Other travel related bits

I think The Times might quite fancy Chamonix….

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Yes I know I said there was a part two to our recent trip, but before we get to that I thought I’d share with you the things that have recently distracted in the Sunday Times.

Mont Blanc view

We’re subscribers so the papers always seem to litter our living room at the weekend, sometimes the articles even get read out aloud, not as a performance piece of course, but as an item of shared interest.  Well, it seems that we’ve had a lot of those kind of conversations recently; the Sunday Times just seems to love Chamonix.

  • Last Sunday there was a nice piece about back country touring on snowboards, using a split board.  It seems there is a new phase ‘splitties’, and its starting to appeal to the intermediate snowboarder too. Splitboarding in the Alps _ The Sunday Times.
  • The week before we spotted an article mentioning the last minute half term ski bargains. Late travel deals for January 31, 2015 _ The Times We’re booked for that week, but the town’s mention in association with family friendly skiing tends to be seldom compared to the more hair raising stuff.

“If anything, the sense that not everyone will like it (because its a scattered resort within a steep valley) seems to deepen the appeal for those already settled here. It’s almost as if, by buying into Chamonix, they’ve joined a club for people who really understand the mountains and know how to use them, rather than the lightweights who flirt with them once or twice a winter. This creates a powerful bond.”

And we were intrigued, and probably agree upon reflection, when it was described as having “slightly grungy, granola feel.” 🙂

  • So that took us to the 25th January, but you only needed to go back a few days to see it featuring in recommended short break destinations Ten great mini-ski breaks _ The Times.  Given the amount of snow that has dumped over the last few weeks it looks as though the end of season will be fantastic, 65 of the 68 ski lifts currently open.
  • A week or two further back we find an angle on the summer season.  It came in at number 28 for its summer walking holiday using the Grand Balcon Nord path and number 31 for its exhibition celebrating 150 years of mountaineering history.  Not bad getting 2 mentions in France’s top 50 destinations. The 50 best holidays in France _ The Times

So not bad, 5 mentions in around 5 weeks.  I look forward to reading the other articles that will no doubt be written over the coming months.

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Ski Club Ambassadors could offer a way around the French ski hosting ban

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You may have heard the for-oar last year about the French banning the likes of helpful chalet guides offering assistance to competence skiers regarding routes. Well I’m sad to report that the appeal heard at a 2 hour hearing today in front of a panel of 3 appeal court judges in Chambery on 2nd July was unsuccessful. The court did uphold part of the appeal referring to Le Ski’s insurance policy which it confirmed did cover the company for ski hosting. The court also substantially reduced the amount of damages which had been awarded to the Ecole du Ski Français (ESF).

On 5th Sept 2014 Le Ski has today instructed their lawyer to submit an appeal to the supreme court in Paris regarding the ski hosting case.The argument continues…

 

Vin Chaud Maison

What is the argument?

  • Ski hosting, ski escorting, or social skiing is when guests are shown around the resort, usually by an employee of their chalet, hotel or tour operator. The guest doesn’t need to look at the map every few minutes, can be taken to the best pistes for the time of day and conditions, and gets the chance to ski with a small group – particularly valuable for people on holiday alone, or couples or groups of mixed ability. There is no instruction given.
  • Some French civil servants and teachers are exempt from holding a qualification, so Le Ski claim that the ruling is discriminatory, and therefore unjustifiable under EU law.
  • ESF’s argument is about safety. Although hosts don’t give any ski instruction, the guest may still consider them to be responsible for the safety of the group. ESF argue that therefore the host should be qualified.

 

How do I legally use British skiing advice?

Ok, so you might think that turning to clubs, such as the British Ski Club maybe still good to do as they are a group of individuals with a shared passion who are prepared to share their experience, joined in membership of a club.  But no, you’d be wrong there too, well at least to an extent.

Well, a Ski Club Leader was stopped on the piste in Val d’Isere in April this year and will be required to attend a preliminary investigative hearing. The Ski Club are providing legal representation and complying fully with the authorities, but unfortunately under French law it is the individual in the dock, and not the Ski Club

But Ski Club Leaders offer a hosting service, but the Leaders are not paid – they are volunteers; this makes the situation different from the Le Ski case. Leaders undertake a two-week training course, and receive expenses during their on-snow leading slots. French law does allow for legitimate expenses, and so this is the case that will be argued.  The initial hearing was due to take place in Albertville on Monday 1st September has been deferred until Monday 8th December 2014. So again we wait to hear the outcome.

Therefore, in France the Ski Club will have Ambassadors (not Leaders) for this season. They can advise on itineraries and book guides, introduce members to each other, and meet up with members for lunch and after skiing. There will be Ambassadors in all of the 11 French resorts where there were previously leaders: Alpe d’Huez, Avoriaz, Courchevel, Flaine, La Plagne, Les Arcs, Meribel, Tignes, Val d’Isere, Val Thorens and here in Argentiere,

Where next?

Well of course we waitng to hear the results of the cases and appeals mentioned above, but  t’s not only snowsports instructors who are affected. In early August 2014 a mountain biking instructor who teaches in the Alps was issued with a letter that formally forbids him to instruct. He has the highest level British qualification but it is considered inadmissible by the local prosecutor because his examination did not take place in France. He risks one year imprisonment and€15,000 fine if he carries on teaching.

Although no statement about the mountain bike instructor, according to the statement of the French Embassy, a new system will be introduced shortly: “The UK, France and nine other member states have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to create a professional card for European ski instructors. The first professional cards are expected to be issued in 2014/2015. This will go a long way to helping standardise practice for ski instructors while also helping to guarantee the sort of professional teaching everyone should be free to enjoy”. The MoU stipulates that the instructor would be exempt from the Eurotest if they held 100 FIS points in alpine skiing for men, or 85 FIS points for women.

So ski hosting in its current form will need to change if all hosts were required to have the high-level qualifications that allow them to instruct in France.

Ski-hosting ban in France appeal soon to be heard

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That kind of question makes us have a rethink occasionally. I’m always the follower, rarely the leader and my husband and a few of his friends take great pride in their knowledge of the slopes in various resorts.  So where does that put them with regard to French law regarding ski-guiding, the kind of activity that makes guests get the most out of the resort, showing them the key routes, lunch hot spots and how best to avoid the longest bottlenecks and queues?  We are a business owner as such, but don’t profess to have set ourselves up as professional mountain guides, but how can you not offer advice if asked???

So it’s with interest that we watch the outcome of the appeal being brought by Le Ski (a Huddersfield based company that has offered ski hosing for 30 years) supported by 12 other British tour operators to argue that the decision is in breach of European law. It was fined 15,000Euro in 2013 after having it’s ski instructors carted off the mountain for illegal practices, breaching safety.

The dispute began in February 2013, when Le Ski was told by a court in Albertville that the practice of ski hosting was contrary to French law and that leaders of organised groups on the French Alps must be qualified ski or snowboard instructors. The practice of ski hosting is not lesson based, rather it is geared towards guiding tourists on the slopes with an employee from a tour operator showing the skiers or snowboarders the slopes and giving tips for enjoying a day on the snow. – hence all sorts of use could contravene the law without intention.

It makes absolute sense to protect people from taking advice from what they think is an experienced ski guide, but who may have only spent a few days in resort and not be more than capable of achieving red runs. Honesty about the ‘advisors’ levels or experience is absolutely necessary  so that you can make up your own mind about the quality of advice being given, but to potentially criminalise a helpful chalet employee that you may have built up a friendship with over the years for taking a few runs with you seems rather heavy handed.  We know a few people who have felt that the new laws have spoiled an element of the ‘customer service’ of their holiday, so we are hoping common sense prevails when the appeal is heard at the end of the season (which of course has been postponed until after the end of the ski season, May 2014)

 

 

The Tsar of Chamonix

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Paul Evin a local Tsar in Chamonix

This may be a familiar sight if you are a regular visitor to Chamonix.  A Dr Zhivago look alike that enjoys riding through town in a full green coachman outfit, complete with white plumb and belt. He can often be found in the main market square, and trotting up and down the Rue de Docteur Piccarde.

He is a quiet man, happy to stand silently and proudly along side one of the carriages that he maintains meticulously.  He has quiet a collection apparently, a few of them rare.

The gentleman in question is Paul Evin, who originates from Brittany, has travelled extensively and married a Chamonaird lady.  A blacksmith by training, currently doing farriering too he has a passion for all things Russian and has spent uncountable hours restoring the body and paint work of his beloved carriages. – Sledge carriages were used in Chamonix up to the 1950s when the council started sanding and salting the roads, so this man has single handedly saved a pice of Chamonix’s history and kept it alive for us to see in action today.

He has quietly wandered the town for nearly 40 years, so is almost as established part of the tourist experience as Aiguille du Midi or the Balmat and Saussure statue.  So if you see him, be sure to take a photo to add to your collection. He is a great sight to see and nothing to do with any official tourist organisation either.

The Tsar of Chamonix Paul Evin

Hang gliding and Paragliding in the Alps

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You often see para or hang gliders circling overhead while wandering around the town or the slopes. I’m never quite sure whether they are the result of tourist provision or serious sports people. Having done a bit of digging around it seems to be a bit of both.

My brother in-law used our place last year during the spring to do some hang gliding the local area friends from his UK club in  and seemed impressed, which is one perspective.  Last year also saw friends of ours with a 7 year old son treat him to a parapente experience, i.e. a tandem paraglide for his birthday, so I suppose that’s a personal example of both.

It’s the more serious stuff I’m intrigued in though, as during the lift opening seasons it seems pretty obvious where you can launch from and fly.  So where can you launch and land when the lifts are closed?

Firstly I  discovered this map  by Oliver Guenay which at least confirmed that Chamonix was a serious location in terms of flying.  Given that the  mountains  perhaps provide the best thermalling and cross country scenery it might not be a surprise.

from a book by Oliver Guenay
from a book by Oliver Guenay

Then I found this great appraisal of the area from The Alpine Flying Centre. (They are a British BHPA school and offer BHPA – EPC and CPC paragliding beginner courses from April to November). Their review gives a great feeling for the types of flying during different times of the year. Extracts below:

Winter:

  • During mid-winter months Chamonix has excellent and gentle flying, ideal for the new alpine pilot wanting to experience massive top to bottoms, gaining air experience and learning more about alpine launching and landing approach techniques in high altitudes conditions.
  • From early February onwards the sun reaches the valley and good thermals rise giving excellent conditions. The potential cross country flying is then very good: ‘cats-cradles’, triangles, out and returns or straight distance flights are possible.
  • To leave the valley in the Passy/Varan direction to the west you will need to be at least 2700 metres asl. and have very light winds. Any significant wind from the west will slow your progress. The ground speed reading from a GPS will assist.
  • To venture off in the direction of Verbier to the east you will need a day with very little or a very light westerly wind, and easy height gains to 3000 metres or more. There are often very strong valley breezes down low in the Martigny Valley in Switzerland so care is needed!

Spring & Summer

  • Spring and summer offer a variation of conditions that can become quite strong by early to mid- afternoon. Excellent flying can be found during the early part of the day and late in the afternoon and evening but then from Plan l Aiguille on the other side of the valley.
  • In spring and summer and when the conditions become too strong in Chamonix Valley, it is worth driving down to Plaine Joux, opposite the viaduct, just outside the valley to the south west.

Autumn

  • The autumn weather in Chamonix provides much smoother flying conditions, however, many of the cable cars may be closed for maintenance, making access to some sites impossible. So check for opening/closure times.

 

They have even helpfully put together a site guide, which details etiquette, launch and landing sites with co-ordinates, along with access and hazards to be aware.  A very thorough document that can be checked out here.

So, yes, there does seem to be plenty of sites still available when the lifts are closed.

So now to track down these people who have flown to tell their tales and  see if I can borrow some photos…

Andy’s Chamonix hang gliding trip

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My brother in law, the guest blogger, sharing a little about his trip to Chamonix last April.

“We had an excellent weeks flying towards the end of april mainly from Plaine Joux, a ski resort with the landing in Passy. If the weather is off Annecy is an hour and a half away.

The appartment has a garage long enough to store most gliders when not in use and the wifi made weather checks much simpler as English could be selected.

We never flew Chamonix as the Brevent cable car was closed for servicing. The hang glider landing in Chamonix is for braver or more skillful  pilots than me as it’s quite tight and surrounded with trees. We opted to play in Annecy as you can see from my mates video below.”

In my earlier blog about hand gliding in the alps and the links within it, it makes reference to the potential hairy landing site in the middle of town near the Leisure Centre (Le Bois du Bouchet).  The landing site is not visible from the place you take off, so I don’t blame him for heading down the valley for his first flying experience of the valley. But from a spectator sport that field is great fun.

Getting around Chamonix without a car

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One of the most frequently asked questions by guests in the winter seems to be, “how far are you from the bus stop and how long does it take to get to a ski lift?”  So I thought I’d do a bit of research and check things out.

Ok, the main bus stop in Chamonix, in which all buses stop, is Chamonix Sud. We are 100m from the Cham Sud bus stop, so maybe 4 mins in ski boots, and of course less in comfortable shoes.

During the summer and winter seasons buses run every 20mins or less (to Brevent is once every 10mins for example).  Frequency is also improved if its on more than 1 route (e.g Les Praz is on ligne 02,11 and 12 and Les Grand Montets 01, 11 and 13) , but if you want to be specific it is best to consult the schedule.

In terms of journey time though, this is how it looks from Cham Sud:

  • Les Planards – 4 mins
  • Le Brevent – 9 mins
  • Les Praz, Flegere – 10 mins
  • Glacier des Bossons – 10 mins
  • Les Houches, Bellevue – 15 mins
  • Les Houches, Prarion – 18 mins
  • Les Chosalets (cross-country ski area) – 18 mins
  • Les Grands Montets – 19 mins
  • La Tour – 29 mins

There is also the free navette service, Le Mulet, that takes you around town, the centre of which is 2 mins away.  This runs every 10 to 20mins depending on the hight of the season.

And if you happen to get stuck in Argentiere after a heavy apres ski session you can get the night bus back at 23.10, delivering you to Le Prarion Les Houches at 23.48.

So all in all, during the skiing season it doesn’t take much longer than the car to get to the lifts, which now that Flegere is charging for parking is a bonus given the buses are free with your ski pass, “Carte d’Hôte” or “Gens du Pays”.

Hate heights, but love a rare view?

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So how good are you with heights? What about suspense films? Ok, yes all very confusing the film ‘Touching the Void’ was about scary falling climbers and it turns out that ‘Step into the Void’ is a drug inspired video.  However, which ever way you look at it the Aiguille du Midi’s new viewing platform will probably prompt your pulse to race.

The “Step into the Void” is a glass room built around a metal frame. Three glass walls, floor and ceiling panels, allow visitors to control their vertigo and experience 1035 meters of space under their feet in total safety! Admire the views from a dramatic perspective! Anyone with vertigo can step in, assured. It’s installed on the uppermost terrace of the Aiguille du Midi (3842m).

Walk into the void

Walk into the void

Chamonix.net reliably tells us that each of these glass panels is custom built to the highest standards for safety and clarity. The five glass panels (12mm thick) consist of three layers of glass binded together. The structure can withstand winds of more than 220km/ h and a maximum temperature of 60°.

The construction has been designed by Pierre-Yves Chays and the work began on 19 September 2013.  The “Step into the Void” was inspired by the “Skywalk”, the huge glass walkway overlooking the Grand Canyon in the US state of Arizona.

Although operated by CMB, there isn’t much on their website about it yet, but I’ve seen that you need to wear slippers while inside it.  I’m intrigued to know if its an extra fee as I would imagine the queues will be rather longer to try it out.

Aiguille_du_Midi

Be careful of holiday home scams

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We personally get a number of dodgy enquiries each year asking to book long periods of time on behalf of clients without asking basic questions about our offering.  Sometimes they even ask if they can over pay us once WE’VE transferred an advanced payment into THEIR account by bank transfer which they will pay back with interest etc. So we feel relatively able to spot scammers.  Of course, we are at risk, but fortunately having an in-resort team who aren’t prepared to process the payment and refuse to make advanced payments on our behalf, we usually hear no more from the possible scammers.

It seems potential clients are more at risk than us though looking at the recent post by BBC News.  Many unscrupulous people making copies of real websites, taking the money and numerous guests turning up having booked the same week.  The article is below.

Holiday makers beware of scams

Of course we’d like all our guests to get what they paid for and at least be covered by they credit card insurance if they don’t!

Given the French system we are working in we aren’t quite covered by ABTA, but we are covered by the French equivalent.  Just in case in you want to know what you are covered by when booking with us, you can find more details in  Guarantees offered by our managing agents.

Any way here’s hoping you won’t come a cropper if you choose to stay elsewhere in Chamonix… 🙂  Happy holidays.

It’s a dogs life – vets and cani cross

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The great mountains called her and off she trotted, very gamefully up 50 degree or so slopes, full of snow. The walk to the Cascade du Dard from the back of our flat suited her nicely and quickly helped to expend her of some energy. (By the way you don’t have to take such a steep path to the gorge,  she just loved running up the slopes.).  She had great fun in the snowy banks.

With her pulling prowess it gave us a neat business idea: cani rando (doggy hiking). As of yet we’ve not seen it in Chamonix yet, but it seems to be all the rage in Megeve.  Basically it seems to be 15euros a half day for other people to take your dog for a walk.  Well we have the waist belt for running with her, plus the dog harness, so we’re all set to go 🙂 Might be a bit cheeky to charge the extra 7 euros for a kneel visit though, unless of course we offered them a cup of coffee when they got to the flat.

Anyway, time came so as we had to get her back into England.  She needed to be wormed between 5 days and 24hours before returning home, and as Chamonix is less that a days drive away we could sort the vaccinations in resort before leaving. We found 2 vets on the internet: one who was sure of her prices, the other less so.  so we went for the fixed price vet Valerie Heirman, located on the main road between Les Tines & Les Praz, easily spotted by her big blue cross.

Everything was then straightforward and she wolfed her tablet down within the food it was hidden.  Job done in a visit that lasted only a few minutes.

Valerie Heirman, 1041 Route Des Tines. 04 50 53 98 08 was the vet we used.

Our travel on the Channel Tunnel was straightforward both ways too. Another fee we wondered how hard someone had to work to earn it, we even scanned our own microchip for them.

Anyway, all good, and she thoroughly enjoyed her trip and will be looking forward to her visit in the summer.

dogs in chamonix

A quick shot above of her recovering form her cani cross activities on a rare occasion when she suck on the sofa!!.  We thoroughly hoovered and cleaned afterwards I hasten to add.