Saturday, 21 January 2017

Learning a new skill - Ski Hok

We were given the opportunity today to try a new way of getting around on the snow - Ski Hok or as it is also known Randonnée Nordique.  First Tracks Ski Coaching based in the Three Valleys are about to add Ski Hok to their portfolio and were looking for guinea pigs to give it a go.

The experience started well with the news that you don't need to wear Ski boots, normal walking boot or apres ski boots are used. The equipment consists of skis which are short and wide. The ski has a partial climbing skin on the base which makes climbing easy, and you are assisted by poles which are slightly shorter than the usual ski pole. Similar to cross country skiing the heel is free allowing you to progress uphill at a reasonable speed and with a more fluid movement than wearing snow racquets.

The equipment

The best terrain for Ski Hok is untouched snow as opposed to prepared pistes. It is essentially a way of getting around back country areas. We had a great area to practice in at Courchevel 1650, the sun was shining, what could possibly go wrong?

Very pleasant on the way up

In all fairness to this activity I will declare that I have a very low threshold for risk and despite being a competent skier now, it took me many years to get there. The descending part of Ski Hok was too hard for me - I would need to start on a very shallow slope and progress over time. Having fallen more times than I have done over many seasons of alpine skiing I decided that going up was the only part I was ready for. Everyone else succeeded in descending various slopes with varying success.

Time for (French) Tea with our Instructor François

Now doesn't that look peaceful?
 Despite my failure I loved this activity and can see how useful this equipment would be to explore areas away from the pistes. I would definitely take some lessons to master the going down part and will watch with interest how this activity takes off in The Three Valleys area. If you are interested in finding out more contact

Sunday, 18 December 2016

One week into the season - what's it really like?

Despite significant snowfalls in late October and early November we are not sitting in a winter wonderland at resort level. The prolonged dry period has reminded people of the last 2 years where Christmas and New Year did not produce snowfalls which instead came later in the season.

So what is it really like out there? Well we have skied this week and enjoyed some of the best snow conditions ever - how can that be? Well the answer probably lies in our eternal Australian optimism and the fact that we firmly believe in skiing to the conditions. We have a saying " a mediocre day on the slopes in the French Alps beats a great day at the office any time."  To the second point skiing to the conditions at the moment means no off piste, no fluffy white pillows to break your fall and no mindless meandering across super wide highways without a care in the world.

On the higher slopes the natural snow which fell earlier in the season has been preserved by the cold temperatures. The rigorous maintenance by the Pisteurs has resulted in very forgiving snow, grippy underfoot and easy to turn in. Lower down man made snow has enabled resort home runs to be opened and beginner areas to operate. The schedule of grooming has been increased which means for early birds lots and lots of corduroy to enjoy. As the day moves on some ares become hard packed and sharp edges are needed to get traction. The Three Valley links are open, the sun is shining and there are definitely worse places to be.

Today we went to Val Thorens and found some lovely snow. We took the blue Pluviometre run into Val Thorens which was nicely groomed with a few loose stones towards the bottom - easy to spot and avoid. We then took the Peclet Funitel- 3 times in total and again lovely groomed conditions on each run. All the runs at the top were open, 80% groomed. 

On the way up Peclet Funitel
From the summit all runs were open
The top of Peclet Funitel is the access to the Toboggan run which winds back down to Val Thorens centre. Judging by the number of Sledges the Funitel deals with on an average day it is certainly popular.

The Toboggan run Val Thorens
After playing around Peclet we moved to Portette Chair and Thorens Funitel giving us a chance to peak into the Orelle Valley. Our late afternoon runs back to Meribel Chaudanne were all in good condition despite some easily avoided hard patches. If you can control your speed they don't represent a problem. If you feel tired at the end of a day don't forget you can always take a Gondola down, if you do you will be rewarded by the biggest smiles form the Lifties because they know that sometimes it's the best thing to do.
The blue Lory run into the Orelle Valley

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Day One Season 2016/17

Today is the first day of the season and of course we have overcome our "can I still ski?" nerves, remembered how to fasten our ski boots and got out there so we can report back.

A funny build up to the start of the season here with lots and lots of early snow followed by a dry spell. The good news is the temperatures have been generally cold, the ground we have been walking on over the past few weeks is frozen as are plenty of streams.

Today was gloriously sunny - no complaints when a chairlift makes an impromptu stop - and the Valley looked beautiful. Very few holidaymakers take a gamble on booking a holiday this early so the slopes are very quiet.
Top of Tougnete 2
There are 131 runs open representing approx 240km of skiing. All valleys are accessible. The snow at the top is lovely and light on a firm base. Lower down man made snow has been produced in huge quantities to make it possible to ski back to Chaudanne. We skied as low as the St Martin Chair with no complaints. In some areas the run widths are reduced requiring lower speeds which is not a bad thing while everyone is finding their snow legs.

Lovely view from the Granges Chair
 Down in Mottaret the Tourist Office and local businesses collaborated to welcome the start of the season with a range of activities. Traditional music, food and a round up of information on activities taking place during the season. The chance to try riding on a Skiddoo and surprisingly Ski-Joering proved popular. The small pony certainly seemed keen to go as fast as possible.

Hats off to the local dancers giving it their all in the slippery conditions
This Pony seemed determined to give everyone a speedy ride

Wood fired Vin Chaud, perfect start to a Season

Saturday, 5 November 2016

How are we getting home?

Dragons have been breeding over the summer

In an area as big as the Three Valleys it's a good idea to have a plan for getting home at the end of the day. Being based in Les Allues we are lucky to have choices so don't always end up on the same "home run" every afternoon, We can pick up the bus or Gondola in Meribel, catch the bus from Meribel Village or when conditions are good ski home or ski to Raffort. 

Having said that we do love a ski through the Altiport area in the afternoon sun so getting there from the Courchevel side often finds us at the top of the Col de la Loze. The Boulevard de la Loze is prone to avalanches and therefore closures which leaves the choice between the black run or the blue graded Pic Bleu. The blue run naturally takes most of the traffic and due to a sunny aspect can be rocky at times making it less than ideal. 

We walked to the top of the Col de la Loze this week and are pleased to report than the conditions on this run will be improved this year thanks to the installation of over 30 new snow cannons. For the Dragon spotters there are also more Dragons. Dragon Hammocks and a new Dragon house have been added to the run for those who need a rest before the final push through the Altiport. For those with Children this Dragon themed run links nicely with Piste des Animaux with plenty of distractions for the young and young at heart.

New Dragon Chalet just off the Pic Bleu

Monday, 31 October 2016

Autumn in Meribel

After a long Australian winter staring at Computer screens we have managed to secure early release from desk bound work and have escaped to Meribel 5 weeks earlier than usual. Whilst there is always lots to do in the Chalet to prepare for our guests, this year we have time to stop and admire the scenery in between getting ready for Winter.

We have posted before about the many walking tracks around the area which can be enjoyed in Winter if your legs need a break from skiing, some are even "groomed" by the mini piste basher machine to make the going easy. The range of walks expand before the snow falls so we have our map at the ready to see how many we can complete.

Lac Tueda - Mottaret
The weather is currently sunny and the autumn colours against the snow capped peaks are stunning so we took the opportunity to walk to Refuge du Saut. Positioned at the base of the Glacier de Gébroulaz the Refuge can be reached from Lac Tueda in Mottaret. Achievable during winter but certainly easier at this time of year the trail is well marked and takes you from lakeside to the base of the glacier.

Aiguille Du Fruit 
Seeing the Aiguille du Fruit up close as opposed to from some distance whilst skiing is fascinating and brings a new appreciation for how hard it is to ski down by those who leave the off piste tracks in the snow during winter.  

Early snow on the peaks
Some people consider the ski lifts to be scars on the landscape but to us they represent the lifeblood of the area, without them there would not be as many visitors or as much employment in the area. Looking at ski runs and lifts before the snow arrives is interesting and allows you to see the terrain type, pitch and angle much more clearly. In some cases this is not good, the pitch on Mont Vallon, usually one of my favourite runs, is scarily steep when seen from below.

News on what is planned for the coming season in The Three Valleys will be covered in our next post - in between walking of course.

Refuge du Saut

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Spending the night in a Refuge

We are lucky in Meribel with a handful of Mountain Refuges which can be reached relatively easily on foot or via off-piste. At New Year we walked up to the Col de la Lune which is just above Les Allues and decided that this Season we really did have to try out one of the Refuges for the night. So that is why this week after a day skiing we set off late in the afternoon as the snow was falling to walk to The Refuge du Christ.

We were under no illusion that the refuge we had chosen was a typical Mountain refuge. En suite bedrooms, fully catered, sauna and even a wood fired hot tub. What a lovely way to relax after a hard day.

Hot tub while the snow fell

The rooms are comfortable, warm, and spacious. Sleeping 13 in total in a combination of double and 4/5 person rooms. Perfect for couples, families or groups of friends.

Lovely double room with private bathroom

Dinner was plentiful and delicious, served in the dining/kitchen alongside the open fire. An exceptional wine list is available to accompany your dinner. The hosts are welcoming, friendly and have a wealth of local knowledge.

Perfect setting for a lovely dinner

After a great sleep a breakfast which would set anyone up for the day, including  a range of homemade Jam and Marmalades. As the sun broke through the clouds across the valley the view from the breakfast table was stunning.

The view from our breakfast table

The view from our room was not too shabby either. From the back the Meribel Valley, from the front Mont Blanc.
The view from our balcony

Mont Blanc rising from the clouds, the view from our front door

The walk back to Chalet Vache Bleue was a little easier than the walk up to the Refuge although the snow was deeper. We didn't spot any of the local wildlife just their tracks. Perhaps another time - as if we need an excuse to visit again. We will definitely be back.

Refuge du Christ