The white, white, white view from Chalet Lou Rider has gone. The trees have lost their dull grey green colour of winter and are starting to glow with the flush of new growth. There are patches of dirty off white snow here and there, but not huge amounts at this altitude. The grey of the grass between them is also lessening as new, green shoots push up through the old faded mat of foliage from last year. And that is on the shady north facing side of the valley. It has been too warm for a while now.
On the sunny south side the grass appears green from a distance, clusters of small yellow flowers have emerged and the buds are starting to burst on the tree outside. Lush new grass and weeds are pushing up through gravel on the path bringing a new colour to the landscape. Down in the valley the pastures look lush and green and there is a feeling of spring in the air.
This is all rather scary as the resort is still open and is expected to be operational until after Easter. That is another two weeks away. The warm ‘foen’ wind has been blowing from the south again, the wind that makes the Pyrenees less popular as a skiing destination and is warming everything through. The nights have been cloudy, keeping the warm air in and it has rained for most of the weekend.
Further up the mountain things improve a bit. There is plenty of exposed ground, scree slopes, large areas of grass that provide grazing during the summer months, clusters of low growing junipers and myrtle bushes amongst the trees down by the lake. The shadier slopes are still covered with a thick layer of snow, although it is turning that funny grey brown colour that always comes with snow that has lain for a long time, I expect that it is dust and dirt and fine particles of soil that have blown in and are becoming concentrated on the surface as the icy layer slowly melts.
The ski slopes remain in tact, a bit thin in places, but open none the less. Where areas have become too thin, the maintenance crews spend the night redistributing snow from drifts and banks to fill in the patches and keep everything running smoothly. There must be some sort of gauge in their monster piste bashing machines that measures the underlying depth of snow as they seem to be able to scrape away all but the thinnest layer, leaving a protective layer over the rocks and vegetation below, there are a few scuffs here and there but probably no more than the hooves of a herd of cattle roaming the hills in the summer.
Skiing itself is quite a different experience now, it is much warmer, so less clothes (until the sun goes in), there is hardly anyone out and about, so much more open runs and absolutely no queueing for the lifts and very different under foot. Gone is the beautiful, soft powder that I wrote about earlier, gone are the crisp, frozen ridges of a groomed slope in freezing temperatures and in its place a thick, sticky, slushy surface that grips the soles of your skis, reducing your speed, gathers up in solid mounds that catch skis and tip you off balance. It is wet when you fall and far less supporting when you try and stand on it. All in all a different kind of experience.
I disliked this new snow intensely after having such beautiful freezing conditions for so long, but now I have become accustomed. I have modified my technique and reduced my speed and am still loving being out in the mountains. The views continue to be immense and the thrill of being on skis does not seem to diminish over time. I think that this is probably the best way I could have spent winter 2010 in the northern hemisphere and I give thanks for that.
I do, however, have my fingers crossed for at least one big dump of snow before I leave here for pastures new.
Yes, it snowed again over the weekend, and although the air is still warm the conditions have been great for the most recent guests and the slopes a pleasure to ski once more.