Monday, 30 April 2007

The Last Runs And Dodgy Toilets

And so we come to the last days skiing and once again its clear blue skies and sunshine. After breakfast we head up Pied Moutet for the last time, and decide to do a few runs over here, unfortunately we are somewhat limited as the most of the snow has now disappeared and many runs are closed. So after a short while we are making our way back over to the main resort side and up to the glacier. At the glacier we have a final blast down Signal, get the chair back up and then catch the funicular to the top of the glacier.

Once at the top we head over to the snow park for a few small jumps, and this time we all stay upright! After all surviving the jumps we make the long run down to La Fee and carry on to the Thuit chair which brings up back up to the Diable gondola. Then it’s up the Super Diable chair and down to the Panoramic restaurant at Toura where the plan is to meet up with most of the club for lunch. Unfortunately the queue for food is all the way down the stairs and virtually out the door, and to make things worse the toilets are also out of order. And to compound things even more the restaurant had the effrontery to put up a sign basically blaming their customers for the toilets not being in use.

Now anybody who is familiar with French toilets will know that they are not built or maintained to a very high standard. In fact I am convince that somewhere in France is a shop called ‘Crap-sanitary-fittings-r-us’, where most of the mountain restaurants go to buy their toilet fixtures and fittings, because they are cheap and rubbish! So is it any wonder that they break so readily.

Anyway we did not fancy queuing for ages for food and were also desperate for some bladder relief so we headed off back down to the restaurant at Les Crètes. Thankfully their facilities were working, but obviously as operational toilets on the mountain were now at a premium, there was a queue! But the relief was worth the wait.

After a pretty basic lunch most of us used the facilities for a second time in the hope we would not get caught short again, as it is quite difficult to ski with your legs crossed. Feeling suitable refreshed and comfortable we headed back up to the glacier for the last time. After a couple of high speed runs down the glacier we then make our way over to the main snowpark area above Toura and have a go on the boarder cross and free cross runs, as these were probably the only runs we hadn’t actually skied yet.

The boarder cross was great fun with some good air to be had in one or two places, the free cross was more like a giant slalom course without the gates. You could get some good speed up carving round the turns, but if you caught someone up you had to sit behind them as attempting to overtake would surely end in disaster for one or probably both of you.

Once we had completed these runs and with the sense of achievement of having skied all there was to ski we decided to start make our way back to the hotel. On arriving back down at Les Crètes again the others were of the opinion that the black run Valatin would be so bad now that they were not going to attempt it and opted to go back down in the gondola. I however, being made of sterner stuff and probably more stupid, was not going to be put off. You can not finish your skiing holiday by getting a lift down to the resort so I headed off for the run. And I can tell you now it was no more difficult than it had been all week, so more fool them I thought as I reached the bottom and made my way to the hire shop to return my skis. So with a slight tinge of sadness and a little tear in my eye I handed my skis back and returned to the hotel. Surely this cant be the end already?

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Make 'Em Laugh!

The evening meal on Thursday was quite a hasty affair as most of us had tickets for the Comedy night being held in the Secrets Bar, and we had been told we needed to be in our seats by 9 pm. So by about this time a few of us had made it to the bar and set about occupying as many seats as possible by placing jackets, hats, scarves and gloves on very available spare chair and stool. In fact, by the time we had finished our section of the bar was very reminiscent of an Ibiza hotel poolside that had been invaded by Germans! Within a few minutes the AOAC made up a large portion of the audience as we waited for the show to begin.

At the scheduled time for the show to begin the owner of the bar came up to the mike to announce that the first act would not be on for another half an hour, in the meantime however there was a chance for people to win some free beer if they would come up and try to make us all laugh. Several brave souls did venture up and tell some fairly lame jokes from what I can recall. I think that a member from the club did in fact go up, but for the life of me I cannot remember who. So if it was you, I can only apologies for not giving you credit for your moment of glory.

Eventually the proper comedy began, when I found out who was actually appearing I was quite surprised, for an entrance fee of only €5 I had expected to see some unknown amateurs, but the acts were 2 top stand up comics. They were Dave Fulton, whose humour I was not familiar with but his name certainly rang a bell, and the main act was Marcus Brigstocke, who has been on TV many times and whose comedy I have always enjoyed. As it turned out the 2 guys were doing a tour of French ski resorts and had just travelled up from Chamonix.

First up was Dave Fulton, a scruffy American who was happy to take the p**s out of himself and his fellow countryman, in particular George ‘Dubb’U’, just as much as he was taking the p**s out of us Brits. In particular his anecdotes about coming to terms with British drinking culture were very funny. Also his observations on French hotels certainly hit the mark with us, as he was also staying in what was supposed to be a 3 star hotel. As he pointed out, judging by the standard of his hotel, the French star rating must go up to 12. But if he leaned far enough out of his hotel room window he had a really good view of the hotel he wanted to be in.

The main act was Marcus Brigstocke, who in fact started his comedy career at Bristol University, so once he discovered that quite a lot of the audience were from the Bristol area, he was provided with some additional humorous material, and the fact that there were some snow bladders amongst us also gave him plenty to go on about. He pointed out it was time for skiers and snow boarders to unite against snow bladers, because skiing and snow boarder is supposed to hurt. And I quite agree. Snow boarding hurts, especially when you come into contact with an inanimate object like a T-Bar pylon, just ask Andy Ogbourne, and skiing hurts, especially when you come into contact with an inarticulate object like a snow boarder, just ask Karen and Gary. Whereas snow blading is a doddle, it’s like walking around in your slippers! As Marcus said, it is so easy you can drive your car in snow blades.

All in all the 2 guys were both really funny and excellent value. Once the comedy was over people started to drift off back to the hotel to get some sleep before our final days skiing. It was hard to believe that the week was nearly over already.

Friday, 13 April 2007

La Grave

Thursday started a little earlier, as the plan was to get on the first lifts at 9 o’clock in order to get to the glacier as soon as possible so that we could make the trek over to La Grave. It was a bit of a shock to the system to be one of the first ones down for breakfast and sit in an almost deserted dining room, but slowly the room began to fill, and a few us, who were feeling a bit blurry eyed, started pondering on whether getting up early was such a good idea. No matter, just after 9 we were outside and making our way to the lift.

Today we decided to take the Diable gondola as it was thought this would be the quicker route, unfortunately it looked as if the rest of the skiers in the resort had thought the same and we were met by a queue of immense proportions, and worst still it wasn’t moving! However, it was pointed out that no one was actually going up yet, and the only things in the gondolas where supplies for the restaurant at the top. God these French are so on the ball and on top of the game! A few minutes later people started appearing in the bubbles and the queue slowly shuffled forward a la Post Office style, as we snaked up to the steps into the lift station, then snaked all the way down one side and all the way back up the other.

After about 10 to 15 minutes we were in a bubble and making our accent. At the top of the bubble we took the Super Diable chair rather than head for the second stage of the gondola or cable car. From the chair we made our way down to the 8 man chair which takes you up to the base of the glacier. Then up the glacier on the T-bar, followed by a bit of a flat schuss and a walk to the last T-bar. The final stage of the climb is completed by a drag lift with a difference. Here you hang on to a rope and get pulled along behind a piste basher, which is quite an enjoyable novelty. There is however a knack to this ‘lift’ and that is to be as near to the back of the rope as possible, rather than the front where you are right behind the piste basher and get covered in the snow it is churning up. When we disembarked the tow rope we are now at a height of just under 3600m or over 11,000 feet in old money.

Now the adventure began with the long decent down to La Grave. For some of our large group this was old hat, as they had already skied down earlier in the week. For the rest of us this was a step into the unknown.

The first part was quite straight forward as this is a pisted blue run that takes you down to the restaurant at the top of the lift from La Grave. Once at the lift station a much needed comfort break was required by most. The toilets here were quite interesting, as it would appear your bodily waste is just deposited somewhere in the open down the mountain! Which is supposedly environmentally friendly. Also there is a sign in quite graphic English telling you to make sure your aim is good.

This was followed by the obligatory hot chocolate break at the restaurant which also provided a good photo opportunity for many of us. With hot chocolate drunk and cameras put away it was now time for the real fun to start.

Just a short distance from the restaurant you come to the first fairly steep mogul field, which is a bit torturous to get into. After negotiating this you ski down a little further to an even steeper and narrow gully which again is full of moguls. It’s a case of side slipping and stepping your way down in places. But it’s all good fun, as the snow is excellent at this height and the surrounding scenery, if you are able to take your eyes off what your skis are doing and look, is quite stunning.

At the bottom of the gully our little group pauses for a bit of a breather, only to realise that everyone else has headed off and are no where in sight. And as there is no piste there are definitely no signs, and none of us have been here before we are not to sure of which way to go. Anyway we set off in what would appear to be the obvious direction, which is of course down. Eventually we spot some of the others in the distance and start making our way over to them.

They have stopped near the top of a ridge and I assume they are just pausing before descending again, however just as I get to the ridge I realise they are in fact turning back as this is obviously not the way down as it is a sheer drop down through the trees. Still once again the view from here is really spectacular and was well worth the extra effort involved. I then turn around and rejoin the others who had wisely decided not to expend the extra energy and follow me.

From here the terrain does start to flatten out a bit, but skiing is still quite challenging as we make our way down numerous gullies and narrow channels. We do start seeing small signs attached to trees pointing in the general direction of La Grave but the snow is now starting to get very thin in places and rocks and tree roots are proving the greater obstacles on the decent. We then come across a group of snow boarders who have obviously been brought down here by an instructor. Most of the group are sat down taking a break, but when the last guy eventually joins them, he takes off his board and hurls it in to the trees and starts muttering digruntledly (if there is such a word) to himself. He probably wishes he had stuck to skis!

Leaving the happy boarder behind, we carry on picking our way through the trees until the snow just literally runs out. So it’s off with the skis and a walk back out into the open where there is some snow on the ground. We then do the final bit of skiing of our decent and arrive at the mid station on the La Grave lift. We board the lift to make our way down to La Grave, but our fun and games haven’t quite finished, as we get on to the lift Karen manages to whack her head on the door frame and at the bottom I manage to trip over Rachel’s ski poles and stumble out of the lift with arms and legs flaying in all directions, but I somehow stay upright, which is quite a feat when you are wearing ski boots on a smooth concrete floor, anyway the others all found it very amusing.

Once outside the lift station we take in the ambiance that is La Grave which is a pretty little place, but it would appear that the whole village is asleep as there is nobody about, or cars driving around, just a dog barking in the distance. So with all this excitement proving to much we call a taxi to take us back to Les Deux Alpes.

After about half an hour, following a drive down into the valley and back up again through the cloud that has formed just below the resort. We are back at the chair lift at the far end of the resort that takes up to the Pied Moutet and our favourite restaurant, La Kanata. We board the chair and head up over the field where there is still only one horse! Where his companion is from earlier in the week will always remain a mystery. But the meat we had in the hotel on a previous night was certainly suspect!

Once at the top we swiftly head for the restaurant and greet the proprietor like a long lost friend. We settle down by the fire and tuck in to another great meal. Several of us opt for the Plat du jour, which is a type of tarteflette with crusty bread on top, and Rachel has another huge portion of mussels. This is all washed down with a beer or two and the mandatory glass of fiery genepi.

Having finished our by now rather late lunch and with that satisfying inner glow, we said our farewells and started to make our way back to the hotel. So ended another great days skiing. We hadn’t covered a lot of miles, but the experience of being out in the wilderness away from the crowds, the piste and the lifts is one not to be missed. It is definitely something I would do again if I ever return to Les Deux Alpes.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Heard The One About The Snowboarder & The T-Bar?

Wednesday morning started in much the same vain as previous days, clear sunny skies and up the Pied Moutet, but it was becoming very obvious that the snow was disappearing rapidly from the lower slopes. Still, there is plenty of snow and good skiing to be had higher up, and after a few runs to warm up we head off for the snow park on the glacier.

We spend a bit of time watching some of the young guns attempt various jumps and aerials with varying degrees of success, and we smirk quietly to ourselves every time someone on a snowboard wipes out, before we make our own cautious efforts. We all survived unscathed the first time, but there was not a lot of air under our skis, so we head up again for another go. This time Gary is a bit more ambitious and not quite so lucky. I watch him successfully take off and disappear over the first jump, then he takes off with a bit more speed and air over the second and disappears, but this time he does not reappear for the third jump, instead after a bit of a pause, he is seen walking off to the side of the piste carrying his skis, whoops! Fortunately there is no damage done.

After one more attempt, with more success for all of us this time we decide it is time to move on, but not before we witness what is probably the most bizarre wipe out of the week. Some how Andy Ogbourne manages to manoeuvre his snowboard in such a way that he collides with the support pylon whilst going up on the T-bar! This is all highly amusing to all of us, except Andy of course, but I think he has got over it now. Still, it wouldn’t have happened if he’d been on skis!!

After negotiating the steep and in places quite icy Super Diable black run we settled for lunch at the restaurant near the bottom of the run, most of us that is. Karen managed to miss the track that ran off to the restaurant and ended up skiing all the way to the bottom, so she had to go back up the chair lift and ski the run again. No matter, she didn’t miss out much as service was not particularly swift at the restaurant today.

The afternoon was spent cruising around on the blues and reds in the Toura and La Fee areas before we headed back to the hotel. Today we took the easy option and made our way back to the resort on the Diable gondola.

Wednesday evening was a fairly quiet affair, evening meal was the usual salad buffet, pasta and main course consisting of over cooked croquet potatoes and some indeterminate meat, however it had been noticed that there was now only 1 horse in the field where there had been 2 at the start of the week! Surely just a coincidence maybe, or maybe not?

Following on from the meal, most people adjourned to the bar for a quiz night, whereas some of us thought this would be far to taxing and decided we would rather just kill off a few more brain cells rather than exercise them, and headed off for the polar bear bar.

After just a few drinks we called it a night as the plan was to ski down to La Grave the following morning and this would involve an earlier start than previous days in an attempt to get the first lifts. So it was off to bed for an earlyish night, we must be getting old!

Monday, 5 March 2007

Would You Like Some Meat With Your Meat?

Tuesday night at the hotel was barbeque night, so a good few of us started off with a little impromptu drinks party in Rachel’s room. At 7.30 we all trooped down to the bar only to be told that evening meal didn’t start until 8 that night. So we all trooped back up again and carried on with another drink and nibbles. At 8 o’clock down we trooped again.

Well I’m sorry to say the barbeque was another disappointment! We did not get the usual salad buffet and pasta dish to start, instead we had a plate of cold meat followed by some barbequed spicy sausages and a pork chop and nothing else, no salad, no veg, no pasta - no nothing. The only thing you could have was more spicy sausage and pork chop, so what the vegetarians were supposed to eat is a bit of a mystery. Another very flat omelette was the option I think. At least the waiters weren’t throwing paddies, as it didn’t matter where we were sitting tonight.

After the meal it was off to Smithy’s for the live music night, and I’m happy to report this was a good night. The band, who were apparently from New Zealand and who’s name I haven’t got a clue, were excellent. They played some great covers, and I can’t remember any of them, all I know is they were very slick and professional and very good value as it was free to get in. Not only that, we were also royally entertained by Duncan’s dancing. He was dancing everywhere and there was no stopping him, and where he may have lacked a bit of rhythm, he more than made up for it with his energy and enthusiasm. That is what a après ski is all about, getting out there and enjoying yourself, so good on you Duncan.

The band played on for most of the night with just a couple of breaks, but by the time they came back on for their third stint the place was rammed again and it was a real fight not to have some drunken knob bump into you of spill beer all over you, so time to go.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Best Restaurant Of The Alpes

So to Tuesday, and its sunny skies all round again. In keeping with the previous days we head off for the Pied Moutet as it seems that we have established that this is by far the easiest way to get to the snow. At the top we warm up by seeing who can get to the bottom first and Karen and Gary thankfully appear to be suffering no ill effects from the previous days encounter with the snowboarder.

About half way down the Vallee Blanche run I perform my most spectacular wipe out of the week!! Well that will teach me for trying to be clever and show off. As I’m coming down the slope I see Rob Toy in front of me with his monkey on his head, and just as I’m passing him at sub warp speed, I shout across “good morning” and promptly catch an edge, causing me to go ass over tit in a cloud of snow and flying skis. When I eventually come to a stop, Rob skis sensibly past me and returns the greeting. Do I feel stupid or what? Well if you can’t make a complete ass of yourself from time to time, especially when skiing, then life would just be so much duller.

Following this jolly little episode and after everyone has had a good laugh at my expense, we spend the rest of the morning back on the main resort side with some more great skiing, in particular on the Signal run. Eventually we start heading back to the resort as we plan to lunch at the Kanata restaurant on the Pied Moutet. As we are making our way towards Les Cretes, Gary suggests we give the blue run Thuit a go as we haven’t skied it yet. So we set off and just a little way down the slope, but to far down to change your mind and go back we come across a sign warning you that the slope is particularly icy.

Well, they weren’t bloody kidding. The run down was horrendous, patches of soft snow and then suddenly you hit hard packed ice that you just could not see until you lost control. Not the most enjoyable run of the week by far, But I suppose if you want to be a true mountain man or woman then you have to take the rough with the smooth. At the bottom we all berate Gary for his poor call and suggest he thinks carefully before he come up with more wise ideas

Things pass pretty much uneventfully from here and we find ourselves at the Kanata restaurant. At first we sit ourselves down outside and the table is laid by the waitress. The owner of the restaurant suggest we might like to sit inside as there is a nice fire going, but we decline and ask if he could take some group photos for us instead. He duly obliges and even manages to ’accidentally’ take one of himself. A couple of minutes later the chill does start to set in and we swiftly move inside where we are the only people in the restaurant. What a diference from all the packed ones on the main side of the resort. We settle down next to the fire and spread ourselves out with jackets, gloves and rucksacks scattered around, and our host puts some more wood on the fire and it is all very pleasant and cosy indeed!

By now we have ordered and are sipping away on vin chauds when the food starts to arrive. Rachel, Gary and myself have all gone for the special of moules, frites and beer, and a huge bowl of chips is brought out for us to share. Karen and Les have both opted for an omelette and Steve the plat du jour, which all come with salad so a huge bowl of salad also arrives. Next came an equally large pot of steaming mussels, but this was not for sharing as it was swiftly followed by 2 more. I can honestly say I have never had some many mussels before and they were delicious, of course I ate them all, and for €13 it was exceptional value. The omelettes were also of grand portions and I’m told just as tasty. Naturally the beers and vin chauds were going down quite well also.

After the meal, which was quite some time later, the owner insisted we try some of his home made Genepi fire water and he disappeared into the attic and came out with Perrier water bottles. Well it certainly was not spring water in them as the liquid was cloudy with vegetation in it! He poured 7 small glasses as I think that out of politeness he felt he had to join us. Anyway, in unison we all down this liquor in one, having now tasted it I think that’s the only way to drink it, its certainly not a sipping drink.

Once we had sorted ourselves out and paid the bill we got ready to leave when another 7 glasses of Genepi were produced. Again these were downed in one but this time it tasted a lot better. I think with a bit more practice one could get to like this stuff!! But not today or we would never get back to the hotel, mind you bearing in mind what was probably waiting for us for evening meal that would not have been a bad thing.

Back outside in the mountain air I think we were all suddenly hit by a feeling of extreme mellowness as we all promptly sat down in the deck chairs to take in a few of the suns remaining rays for that day. Whilst sat in the chairs we were joined by a very friendly if some what scruffy dog who took great delight in chasing and catching lumps of snow and ice that you threw for him. This dog seemed so taken by the amount of attention he received, especially from Rachel that he wanted to come with us as we eventually skied off. At this point Rachel, who appeared to be the most mellow of all of us, made some comment along the lines of “why would you need a boyfriend, when you can have a scruffy dog and a rabbit?” and I think she was referring to the battery operated type rather than a fluffy bunny called Flopsy!

Friday, 23 February 2007

I Need A Beer Or Ten

On returning to the hotel we found out that quite a few of the others had gone straight to Secrets bar to take in the Après ski live music that started at 5.30. So as not to miss out we trotted along as well, plus I needed a well earned beer after all the aggro from earlier.

Well I don’t know about the live music, but there was certainly plenty of live talking! As we entered the bar the guy was just finishing a song and then spent the next 15 minutes or so chatting with small audience who had sat to listen to him. I think in the time we spent in the bar the guy managed to sing about 3 songs and spent about 10 minutes chatting between them. Hardly the musical extravaganza I was expecting.

We returned to the hotel and once again got ready for another culinary experience in the dining room. By now it was becoming obvious that the waiters were becoming increasingly agitated by the fact that hardly any of us were sat on the same tables we had been the night before, and as a consequence they were taking the food, ordered hospital style the previous day, to the wrong tables. This was causing them great confusion, and they kept trying to insist that we sat at the same table every night. That just wasn’t going to happen.

As for the food, people were starting to comment on the amount of salt in it. This might explain why the steps to the hotel were still very icy as the chef obviously needed all the salt he could get to try and make the food taste better!

After the evening meal, a lot of us headed for the Polar Bear bar, so called because it had a big plastic polar bar over the door. After whiling away a couple of hours in here with a few beers and idle chit chat, some of decided we would take a stroll to the Avalanche night club and see what it was like. Well the place didn’t exactly seem busy when we arrived, and after a bit of confrontation with the bouncers, Les eventually managed to persuade them to let her go upstairs and take a look. She was soon back down say that there were about a dozen people there and the place was dead, so we left.

From here we headed back up the street and made our way to Smokey Joe’s, it wasn’t exactly throbbing in here either but at least they were playing some good music and the pool table was free so an impromptu tournament ensued. Don’t know who won but with the DJ playing some Black Sabbath and AC/DC at my request I was more than happy and couldn’t care less.

We eventually left when the bar closed and ended up in the Board Room which seemed to be the only place still open. There was just a few French in here with some of their terrible music playing, but by now the beer was really starting to take effect and all was well with the world again and life was just dandy! After just 1 more beer, this bar closed and we were kicked out, so it was off to bed.