Back down to earth now after a famous week’s skiing in Val d’Isere. There were comparisons with my week earlier this year in Serre Chevalier but the biggest difference was being with a group of ten people, a few whom I knew well and some I didn’t know at all. Jess and Scott were the organisers and they chose a real rum bunch that got to know each other pretty well as the week progressed. I’ve made good friends and I know that there will be many more skiing tours with this mob in future – there’s talk of a trip to Solden in Austria in April/May.
General highlights of the tour and the resort for me were:
Things that pissed me off a bit were:
The flight out all went well and we shovelled ourselves into an eight-seater van at Lyon Aeroport (two of our crew were flying into Chambery and made their own way) and we set off on a gruelling 4 hour trip with high spirits and banter that reminded me of school trips many years ago. All we needed were streamers and balloons to complete the memory.
Traffic became a problem at Moutiers as did the desire for a comfort break. Our driver Jan pulled in for a pit stop at a local gas station and we piled out for the loo only to be confronted by the irate French owner who insisted (with Gallic shrugs, finger-pointing and no English) that we couldn’t pee there because we weren’t buying any fuel. An attempt to buy a bottle of water to circumvent these local rules failed when said irate owner herded us out of his shop. No problem we said, and ran into a nearly field instead – including the girls who in true girlie style all went together. As I came out the field in relief Scottie jumped past me closely followed by French Gas-Station Man who seemed determined that we tourists weren’t going to flout his rules by peeing in a field – whether it was his or not. Fortunately for him we’d all done what we needed to do before he got there otherwise a diplomatic incident would have ensued ‘cos Scottie would have belted him while Joe held him up!
The remainder of the journey passed without an appearance by the local genital gendarmerie and we arrived safely at the chalet/hotel. First night food was OK but there was a problem with the wine being crap (unlimited for 65e per head for the week). I went to the bar and asked for the wine list and got a queer look from the Australian barman. “We have red or white” he said. “I know” I said, “so gimme a look at the list”. What he meant was they had one red and one white – end of wine list! Maybe it was because I was a bloke but when I reported this disappointing news back to the group Kata went to the bar and came back with a different and much tastier bottle of white. Women have their ways I suppose!
Ski gear was hired at the excellent Snowberry and Sunday saw us up on the pistes. My ski legs were a bit wobbly but I soon got on track. The abilities of the group were mixed; three went to ski school every morning, we had two boarders who went off themselves to hunt down powder, leaving five of us to ski where we wanted. It quickly became clear that Jess, Scott and Joe were excellent skiers, followed some way behind by me and Michelle. Jess has a nose for powder and went off-piste at any opportunity, which, initially at least, left Michelle and me as the only ones on the hard stuff.
Joe, bless his snoring, always kept us in sight to make sure we didn’t fall behind and as the week progressed Joe was the one who got us down the hill at the end of the day when the legs had switched off, the ice switched on and the skis wouldn’t work any more.
Joe’s approach to skiing was to throw himself down the slope and a few times he crashed out but always out of sight of my camera; Head-Cam or Canon. I did get him on tape a few times just falling over but nothing spectacular. So we manufactured the first of a few slogans; “Point your tits down the hill”.
By Thursday I was skiing well and we had planned a guided tour of the pistes with Danny, the SkiPower guide. Unfortunately, we also had true white-out conditions; thick white fog and light snow above the hills. Danny was, however, determined to guide us to the best pistes and we skied about blindly for about an hour or so. I experienced the strange sensation that I wasn’t moving when I was going down the hill as my senses were denied any reference points. When we next met up as a group I spat the dummy, throwing the ski poles out of my pram and generally having a strop saying I wasn’t doing this any more, it was no fun and someone was going to get hurt. An early lunch down in Val was negotiated after which I refused to participate in the afternoon session, preferring instead to chill in my room for a couple of hours before going shopping.
Friday saw sunny, bright conditions and Scott lent me his skis to try out. He wanted to try a set of powder skis, so I strapped on his Rossignol Z9 Ti skis and stepped gingerly onto the piste. He’d been flying past me all week and he was a better, more confident skier than me, but he insisted that the skis were probably ideal for where I was in my learning curve. He was right. For my first run that day down Piste "3L" (Blue) I could feel the skis wanting to go; a bit like riding a race-horse (not that I’ve ever been on one). They felt good, biting the snow with the smallest of edges but accelerating when asked to. I never knew that a good pair of skis could make such a difference. My hired skis were like a Ford Fiesta against a BMW M3 – no contest. For the rest of the day I got hold of them and they showed me what was possible. I got happy; very happy.
My last run of the day sold them to me and Scottie and I sealed the deal over toffee vodka shooters at après-ski. I was skiing a heavily mogulled Piste Coupe de Monde "OK" (Red) I’d been down a few times, but now I was confident I was riding the snow. Part way down I saw Jess and Joe waiting at a ridge and I decided the give the Rossies their head, so I just relaxed, flattened them out and let them go. They accelerated away and I could feel the moguls bucking up though my legs, knees and hips as I flew over them. The Rossies just got faster and I blinked before they did. At 50m from Jess I tried to get control again and edged them a bit and they did what they’d been doing all day; they gripped the snow. I under-compensated for the deceleration and went flying; skis over head in a ball of snow – my first crash of the day. I didn’t hurt myself at all, the skis stayed with my boots and I bounced to a halt 20m from Joe who was in stitches laughing. I lay there with a big smile on my face, laughing at the sky. I was very happy and there was only one other thing then I wanted ....
After my success with cameras at Serre Chevalier I reprised things by taking both cameras again. Once again the big Canon did the business despite being chucked around in some snow and looking very miserable for the experience. I carried it in my 10kg backpack ready to whip out whenever there was an opportunity along with a flash gun which came in handy for the après-ski and evening entertainments. Most of the group had point-and-shoot compacts or smart phones but we’ll see who has the best pics shortly!
Head-Cam wasn’t such a success this time, mainly because of its quirkiness with battery changes. An annoying feature when the batteries are changed is that it resets its file-naming. This led to me over-writing three days worth of good footage because I forgot (alcohol induced forgetfulness) to rename the files once copied. The fourth day Jess had Head-Cam so that, for once, I could be the star instead of the director. Head-Cam decided this was a pink day and all footage came out with pink/purple colour cast which pissed me off no end. The last day’s shooting got some decent footage but was curtailed by battery outages. My good friends at Drift Innovation have been informed.
The quality of pistes at Val d'Isere are on a par with Serre Chevalier, though Val has a bigger ski area and more pistes but one thing Val has that beats Serre hands down is après-ski. Café Face and Le Petite Danois get honourable après-ski mentions and were regular haunts for us with live music (5pm – 7.30pm nightly). Le Follie Douce is something else though. High on the piste its après-ski starts at about 2.30pm and goes onto till 5pm and it attracts hundreds of people (see pic).
On Tuesday, we had a 500e lunch in Fruiterie – part of Follie Douce – and it was awesome, then out to party before skiing down the hill to La Daille. This was one of those days where, after much food and drink, the ski legs deserted me and Joe had to nurse me down the last 600m of Piste Diebold (Blue) that was actually an ice rink set at 30 degrees from vertical.
La Daille was also home to Les Tufs, a fabulous café/restaurant that we had lunch in on Monday and again on Friday. Monday was a drop-in day and lunch was so good we knew we had to come back. On Friday I took charge and booked it over the phone, in the process setting up another potential diplomatic incident.
We had arranged a table for eight for 1pm. Scottie wanted to ski again in the afternoon so no late afternoon drinking. We all arrived on time and were shown to our table upstairs where the “Upstairs Man” introduced us to the café buffet. Scottie spat the dummy (quite right) and said we’d booked the restaurant for lunch. “Not possible” said Upstairs Man, but I insisted he was right. A debate ensued that could have got out of hand but we decided to convene and the outcome was that I was sent under diplomatic cover to sort it out. I approached Upstairs Man who said if I wanted a table in the restaurant I’d have to ask “Downstairs Man” because he ruled that domain. A debate about me being the customer and upstairs/downstairs making sod-all difference resulted in the now expected Gallic shrug and he walked off. So I went downstairs where the shrug was repeated by someone posing as Downstairs Man but without the authority. I stood in the restaurant and counted 3 empty tables all set for eight people with not a “Reserve” sign to be seen. I finally located Downstairs Man who turned out to be the owner – a man that could have been planted anywhere on the planet and you’d look at him and say “He’s French”. A hooked nose in a handsome face with a disinterested look, some shabbily elegant clothes and a complete lack of a reasonable grasp of English.
I said who I was (in better French than I thought I could speak) and reminded him of my 1pm reserved table in the restaurant. “Not possible” he said, copying Upstairs Man’s response. I looked around at the 3 empty tables and swept my arm around in a grand gesture without any French to back it up. He responded with an inevitable shrug. “1:45pm” I said and suddenly he agreed violently without ever consulting a diary or guest list. We as a group retreated to the bar with Scottie still a bit miffed. I predicted that, at 1:45pm, we’d be allocated one of the currently empty tables for eight. 1:45pm duly arrived as did we at the door of the restaurant to find still no one sitting at any of the three tables for eight. Downstairs Man’s unauthoritative minion appeared with a big smile and waved us to the empty table for eight closest to the outside door. French customer service at its infuriating best.
The meal was wonderful and the wine cheaper and better than the plonk we were soaking up in the hotel/chalet, but the delay in lunch put a mild damper on it. The table we were at benefited from an Arctic breeze whenever the outside door was opened, which the waiting staff seemed to do every 10 seconds or so, surely to annoy us as we were forever marked as disruptive customers. As we sat down we concluded that moving unilaterally to another, warmer table could raise the international incident index to DEFCON 5 so we decided to deal with it by putting on more clothing. And a picture captured forever us at table.
Saturday gave us an early start with a wummin driver who posed as Alain Prost’s mother – she wasn’t really but she drove like she wished she was. The traffic delays caused us great problems but she always seemed to have an alternative option, taking us back routes through hills (and Grenoble) and frightening the life out of any drivers on the Autoroute who were stupid enough to be in her lane. The driving etiquette (what’s French for etiquette?!) on the Autoroute is to drive up the rear end of the car in front until you are almost next to the driver, until he sh1ts himself and moves over. She did this many times to the dismay of her passengers who were constantly putting their hands out in front of them in anticipation of the recoil of a shunt at 130km per hour. However, she got us to Lyon Aeroport in just enough time to check-in and earned herself a 50e tip for doing it and keeping us barely alive if emotionally wrecked.
So ended an absolutely fantastic skiing holiday that makes me just want to resign from work and go back right now!
More pictures will be added soon so keep checking back. Click here to view the Rogues Gallery.
12th March 2012
PS. Photos of me compliments of Kata.