Monday, 28 January 2013

January weather; inversions and diamond dust

We have had all sorts of weather this January, nothing too hard to cope with but enough to keep us on our toes. We have had a series of good snowfalls, enough to keep the pistes in wonderful condition but not so much that areas have to be closed off while Pisteurs work to make them safe. 

One of the interesting weather events we have had this month not just once but several times is a temperature inversion. Typically as you go up in altitude the temperature falls, the temperature here in Les Allues is usually higher than at the summits. When a temperature inversion occurs the opposite becomes true, the normal decrease in temperature with height switches to the temperature increasing with height. The result is that on the summits it can be much warmer than down in the valley.

In addition to the impact on temperature an inversion can create an interesting cloud effect. Clouds just below the inversion tend to spread out and take on a flattened appearance. When skiing in sunshine it is quite strange to look down the valley and see the where the thick cloud has sunk, almost giving the appearance of glaciers. These pictures do not give the effect full justice but hopefully give you an idea of what happens.

Another curious weather effect we have experienced is diamond dust, again this occurs when the air is coldest near the ground. The result is sparkling flecks in the air which you can feel biting into your skin as you ski through it. Hard to see unless you can get the sun in the right place, if you look carefully at this picture the diamond dust is sparkling in the sunshine.


Saturday, 12 January 2013

Thrills at night in Meribel

Through this Blog we try to give a varied and balanced view of life here in Meribel, some events however breach my personal limits of risk aversion. For this reason we have a guest blogger for this post reporting on a popular night time activity.

Last time I was here, the guys at Chalet Vache Bleue suggested I may be interested in giving sledging a try. Unfortunately, I ran out of time, so it was on the top of my list to do this visit.

Tuesday night saw me along with 40 other people, of all ages and experience, stood outside the Mottaret Tourist centre at 6pm, ready for a sledging adventure down the Green Truite run (book beforehand by dropping into a tourist centre and it is 17 euros/sledge). I have no sledging experience and wasn't sure what to expect but did snow board down the run earlier in the day just to plan my route.

It all started not too long afterwards, with the people running the event walking us down to the top of the run to get instructions, rules and equipment (I brought my own helmet but both helmets and sledges + glowsticks are provided). It all seemed quite simple, so we lined up at the top of the Truite, ready for action. I should warn you, there are no lights on this run and the glowsticks are to make sure that you don't crash into anybody (1 of the 2 rules on the sledging adventure).

Heaps of cheering and we were off, following the guide who had a large red version of our glowsticks. We had been told that there would be 2 safety stops along the way and that we were at no time to pass the red glowstick (the 2nd of the 2 rules, easy to remember!). The start and the first stop was the learning stage, figuring out how the brakes and turning worked, which resulted in sledges spinning and shooting off across the run but we all arrived. After this, my confidence had increased in using the sledge, which resulted in not doing anything like my planned path plus more 360's and shooting off in random directions with better braking ability.

Post the final stop, we hit the longest part of the track and it was on! Parents with kids between their legs, zooming past those that were steering slightly all over the place who were battling it out with the young at heart. It was a heap of fun, sometimes bumpy, sometimes pointing in the wrong direction all done under a starry night.

All made it back to Meribel, to hand back in the sledges and either to catch the bus back to Mottaret, otherwise feel free to use your glowstick at any number of venues in the centre. 

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Christmas, New Year and then peace

Christmas and New year are always a busy period in any ski resort especially when a large amount of snow falls at the start of the season and every available bed in the resort is sought after by those making a last minute decision to make it a white Christmas. This year was no exception, on one of the busiest transfer Saturdays of the year a heavier than forecast snowfall resulted in long delays for many as the reality of putting snow chains on hit drivers on their way up to Meribel. The moral of this is to practise putting snow chains on your car before you are faced with doing so in the dark, in heavy snow with a long line of cars and buses behind you.

Despite the busy period we are lucky here in Meribel to have such a large ski area at our disposal that getting away from the crowds is not that hard. Research where ski schools meet and at what time - avoid that area. Eat lunch late or early and ski when everyone else is having a long lunch. Start early and finish early to avoid the rush on the "home runs". Although the snow is what most people come here for don't underestimate the value of a day off. We took a day off in the New Year week and discovered the beauty of Conflans a Medieval town just 30km from Meribel. No matter how much you love skiing/boarding it's always nice to wear normal shoes, normal clothes and enjoy a good lunch off the snow.

The Savoie flag is proudly on display throughout Conflans

We spotted many signed walking tracks around Conflans which have been added to our "to do" list

One of the several Chateaus in Conflans

Now that Christmas and New Year are over we have to get used to that almost spooky sensation of skiing some runs alone. The distances that can be covered with no waiting at lifts and few pauses on the runs can be staggering. A trip to Val Thorens can seem like a long way to go sometimes but on Saturday we started at a leisurely 10.30am, skied a section of VT and still had time for a top to bottom run off Saulire before getting home at 4.00pm in time for Vin Chaud. Our peaceful time has been enhanced by glorious sunshine which we are enjoying whilst keeping an eye on the weather forecast which promises a couple of snow days at the end of this week.

Enjoying a picnic lunch with visiting friends

Finally one of the odd things that happens in a ski resort is that Christmas can stretch a bit beyond the normal timings. For example the Christmas decorations here in Meribel do not usually come down until March. You get used to it although occasionally it can catch you off guard as happened this week when we came across Santa over in Courchevel 1650. As he didn't have Reindeer - only a shopping trolley - perhaps he was a little behind schedule.