How time flies. The last four months have passed so very fast this year and the season is nearly at an end. Windy, my brother, visited last week and we had a great time. I picked him up from Tarbes airport on Tuesday morning. It was the first time that I had been out of the valley for a while and it was a joy to realist that spring is already here and the countryside was bursting into life again. We visited the straw bale houses on the way back to the chalet, the ones that I spent time at last year, so that he could see first hand what I had spent so long talking about when I visited last year. It was brilliant to spend time and share a part of my life that has been so inaccessible to friends and family, he loved it too. I can hardly wait till the end of the season as I shall be heading back there again for a few weeks to lend a hand and really catch up on progress at the two sites.
We skid almost all the second day of his visit, he soon regained his ski legs although suffered slightly by the end of the day, not surprisingly really with the amount we achieved. We had a few guests at the time but the atmosphere was relaxed enough for us to spend almost all of his visit without me having to work, so the evenings were for chatting, playing cards and relaxing, during his action packed short stay he never did get an early night.
The weather was unseasonally warm so we hit the slopes early every morning to get the best conditions. The pistes were groomed to perfection, as ever, and we made short work of completing almost every route available to us. We even managed to entice Clare out for the morning, which was great, she enjoys it so much but is a master at finding excuses not to go. “Next year will be different” she says. We’ll see. Lunch was at the best snow side restaurant in the resort, La Cabane, a delicious thai soup, on the terrace in the sunshine. Windy had “Tartiflette” a mountain speciality of cheese potatoes and lardons that disappeared in record speed. Whilst there we decided to have a relaxing afternoon and headed back to the chalet.
I didn’t explain where we were going, just that we needed swimming trunks and would be back for dinner. Balnea is in the next valley to Saint Lary, so after dropping down to the village I took the col route, up the winding mountain road through the countryside and got to see first hand the tiny villages that I had looked down on from my walk the other week. Paragliders were enjoying the mild sunny weather and finding thermals enough to keep airborne for a good long time. We passed through a tiny amount of snow at the highest point before descending steeply to the valley floor, round what seemed like hundreds of tiny, tight bends on the narrow road.
It wasn’t swimming, just floating, soaking and relaxing in numerous thermal baths. There were roman style baths in an authentically styled quarry stone zone with arched ceilings, elaborate tiling, plunge pools, a sauna and icy bath. An asian area with palm trees and carved wooden poles, jaccussis, bubble beds, whirlpools, massaging spouts of water and a great view of the snow capped mountains. A pod to lie in that played under water music that could only be heard with your head submerged. Hot tubs, saunas, steam rooms and the newest part, outside, Japanese baths ranging in temperature from warm to just too hot to stay too long, on the side a pile of snow for an icy rub down. It was magical to sit and soak in warm, thermal waters outside in the chilly fresh air in such a setting, what must it be like when it snows?
Thoroughly relaxed, we returned to the chalet for dinner and another enjoyable evening of chat, laughter and cards. Windy wondered how much of the resort we had covered so I got out a piste map and highlighted the runs that we had already visited. Probably two thirds of the runs that were open and accessible. Pretty impressive for a day and a half. We vowed to complete more the following day, his last. on this flying visit to the snow.
Day three arrived soon enough, for me it was like being on holiday, three saved up days off in a row, no work to do in the chalet apart from overseeing breakfast that morning and with six guests, hardly a difficult task. We managed to head off just after 10am for another day in the sunshine. How lucky we were, a week later as I write it has been damp, cloudy and trying to snow for the last four days. The first slope that we went down was so good that we had to enjoy it a coupe of extra times before moving on. Almost deserted and groomed to perfection once again, the mountain was breathtaking as ever. I wonder if I would ever tire of this. We head off, mentally ticking off those missing routes and revisiting favourites of the last couple of days, cruising from one area to the next, Windy almost completely back to the skiing agility that he had when he worked in the Alps a while back. We had great fun speeding down slopes and discussing our respective projects and other topics whilst sitting on the lifts, time together always passes so fast.
Before we knew it I was dropping him back off at the airport, hugging my brother good bye, his whole trip was over in the blink of an eye. His early flight had given me a head start for the day, so I made the most of it by exploring a different area on the way back, checking out the occasional estate agent and having a good look round building supply yards for ideas for the future, hopefully I will be getting going on my next project soon.