Brazil, GB, Italy and France.

We had attended the first display in Village at 15,50 and whilst the fireworks were impressive the transport provision for around 2000 people was dire. No additional buses to bring people in from the surrounding area. There were so many bodies crammed into the patch at the bottom of the piste that we didn’t even attempt to fight our way through for the complementary vin chaud. We chose to view the 18,50 event from outside our building which looks up towards their hillside. This didn’t transpire to be an effective decision as most of the show took place behind the trees which were silhouetted in a range of colours, but not quite the display we anticipated.

This week’s venue was here in 16,50 at the top of the main lift, 3km up the hill. This seemed a little strange if the same numbers were expected as the 8 person cabins were some what restricted in their load transport. We presumed that the organisers knew what they were doing but still walked down the piste to avoid the congestion on the 2 escalators from street level. Leaving a good half an hour to allow for queues we arrived at the top in time to have 2 cups of vin chaud before the torchlit descent began.

The fireworks were delayed for 10-15 minutes to allow for more people to arrive via the cabins before we were entertained by a 15 minute display from Italy which lit up the surrounding hillside beautifully. The accompanying music was very ‘piratey’ but the fireworks were just fireworks. I’m unsure of the connection and failed to discern a head of Jack Sparrow, but enjoyed the spectacle.

We stood towards the back of the crowd at the top of the descending slope, ready for a quick getaway when the hoard made for the lifts at the end, and it as well we did. As the final rockets exploded their multi-coloured cordite across the skies and the rainbow smoke hung above the trees we turned and tried to run towards the entrance with several hundred other people.

As we filled the extensive hanger Roger could see that the lift wasn’t even moving! Fortunately someone saw fit to switch on the lights so the crowd weren’t squashed in the dark but I still couldn’t resist an awareness of a massive safety issue if there had been any kind of fire or just panic. We were hemmed in on all sides and another lift had stunk of burning rubber when we’d alighted a couple of weeks ago.

Fortunately the lift clunked into life, and then stopped. Roger’s ankle trouble prevented us from opting to walk 3km down the piste, not that we could have extracted ourselves from the mass. Then the lift began again. 5 cabins a minute with 8 people in each. 50 minutes would be the fastest time clear the crowd, assuming it worked continuously, and that all cabins were full which they frequently aren’t as people chose to sit together but block the entrance for 1s and 2s to occupy the empty seats. Despite being nearer the back of the audience and consequently towards the front of the queue, it still took half an hour before we alighted our transport. Not the best laid plan, hopefully, never to be repeated and someone given the title of ‘supreme idiot’. Or perhaps the organisers considered this acceptable, even after the fire of 18,50 earlier in the season which claimed 2 lives and put many in hospital with serious spinal injuries!!

27. Work’s do

Mt.Vallon

We explored Meribel’s slopes this last day off, which we had tended to skim through on our way between resorts, apart from Mt Vallon. They hadn’t really interested us but picking up their piste map on our way through the previous day had provided a larger, more legible scale so we could discern a vague route. We were pleasantly surprised at the scope and snow conditions, none of which were too busy. One run attracted us particularly, so much so that we had to fly down it three times in succession as we benefitted from the diminished queues for the lifts at lunchtime. Little traffic had skied it since the over-night grooming. It was wide enough to avoid the few other bods but the surface allowed much more control of direction. It was wonderful to be able to ski for sheer pleasure rather than just trying to avoid injury.

A break at the bottom of the valley provided a well-earned respite in the early afternoon as we basked in the warmth of high teen temperatures. However our usual route back to 16,50 seemed to provide too much of a challenge that day. I didn’t know I had lost Roger until I came to a suitable stopping place at confluence of runs and found him absent. He appeared from another direction about 10 minutes later having suffered an ungainly fall onto his backside just as we came into the far reaches of 16,50. He then lost me on the home run back to the apartment after he’d over-taken me as I catapulted myself skywards off an icy mound which I had expected to be the same slush as the thin adjacent snow. The earth receded under my skis as the air turned blue with my expletives before I landed, chest first, shedding skis and poles as I scorched a trail through the muddy layer. Fortunately no serious injury to either of us but these bodies can’t take too much of this abuse.

Battered and bruised we showered and readied ourselves for our lift to a rare night out. Our illustrious leaders had invited the whole team to Bozel, the village at the bottom of the valley where most of the residents live who support the ski resorts, for an evening of cocktails, quizzes, canapes and a disco. Travel was laid on so no-one needed to be behind the wheel, not even the drivers. This generosity is quite exceptional amongst employers in this market so we felt suitably appreciated.
The company had taken over a bar and mojitos welcomed us as we arrived in the first van load. Once everyone had gathered the quiz got underway. Teams had already been drawn and we were partnered with two of the drivers: Gareth, previously a chemistry teacher, and Max a young old hand at seasons, but new to the company. We found ourselves marginally in the lead at the half way stage and managed to maintain that position despite some tough opposition and dubious tactics. Our prize is a night session on skidoos which we are very excited about, even if Max really want the sunglasses of third place.
Towards the end of the evening everyone seemed to congregate outside the bar, even though the vans weren’t due to return for the rest of us for well over half an hour but we have quite a few smokers. Roger and I propped up the residence adjoining which did look in need of some upkeep. An older gentleman approached and mentioned that it was his house and, from what we could gather, that the walls might not hold our weight. We duly moved away. He returned a few minutes later and our expectation was to be asked to keep the noise down. He made straight for Roger and produced a newspaper covered bottle plus a couple of small glasses. Offering only him a sample he provided him with a measure of a home made liqueur from the garage of one of only two remaining gentlemen to brew such a concoction in this valley. These men track down gentian plants in the high rocky Alpine crevasses and then brew their poteen from the roots. This man’s mother had owned the whole building, in which he was born, but had sold the bar. He had returned to live in the house on the side, now that he had retired from practising law. A super day and evening and imbibing a soon-to-be rare tipple.

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.