Skiing

Man hanging from ski lift saved after stranger walks across cable to cut him free

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This is amazing on so many leveles:

1. The kindness of strangers.

2. The speed and foresight of the helper. 

3. The fact that there is such a profession as a a professionL slackliner. We’ve got the kit so clearly we must practice more often!

3. Um, and yes we know that rucksacks are a pain, but still use them to bump fellow skiers off the lift..
http://metro.co.uk/2017/01/06/man-hanging-from-ski-lift-saved-after-stranger-walks-across-cable-to-cut-him-free-6366168/

Tips for first time Cross Country Skiing

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We woke up to a beautiful layer of snow in the town when we popped over for a quick break recently.  Unfortunately though, the visibility was a little low, so as much of a travesty as it sounds we decided not to hit the big mountains but stay on the valley floor.

snow in the car park of Barrats A chamonix
morning snow on the cars in Barrats A’s car park, with Mount Blanc in the Background

We took ourselves back to ski school and booked places on a group nordic skiing lesson. It was very bizarre going back to school, but it was absolutely necessary.  – What seems to be the easy option when you drive past the walking pace skiing on carved out paths as you head up the valley past Bois du Bouchet to Argentiere is in fact rather technical and hard work.

So we rocked up to the ski hire place next to the Masion du Fond (Interpsort) near the ice rink and asked for cross country skis.  Ah, so it seems we have a choice of two: classic and skate, which do we want? Having never done it before we were advised to go for the classic.  It turns out that these are the slightly thicker, lower bridge skis more akin to tele-marking which are best suited to the pre-cut groves on the side of the piste.   When you use them it’s like the motions you go though on a gym ski simulator with arms and legs moving in opposite motion as you lunge forward.

Ok great, so we took our classic skis and comfy boots and were given them for 4 hours.  4 hours? What a rip off, you hire alpine skis by the day, why only a few hours for these, the lesson is 2 hours? Having enjoyed our 2 hour lesson and made good progress managing to get up to the top of the Chamonix piste right the way up to Les Bois we were shattered.  The slower than alpine pace afforded us some lovely views though, as you seem to have so much more time to look up from the slopes in front of you.

View while nordic skiing, Les Bois, Chamonix
Take a moment to reflect and spot the beauty around you

We pootled for a bit after our lesson, but the shop was right we didn’t need them for a full day. This then offered us the opportunity to do something else in the day too so we grabbed the bus up to Argentiere for a lovely lunch in Les Remis, which we’ll tell you about later.

Day two we went back to alpine skiing, but on day three we returned for another cross country ski lesson to find out what those skating skis were all about.  This time we had a private lesson which worked equally as well, and I must say that our ESF guide Bernard was fantastic on both occasions.

For our skating lessons we didn’t cover anywhere near as much ground kilometer wise, but we focused a lot more on the range of techniques needed for skiing.  I’d say that it’s the more difficult technique to master, but once you get it you go faster and probably expend less energy. You look a little like a penguin, like these guys below as you flip your way around and shuffle round corners, but that’s part of the fun.

Nordic skiing Skating style chamonix

After our 2 hour lesson we continued to skate around the Bois du Bochet, but again no more then the extra 2 hours were needed.  In fact we used around an hour having lunch at Le Robinson.  We felt rather inadequate following one particular family in there though as the dad was actually skiing towing his young daughter in a sledge behind him! Wow, very fit. It’s no surprise that nordic skiers tend to be rather slim.

We had great fun trying out this new sport and were grateful to be in Chamonix early enough in the season to have snow in the town.  Les Houches has its piste on the top of the mountain which has got to be great for late season tracks and Easter skiing so we may well be doing it again soon.

In terms of practical tips on doing it here are a couple more things:

  • Don’t wear your salopettes, but running tights or jogging bottoms.
  • You can leave your bags with your extra layers in the Maison du Fond for your return. Toilets and vending machine are there too.
  • On your trip to Chamonix make sure you have your swimming costume (your budgie smuggler types :-)) as your piste ticket entitles you to free us of the swimming pool and sauna on the same day.  This actually means your piste ticket is free if you had intended to go to the sauna anyway.
  • On the days when the full piste isn’t open they even offer you a discount which can work out that they are paying you to do it if you were intending to go to the pool anyway.
  • When you enter the swimming pool, before swiping in get your haman (sauna) band from reception.
  • Book your ski lessons before the day you want to go, ideally at least the morning before, as in low season group lessons might not happen.
  • Even for 4 hours hire its not expensive, 20 Euros per person for boots and skis.

Alle, alle!

 

Will it be a pool party to rival Ibiza’s? Black Weekend finale

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I’ve been reading about the various Alpine Music Festivals being held across the Alps this winter, Snowboming, Snowboxx, Top of the Mountain  etc. and things seem to get bigger and bigger each year with quite a dedicated crowd of followers it seems. One of the Austrian festivals even focuses solely on comedy (Altitude Comedy Festival) which is great for the Jekyll and Hyde’s Monday night comedy night as it often gets to book the big stars after the event in late March.

So I’m wondering if Chamonix’s Black Weekend will eventually grow to be large enough to be placed on the significant winter festival map? The Black Weekend (3rd to 6th April) relies on the identity of the local brand of free skiing Black Crows, which symbolises the convergence of two worlds: free skiing and urban cultures.  It comprises gear testing, off piste outings, a giant tartiflette, lots of dancing to funky tunes and even an old skool ‘hot dog’ race where two skiers go head to head on a moguls course (usually in fancy dress). During the evenings there are also many ticket only events and I was amused to see that there is even a pool party on the last evening in Hotel Les Aiglons.  Eat your heart out Ibiza!!!

bar grand montets

I’m not sure of the current event capacity, but I gather both nightclub and lift bookings are advisable so maybe their aim is to keep it select?  CMB are offering special deals on lift passes for this, the Easter weekend, though if you buy a Mont Blanc Unlimited pass by Sunday 15th March giving a 20% discount. There after, a 10% discount if you buy online between 16th March to 29th March.  The passes also entitle you to free entry in a number of evening events and a happy-hour.  Perhaps as a sense of irony they are calling their offer Jour Blanc….

Even if you don’t want to partipcate in the events, it sounds like a deal.

So here is what to expect in the day….

Daytime itinerary:

FRIDAY APRIL 3RD
6.30PM – 11.00PM : Inauguration – Plan Praz 2000m / Bergerie (Brévent)

SATURDAY APRIL 4TH
Village Festival. Ski Test Black Crows and live at Lognan (Grands Montets)
Live RECONDITE at Aiguille du Midi (north terrace)

SUNDAY APRIL 5TH
Village Festival. Ski Test Black Crows and live at Lognan (Grands Montets)
Live at Grand Hôtel du Montenvers (Montenvers-Mer de Glace)

MONDAY APRIL 6TH
Village Festival. Ski Test Black Crows and live at Lognan (Grands Montets)
Live at the Top of the GRANDS MONTETS

And here is the link to the evening activities.

And what’s more we even have availability from the 2nd – 10th April 2015, so finding accommodation won’t be a problem 🙂

What a difference 6 weeks makes: part 2 (everyone seems to know about the Monkey Bar burgers)

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Ok, The Times articles distraction aside, back to our little weekend away.  Well we continued with our use of public transport, so on the second day of our short break we hit the buses again.  This time we went straight for the Cham Sud bus stop and sought a coach heading for La Tour La Blame which turned out not to be as frequent as the other destinations, but not too long a wait nevertheless.  The journey took mourned 30 mins and you could have bailed out for Grands Montets if the journey had got too much.

Unfortunately the visibility wasn’t great, but we were there to ski after all. The slopes were quiet with more people taking the back country routes than the pistes themselves. So we took it easy and stopped for a hot chocolate at Les Aiguillette cafe which is probably one of the cosiest and cheapest restaurant on the local pistes.

After a lift back up to the Vallorcine side, as the Foret Vert run was closed we decided to take an early lunch and use the Vallorcine lift down to L’Arret de Bougnete  for a spot of lunch.  It was as good as we remembered it, with a fantastic plat de jour and salad topped off with the fanciest fried egg I’ve seen.

L'Arret Bougenete lunch

The plan was then to head back up the mountain with the hope that the weather had cleared, but we found a train in the station Chamonix bound, so we jumped on that instead.  It was a very civilised way to travel down the valley, watching people walking through the valley.

20150119_144116

We alighted at Argentiere and walked the 7 mins across the carpark to the new Plan Joran gondola again.

This time we skied until they chucked us off the mountain. 🙂

So back to town for the Terrasse’s new happy hour, followed by the burger night at the Monkey Bar. Well that was the plan, but it seemed that half of the town had also heard about the Monday half price burgers in the Monkey, so we could hardly get through the door (as its very popular with seasonnaires and visitors alike), so plan B was called for.  A trip to the wood fired pizza oven just around the corner.

So what other changes did we noticed since our last trip 6 weeks before?  Well, it looks as though the ski jump has been finished at Le Greppon. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see anyone doing the jump, but I get it’s a great spectator sport!

Chamonix ski jump

 

There was one thing that hadn’t changed though, the lovely horse and carriage in town driven by Paul Elvin, the local farrier.

 

Russian horse and carriage Chamonix

So all in all we had a fab weekend and getting the early morning flight home still enabled us to be at our desks before most of our colleagues!  We did come away thinking about the non-alpine ski actives we might do should we experience inclement weather again though.  Of course there are a number of obvious touristy things to do, but we quite fancy giving the cross country skiing thing ago, as with snow in the valley the Bois Du Bouchet, more commonly associated with the landing of paragliders and informal family restaurants  was covered in snow and thin tracks.  Something for another year……

 

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.

What a difference 6 weeks make: the first day of a winter weekend in Chamonix

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We came back from a quick weekend in Chamonix a few weeks ago.  Wow, what a difference 6 weeks makes. Having visited during October half term in beautiful autumnal sunshine it was amazing to see how different things look in the snow.

 

Walking without snow shoes (but it would have been useful to have some…)

Having got the shuttle bus from Geneva at lunch time, we arrived in resort to find a whiteout, so decided to go for a walk rather than half a day on the piste with rubbish visiblity. We chose La Floria as it has some great views of Mont Blanc on a good day.  Look how different it was last time we were there!

La Floria, Autumn and Winter

In order to make more of a circular walk, as we’ve done in the summer, we walked through the cafe area and dropped down towards Flegere.  We’d had the reassurance of others walking/snow shoeing the path up from town, but it was complete virgin tracks on the way down! And this might be the reason why…

virgin tracks of the walking kind (La Floria to Flegere)

It did eventually take us down to the bottom of the black run down to La Praz though.  This actually turned out to be a comforting piece of familiarity the next day as it turned out.

Getting around

As we’d taken the Easy Jet transfer bus we were then of course without a car in resort. Quite a novel situation for us, but at least we got to experience the local transport we’ve talked about.  We could’ve been sensible and looked up the time table, but we decided to just head to the bus stop when we fancied it, as after all we were on holiday and had no rush for ski school.  Our wait was no longer than 7 mins each time.

On our first occasion, we tried rather ambitiously to get the free Navette to Le Savoy after a little petit de jeuner in a Cafe on the Avenue Augille du Midi.  This seemed like the route of least walking to get to the Brevent lift.  Indeed, there wasn’t any steep walking with ski boots and it wasn’t quick, but it felt like an adventure.  It also turned out to be fortuitous as the ques for the lift passes at Le Savoy were a lot shorter than up at Le Brevent, so in the end we actually got on the slope quicker than others we saw in the town centre at the beginning of the day.  It also amused us that the drag lift was the place of the Mini UTMB in the summer. 🙂

La Savoy drag lift

New Argentiere lift

Using the buses also meant we could go up Brevent, ski down Flegere to La Praz and hop on a bus to Argentiere for the afternoon.  Fab.  Ok the black run which we ski down was closed and rather patchy in places, but having walked down part of it the day before it seemed a better alternative than waiting in a lift que (oh, how my skiing confidence must have changed!)

This gave us the opportunity to check out the newly opened Plan Joran gondola at Les Grands Montets. Yes, we can confirm it’s an awful lot quicker and more comfortable than the old lift!  It also takes you higher up the mountain.

Plan Joran Gondala ArgeniereA new happy hour

Ok, so that was the skiing on Saturday, but what would a skiing trip be with out its aprés ski?  Well, we managed to get wind that the Cafe La Terrasse bar in the town square had just reopened and in an effort to attract clientele back it was doing a happy hour (another one to add to the list I hope).  Result.

Cafe La Terrasse Chamonix, Autumn and Winter

What made it even better is the sympathy with which they have restored the upstairs of this beautiful Art Deco building.  It no longer feels like an unloved, grungy bar with an accidental pretty exterior, but the kind place that warrants a longer relaxed stay (with live music still played in the bar downstairs occasionally).

Cafe La Terrace up stairs cocktail bar

Then it was a walk home via Casa Valerio, La Dolca Vita (88 Rue Lyret), for a pizza. This always comes highly recommend, and we can’t argue about the food, but the staff are almost a little too efficient as we seemed to get out of there at break neck speed. Maybe not so bad though as we need to conserve our energy for the next days skiing.

So quite a busy day for spotting changes during the first part of the weekend.  The second part come.

Ski areas open in Chamonix this Christmas

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Ok, like the rest of the Alps, it’s not been the most snowy start to the season which has meant some people have had to wait a little longer than hoped to try out the new gondola at Argentiere.  Yesterday CMB updated the routes open for pisted skiing and have opened other routes for sight seeing only.  It currently strongly advises that off-piste skiing is avoided due to thin snow layers.

So the current areas open for skiing are:

Domaine des Grands Montets (Argentiere) for skiers

  • New Plan Joran gondola, Argentière – Lognan & Lognan – Grands Montets cable-cars, Bochard gondola, Marmottons & Tabé chair-lifts.
  • Ski sur les pistes suivantes : Bochard, Marmottons et une variante des Grands-Montets « départ 3300m en direction de la piste de Bochard par le col des Rachasses »
  • Skiing on the following trails : Bochard, Marmottons, Grands Montets variante (Departure at 3 300 m via Col des Rachasses to rejoin the Bochard trail).

Domaine de la Flégère for sightseers & weak skiers

  • La Flégère cable-car & Les Evettes chair-lift.
  • Skiing on the Evettes trail.

Domaine de Balme (Le Tour) for sightseers & skiers

  • Charamillon & Vallorcine gondolas, Autannes chair-lift.
  • Skiing on the Caisets trail (return trail from Charamillon to Le Tour).

And for sight seeing and excursions only you have:

  • Domaine du Brévent for sightseers ONLY.
  • Domaine des Houches for sightseers ONLY
  • Bellevue cable-car & Prarion gondola.
  • Aiguille du Midi, Montenvers Mer de Glace and Tramway du Mont-Blanc.Planpraz gondola & Brévent cable-car.

Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be be any imminent dump alerts, but it looks as though snow is forecast from 27th Dec onwards, so fingers crossed for more lift opening soon.  Little solace if you are there already perhaps, but fortunately Chamonix does have a range of non-skiing activities to keep you entertained when poor snow stops play.  You may need to look at the specific winter opening times, but here are a few ideas.

Happy holidays!!

2014-04-11 13.14.59

Le Grépon ski jump rennovation

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The very first Olympic ski jump was built at the foot of Mont Blanc massif and the “Glacier des Bossons” glacier for the 1924 games and was called “Le Mont” . There Jacob Tullin Thams became then first Olympic champion in ski jumping. With Birger Ruud, another Norwegian was successful at WSC at Chamonix in 1937. It was subsequently altered in 1923 and  1936 but although used for national competitions is no longer part of the international competitions.  Its classification for those of you who follow those kinds of things is a K95.

However, its the K50 at Le Grépon that has been intriguing us.  You see it each time you drive around the ring road of the town in its sorry unused state, but this year there has been plenty of activity.  It seems that Tremplin du Grépon currently a K50 is being modernized to be a ski jumping facility as K60, K30 and K15.  Club des Sports de Chamonix currently train in Les Houches due to lack of suitable facilities in the town.  The photo below shows you some of the ground works taking place, with the old jump tower on the right.

new ski jump

I have managed to find a bit of footage of the slope in use in its recent form which gives you an idea of how it might look once its finished.  These young lads are brave (and very fit to carry their long skis up the steep slope!).

Until renovation started the jumps were a little too close to the pylons to be safe and the terrain had been damaged by tobogganing, but there is support for resurrecting a jump area that pays tribute to the fact that Chamonix hosted the first winter Olympics, so we look forward to seeing its end state.

This is another great piece of modernisation to go with the updating of a number of lifts, which is great.

 

 

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.

New ski lift at Argentiere, Chamonix will open for 2014/15 season

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Despite the Aiguille du Midi being named the top of the top 10 best ski lifts in the world by the Unofficial networks, the town sometimes comes under criticism for its antiquated lifts systems when the powder is really good.  Perhaps not surprising given the town’s popularity and change in technology over the years – but it still has nowhere near as many drag lifts as in St Luc, La Valaise, Switzerland!

Fortunately the CMB have already gone some way to moving things forward with the Flegere telecabin being replaced in  Dec 2013 and the Brevent lift in 2011.

Late last year the town council approved further redevelopments. The new forty year € 477 million plan allows for a huge investment over the next six years and to plan for future developments in the long term.

Three telecabins, two chairlifts and two new beginner areas in the next 6 years

The CMB proposal features the construction of three new gondolas, two chairlifts and two beginner areas:

2014: Plan Joran telecabin (Grands Montets ski area)
2015: Plan Praz beginner ski area (Brevent-Flegère ski area)
2016: Parsa Chairlift (Brevent-Flegère ski area)
2016: Argentiere beginner ski area (Grands Montets ski area)
2017 Charamillon telecabin (Tour ski area)
2019: Tabé / Marmottons Chairlift (Grands Montets ski area)
2019: Flégère improved access (Brevent-Flegère ski area)

The new Lognon gondola will carry 3500 people per hour and is set to be in place & operational for this coming winter 2014-15. 🙂  Look they posted a picture of the work taking place.

Given that we are one of those parents fighting with the the powder hounds to get the kids up to ski school in a timely manner, we look forward to our ski school stress being relieved next year, lets just hope when we get on the lift the kids haven’t left their gloves behind.. 🙂