Tuesday, January 31, 2012

worth the wait

a rare glimpse of sunshine and a view......

all covered in snow

heading back for more

On occasions it was difficult to decide which way was up as I attempted my first day of powder skiing of the season. It had snowed a bit during the night and much harder early in the morning. I spent a couple of hours clearing around guests cars and a path across the terrace before breakfast, my earlier efforts almost completely refilled by the time I stopped. Now I am attempting to rediscover the joys of fresh snow, it is more challenging than I remember.

The light is flat and visibility is minimal through the driving snow, I recall that scary whiteout day last year and promise myself that I will head in before it gets too bad and continue with my efforts. The snow is knee deep even on the ‘bashed’ runs, increasing in places to nearly waist deep in places. No chance of watching your skis when it’s like this, just head down hill slowly, leaning back in the vane hope of lifting the front of the skis high enough to ride the powder whilst changing direction as gently as possible to minimise spillages.

Fallen over again, completely immersed in snow, not quite sure what I am doing wrong but face planting in such deep snow doesn’t hurt, it’s just a struggle to get back up again, as everything gives. You can’t push yourself up as its all too soft, the trick, I guess, is to maneuver yourself over your skis before standing straight up onto them again, reaching deep down into the snow with a pole until it hits harder ground below. It’d be nigh on impossible to find a ski if you lost one in conditions like these. I hope that I don’t.

Further down the slope I join a more used part of the piste which is all churned up but much easier to ski. Previously used techniques work better on the more solid surface although it is proving challenging for many people and there are more people on the ground than normal. Amazingly there is an atmosphere of fun, I can hear people laughing and shouting out to each other, obviously enjoying the challenge, visibility is a bit better too, good enough to see folk moving at all speeds through the snow, some tumbling and falling, arms, legs and skis at all angles, quickly getting up again, full of smiles, ready to go again. I stop for a few moments to watch a group drop gracefully down the opposite side of the valley hoping to learn a trick or two, before heading on down to the lift again.

Unlike other days, it is a joy to sit down and rest on the way back up the mountain, usually the runs are over so fast and effortlessly the ride back up is a bit of a drag. Not today, I am not as fit as I like to imagine and am using different muscles in my legs to normal. It’s good to take a break. Surprisingly, sat on a chairlift in the driving snow I am as warm as toast, the effort is contributing well and the two extra layers are almost unnecessary, the balaclava, however is worth its weight in gold, keeping the snow from going down my neck and my chin and nose warm. On the way up I hope that my estate agent is well again soon and hope that things will start to proceed with my house soon. I try planning how to install the hot water system but it's not even worth considering today, it's skiing and snow and that is all that is important when you seize the day.

Here we go again, I keep trying to get to another run, but each time I get to the top I have a huge urge to return to the same slope. Eventually it’ll work like a dream, so I try again. I must remember how those people were skiing when I watched them earlier. Over the edge, looking into the distance, putting more weight on the back of the skis than I thought possible and wow. It works, I gain speed and transfer my weight to turn, gently, gently, so as not to cause too much disturbance and around I go, level up and back the other way, gently yet firmly, I turn the other way, catch the rythm and bounce down the slope. Thats the feeling, thats how it needs to be done. I gather speed, snow sprays up from time to time, stinging my face as I carve a deep serpenting line down the slope. It’s dark again. I did something and am now stationary and buried in snow. Light filters through so I can tell which way is up, I move my legs to check that all is intact and I still have both my skis, all present and correct. I struggle to get the right way up against the soft giving snow, resting for a minute or two to get my breath before continuing, exhilaration, wonder, amazement. The clouds clear and I glance up the mountain to see my traces in the snow, I have covered a decent distance and my tracks look great.

Back on my feet and moving again, I’ve rediscovered the magic that is powder skiing, it’s such a different sensation to regular skiing, almost silent and perhaps in slow motion, it’s difficult to explain but wonderful to do. I recall how the mountain falls away below me and head for another area where I know there’ll be deep powder, I cross a major thoroughfare, adjusting my technique for the differing terrain, keeping a lookout through the murky air for other skiers and off down a side track. To the left there is a steep drop that will take me back to the lift, I tip over the edge, fairly slowly and choose my path, the snow is still falling yet I can see further than I have done in a while, choosing my route down a pristine slope to the left, slowly, to the right, slowly, no sudden movements, be definite and flowing, there, what a sensation, that’s what it’s all about and on, and on, tracks ahead, I make a mistake and think about what’ll happen when I cross them, too late, I’m over again, deep in the snow. well wrapped up, the only part of me exposed is my nose, which gets more of a chill, though, as I reach upright again, a large chill slides down into the back of my trousers, coming to rest right where I’ll rediscover it later as I sit on the lift. For the moment it melts a bit then seems to stay away, leaving me to continue downhill, ignoring tracks and managing to stay upright. This is energetic skiing and I am loving every minute of it.

And out onto the relative flat of the piste and relax. Not too much at its bumpy as ever, with plenty of other skiers adjusting to the new conditions. I continue down to the lift and spot the outline of a figure I know. Its Andy, I ski alongside him on his board and he turns to see who is so close, grinning from ear to ear, I know he has had the time of his life this morning too, just by his expression. We stop by the lifts and exchange stories, I was right, he’s used the mountain to the max and is loving every moment of this new snow that we’ve waited for for so long. He helps in the chalet too and grew up near the mountains of California, so is well accustomed to such conditions. I can only imagine where he’s been, and the scrapes on the bottom of his board show that it’s probably been a more hairy ride than mine has so far. We part company, aiming to meet back at the chalet for lunch and continue with the mornings entertainment. Is there too much of a good thing? I hope not.

its going to be like this tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

now waiting

I now have a bank account, arranged from a tiny branch in the village which opens for two mornings a week. The bank are in the process of ‘improving’ their service by incorporating a secure foyer for customers, probably so that all banking can be done automatically, so the facilities were even more reduced than normal. I now have to wait until my cashpoint card arrives through the post before I can invest any money in the account, the part time staff do not even have counter cash facilities during the renovation so I have to make another appointment to be shown how to use my cash card. Exciting.

On the house front, after the flurry of activity last week I sent off all my details, followed by my new account details for the notaire, all has gone quiet. I heard back yesterday, from a colleague, that my estate agent is off sick and will be out of action for at least two weeks. They did not tell me whether anyone else would be covering the transaction or that I would have to wait. I have sent wishes for a speedy recovery via the office and a request that someone else continues the process.

Here at the chalet all is quiet. There are eleven guests, an overspill from the hostel down the road that is filled to capacity with over ninety school children. Ours only sleep here, they leave before breakfast and return to change at the end of the day before heading off, down the road to eat with everyone else. They are quiet and well behaved and we have the place to ourselves for most of the week again. Unfortunately we are still waiting on some new snow. About two inches has fallen since my arrival before Christmas and the hillside is becoming more and more green.

Yesterday I spotted a flock of sheep way up on the hillside above the chalet, an area usually blanketed in snow for the whole season. Incredibly, most guests have been in good spirits and content with the amount of skiing that have been able to do. Conditions are getting rather icy in places and thin in others, although the resort manages to produce an impressive quantity of artificial snow and the majority of pistes remain open and enjoyably skiable. Temperatures are dropping and the forecast is for cloud, rain and snow over the coming weekend so we have our fingers crossed and will be ready for some early morning starts should the snow ploughs be out in force before daybreak in the next few days.

I have promised Moira, a dear friend of mine, that I will do a red run for her. I keep trying them out, but think that new snowfall is needed before I can give it sufficient energy and emotion to do it justice. Waiting patiently for the moment......

Friday, January 13, 2012

it's urgent

As soon as I have posted a blog mentioning the speed that my house purchase is progressing and that I hope it takes its time whilst I am occupied this spring I get emails.

Karine at the agency is keen to get things moving with the Notaire (solicitors) and there are two other interested parties all of a sudden. All of the questions that I have been awaiting answers on for ages are swiftly answered and it is of the utmost urgency that I sign papers soon.

So, I have an appointment with a bank manager today to open a french bank account. I know the closest place to hire a car, not an agency but the local garage a few miles down the road. I have sufficient documents to start the process and the agent is arranging most of the technical details for my initial visit. With bank account in place, the deposit can be transferred and the process of buying can start.

Reality is starting to hit home as the project prepares to come to life. No longer is it the dream that I visit in my head of a cozy little house with its productive vegetable and fruit garden. A swanky yurt concealed behind flowering borders where people come to stay and enjoy the peace and quiet of rural living. Tranquil days tending crops and explaining techniques to inquisitive gardeners who visit for short courses on things gardening. Reality is an old stone shell in a grass field with no water or electricity. I have an idea of what needs to be done to restore the property, experience of some methods and techniques but no expertise in completing the whole thing. Having to arrange everything in french and deal with the intricacies of bureaucracy in a foreign country, discovering how to arrange temporary accommodation on site and get my useful belongings there. To start a garden and work out how to renovate my shell.

If I think about it all at once my head starts to abort mission, I have to decide how to approach the project and give order to the millions of tasks that will become apparent as I proceed. To stay focussed on one thing at a time, to pace myself, allow plenty of time for each phase of the project and to remember to enjoy the journey. Its going to be a time of lists, with lists for each list and research for countless questions and possibilities that will arise as I prepare. Exciting beyond belief and more than a little scary at the same time. Being outside ones comfort zone is supposed to create the best results so, if all goes to plan, something amazing will surely happen.

A spanish guest just came back into the chalet for the fourth time to collect another something from his room. We wished him a good day again and he shared a spanish saying:

“people with bad brains need good legs”

Which, in his case was definitely true, as all his friends waited patiently outside for him to gather everything necessary for a day in the mountains.

fresh air and snow

Life has been at a frenetic pace for the last couple of weeks, what with the constantly changing of guests, new people working new shifts and needing a bit of guidance here and there, shopping needing doing, the dog needing exercise and when the opportunity arises a good bit of skiing.

For living, it isn’t like being any where else that I know. There are five of us sharing a room, not exactly private but I have no complaints, it is warm, comfortable and cosy. The chalet is fairly open plan, so unless you hide away in the small, chilly staff only TV room you are on show and part of the face of the establishment, so, from time to time it is nice to get away for an hour or so of peace and quiet.

I have been taking it easy on the slopes, enjoying being back in the mountains and in the fortunate position of being able to wait for better snow (fingers still crossed). The scenery is beautiful as ever and it is a joy to be outside somewhere that makes you feel as if you are on top of the world.

Chester and I have walked too, he loves to get out and I try and grab the opportunity to get a bit of different exercise when I can. We headed to Pla d’Adet along a snowy forest track. He is still timid, rushing passed other walkers to relative safety beyond them, often turning back to check them out from behind or charging off into the trees if a group, including children, are just too threatening to pass head on.

A snowy walk is great exercise, especially when your feet sink deep into the snow with each step, it gets the heart pumping, builds a good inner warmth and utilises muscles seldom otherwise used. Believe me, I ached like a good un after my first snowy stroll.

Pla d'Adet is probably the ugliest village I have ever seen, a complete eyesore and from the valley looks like the film set for a prisoner of war movie. A hideous collection of fifties and sixties concrete apartments built on the edge of the slopes solely for easy access to the ski slopes. Thankfully It is out of sight of Chalet Lou Rider and we only visit from time to time.

Once in the village, I took a little tour, I had thought about heading back with the dog as he is erratic and there was plenty of traffic about, but we continued for a while. I was checking out construction methods and styles for my new project, it’s amazing what can be deduced from a completely finished building when it comes to studying its construction. Not that I am any further forward, it’s just good to reflect and gather ideas for when the time comes. On that note, I am still progressing slowly with the little house in the Lot. I guess that the holidays have taken their toll on moving things along, and now that I am installed in the chalet, I have no need for immediate urgency. I just hope that it proceeds in time for a spring purchase.

Plenty of time for many more walks and plenty of reflection on the subject of renovations and the next phase of my live. With the quantity of snow here at the moment I shall be more likely exploring the mountain on foot than by skiing if there isn’t any more weather soon.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

its christmas

Lou Rider in the snow

Goats cheese on toast with honey.......

set for dinner

I arrived at the chalet to find everything in full swing. Rooms full of guests, a new team to get to know and thankfully, for everybody, snow. It didn’t take much time to find my feet and slip back into the routine again. Few things have changed so it is mainly adjusting to the pace of a chalet full of guests with only a couple of days to go till Christmas.

Mark, the chef, is back, full of ideas for magnificent meals and treats over the festive season, deliveries arrive to fill the cellar, store cupboards and fridges in preparation. The new crew are willing and able, all that is needed is to get them up to speed in the way things are done round here and to make sure everyone has a great time.

A week ago the whole mountain had been bare, with cows grazing in the pastures and a warm southerly wind blowing so the snow has come just in time. The pistes are in a good condition for the amount of snow that has fallen and our fingers are all crossed for more snow to come.

towards the mountains

The record winning LEGO Christmas Tree at St Pancreas Station

Paris at night

Tour Eiffel across the river Seine

There is always a gap in my blog when I am in England and this time has been no exception. It seems too difficult to write, although I am sure it would work fine if I put my mind to it. Nevertheless I am on foreign soil again and I have plenty to write about.

My late winter plan was disrupted somewhat so I didn’t get to spend time back at the straw bale house as I had planned. I came instead directly to Chalet Lou Rider for a third season.

I let the train take the strain, booking a succession of tickets that took me from Dronfield, Derbyshire where I had been staying with my parents, right through to the Pyrenees via London Paris and Toulouse. The journey took a day and a half, overnighting in a proper bed in a hotel rather than a night on a slow train without the option of a cabin, I chose the right option for sure.

St Pancreas station in London was packed with pre christmas travelers and the atmosphere was less frenetic than usual. A crowd had gathered around the largest lego Christmas Tree in the world, a record breaking achievement complete with a sign requesting people refrain from taking souveneirs away with them.

Booking in for the Eurostar stretch of the journey was so easy. Feed your ticket into a machine, pass through a quick security check, present your passport and you’re done. I settled in the lounge for an hours wait and got stuck into my book. Everything was going to plan until twenty minutes before departure. An announcement reported a gas leak on the line out of London and all trains were cancelled until further notice. A while later the same announcement was broadcast along with a request for non urgent travelers to postpone their journeys. I chatted with a french guy who had been in a similar situation before and he explained that if the delay was long, eurostar would accommodate passengers in a decent hotel, refund fares and offer alternative arrangements. He was excited at the proposition of a free trip for a bit of disruption and as I had connections to make I stayed put.

The delay was relatively short and the train left for Paris mid afternoon, announcements on the train suggested later connections for passengers and to speak to staff should an alternative not be presented. We sped through south east England, the tunnel and on to the french capital without further delay. I ended up arriving too late to get my connection so stayed overnight in Paris courtesy of Eurostar. An exceptionally comfortable room in a Mercure Hotel just round the corner from my departing station for the following morning. I dined in a bustling creperie took a nighttime stroll to see the Eiffel Tower all lit up for Christmas and made the most of my unexpected stopover. Thank you Eurostar, much appreciated.