Saturday, March 23, 2013

a visitor in the mountains

Nic came to visit with Dolly his dog which was a great surprise.  The original plan was that he was going to spend a few days here and then continue on into Spain to visit friends for the rest of the week.  At the last minute plans changed and he was here for a swift day and a half.  We crammed a whole lot in.

The first afternoon, after one of Marks amazing thai curries we headed out in the mist to walk to Pla d’Adet, the view wasn’t there just thick cloud. Along the path, evidence of several avalanches, one of which had caught several walkers the week before, It worried me slightly that they weren’t over and I didn’t fancy being someone else winched to safety by helicopter in a dramatic rescue.  We arrived safely and I waved to one of the bus drivers that I know as we walked into the village,  he stopped the bus and we got an impromptu lift home.  


The weather was sunny but threatening a bit of snow so we took the dog for a good walk on a route that I have been meaning to do for ages.  I always decide that skiing is a better idea but with a dog a walk was a must.  We checked with the girl in the ticket office who said that there were no rules forbidding dogs on the station, so we went.

Up in the ‘eggs’  which felt odd without ski equipment and then down on a chair lift, towards the lake.  There was a grumpy attendant who wasn’t at all sure that a dog should be allowed but we went, ignoring his protestations. We held the dog tight and I discovered why everyone looks frozen when they take that lift down the hill, it catches a cruelly cold wind. Half way to the lake we crossed an area of  ski slope to get to the next lift, Dolly was so excited, running round in huge circles, surprising everyone there, it isn’t often that you see a dog in the middle of a ski resort, miles from habitation.

She got the hang quickly and snuggled between us on the second descent.  The scenery was beautiful, the trees sparkling with a slight dusting of snow and their trunks glowing orange from the sunlight reflected back from the snow.  Slowly, the huge dam and lake came into view, the water level low and completely covered in snow.  It is always a surprise to see the water levels so low but then, most of the water is still stuck on the mountains as snow.  It’ll be full to overflowing when it all melts this year.

More surprised faces and comments from folk passing in the other direction and when we arrived at the bottom.  It’s a weird sensation descending and alighting a ski lift without skis, Dolly didn’t think so, leaping off at the right moment and knowing exactly where to go.

We set off, not sure how far we were going to walk.  The lake looked huge and there was an enormous amount of snow everywhere.  The track was evident only by following the tracks of others and not by any of the usual markers.  We made good progress and soon decided to go right the way round the lake.  We discussed cutting of the far end but decided it would be too dangerous as there was no way of knowing how deep the snow was or if the ice would support our weight.  Dolly was in her element, tracking scents and chasing and destroying the countless sticks that we threw for her.  Boundless energy.

Nic and I caught up on news since I stayed last autumn, discussed plans for the future and bandied about ideas for his land and making ends meet.  He’s started a bee keeping course and is excited about getting his first hive.  We explored an old shelter with a vaulted stone ceiling and theorised about winter trekking in the mountains.

Ancient shepherds huts and shelters were visible deep in the snow, and a bridge that we crossed had a good six feet of snow across its top, making it feel rather fragile and unsafe.  It was great to be outside in the elements away from the crowds and in complete silence.  I no longer notice how noisy the ski station is, but in contrast all there was to hear was the occasional bird in the stillness of the winter landscape.  Pictures are always easier than words, so here is where we were:

We had a true mountain lunch of Tartiflet at little refuge by the dam before heading back.  Dolly was much more independent on the lifts, commanding her own chair when possible and fascinated by looking out over the slopes, skiers and landscape.  The lift attendants surprised and happy to see her so confident on the return journey.

A flying visit needed a bit of calm so we headed to the thermal baths of Balnéa for a soak.  It’s a hit with all the guests that go and my brother absolutely loved our visit last year, so I wasn’t concerned that Nic wasn’t going to enjoy it.  Two hours of soaking, floating, steaming and sauna’ing under water music and a pile of snow to roll in, what more could one ask for?  Nothing.  

We left without a trouble in the world, clean and slightly wrinkled from the hot water and me, feeling better than I have been in a long time.  It was just what I needed after the holidays.  Nic loved it too; he continued on his journey to Spain and I came back to the chalet for the soundest nights sleep in ages.  Wonderful.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

the calm after the storm

The end of the french school holidays is here accompanied by a huge sigh of relief from everyone working at the chalet.  It’s been a tough four weeks all in all.

Busier with guests than ever before, an additional lunchtime challenge of feeding between twenty five and forty kids who arrive at 12:00 midday with their ski school instructors for a meal before our normal lunchtime restaurant service.  One, then two missing from the team rather than an extra one that we had hoped for at the beginning of the season, so four doing the work of six/seven, then on the second week some guests brought a flu virus with them that they promptly shared with everyone.  Mark the chef was laid up for 24 hours the same time as I couldn’t get out of bed for the day, I have no idea how the others managed but they did. Both Clare and Jessie were rough with colds that have gone on for ages.  I  was knocked for six and have very little recollection of the following ten days or so and a good two weeks later am starting to feel on form again, perhaps it was a good thing to have done the most challenging part of the season without much of a memory, but I think that I’d rather have been there.  

Still, guests have arrived and departed without major hitch, everyone has been fed and accommodated and enjoyed their holidays seemingly as much as usual.  Plenty of folk staying elsewhere have returned time and time again for lunches and occasionally evening meals and our Sticky Toffee Pudding is becoming famous throughout the resort.  Clare should publish a chalet cook book, it would make a small fortune, as everyone wants the Sticky Toffee Pudding recipe.  It’s a secret!

Now we have two nights with absolutely no guests. Peace and quiet, no one to look after and only a smallish pile of washing and ironing to get through.  Maybe even that will be forgotten for a couple of days.  There is enough food and drink in stock to keep us going and nothing pressing to do.  It’s not often that I relish the thought of being lazy but for the moment, I can’t wait to do nothing.  Sleep perhaps or maybe a good book, I might go out and ski for a bit if the weather is nice, but even the thought of exercise is tiring today.

A couple of days reprieve will be enough to charge the batteries.   With the knowledge that there will be fewer guests from now on and no more huge lunchtimes it’s time to enjoy the slopes again.  It’ll be good to get outside in the sunshine and fresh air again, which is the main reason that I am here.