Thursday, March 24, 2011

France 2011 - Meribel

On to the skiing part of our trip. This is our third time with this group, in this town, staying at the same chalet. Why? Because it has been wonderful. French food. Jaw dropping scenery. And some mediocre skiing. Oh well.

This sign says it all for this year. Our trip two years ago had storm after storm of wonderful powder. This year was a warm sunny year for Meribel. Their base was weak and the weather had already kicked into spring skiing.

Eventually we discovered that this was a poor translation for "thin cover". As you will see later, I translated it to "Thank God for rental skis".

While the skiing up at the highest elevations was ok, here is a look at what we came down through every afternoon.

... and a close-up. This can be tough on the knees and leg muscles. You don't ski on it. You ski through it.

One morning we woke to the biggest enemy of snow: rain. Eventually it changed to snow, and then stopped.

As a photographer, it provided some fun things to capture. I was trying to convince my pocket camera to do the right exposure to capture the snow melting into a puddle.

A simple picture taken from within our chalet, but it actually packs quite a few stories.

The woman on the left is Jennifer. She was hit by a snowboarder last year and shattered her leg. She had surgery in France to pin the bones, and later had surgery to redo that, fixing it correctly this time. Now she is riding horses again and was skiing wonderfully.

In the middle is Norman. He is the one who has set up every ski trip we have done in France. We are at 5 now. Norman is a great trip planner and makes it so easy to be a part of the expedition.

On the right we have Paul Simson. Paul is the president of an insurance company in Raleigh. In his spare time, he plays a little golf. This year he won the Canadian, US and British Senior Amateur Opens. He won the Canadian by 15 strokes! Quite simply, in the golf world of senior amateurs, he is kicking global ass.

And finally, on the table, we have our afternoon cheese and wine serving. I gained several pounds on this trip.

The food was awesome and the wine never seemed to stop flowing. Dick decided to document all the food we were served, so this odd ritual was a nightly experience.

And this is the key to our love for our chalet. This wonderful couple, Sam and Alice, were our hosts and chefs for the week. Sam was a great cook (breakfast and dinner every day) and Alice was a great hostess, helped cook, and was of the nicest, sweetest, cutest people you have ever met. Sam is a very lucky man.

And yes, we did get out and ski. Meribel is one of three valleys, all interconnected with lifts. We could easily ski into Courchevel or Val Thorens.

Our lift passes got us access to about 200 ski lifts. They ranged from huge trams to the antiquated torture device you see below. As a contrast, most big US ski areas only have 15-20 lifts.

Because of the thin snow base, we did very little skiing off-piste. Ginny (Norman's wife) is always the most adventurous of our group. If you look closely, you can see her picking her way through the rocks and cliffs.

Sometimes you find things that are major cultural differences. Over at Park City, they only put 3 little kids with one ski instructor. With the bigger kids, classes can go to 4 or 5. In Courchevel we saw 22 little kids with one pair of instructors. It was amazing! One falls down and won't get up and you have to somehow bring the whole train to a halt.

Even on a bad snow year, the scenery in the Alps is incredible. If you look very closely, there is a 4-person ski lift running through the middle of the picture. It gives you some idea of scale.

Just wow! I love the view from our house in Park City, but damn!

This year I decided to capture some of the tracks people were leaving. This one was interesting because it was from someone who had gotten trapped in a low area and had to step out to escape.

Very nice lines. Everyone was making good, consistent turns all the way down.

You can see the people in a line up top, waiting for their turn to head down.

Friday, our last day of skiing, was by far the nicest. It had snowed 6-8 inches up at the highest elevations. Down where we lived, the runs were socked in with clouds. Up top, a sunny cloudless day.

And what happens on a sunny day? Everyone and their brother comes out to ski. For the French, a good day of skiing involves quite a bit of sitting in the sunshine, eating something light, and drinking a big beer. The French definitely do this better than Americans.

And we end with the rental skis I mentioned earlier. I think it was a bad omen that the ski maker claimed "All Terrain Rocker". My skis seemed to interpret that as "Can go anywhere, and find any rock."

This is a pretty serious gouge, all the way to the base. The rock that did this managed to toss me headlong down the hill. Fortunately I didn't suffer as much damage as the skis.

It was definitely a week of mediocre skiing. As Dick put it: Once you have decided the skiing is poor, then an OK day can be GREAT, in a poor category. But as always, the chalet was nice, our hosts were superb, and the wine and food were all French.

On to Paris...
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