My ski bag had been packed to the gunwales with all the warmth I could find as I nervously watched the icy grip winter had over Europe in the preceding weeks, but Monday dawned clear and a chilly -15ºCish - not the more than twenty below that I had feared. We piled in to the back of a Landrover (reminded me of a rather bumpy journey from Kathmandu towards Chitwan fifteen years ago) for the short run up to St Martin de Belleville & our access on to the slopes of the Three Valleys (Les Trois Vallees if my French was any sort of good). Billed as the world's largest ski area (interconnected by lifts & slopes before anyone starts picking nits), it wasn't long up the ridge before one could start to be amazed by the size of it. There are eight resorts connected by over a hundred and eighty lifts, & 600 km of trails. If that isn't enough - there is so much terrain off-piste, that I'm still not sure I can comprehend it. I'm pretty sure that I rode more lifts in one week than there are in all of New Zealand.
We had quite a wide variety of experience in our group & it wasn't long before we started to separate. I spent Monday with Andy & Rich trying to remember how to ski properly - turns out it's just like riding a bike. Both Rich & Andy had been to the Three Valleys before, so I was happy to tag along & get my confidence back. We mostly stuck around Les Menuires & Val Thorens for the day (here's a map). It was a gorgeous, if a little cold, day with good views that I couldn't get enough of. With half-term there were a few queues, but not as bad as we had feared - & there was always somewhere else to explore further from the crowds.
Surprised to find that I wasn't aching more after more than nine months off the skis, it was a slow start to the day as there was general faffing around waiting for James (a manager of the chalet) to show a few of us around. Most of our group had to head back to meet others for lunch leaving Andy & I to explore some more interesting runs & a bit off-piste. That slowed me down a little; over lunch in Les Menuires we met up with John & Rich (who had gallantly been giving a little boarding help to Sally, a beginner in our group). The afternoon was a little more relaxed as with so much terrain, there are inevitably flat bits - which tend to slow boarders down more.
The great weather didn't continue into Wednesday - but that was fine as it snowed all day & it was still coming down for most of Thursday. Visibility was pretty poor on Wednesday morning particularly - I had a good few falls for no apparent reason as my inexperience showed through. At least Rich has the excuse of failing eyes for not being able to see anything when the light is flat. Still we managed to make it into Courchevel for lunch, somewhat inadvertently - where we feasted on hamburger buns, a wheel of the cow cheese & bananas as we sat on a stack of pallets outside the Spar (little supermarket). With a good whiteout & still two valleys to get out of before getting close to St Martin, we made a beeline for what turned out to be the emptiest run we'd seen yet. Maybe it was just the clouds, but there was no one up the top of Roc de Fer.
|Rich being visible on an otherwise low-vis day|
|Proof from Rich that I was actually there skiing - no idea where this was|
|It's hard to get a photo of Andy, good or otherwise, as he was always in front|
|The trees were looking pretty too|
With that weather gone, Friday was back to being gorgeous & just for a change it was remarkably warm - owing in part still dressing for -10ºC. With John in tow as well, we first headed back off of Jerusalem to see if we could do any better with a bit of vision. Funny how being able to see things helps a lot.
|Anna doing a better impression of someone not falling over off-piste|
|There it is - the rest of the view wasn't too shabby either|
|Val Thorens is down there - the highest ski resort in Europe apparently|
|John & Anna in front of one of the many random summer building dotted around the area|
|Towards Les Menuires|
|Perhaps these two weren't the best influence on my skiing after all - relaxing on one of the last runs of Friday.|
|But first - the group photo: Andy, Rich, Anna, Becks, Marina, Sally, me & John|
|Heading out for what would be a stunning day|
|This cable car took us part way to the highest point - there were only about a hundred skiers on it|
That's a bit of a mammoth post, but if you couldn't tell - it was an incredible week in a great ski area, with fantastic snow, good weather & an excellent group of people. I'm well pleased that my skiing improved suddenly & even more chuffed that my shoulder stayed put. It was one of those weeks of such intensity of activity & enjoyment that remind me why I'm so far from home - something that will be well up on the highlights list of my travels & that I'll be able to tell stories about when I finally return to NZ. Pretty close behind the Mara. On that note I should probably go to bed - thanks are well in order for all those that made that week.