Wednesday, 27 March 2013

How to avoid getting lost

The last post covered some tips to stay safe when visibility becomes limited, it proved to be quite timely as we have been dealt a few bad visibility days since the post was published. In between we have had more snow and some lovely sunny days which can tempt many to make the most of the huge skiing area here in the Three Valleys. So in this huge area how do you find your way around?

Piste Map:

Freely available everywhere, you can even get one printed on a lens cloth. The entire 3 Valleys is on one side of the map, the other side shows one of the Valleys in a larger scale which is much easier to read. The larger scale side will show the Valley where you picked up the map so as you move between the valleys it is a good idea to pick up a new map. The Piste Map also has the closing times of the lifts so no excuse to miss the last lift.

The 3 Valleys App:

This puts a wealth of information at your fingertips whilst you are on the go or sitting at home planning your day. It's a free App which includes webcams, suggested routes, weather conditions plus much more. Better than a brochure and it can track your progress around the ski area, available through the Apple App Store

Sign boards:

At the top and bottom of the major lifts there are signboards which give you information relating to lifts and the pistes they give you access to. Opening and closing times, status of runs, weather conditions, a clock (again no excuse to miss the last lift) the current avalanche risk rating and direction information to get to other valleys are usually included as standard. In addition you will often see blackboards or whiteboards as in the picture below, with additional information such as which runs are groomed and sometimes the Pisteurs suggestions for "Piste of the Day". If the weather turns nasty the blackboards are where information relating to the best way home are posted so be sure to read them. If bad weather is expected you will see messages relating to the sudden closure of links between the Valleys, pay particular attention to these as lifts can close as suddenly as the weather changes.
Lots of additional information written by the Lift operators each day
Maps showing the pistes available to you can be found at the base of each lift
Piste Markers

Probably the most obvious source of information about where you are can be found on the Piste poles. The colour of the pole tells you which grade of piste you are on and every couple of poles there will be a pole with the name of the piste on. Where there are numbers these count down as you move down the piste so if you are on a nasty black piste and the number reads "15" you have a way to go! The numbers are very important if you need to report an accident or summon help, also handy to identify exactly where on  a piste you are if you become separated from your group and someone calls you and asks that infernal "where are you" question.

Some piste markers also include the name of the ski are as this one does in Les Menuires

Finally one of the best sources of information are the people around you in particular the Lift Operators and Piste Patrols. They ski the area daily, most of them have lived locally for years so don't be afraid to ask for help or advice. All lift stations carry maps and will point out to you exactly where you are. In addition to staff at the start and end of each lift you will also see huts like the one below where the Piste Patrols are stationed, don't be afraid to knock on the door and ask, none of them bite - not even the Avalanche dogs who will often be inside waiting to be sent out to do their very important work.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

I can't see a thing............what to do

The bulk of the School holidays ended this weekend and although Saturday is always a lovely quiet day on the slopes being the main changeover day today was exceptionally quiet. I promised to post about finding your way around this huge ski area which I am going to do in 2 parts. The first part is about finding your way in bad conditions which is relevant in any ski area.

All very pretty until the cloud descends

Last week we were basking in glorious sunshine in Courchevel above a layer of cloud which had settled lower down in the valley floor. We decided to ski down to the Pralong Chairlift and suddenly met a wall of cloud, by the time we had come back up the Chairlift the visibility had decreased considerably so we decided it was time to head home. Making our way to the top of the Loze things just got worse, the visibility decreased further and throngs of people were trying to make it back to Meribel. Conditions like this are not frequent, we experience them perhaps 4 or 5 times a season, many people ski for years without experiencing them which can make for a frightening experience when it does happen. So what should you do? 

Firstly find a friend - in these situations your best friend is a piste marker pole, specifically one which has a different coloured top. The one above is on a blue piste but has a red top, sometimes they are more orange than red but always a different colour than the rest of the marker. These poles are always on the right hand side of the piste so once you find the line of them make sure you keep to the left of them to ensure you stay on the piste. Last week I saw a group of skiers become confused by piste markers on a blue run which resulted in them all toppling down a fairly steep slope. Luckily they realised and managed to climb back up but it could have been much worse if they had continued far off piste in such terrible visibility or been unable to climb back up

Secondly know your enemies - yellow and black poles as shown below signify "danger". It may be a cliff, an obstacle or a huge hole so stay away.

Lastly slow down. It really is like the Tortoise and the Hare, bad visibility calls for slow steady progress. Apart from the possibility of becoming lost the lack of visibility makes it hard to read the conditions, bumps seem to appear from nowhere and it is very easy to be caught out by changes underfoot which you are not quite prepared for. Making slow, definite, in control movements on the piste will help to keep you out of trouble. Stop frequently to check where you are and if in any doubt ask at the closest lift station for directions.

Next time finding your way around in perfect conditions such as those we experienced at the end of last week - nice enough for a picnic lunch!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The circus leaves town

Ready, set..............GO
The Ski World Cup event was completed successfully and the circus which came with it has rolled out of town. As previously posted the event was a good rehearsal for 2015 and it certainly gave us all a taste of the excitement that such events can bring. Although we couldn't turn on the sunshine we did deliver a French podium position so the locals were all very happy. Fresh snow gave organisers and ESF Instructors plenty to do as they were given the job of clearing fresh snow from the course as mechanical means are forbidden once a certain time prior to the start of the race has passed. The layout of the course made it very easy to get close to the competitors although it certainly was a case of blink and you will miss it, the speed at which they travel was quite amazing to be so close to.

Plenty of local support

Very snowy finish line
In addition to the excitement of the World Cup events it has been the busy half term period in the Alps which is now drawing to a close. We are currently experiencing the Parisians so the    bars are full of talk of aggressive driving techniques! After a week and a half of the very best spring weather the Parisians seem to have brought winter with them. For the first time in what feels like months upper lifts were closed down today as gale force winds had most people skiing the lower slopes all morning and then taking an early mark. Light snow is forecast over the next couple of days which will freshen up the slopes, temperatures are dropping again so time to dig out the layers which we thought had been put away for the season.

We enjoyed some skiing over in the neighbouring resort of Les Arcs recently with good friends who have skied the area a couple of times. We put ourselves in their capable hands and didn't have to consult a Piste Map but this did get us thinking how hard it can be arriving at a "new to you" ski resort - especially the largest ski area in the world as Three Valleys is. How on earth to you stop yourself from getting lost, ending up in the wrong valley or finding yourself at the top of a Piste you really did not want to ski down. Next Post then will be full of tips on how to find your way around.

Finally one thing we did learn in Les Arcs is that some Gondolas do not actually take you anywhere...........