Thursday, 31 December 2015

A break from skiing

A combination of dry and unseasonably warm weather has resulted in many ski areas in Europe being closed or only partially open. The Three Valleys has extensive snow making and a large proportion of pistes high enough to take advantage any snowfall and colder temperatures. The snow is not perfect but there is still plenty to ski on and every night the Pisteurs do an amazing job. 

A combination of the conditions, New Year week and day visitors from other resorts have resulted in busier than normal Pistes especially after mid morning so we have been taking advantage of the many walks available from our front door. The most demanding is probably the track up to the two Refuges above Les Allues - Le Refuge de la Traie and Le Refuge du Christ. The climb of approximately 1.5 hours is on a well marked, wide track and the reward of reaching the plateau is that you can get lunch, hot drinks, cold drinks (including wine) and if things are really desperate a bed for the night.

The views on the way up to the Refuges are stunning especially on a clear sunny day.

If you have the legs continue past the Refuges for another 20 minutes to the Col de la Lune where you will be rewarded with more open views of the Meribel Valley and then views into the Belleville Valley.       

If you are lucky you may spot wildlife whilst walking, we were not lucky this time probably because one of the Village dogs decided to accompany us (uninvited). She spent a lot of time chasing scents here, there and everywhere and an equal amount of time burrowing in the snow no doubt seeking a local wildlife snack of her own. Despite many other walkers she stuck with us, waited patiently while we ate lunch and when we were within sight of Les Allues on the return leg she bounded off no doubt happy that her work as a Mountain Guide was complete for the day.

Dogs who take themselves for a walk is definitely one of the nice things about French Alpine life.


Friday, 25 December 2015

Merry Christmas

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a happy, safe 2016

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Contrasting winter scenery - Brisbane and Les Allues

Skiing has changed our lives in a big way even in Australia where we have chosen a warmer place to live and work (Brisbane) so that we get the right balance of seasonal sunshine and can still get to the beach.   The benefits have included:

  • Ability for us to enjoy a wider variety of outdoor activity for much longer and stay in better shape for skiing

  • New destinations just a short journey from our doorstep

  • Much higher spring temperatures prior to departure for Europe.  At 5.30 pm 20th November 2015 the temperature had fallen to only 29 C. following a midday peak of 38 C.

The downside is hard to imagine but contrast this with Sunday 3.30pm 21st November when we arrived in Les Allues.

  • Temperature a bracing if not bleak minus 5C
  • Around 15 centimetres of fresh snow on the road
  • Dark by 5pm 
  • Night time temperatures plunging to minus 20C

So a 43C reduction in temperature but with it opportunity for bags of fun in the fresh snow which has started for us and Rufus the Alpine Ethos hound (below).

We are looking forward to another great season and the prospect of El Nino Weather patterns providing the right conditions for lots of good snow falls as the season progresses.  For now though the picture below says everything about why people go on a winter holiday each year and yes forgo the beach for something just as good or better!

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Shopping for new skis?

A bit like having great tools at work but in untrained hands, great ski gear on the feet, hands or wherever isn't going to make a whole lot of difference unless you are well versed in how to use it.

Carving skis have been a great case in point.  The name gives insight to their purpose  - they give skiers the ability to more easily carve parallel tracks using both skis, and with practice ski much more dynamically………. but this is only possible if the correct technique is adopted.    Marketers of ski equipment have done a great job to the extent that you actually don't just need carving skis!  You also need carving boots, bindings, stocks / poles, gloves, jackets and even carving bra's and underpants:).  All are apparently guaranteed to improve performance.

Today there are 1000's of skiers on the hills using carving skis and possibly even carving underpants who still skid their skis through every turn and don't know how to do much that is different.  So what are some of the keys to getting most out of the equipment you buy (carving bra's and underpants are excluded from further comment)

Here are a few things which I thought about in buying ski new gear and I think they are mostly things I have pinched from good decision making observed at work (which might seem strange given I work in IT:)

Define your needs - if you intend to ski in Powder heaven it may wise to have some "fat" under the foot that's a ski to give you float-ability.  Big Rocker'ed skis, which are wide underfoot, make sense.  However if you need an all mountain ski then maybe an 88mm under the foot is best - deals with most things well.

Take some tips from the professionals such as ski instructors to find the right gear to suit your standard of skiing and the conditions you want to ski in.  

Have some help from a cynic who can question your motives if you are prone to be a gear freak. My wife Elaine is an excellent foil to any over ambitious investment plans I have for new equipment that may be a little too extravagant.

Try different models before you buy. Find a shop that is prepared to let you try out their gear.  It is generally best to try a few different models. Play fair and if you decide to buy elsewhere at least pay the rental on the equipment.

After buying new gear think hard about having some lessons on getting more out of using the new gear. It is just the same at work.  Boiling it down to the most basic level with a work analogy it would probably be safe to say that 90% of people using MS Office tools have no formal training in how to use them.  Expensive and wasteful and you might say you would not do it if it was your money ….but we do:(

Happy shopping

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Are electronic ski passes just fancy pants, or actually a source of useful information?

(Photo credit : Les 3 Vallées / David ANDRE)
The Internet of Things (IoT), is the network of physical objects or "things" embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity, which enables these objects to collect and exchange data.
If you are looking for inspired ways of pulling together a value proposition for your own business and IOT then it is worth taking a look at how the experience of skiers / boarders is being brought into the 21st century by the IoT.     As far back as I remember ski field operators have been challenged by management and control of skiers.    
Ticketing Systems to automate the sale of access  to ski lifts initially relied on manual inspection then barcoding and now RFID tags (Radio Frequency Identification).  Their original purpose was to weed out people with valid ski passes from those who try to go for a free ride.   What we notice with our eyes is the Barrier control and the credit card style RFID chipped ski pass, but there is much more than just stopping free loaders from using the system without paying. Elaine and I began to notice lots of RFID enabled benefits which are win win for skiers, boarders and operators and ski lodge owners like ourselves:
  • On line refresh and automated payment for next season ski passes - no need to queue up the same piece of plastic is re-used rather than thrown away.  This is cheaper for the resort with lower direct sales costs and 3rd party distribution margins.  For skiers / boarders simps - more time on the hill.  
  • Lift queues are getting smaller even though the number of skiers and boarders in our resort has risen.   
  • A comprehensive and ongoing lift upgrade program has seen RFID scanning used in conjunction with faster loading ski lifts shorten standing time 10 minutes or more on average to less than 2 minutes.  If you take 10-15 lifts a day on average the keener skiers / boarders amongst us can now fit in a few more runs.  
  • For the resorts who are embracing technology their Net Promoter Scores are up.  People are making informed choices to return to the resorts with lowest queues.  
  • We notice that many of the visitors to our ski abode are coming back year after year.  I think it's 50% our place and 50% the better facilities offered by the resort.   
Looking forward the possibilities are very interesting.  
  • Investment in new lifts / retirement of old and opening of new areas is being influenced by the analytical data available on where people prefer to ski and how they get there
  • The Meribel ski area is able to offer promotional deals where skiers and boarders can ski on resort or at international partner resorts on the same ticket.  Meribel has partnerships with ski resorts in Australia, the USA and France which provide a limited number of free ski days in different parts of the world on the same lift ticket.  Great marketing idea that does not cut your own lunch.
  • Pisteurs (the folk who drive the piste grooming machines) can groom pistes which have received the highest traffic volumes keeping the slopes safer and in tip top condition for our maximum enjoyment 
  •  Cyclic maintenance and failures can be reduced by better predictive maintenance which takes account of the traffic volumes on the lifts.
  • Ski field predictive analytics are now being used to report and action data gathered from skiers RFID tag reads.   In our resort the historical rapid closure of lifts due to storms isn't leaving 100's of skiers stranded in the wrong valleys when weather fronts come in.  The lift company uses RFID data to track number of skiers out on the hill and where they are to better control the pace of the shutdown of the lift network and ensure that skiers have a safe way of getting off the hill using the lift system wherever possible
  • Skidata the company who have pioneered much of the ski field RFID development have expanded their RFID and Barrier technology developed for the ski fields across industries.  Ski data systems are common place for secure car parking, building access, construction sites, haz ops environments  and sporting arenas across the world.  This technology has allowed for safer and more cost effective management solutions where assets or people need access to controlled environments
I'm quite excited about the convergence between technology and skiing.  It isn't for free though and requires significant investment so a few things have grabbed my attention on how are the Ski Resorts may be justifying the expense:
  • Asset replacement programs for ski lifts have allowances for IOT infrastructure built in.  IoT is part of the fabric of the facilities that are being upgraded or replaced.   The OEM providers for this type of facility are changing the cost structure of what they are selling to ensure their products continue to provide competitive advantage for their customers
  • Ticketing systems investment in smart card RFID enabled hardware and software is self funding - ski resorts can prove with hard facts that their customers are returning.  They can show a lower incidence of revenue leakage due to conditions of no ski pass or loan out / theft of ski passes
  • Better Net Promoter Scores are one facet but the analysis of the much more granular raw data now available from RFID enable data gathering is showing more skiers and boarders are coming back to their resort
  • Queues are bad for the image of ski resorts and many other - they are disappearing as facility upgrades are executed
  • We will likely see reduced maintenance spend on lifts and pistes as the predictive analytics available from RFID data collection better guides operational maintenance decisions in near or real time

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Ski lesson ROE - Return On Enjoyment

Last year was my 24th year of skiing.  For the past 5 years Elaine and I have skied most days each week of the Northern Winter. 

Like a lot of older folks we took ESF French ski school lessons when the clear and loud ….possibly only guidance to those at the back of the class was to BEND ZE KNEES TO TURN ZEE SKIS.   The madness of continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different outcome became clear and I drifted away from ski lessons for a long time and became self taught or “DIY” obsessed.

However you eventually realize that you reach a plateau of what you can do with self help books and ideas from mates. My own reservations about feeling short changed from past experience on lessons drove me towards investment in tangible things like new boots or new skis to drive improvement.  In hindsight the best kit in the hands of an average skier was not the best idea.

Winding the clock forward and today living in a village where a fair proportion of neighbours and friends earn their living from ski instructing it very quickly became apparent just from watching how they go about things that my skiing lacked much of what they did,  seemingly unconsciously.   I was in short:

  •         Clock-work in motion rather than flowing and natural
  •         Quite quick in my own mind but often not completely in control on steep, narrow or icy pitches
  •         Somewhat prone to close scrapes with others on the slopes
  •         Recognizable by others on the slope for my somewhat interesting style

Getting more from my skiing was becoming really important.  We live in the biggest and arguably the best ski resort in the world.   I somewhat reluctantly chose to take my first step in becoming a better skier by organizing private lessons.  My going in thinking was that I might get a few decent tips but overall my skiing needed a bit of tuning that’s allJ

How wrong I was! My skiing was technique needed to be reworked, not quite back to basics but definitely not just tuning.   I’ll never be a great skier but by golly the improvements from a small annual investment in lessons has transformed my skiing -  relative to the thousands spent on latest gear – yes I am a gear freak. I’m much more confident and get a real buzz out of big turns, bumps and floating through fields of powder.  

On reflection I have spent the preceding twenty odd years of my ski life thinking I had the skills to do this but without the coaching that a lot of us accept is part of our right in the workplace you just can’t break through barriers imposed by poor technique, which you are nearly always blind to yourself.

 So why say all of this you may ask.  Well it’s a call to action for lots of people like me who still spend lots on gear and expensive holidays but don’t take the necessary steps to get so much more out of their skiing.  This is what worked for me so far:

  •       A pre vacation recommendation from your chalet or hotel proprietor on a named ski instructor who might fit in with your personality comes in handy. 
  •       Finding a ski coach with whom I have been able to establish a strong rapport – someone who sees my strengths and my shortcomings as a skier
  •         Set up a private lesson(s) to get an honest assessment of your level, your strengths and a plan for improvement, which they can guide you towards.  The plan must be based around realistic objectives of what you both agree can be achieved.
  •         Ask the instructor for details of the drills that they practice to become better and find out why these drills make such a difference
  •        Practice these drills on the easier slopes, where it is less crowded or on the way home.   An hour or so in a busy ski day as part of what you are doing pay’s dividends for me.   
  •       Decide together how you will measure progress to becoming a better skier.  This might include technical video analysis, feeling much more controlled, having the time to look 3 steps ahead whatever the terrain.
  •        When you feel you have reached an objective get back together for more lessons – change the terrain, find more difficult snow pack etc. 
  •         Don’t let bad old habits slip back in – repeat the lessons to avoid reverting to type

Still not convinced then think about it differently:
  •          The best ski instructors get lessons from each other.  You are never too good to learn.
  •         In your own walk of life ongoing professional development may well be important to your career.  It’s the same for skiing!
  •         How much better does a craftsman / artisan made piece of furniture look compared to DIY attempts at producing the same.  You might get there eventually with DIY but it is a much slower process

I hope my journey to improvement inspires one or two of the people who read our blog to take heart and invest in the ski tuition / training necessary to make a breakthrough in skiing technique and increase their ROE (Return on Enjoyment) in the ski fields this winter.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Doesn't it get boring?

This is one of the questions we get asked when we tell people that we ski on average 5 days a week for weeks (and weeks) in the Three valleys area. The answer is of course a resounding "no, not at all"

Every day is different in the snow, the weather guarantees that but we are also spoilt of course by the sheer size of the Three Valleys area. Yes there are runs that we do almost every day, we have our favourite home run down to Meribel Village timed of course to allow time for a hot chocolate from the bakery before the bus arrives. Our home run aside we aim to ski in different areas each day depending on the conditions and weather.

In the Three valleys the other weapon we have against boredom is that every year something is new, a new lift, a new run or a slightly changed run. Improved facilities, better signage, new après activities. It keeps life interesting. So what is in store for Season 2015/16? Well the award for the "most changed area" looks like going to Mottaret where the area directly above the centre is undergoing a huge transformation. Lifts will be removed, a new lift will be installed and runs changed which will hopefully make the area safer and more enjoyable for beginners. We will no doubt miss the lifts which are being removed, it's always sad to see an old faithful like the Table Vert Chair disappear but the changes to the runs look good, take a look for yourself:

Video showing changes

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Back on line…...

It's been a long time since we posted but normal service has now been resumed. Nothing dramatic just a busy end of the season and an even busier return to non Chalet life.

Over the next few posts we will catch up on what has been happening at Chalet Vache Bleue and news from the Three Valleys and some treats to look forward to next season.

Season 2014-15 was certainly an interesting one. In terms of Chalet Vache Bleue we had over 90% occupancy through the season and welcomed guests from all corners of the world. One of the nicest things about meeting so many people who have skied all over the world is getting the low down on other resorts - especially when they say The Three Valleys and specifically Meribel top them all. 

So what do people like about our slice of heaven? Overall it would have to be the variety of runs and the efficient lift system. Regular visitors also appreciate the improvements which are made every year including re-shaped runs, faster lifts, better facilities (including more on-mountain toilets) and more extensive entertainment programmes.

Last season will not be remembered for an abundance of snow but as usual the superb Piste maintenance team in Meribel made the best of what we had. Many resorts in France had limited skiing available and some were forced to reduce ski pass availability to prevent overcrowding on the few slopes they were able to open. We haven't heard the long range forecast for next season yet but we know that with the altitude, direction of slopes, man made snow making and the great team who work every night in Meribel there will be plenty of snow to slide around on. Why not come and see for yourself?

Snowy walk around our Village January 2015

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

When 3 really means 4

The Three Valleys is actually four valleys thanks to Orelle being part of the ski area. Often forgotten or perhaps considered too far/difficult to get to this gem of an area tucked away beyond Val Thorens really is worth a visit and is not as had to reach as it may appear from looking at the Piste map. A glorious sunny Saturday morning skiing the area a couple of weeks ago reminded us that Orelle is a great part of the Three Valleys area and well with a visit.

How to get there:
Once in Val Thorens take the Grand Fond Telecabine, at the top exit on the right hand side. A short ski will then bring you to the top of the Rosael Chairlift from where you can take a red piste or a blue piste into the Orelle bowl. Both these runs are long and sweeping, the blue is often less crowded just be careful as it crosses the red piste in several places. 
There is also a black run which can be accessed from the top of the Cime Caron Telepherique. Follow the red piste at the top of the Telepherique and look out for the Combe Rosael turn on your left after the first drop. This run can be beautiful and horrid depending on conditions and once you have committed to it at the top there are no alternatives. If you like your skiing consistently pleasant maybe access via Grand Fond and take a look at the black piste from the other side before committing to it.

Access via the black piste from the top of Caron. Use the access from the top of Fond for a more gentle approach.

How much terrain is there in Orelle?
In terms of marked runs there are a couple of reds and a couple of blues. Not huge and definitely scope for more to be added. In terms of Off Piste Orelle is the start/end point of many routes including the Galcier du Bouchet. The ESF team in Orelle specialise in Off Piste trips and have an office next to the Rosael chairlift.
The recently established highest Zip Line in the world takes off from the top of the Bouchet chairlift in Orelle and ends in at the top of the Funitel de Thorens. Nice easy way back to Val Thorens if you have the stomach for it.

Can't be bothered to ski back all the way? There is always the Zip Line.

What makes Orelle different from Val Thorens?
The most marked difference is there is no accommodation in the bowl itself, the town of Orelle is via a telecabine with no access via marked runs. This gives a feeling of isolation which can be hard to achieve in the other valleys where accommodation buildings can almost always be seen. The bowl can be wind impacted but on a sunny day there is nowhere else quite like it, there is a reason that the sun features on the Orelle logo.

Next time you are over in Val Thorens don't forget about Orelle, definitely a bit different from the neighbours.

Friday, 9 January 2015


Whilst the snow conditions in most of Europe are not currently conducive to off-piste activities we recently witnessed an incident which reminded us of the reality of an avalanche. Making our way to Courchevel on the Chanrossa Chairlift we saw an avalanche triggered by an off-piste skier. Luckily in this case the skier managed to escape by skiing away but the speed and size of the slide resulted in gasps from those on the chairlift who were helpless to do anything.

Whilst all ended happily in this case it did make me think that even if you don't ski off-piste it would be good to know what precautions you can take to protect your safety and that of those around you. This week we attended an Avalanche Training session led by Parallel Lines Ski School which was packed full of useful tips including:

  • the essential equipment you should have with you and how to use it
  • what to look out for before venturing off piste, how to spot potential danger areas
  • how to check that your equipment is working
  • how to organise your selves if the worst should happen 

During the session we got a real taste of not only what to do but the reality of how difficult it can be trying to locate a victim in difficult snow conditions. The main take out being we all need to practise so if the worst should happen the we have the confidence and ability to act quickly. We highly recommend taking professional advice such as the sessions which Parallel Lines run and making use of the transceiver and search practice areas the Lift Company have established.

Appreciating how close to the snow you need to be to pinpoint the location of the victim

Learning how to use the transceiver

Success - victim (backpack) located