Thursday, February 24, 2011

chalet life continues

This blog thing just isn’t happening at the moment. Since I arrived back at Chalet Lou Rider so many things have been going on that I have just not found the mood or inspiration to write. So I apologise to those of you who keep checking to see what I have been up to. The time to write will return, as it always does and I will resume a more normal service.

Until then, a quick synopsis.

Since I wrote last, there has been snow, loads of snow and some great skiing, followed a couple of days later by some ‘wonderfully’ warm sunny weather, the pistes turned to ice and the mountains lost their beautiful white blankets of cover, returning to an unseasonal brown colour. Days later the same thing happens, a good dump of snow followed by a couple of excellent days for skiing before more warm melty conditions. Diane, a guest, who stayed a week or so ago provided me with some excellent tuition and we skid together most of the time she was here, improving our english and french language skills and having a great laugh together. My skiing is much improved and hopefully I have shaken off some of those lazy habits that I had gathered from last season. Dynamic skiing is the way forward, I love it.

We have just had the biggest snowfall of the winter so far, it came down constantly for over 24 hours, blown by fairly high winds most of the resort stayed closed for a day as the workers on the mountain dealt with a multitude of avalanche threats by blasting unstable snow off the mountain with controlled explosions.

Here in the chalet two helpers have gone and after a short gap, one new one arrived. Ildi took a weekend off, returning fleetingly to collect her belongings, not to be seen again and Graeme had to leave Europe before his visa ran out. So suddenly there were two of us where there used to be four, right in the busiest part of the season. Fortunately the new guy, Ian is a bright spark and is getting to grips with chalet life fairly quickly, he is only here for two weeks to learn a bit of french and also to ski. Cameron and I are filling in with a bit of extra work and have an arrangement with Clare to compensate. New postings have hit the helpX website and reinforcements should hopefully be arriving soon. Cameron is with us for another three weeks before heading back to Oz after a good stint of traveling and exploring the world.

I am amazed that ski fanatics are not queueing up to be here as it is in the most excellent location and there is an opportunity to ski almost every day. Come join us for the remains of the season, in another two weeks the school holidays will be over and the resort will return to its normal tranquil self. More snow is forecast, along with some seasonable cold to replace the warmth that has dominated the region for most of this winter.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

change of plan

So much has happened, I got the ski bug big time and a few days after my first ski trip with Vanessa, I hit the slopes again, a different resort in the Pyrenees, Peyragudes, in fact, again with Vanessa along with one of her english village neighbours and a couple of friends.

The resort was quite different to Saint Lary, dropping off two sides of a mountain ridge rather than nestling mainly in a large bowl, faster more modern lifts, more challenging and longer runs, but further by car and no where local to stay. Luckily we were only there for a day and it was great fun to ski with more proficient skiers too. I was somewhat distracted throughout the day, wondering if I had made a wrong decision, or if I should have stuck to my original plans.

The following day Lisa dropped me in Lannemezan and I got the coach to Saint Lary again, this time it was for a longer term visit. I had been liasing with Clare during the week as an opening to helpX had arisen in the chalet, I needed no second asking and as some of you who know me well have already deducted, I am now installed at Chalet Lou Rider for the rest of the season, doing the same as I did last winter. It has been a hectic couple of weeks adapting to the new routine, getting as much skiing in as possible, fitting into a different team and catching up with all the little changes that have been implemented since I was last here, not many, but enough to tax me slightly at times. The boiler and oil supply were playing up so I spent much of my first week doing my best to stop water leaking into the oil supply and keeping the chalet warm. The weather was unseasonably warm and the mountains changed from white to a browny green in a matter of days, especially at lower altitudes, the heights continue to hold the snow well even with a week of daily daytime melt. Thankfully it has cooled dramatically since then and snow has fallen a couple of times, returning the mountains to their rightful colour for the start of the school holiday season. The chalet, busy with adults last week is now full of families and buzzing with afternoon games as soon as the slopes close in the afternoon. The atmosphere is great and we will be kept busy for quite a while as business is much brisker than last year. I will be making the most of my free time during the day on the slopes and enjoying my work in the chalet.

Late winter school holidays are different here in France to those back home in the UK, for a start, the mayor holiday is in February or March, allowing everyone two weeks off during the ski season, they only get a short week off over Easter, secondly, the country is split into three zones and the holidays are staggered on a rotational basis. The first zone starts, then the second zone starts a week after. The third zone starts two weeks later as the first zone finishes. Thus the two middle weeks are the only ones that overlap out of the month. This season the two more local regions come first and last, giving us a full month of business potential rather than the overlapped format of last year. The chalet bookings sheet is looking pretty full for the complete month already and more enquiries arrive every day. Me thinks that we will be in for a busy time.

Fingers crossed for some more decent snow interspersed with some good cold sunny weather to keep everyone happy. With any luck there will be plenty of snow left way into March when the schools go back and the mountain calms down again.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

absolutely amazing

Skiing was amazing, absolutely amazing. There had been fresh snow over the weekend and the mountains looked beautiful as we drove up to the resort. The snow cover was extensive but not terribly thick, wooded areas stood out as large drifts of dark green against the new whiteness, the sky a bright blue and although it was very cold there was warmth in the morning sunshine. It was easy to see the road winding up the side of the mountain to Espiaube and the chalet, I knew exactly where to look but as ever the hillside hid the buildings from view. We weren’t particularly early but the car park was deserted, probably the fact that it was a Monday had something to do with it, Vanessa and I popped into Chalet Lou Rider to say Hi to Clare and have a quick drink before changing into out ski gear and hitting the slopes. I had left my skis at the chalet at the end of last season, unable to carry any more luggage back to England and happy that someone else adopt them should I not have returned. Thankfully they were still there, unused and ready for my boots once again.

I had a moment of apprehension on the way up the mountain on the lift. Will I still be able to ski? Have I forgotten everything, it has been ages since I stood on skis, I was going to be completely rubbish and fall over straight away, for most of the journey up we discussed where we wanted to ski and tried to guess which pistes were open.

Conditions were as good as the best day I can remember from last year, I didn’t fall over and my skis remembered exactly what to do. Almost immediately I started having thoughts of why I wasn’t in a ski resort for the winter? what was I doing elsewhere when it just felt so good to be out on the snow in the sunshine? As runs disappeared under our skis and lifts whisked us back to the heights again and again I tried to contain my thoughts to the moment and embrace the immediate wonder of the day, it worked most of the time and we had a great day. Unlike last winter when we could just pop back to the chalet and the slopes were available day after day, this was a treat, something we had to make the most of. We timed it right and ate a late lunch after everyone else had finished, the choice was limited and the chips were cool when they arrived but it didn’t matter, we were on the slopes for the day and making the most of it. Vanessa’s skiing had improved since last year, she has already had a couple of lessons and her increased confidence was definitely showing now. We were able to explore areas of the resort that she hadn’t ventured to before, gently increasing that confidence and realising how much fun it all was. People has asked me back in the summer if I had been bored by the end of a whole season in the same resort, I had told them no, and now that I was back, that still stood, it was as good to be back here on the snow as it would be to have had a day on the snow else where.

The late lunch fueled us for the rest of the day, we definitely got our moneys worth and were herded off the slopes as they closed at the end of play. I could have gone on for longer so made the most of the last descent by using the slope to its max. Huge sweeping turns, traversing from one side to the other, enjoying the sun and the view and the fresh air and hoping that there would be more opportunities in the not too distant future for us to enjoy. I stopped more frequently than I had been, in order for Vanessa to catch up, the day was taking its toll, her legs had had enough and she tumbled several times on that last descent, a sure sign that it was a good time to call it a day.

Clare welcomed us back at the chalet with a good cuppa and I spent a few minutes chatting with the new team of helpXers that were there this season. It felt a little strange to be there for such a short time, but great to meet yet more welcoming , friendly helpers and get a tiny glimpse back into the life I had enjoyed so much a year ago. We left in the car, returning to the safety of the valley floor before the icy darkness fell on the mountains once again. Home was only an hour away, where a welcoming log fire and dinner awaited.