The first challenge was obvious - There was almost no snow. What was there was man-made unless we went higher up the valley to the purpose-built resort of Avoriaz, and even there it had to be augmented by the snow blowers. After queuing for a while to get the rather pricey passes, it was wrestle your way onto the telepherique, and up to the resort. Once there, my second challenge was there in front of me - thousands and thousands of people. The slopes were rammed, as everyone had to concentrate in the same space. True, there was a surprising amount of snow, and the resort had done a sterling job in opening runs, but for a novice like me, it was intimidating as everyone whizzed past you, and the queues for nursery slope pomas meant you spent way more time in those than skiing.
After some encouragement from my friends and Tracey, who was my main 'carer', we went for a Blue run that my son had recommended. Big mistake. It was by now icy, rutted and very steep for a Blue, and after nearly flying off the edge into the trees a few times, I realised that even if I was ever going to master this, it wasn't going to be on this trip. I need empty wide slopes and good snow, and the bluebird conditions weren't conducive to this unfortunately. So after a calming vin chaud, my skis were hung up, and my crampons dusted down. Back to normality whilst they skied, with a convivial meet-up where possible.
I won't even mention the embarrassing heaped tangle I got in with a poor unsuspecting child whilst getting off a telesiege....you'll just have to imaging it, along with the mood it put her parents in.
So, back to what I'm good at!
My first walk was simply up the mountainside from Morzine to Avoriaz, following the route shown on the IGN map I had bought. It was an ascent of about 1000m, and took me through some lovely pine, beech and birch woods, which whilst close to the ski road, felt quite secluded. I am sure it would have all been much different had there been snow cover, and indeed, it would have been magical, but as it was, it felt like a spring walk in Scotland. The only challenge came when I did get to the snow line, as the paths become pistes of course, and I had to pick my way carefully. Also, there is a myriad of signage for the skiers, Nordic walkers, mountain bikers and the likes, and they add to the general confusion when reading a map without them all on. I found a French couple lost in the wood, and after some faffing, we emerged onto the golf course and could see the resort. It was a little surreal walking over a frozen golf course, past occasional piles of snow, and with such wonderful scenery all around.
I have always been able to ignore the ravages of the ski industry when there are views to be had, and indeed, do not believe we have a monopoly on the hills as hill walkers and mountaineers, so as long as there are hills for all, live and let live I feel. This helped me enjoy the day despite the commercialism. I met up with the skiers for lunch, and we descended on the cable car together. Most civilised.
The next day I wanted something a little more challenging, so decided on the Pointe de Nyon at 2019m. This is still just a walk up some pistes, but as there was not enough to open the run, and it was about 1500m with the descent from my chalet added in too, it would be a nice short day's cramponing. I followed the frosty Chemin Renard along the river, named after the trickster fox of French literature, and enjoyed reading the information placards along the way. I also took a detour past the Cascade de Nyon, a frozen waterfall, which would give some good ice climbing in better conditions I warrant.
The path cum track (it is never easy to differentiate on a IGN map) soon became a piste in the making, and I could have done with gaiters on at times as I skirted the man-made piles. After nipping up under a telesiege steeply for a couple of hundred metres, I got back onto another delightful wooded path, and soon got to 1400m where the path deposited me at the ski area and the hotel at the top of a telecabine.
After a short snack, I traipsed carefully over the frozen grass and half-made pistes, and got onto what would be a track, soon to be a full-blown piste, which snaked its way up to just short of the summit. It must be a great run for the skiers when complete, and I enjoyed the effort of cramponing up. I was a little concerned as I looked up at the sun shining blue through the snow on the summit, which often suggests a cornice, and not having bothered with my axe, I carefully ascended the last metres to the ridge. I needn't have worried, as the snow was bomber hard and well trodden, and the ridge was wide, with exposed grass on the Southern aspect. What a spot for a rest, what a view. From the Chablais, round past the Aiguille Verte, the Dru, the Chamonix Aiguilles, the Aiguilles Rouges, Mont Blanc itself, the Aravis, the Pointe Percee, the Roc d'Enfer, the Jura etc etc. Beautiful, and well worth the sweat.
I was down in no time at all, enjoying the crisp snow under my crampons, and stopped for a shandy and omelette and chips at the restaurant. It was really nice, but worth e25.00?! Suffering slightly from shock, (not really, but this skiing is not a poor man's sport eh!?), I was happy to invest a little more in a gondola ride down to the valley.
I kept swithering as to whether or not I would go back and ski after the Hogmanay celebrations' excesses had worn off , but instead settled for a short walk over the Pleney hill to Les Gets with Morag, Tim, Fiona and Tracey to round off the holiday nicely.
I suspect I will try and ski again, but in better conditions, and it was nice to fill in a gap in my geography, as I have always driven past the Chablais to get to Chamonix. I enjoyed the relaxed walking, and now have my fingers crossed that we get some decent snow here in Scotland as I am running winter courses for the rest of the month.