Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Springtime in Chamonix

The last couple of days have been really nice. We have been skiing in the morning, rock climbing in the afternoon and sitting around the fire in the garden all evening. Spring is a great time of year, it's a shame it leads into summer and the end of the skiing. From Ian's house here it is 5 minutes walk to the lift station, and 10 minutes the other way to the nearest crag.

On Saturday we did the Vallee Blanche, Chamonix's most popular (and perhaps most overrated) off piste excursion. We took a variation route to avoid the crowds, but heavy breakable crust persuaded us to rejoin the main route. It was nice to do it in the morning and be down for lunch before going for a climb - last time I did the Valle Blanche was in 2002 with a guide and it was a big day out with lots of planning and a very early start.

The photo is from the start of the route, just leaving the Aguille Du Midi cable car station. The route goes to the right of the rocky hill in the middle, and then follows the glacier down behind it to the left.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Back in Cham

Well, I'm back in Chamonix now after the week in Austria. Didn't make the Eurotest, in fact I was further off than last time I tried it which is a bit disappointing. It wasn't as well organised as the French test, and the visibility wasn't too good so I wasn't the only one with a disapointing time.

The Chamonix valley seems to have moved into summer mode in the week I was in Austria. The snow has receded a fair bit, and the weather has turned warm and sunny - barbecue time.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Chamonix Photos

We have finally found some Internet access in Austria, so I have an hour to post and to check my email before the ticket runs out. We have had a great few days' training and my GS skiing has definately come on with some good coaching. We are in St Anton now with the lifts shut due to bad weather and tomorrow's Eurotest postponed by at least a day.

I will let you know how the Eurotest goes, if and when it happens. In the meantime I will leave you with those photos from Chamonix on Wednesday. We started at the Grand Montets, took the Pente Pisteurs (Pisteur's Slope) towards the Argentiere Glacier. Skinned up to the Col du Passant and skied down to Le Tour. A good but fairly popular short tour, however we did find some fresh lines.

This is me with the Grand Montets cable car station and the way down the Pente Pisteurs in the background.

And this is Ian and the way ahead up to the Col de Passant

Ian on the way down.

And this is our route down to Le Tour (taken from the Cafe at the bottom). We came down to the left of the rocky ridge on the skyline in the centre of the picture. You might be able to make out the sheer number of tracks down a slope that is a two - three hour walk in. This was the first day after a snowstorm so all these tracks were made that day. Back in Andorra you could hike two hours and find fresh tracks days or weeks after a snowfall.

Friday, 18 April 2008

On the Move

I'm writing this from Chamonix, where I have had a great couple of days. I'm in the middle of packing for Austria - we are heading over there early to get some training in before the Eurotest next Wednesday. After that the snow should be good over here for a while yet, so I'm hoping to get some touring in before heading back to England. It's nice to be in the big mountains again - Andorra is great but nowhere is like Cham for really big skiing. I have some great photos which I will post when I get chance.

It's all been a bit hectic really - I arrived here at 1.30 Wednesday morning was handed a beer, then told to be up at 7.00 to pack the kit and get the first lift. Yesterday was a bit more laid back, testing out my race boots after a few modifications (hopefully to make me faster - we'll see). And today has been getting ready to leave again.

I'll try and resume normal service soon, with some photos and more skiing tips.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Race photos

As promised, here are a couple of photos of the ski school race courtesy of Gustavo and Fotoski. They are both of the last gate on the course. I would have liked one from further up to analyse my skiing a bit more - all I can say here is that my hands are a bit too low to be aerodynamic and my feet could perhaps be a touch wider. I can't say much about the snowboard photo either, except I'm glad I survived the race on one.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Ski School Instructors Race

Much to everyone's surprise, including mine, I came third in the race today. I have had lots of comments all afternoon along the lines of "I didn't know you could ski properly" and "it's about time the English learnt how to ski". Obviously all the money spent training in the summer and autumn has paid off to some extent. This is a short post since I've been celebrating all afternoon at the ski school barbecue, and plan to continue shortly. I'll try and get hold of some photos of the race to post tomorrow.

Ski School Race - Today

As I mentioned briefly yesterday, the annual ski school instructors race is today. Whilst in part I am using this as training for the Eurotest, mainly it is a fun day where all the instructors can challenge each other in both skiing and snowboarding (and I haven't even been on a Snowboard in over a year so it should be interesting). I'm testing out the new scheduled publishing feature to post this while I'm out skiing. Check back later if you're interested in how I got on.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Bad Weather, Great Skiing

As the title says, the weather has been pretty poor lately, so no photos I'm afraid. We have had a lot of rain lately, which is generally pretty miserable to ski in and being here for the whole winter it can be hard at times to keep the motivation to go skiing in less than ideal conditions.

However, we have the ski school race approaching tomorrow and Flopi (an instructor here by winter and race coach in Argentina in the winter there) planned to set practise courses Tuesday to Wednesday this week. So I headed up the mountain early each day, despite the weather.

On Tuesday morning I looked out of the window at 8am to see fog and rain. On the mountain it was snowing and there was zero visibility so no race practise. Steve (another instructor) and I drove over to Arcalis to ski some powder. The snow was deep, warm and heavy - hard work but it makes you ski properly just to stay upright. We ticked off a couple of chutes I have had my eye on for ages, had a run in the trees, stopped for a coffee then did a bit more off-piste exploration.

Wednesday morning was again rain and fog outside my bedroom window, and on the mountain it was still raining. So we trained some GS gates in the rain for a while, had a good time since we don't get much time in the gates here.

Thursday was again zero visibility and no racing so Steve and I headed to Soldeu and the bump stadium. The sun tried to come out, the rain stopped for a while and the bumps were soft and well shaped - the sort to make you look good. Plenty of people were on training courses and it was quite pleasant to watch them all under pressureA whilst having a relaxed day skiing about - my turn will come later this month with the next Eurotest attempt.

Today there has been slow and steady snow, but with better visibility so we had another day in the gates. The snow was better so it was much more productive this time.

All in all it has been a good four day's skiing when I could quite easily have looked out of the window each morning and gone back to bed. A lesson I need to keep in mind I think.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

A Small Rant

I don't usually use this blog as a platform for rants - there are plenty of other blogs out there doing just that. However, I thought I should mention Ryanair. My sister was due to visit me recently, and booked a flight to Barcelona with Ryanair, having checked that there were connecting busses from Barcelona to here. She then realised, a few days before travelling, that when Ryanair say Barcelona they really mean Gerona - an airport about an hour and a half from Barcelona by bus or train. This meant she had to book car hire at the last minute as the flight was due to land just after the last bus from Gerona. Since Ryanair actually promote this route for skiing in Andorra, you would think they might make sure the flight times matched transfer times. Althought there is a later bus from Barcelona, she would still have missed it after travelling to Barcelona airport by bus.

When the day came to travel, the flight was diverted to a different UK airport due to high winds, and she was offered a bus to the new departure airport. Taking this option would have got her to Gerona after the car hire desk shut for the night at midnight. Faced with spending a night at the airport and an extra day travelling (out of a three day visit) she decided not to bother.

Okay, I understand that Ryanair cannot control the weather, and budget airlines will always be more susceptible to delays and cancellations - that's why they're cheap. So, to an extent my sister was hit by bad luck. What I still cannot understand is how they can advertise flights to Barcelona that land over 60 miles away from the city. Granted, they write Barcelona (Gerona), but how many people unfamiliar with Catalunya will realise that indicates an airport in a different city. The same list of airports has for example London (Gatwick), indicating which London airport. It seems to me that calling Gerona the same place as Barcelona is a bit like saying Manchester (Liverpool) - which would incense the inhabitants of either city but the two airports are considerably nearer to each other than the two Spanish ariports.

Anyway, that's my rant over. If you do want to go to Barcelona, the local airport is usually simply called Barcelona (BCN) or occasionally El Prat de Llobregat Aeropuerto. Ryanair also advertise Barcelona (Reus) which is almost as far in the opposite direction, so be careful.