Wednesday, January 23, 2013


We waited another two days before the weather was clear enough for the helicopter to see what it was doing.  The afternoon was clear sunny and incredibly bright.  The helicopter landed on the car park, probably to pick up explosives and headed directly to a high crest above the chalet, it dropped so low all we could see was a cloud of snow billowing about for several seconds and then backed off the mountain a fair distance.  There was a tiny plume of snow/smoke followed by a boom before the whole slope of snow started to slide down the mountain.  It was all miniature and distant, but having been up there in the past, I could imagine how large the slide was.  Huge billows of snow rose up in the valley, catching the sun and causing a giant brilliant white glow for several moments.  The helicopter moved on to the next probable site and repeated the drop.  Again a plume followed by boom and another silent slide of snow, whole valleys of silent billowing movement in the distance, the scale was impressive.  It continued into the distance and out disappeared of view for a while, appearing again above the chalet but further down the valley.

They had already decided that the other side of our valley was safe enough to use the road so I took a chance to see what was going on.  I was itching to be outside and also wanted to get to the other part of the resort to say goodbye to a friend who had been staying there,  there were no busses so I thought that I would walk there.  I passed a couple of groups of official looking people in uniforms and we passed the time of day.  The helicopter was high up on the mountain doing its thing and the evidence of avalanches were clear to see in the bright snow.  Looking back above the chalet, there had been several, all small and had stopped way short of the buildings.  It looked as if the job was done.  I set off on my way down the hill taking photos and enjoying the stunning snowy scenery, the helicopter returned to the car part to pick up more explosives and passed directly overhead on its way down the valley to continue its work.  I passed the crossroads and another group of resort officials, they waved whilst watching the drama on the hillside and I continued.  A van approached, I stuck my thumb out, getting a lift from one of the local guys directly into the resort village.  On arrival we met the Gendarme who were holding up the traffic until the avalanche clearance had finished.  No one was allowed from where I had just come from........  I’ll never know if I should have been there or not, but the view had been great and I got a ring side view of avalanche clearance in action.

I got to say good bye to Cecile, we’d met last summer on the donkey farm and she’d been staying in resort with a group of schoolchildren for ten days or so through work.  We hadn’t managed to ski together as she’d injured her ankle over New Year but it was good to catch up and pass the time of day.  She looked happier at the end of the visit than the start, a bit more tired but thankful that she wasn’t looking after kids for the whole season.  I can only imagine.    Hopefully we’ll cross paths again, she’s promised to come and give me a hand with the house when I get that far.  I hope she does.

The resort slowly started to reopen the following day, piste by piste, as safety barriers got adjusted and lifts de-iced.  Clare and I skid on Friday for a while, the powder was deep and soft but the visibility so poor, due to the clouds and continuing snow that we didn’t last much past lunchtime.  Exhausting after skiing on groomed slopes, I have decided to get a lesson after the next new snow to learn the techniques and make it a more enjoyable experience.  

helicopter on sunny peak in centre of photo

Yes, it really was that deep

proper snowed in

avalanches and snow slides above the chalet

on the road to Pla d'Adet

the valley of Saint Lary Soulan

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

too much snow

My 20 to 40 suggestion was a bit over the top for lunchtime diners, bit I did get a decent go at running the kitchen whilst mark was away.  We saw 12 diners on Saturday and 11 on Sunday.  I got to prepare a good selection of menu items, Confit de Canard with sarladaise   potatoes, burgers, braised ham, omelettes and double fried chips (home made) and salad, spaghetti carbonara, bacon tartines.  

None of them particularly difficult individually plates, but when five or six different meals have to be ready for service at the same time it becomes a bit more tricky, especially when other orders are arriving and have to be started right away, a calm, straight thinking attitude and order is needed so as not to mess anything up.  The easiest way to monitor success from the kitchen is to look at returning plates, the vast majority were completely clean, the odd uneaten lettuce leaf or remain of burger bun, nothing substantial, no rejects, I was pleased with that.   It was a good fun, challenge that I enjoyed and could cope with more at another time.  Mark can have a few  lunchtimes off later in the season and I’ll hopefully get to practice some of the remaining dishes on the menu.

I got my wish too, the mountain is more covered in snow that I have ever seen it.  So much so that we are stranded in the chalet with strict instructions not to venture outside for fear of avalanches.  It snowed sporadically to start with, then constantly for a good 48 hours.  I knew it was snowing hard when the snow ploughs ran all night without pause, that was Sunday through to Monday morning, (the ploughs pass just outside my bedroom), last night they didn’t run at all, I guess it was already deemed too dangerous on our side of the valley.

The resort remains closed for a second day and the latest news from the authorities is that a helicopter will pass by tomorrow morning to fire grenades into the snow on the high slopes.  These explode and trigger controlled avalanches that can then be dealt with before anyone ventures too near.  Hopefully they’ll give us a call and I get to witness the excitement from a safe vantage point.  Only after that has happened and the safety teams have had time to verify the station, will it reopen for skiing.

It’s weird to watch from inside, for the past couple of hours the temperature has risen a little and the snow here has changed to rain, the almost completely laden trees have dropped their charges of snow and the depth of snow on the balcony bar has diminished considerably.  Fortunately, looking up slightly we can see that it is still snowing a hundred meters or so further up the mountain.  That’ll be the change of temperature with altitude or zero isotherm.  Whilst I have been writing, the zero isotherm has dropped and it is now snowing outside, just, and the rain has been pushed further down the mountain.  Fingers crossed that it’ll continue to stay down there for a while.

spot the cars

road up to the station

picnic tables on the terrace
I've posted a similar photo several times before, but never with this much snow, I cleared the snow from round the tables 24 hours before the photo was taken!!

how does it hold on like that?

the foreground is nearly waist deep snow

another picnic table, complete with parasol that we forgot to bring in.  Can you see it in front of the tree?

Marks' moped

Friday, January 11, 2013

they have all gone

Two weeks later and the rush of Christmas and New Year festivities seem months behind, the chalet is calm and guest free for a fortnight, save for four this weekend.  The weather has been pleasantly warm, though not good for the snow, so I have been out walking a fair amount as well as fitting in a fair amount of skiing.

Mark, the chef has headed north to see his brother for the week, he’s been ill for a while, but recovering now.  Louis, a Canadian helper who arrived well before Christmas has already gone, he stayed for the busyness of the festive period but decided that a whole season here without a ski pass wasn’t an attractive option, his traveling funds had dwindled much faster than he had originally thought and he couldn’t afford one, he’s headed to Ireland to stay with a girl he met and hopefully earn some money too.  

The day Louis left, Martin and Trudy, the other two helpers decided to leave too, they are an older couple and felt that the work schedule wasn’t allowing them to spend enough time together.  Thankfully they have offered to stay around until some replacements are found, though there is little to do during these quiet weeks.  They have a camper van outside that they are sleeping in and plan to stay around this and other resorts run by the same company for most of the season, so will no doubt see them from time to time.

It’s odd how each season is so different.  We already have one replacement arranged to arrive next week and another fairly soon afterwards.  The first possibility cancelled after confirming arrival next week due to a family related incident.and has decided not to arrive at all.  

With Mark away over the weekend I am excited to be working alone in the kitchen, I guess I shan’t be attempting the full menu but it’ll be great to see how well I cope if we get the usual number of diners at midday.  (Between 20 and 40 during the holidays.... eek).  I thought that I had been paying enough attention, but now that I start to think about how to prepare each and every dish, I doubt that it’s all properly logged in the old grey matter.  We’ll see how it goes soon enough.  Preparation is the key, will be peeling spuds this evening and frying off chips and chopping salad tomorrow morning.  

I’ve got my fingers crossed that it’s fairly busy and that the forecast snow arrives so that come Monday the mountain will be completely white again.