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Archive for the ‘Nostalgia’ Category

The 1993-94 Winter was a freaking cold. Living with little money with my girlfriend from France in small and crooked old one bedroom apartment in Montreal’s working class district of Pointe St.Charles.

So cold and little money that we kept the temperature in our $380/month apartment down to 12c overnight and up to a warm 15c in the daytime. It was so cold that we opted to stay in bed a few times instead of getting up early to go skiing and paying expensive lift tickets in January and skiing when it was -35c in the morning.

As we moved beyond the Arctic cold temperature of January and towards the later part of the season, it was time to make up time : I was just at 8 ski days in mid-February. It helped that I worked on the odd contract from the university and had total flexibility to go skiing midweek. April was the time to use the remaining vouchers, coupons or find deals and ski all over the place. Since my last visit to Tremblant on March 27, I had done day-trips to Mad River Glen, Stowe, Smugglers’ and Whiteface. Montreal is a great city to live in to access the East’s best skiing all within day-trip range.

Lucky Luke was still on temporarily on Unemployment Insurance due a fractured hand and was always available for a cheap ski day. On this Tuesday morning Lucky Luke drove with tens of thousands of suburbanites across Canada’s busiest bridge, the Champlain, to get into Montreal and pick me up. Fortunately for him, I lived not far from the bridge and he wasn’t going to work. The last time we skied together was only 4 days ago at Smugglers’ Notch on April 8.

Intrawest making changes

Mont Tremblant was going through some major changes at lightning speed since Intrawest had purchased it in 1991. The last time Lucky and I skied together at Tremblant in April 1992, Intrawest had installed another top-to-bottom High Speed Quad also servicing the North side.

Since that visit, Intrawest moved le Chalet des Voyageurs out-of-the-way and built the first building of its pedestrian village modeled after its Whistler Village. It was out with the old typical Quebec Rural setting of the Mont Tremblant Lodge and in with Urban architecture mixed between Old Quebec City and Disney World. Lucky Luke, the architectural student, didn’t necessarily agreed with their plans and had his own ideas. The only “old” lifts remaining were the Flying Mile and Lowell Thomas triples installed in 1980. In addition to replacing lifts with High speed quad on the upper South side (TGV) and lower North (Expo Express) plus adding a quad in an new area called the Edge in 1994. Intrawest also started to address the lack of real expert terrain, glades and a few easier ways to avoid trouble spots for beginners by adding 18 new trails and new summit.

New 1994 Trails
New Trails (South): A bunch of Blacks on the steep upper mountain.
Rodeo – black (old black double chairlift liftline)
ZigZag – double black (one of the steepest runs)
Vertige – double black (one of the steepest runs)
Fripp – black (new TGV HQS and old quad liftline)
Taschereau – black
Roy Scott – green (avoiding the final pitch of Promenade/Flying Mile – a major trouble spot)
Chalumeau – blue (run to new housing)

New Trails (North):
Banzai – black (old T-Bar line)
Dynamite – double black (at 42 degrees it was dub as the steepest trail in the East)
Detour – green (avoiding the steeper Gagnon pitch to reach the Lowell Thomas Triple)

New Trails (Edge): New mountain with mostly glades.
Bon Vivant – green (reaching the top of the Edge to South side Nansen)
Réaction – black
Action – black
Haute Tension – black
Sensation – black
Escapade – blue (trail back to North side and base of Lowell Thomas Triple)
Tentation – green (to base of Edge chair)
Letendre – green (from base of Edge chair)

Intrawest also tried to lure back some skiers to the New Tremblant with deals, coupons and specials found in the Montreal daily newspapers. So instead of me driving down South and picking me up Lucky in St-Luc to go skiing at Smuggs like the previous Friday; it was his tour to drive North through Montreal and pick me up to go to Tremblant.

Nirvana – Lithium

April 8, 1994

Music has always played an important to our skiing trips. Although we had different musical background, our tastes overlapped with Nirvana. Lucky had grown up listening to Heavy Metal while I was deep into more Classic Rock, Progressive and later on Alternative. Kurt Cobain’s body was discovered on that day; the day we skied together in Vermont. It wasn’t until April 12, that we got to seriously meditated with the dial up to “11” inside Lucky’s Suzuki Swift with four pairs of skis, up to the Laurentians via Autoroute 13 in order to avoid the rush hour traffic. Listening to Utero, Nevermind and Unplugged…the drive to Tremblant isn’t that long.

Nirvana – Heart-Shaped Box

We skied where we left off in April 1992 and looking to ski the equivalent of Everest and one half: racking the verts with Kurt singing ringing in our ears. The morning surface were hard after a good overnight freeze like so often in the Spring, so we started with the 210cm GS skis like my Rossignol 7Gs. Prior to lunch the surfaces started to soften up with temperature reaching 10c. After eating we switched into our slalom 7S skis to ski the softer stuff and bumps.

Twenty years ago, slalom skis were used to ski ice, crud, bumps, powder and woods.

Twenty years ago Grunge had lost an icon for a generation. Similar to the importance in the deaths of John Lennon or other icons passing at aged 27 like Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin and Jim Morrison from the previous generations.

Twenty years ago Lucky and I were still in our twenties. Kurt would be 47 now, but his music lives on.

Nirvana – Where Did You Sleep Last Night

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Saturday May 1 : Sunday River

Ski Mania!
May Mania!!
Ski Maynia!!!

Not exactly sure if it has always been called that Ski Mania? Sunday River has been offering free skiing to all on this day for years. In the last few years, Sunday River has had Ski Mania on their last day of operations towards the end of April. In 2013, the Ski Mania was on April 21. Ski Mania wasn’t always on the last day of operations, it would just coincided with May 1 or/and the Sunday next to it. Les Otten bought Sunday River in 1980 and started to build the resort to compete with his old employer, Killington. He would start applying the same formula that made Killington’s reputation: extension on various peaks, snowmaking, grooming and long ski seasons.

Towards the end of my university years, MadPat was always on lookout for bargain skiing. I was definitely present if there was a free ticket within a 3-hour drive from Montreal. Free tickets for all had become a rare sight in 1999. For example, Killington no longer offered free skiing on June 1, let alone make it to June, they hadn’t the previous season in 1998 and weren’t going to make it this year either. Actually two ski areas were offering free skiing on May 1st: Sugarbush and Sunday River. The Maine area won out for its combo skiing potential – more later.

After having attended the 1995 and 1996 Ski Maynia, I had missed the two following years due to work and illness. I was back on track in Maine and would return to event annually until 2002 making it 6 years out of 8 in Maine for a free lift ticket.

Being only two weeks since our return from a ski trip to Banff, Mrs. MadPat didn’t make the trip this time; she stayed back in Canada with our 1 1/2 year old daughter. This was my second weekend in Maine, having skied Sugarloaf the previous weekend. I was joined for the drive this week by SuperNat who had been with us on the last Sunday River May 1st in 1996 and we had planned for a weekend of skiing. My good friend Lucky Luke and his friend Eric were meeting us in Maine. It was a real warm day with temperature in the mid 70s: a real Spring skiing day with little clothing, sun glasses and sun screen. Great snow left. The bonus was that the lift ticket was free.

The Barker Quad was running and passing over the snowmaking pond. I vaguely remember odd folks diving in it. A stretch of snow had been pushed to reach the bottom of the chair. Main trails on Barker were open or at least skiable which could stretch out to the lower slope of Locke and Spruce Mountain. We had our old skis for the occasion, so the odd skiing over dirt to access untouched corn didn’t bother us.I’m known to have a good memory, but I can’t recall if we made out to White Heat that year or they were other lifts open like the Spruce Triple like on a previous Maynia day.

At the end of the day, we soaked in the sun. Like during my first visit at Sunday River on May 27, 1994, I decided to combine the drive to this part of Maine with a visit to Tuckerman Ravine. It had been almost 5 years since that last visit, plus the last time, I didn’t take my skis to the Ravine. My last skiing visit was back with Lucky Luke back in early May 1992: Luke had returned since. Eric and myself had talked about going, but I can’t remember why they bailed? So we parted ways, SuperNat and I only had a short drive ahead of us to make it to Gorham NH and Hikers’ Paradise.


Picture by SuperNat : MadPat pointing at the duct tape on Lucky’s skis.


Picture by SuperNat : MadPat, Lucky and Eric


Picture by SuperNat : Group pic


Picture by SuperNat : SuperNat next to the snowmaking pond with Barker Mountain in the background

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Sunday May 2 : Tuckerman Ravine

Another warm morning, but we only had a short drive. Nevertheless we didn’t manage to get an early start. We were in the first parking lot at Pinkham Notch, but it took us a long time to get going. Eat breakfast and took time to get organized. What to bring; what to leave at the car? How warm is it going to be? Once we finally got going, I was feeling the previous day skiing in my legs and back as we began the hike. Similar to the previous hike up on the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, I opted to carry on skis on my shoulder instead of having the long Rossignol 4S 207cm skis hitting the back of my legs or tripping me up. We arrived at Hojo in late morning to find many people gathered. Hikers and skiers alike – it was probably going to be a zoo up in the Bowl. We took a break, eat and looked around. We noticed someone skiing Duchess which is right above the HoJo deck it would seem. The line is serious terrain, on May 2, the line was even sketchyer.


Picture by SuperNat : Hiking on Snow on Tuckerman Ravice trail


Picture by SuperNat : Hojo and Hillman’s Highway. Also great view of Dodge and Duchess (just above Hojo)


Picture by SuperNat : MadPat and his beloved 4Ss


Picture by SuperNat : Hiking towards Hillman’s

Having never skied Hillman’s Highway, we opted to ski it as the fact that it was already late and the closest slope plus it looked real sweet. HH is the longest run in the Tuckerman area; a nice 1500’ vertical with a constant pitch at 30-35 degrees which gets progressively steeper at the top to reach a maximum 40 degrees.

It’s a long hike to the top and it took us a long time. Not everyone hiked the entire slope. We hiked a bit at the top to looked at the view of Tuckerman Ravine and Mount Washington summit beyond. We also meet fellow Quebecers that had just skied Tremblant. They would take the right entrance, we took the left. Not sure which one was steepest.

I remember we only did one run from the top, but I think we did a half-run also. Snow was real soft and in deep corn snow mode with the warm temperature. At the end of our day which was dictated by our fatigue and the drive ahead, we skied onto Shelburne Trail. The trail was open only 1/3 of the way down before we had to move back to a busy Tuckerman Ravine Trail. At that time, a skier we had seen earlier had rebooted on the trail slaloming through the crowd which we shouting at him “No skiing on the hiking trail”. He didn’t understand; he was visiting from Colorado and didn’t know it was forbidden to ski on TRT.

I was beat once at the bottom and a very long drive ahead. It’s going to be hard getting into work on Monday morning, but I’ll be smiling about a great weekend of skiing. It was a great day. Real warm and sunny. As we driving through Lancaster NH, I noticed an ice cream stand. I suddenly stopped to a screeching halt. A hot day of skiing wouldn’t be complete without an ice cream. That is what Spring Skiing in all about. Next ski destination: Killington.


Picture by SuperNat


Picture by SuperNat


Picture by SuperNat : Random skier hiking the steeps


Picture by SuperNat : MadPat reaching the top. View of Sherburne on the top corner


Picture by SuperNat : SuperNat, Tuckerman and the summit of Mt. Washington


Picture by SuperNat : Ants in Tuckerman Ravine


Picture by SuperNat : Quebec skiers dropping in the left


Picture by SuperNat : Random skier in short – view of left entrance to HH in the background


Picture by SuperNat : Random skier spraying corn


Picture by SuperNat


Picture by SuperNat


Picture by SuperNat


Picture by SuperNat : One last look up before we leave


Picture by SuperNat : Hiking out


Picture by SuperNat : Buds on the trees, Spring is definitely here

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Day 4 of the season and my season only started 8 days ago. Here’s another TR from the nostalgia file…one from 10 years ago: the 2002-03 season.

With a new baby at home, the season started late, but I was catching up. After a late start at Whiteface on Sunday, January 5, I skied the first Masters’ race of the season at Fortune then Saturday was the first ski lessons with the Edelweiss Ski School for Morgane. Although she started skiing at 2 1/2, we wanted to register her into a ski program so we would reserve time for her and not get carried away time-wise by her new sister.

It was Canadian Week at Sugarloaf; they offered Canadians deals on lodging and lift tickets on this mid-January midweek for us crazies. As soon as I graduated from university and its ski team, I was no longer able or had any desire to ski anything with less than a 2000’ vertical. I started seeking out specials within 3 hours from Montreal (300km from Champlain Bridge); although I no longer live in Montreal, I’m still seeking out skiing deals ten years later.

mtl-loaf
source : Google Map – Montréal (A), Bromont (B), Sugarloaf (C)

Like the previous Sugarloaf Canadian Week visit in 2002, Lucky Luke was in for some Maine turns at the Loaf; much better than going to work. I don’t remember if I slept at my mom’s in Montreal or headed straight for Lucky’s place in Bromont in the Eastern Townships on the Sunday night. We had a bunch of cassettes and 2 pairs of skis each for the slightly less than 3 hours road trip from Bromont. Once off the autoroute and after a few turns, we ended up on one of the straightest non-flat highways that I know: Quebec Highway 212. Once we crossed into Maine at Woburn, we kept our eyes open for moose on that last 30 -minute stretch between the Quebec-Maine border and Sugarloaf. Lucky had already been unlucky once, crashing into a deer while going to a ski race ten years previously (R.I.P. Ford Tempo). I wanted to be sure it didn’t happen again, especially with a moose. Not sure if we saw any moose or deer on that day, but my average over the years on this stretch of road or the one heading towards Sunday River is pretty high.

I love skiing at Sugarloaf, I love the topography. A nice cone with fall-line skiing which gets steeper as you get higher. On that day, like on many of my trips, I had my good skis (the 183cm Atomic Beta Race 10:22, a pure GS ski) and my rock skis (10-year old, 205cm straight yellow Rossignol 7Ss). Started off the morning with the good pair, the rock skis were staying in the car for now.

The sky was gray and the place was fairly deserted. I guess it’s not surprising for a non-Holiday Monday at Sugarloaf in mid-January. There was a small layer of fresh snow on the beautiful corduroy base. Lucky and I were running laps all over the mountain. We started off with runs off the 1750’ Sugarloaf SuperQuad, hitting runs like Hayburner, King’s Landing, Comp Hill and Narrow Gauge, slowly moving further to the right to the 1500’ slower Spillway double. Always thought it was pretty impressive to have two double chairs running side-by-side using the same towers. Unlike the previous year, the King Pine quad was closed, basically the only lifts running were Spillway and the HSQ. Concentrated on turns on Spillway, Sluice…then throwing us down the steep White Nitro pitch and hitting the runway down the narrower trails like Wedge and Bubblecuffer.

As we accumulated the runs, the snow was also accumulating. We decided to keep the fast skis and keep carving some nice high-speed turns in the fresh layer of snow. Shadowing each other, loading the skis to an explosive acceleration at every long radius turns over the roll of the narrow trails. The perception of these lower trails is very different when you’re running at warp speed with the twists, rolls and blurred trees on each side. No time to stop during these fast laps, we only stopped for lunch. In the afternoon, we continued racing down trails in what was now a blizzard. Loving to ski high-speed turns in a snow storm: not something I’ve been in a habit to do, but the skis were skiing awesome on that day. It wasn’t only a powder GS day, it was a memorable day which I can recall 10 years after. Although the Spillway double was a relatively slow lift, we skied 24 runs which would be somewhere between 36000 and 42000 vertical feet on that day.. I remember Lucky saying we skied Everest and a half!!! In the previous year, we skied much slower, more varied terrain, more lifts for a total of 31k.

Drive Home and the next Big Eastern Mountain Outing Deals

The drive back to Bromont wasn’t as fast. We drove back in the full-out storm and dark, it took us over 5 hours to make it back to Bromont: double the morning travel time. We thought of staying the night, but Lucky had to work the next day. I left for Montreal that morning for a stop at Dafran in Montreal to pick up and pay for my new pair of slalom skis for the next Masters’ Race. It was my first pair of Slalom under 201cm in 20 years: some short 157cm Atomic SL11s.

What a great day, the next ski deals in our January Calendar were Whiteface’s Superbowl Super Sunday on the 26th followed by Mad River Glen’s Roll back the Clock day on the 28th. Lucky Luke was definitely in for MRG, however this time I was going to leave my GS skis at home. The new slalom when going to left in Ottawa also.

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MadPat’s latest start of the ski season EVER!!! A few weeks ago I posted the December 18 start of my 1992-93 season from the French Alps. Although it was late start, the season 1994-95 would turn out to be even later. A night skiing outing on January 2, 1995 at St-Sauveur/Avila before driving back to the new job the next morning in Ottawa.

What do all these late starts have in common? Finishing a thesis; starting a new job 200 km from home or having a baby. The last one is the best reason of the three.

Priorities

The January 2003 season start was the day after my second daughter’s two-month birthday. Something has to take precedent to that first day on skis. Tara Erin Meije was born on November 4 at 8am: it started snowing at that exact moment. A nice 7 cm fell to the ground,  first snow accumulation to stay in Ottawa that season. Stoked, even if I wasn’t going to do much skiing in the next few months. I didn’t take much time off from work when Morgane was born 5 years prior, however I figured out a few things in the last few years. Work should never stop you from living or take too much room in your live. I might have taken only 2 days off work when Morgane was born: I wasn’t going to make that error twice. The Canadian Government extended the unemployment insurance for Maternal/Parental leave from 6 to 12 months. Maternal leave is 3 months and Dads or/and Moms are allowed an extra 9 months of parental leave. For our first daughter, as a student, my wife hadn’t enough insurable income to qualify for unemployment back in 1997, this time she did. She decided to take the 3 months maternal and I took all of the 9 months parental. Regardless if we were being paid or not, Caroline and I took a whole year off. A colleague at work mentioned that I was lucky to take the parental leave as his wife would never share it, I told him that he could have done the same thing. I was taking 3 months unpaid leave, my wife wasn’t going to be paid for 9 months during that year. Like for many things in my life; it’s all a question of choice and priorities. I understand that not everyone think they can afford it, however that work colleague’s family income was much greater than ours. He couldn’t take the time off maybe because they weren’t willing to sacrifice other things. Time flies, sometimes you just need to take time.

Everything requires is about sacrifices and choices. For example, If I wouldn’t ski I would be much richer….but my life would be poorer.

Busy Fall

Holidays are all ready over, school starts on Monday as we are heading into the second week of January with a looming first Ottawa Masters ski race on Wednesday night: my second season on the circuit. Although I started my year off work in early December, pre-Christmas time is always a busy time. We also had just moved in our new home two weeks prior to Tara arrival. I absolutely wanted to get some turns in before heading to the first race. I needed to go to Montreal, so I did what we often did in the first years we lived in Ottawa, go to Montreal with detours towards Tremblant or Whiteface. So instead of driving 6 hours return to get to Whiteface, I would 3.5 hour and make it to Montreal and back to Ottawa. The Tremblant route adds the same amount of time to the usual 4-hour return trip up North.

map-ot-wf-mtl
Google Map : Ottawa to Montreal via Whiteface NY. Mont Tremblant is at the top of map.

exchange_rate2003
Exchange rate from 1985 to January 2003

exchange_rate2013
Exchange rate from 1985 to current (January 2013)

Super Sunday it is…Surfin’ Sunday!!!

Early on Sunday morning, I grabbed my Fels straight 202cm skis and headed to Whiteface Mountain for some real vertical. I preferred Whiteface over Tremblant, it was the first of three Super Sunday of the season with lift tickets at $30 US. Even with the Canadian dollars being near its all-time low at below 65 cents US which had added an extra 60% to the price of the ticket. Lift tickets ended up costing almost $50 which was still cheaper than Tremblant’s full season rate.

I wasn’t looking to make a ton of runs, just first turns for the season. The gold was to get out then head to Montreal. Whiteface had received 13″ in the past 24 hours making for nice powder/packed powder conditions. Forecast called for some flurries during the day with temperatures hovering between -5c and -10c. Not to warm for an Island Madness Super Sunday theme. Summit runs were partially open and Northway was still closed. I did only 7 runs, probably skiing off the summit and Little Whiteface a couple of time. Not a fan of Cloudsplitter Gondola, just give the Little Whiteface double and Summit Quad for the day. Headed taking the road towards I-87 and Montreal to my mom’s home, back in Ottawa on Monday.

2002-03 ski season

It was a late start to the season and I don’t know how many days I was going to get this season? Even if I stayed home with my wife and our new-born, the priorities were necessarily turns. Of course I would have my regular Wednesday nights Masters ski race and registered Morgane for ski lessons at Edelweiss. I would also get the odd trip to outside the region. Ski lessons were starting the following weekend: 8 Saturdays until early March. Although Morgane started skiing in March 2000, this was going to the first time in lessons. I wanted to book something that would force us on the hill at a regular basis, because without the weekly dedicated time at the hill between Dad and the oldest daughter, there would be a danger to not taking the time for her. Morgane was the centre of our World for 5 years: now she wasn’t alone and we needed to balance that. It’s nice to have a new kid in town, as long as you don’t forgot the one you already have.

There is also the real possibility of the family leaving one month to visit my wife’s family in France and show the baby to the grand-mothers. Probably the best time to go before Morgane gets to Grade 1 next year. If we go, I’ll definitely bring my skis in make some turns.

Stay tuned!!!

Whiteface snow report

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With the assistance from postcard written on January 24, 1993.

Never…never saw anything like it: A ski day that would become unforgettable twenty years later. As we are during the Holidays, a time of the year where the slopes are the busiest.

This was my recollection of my second outing of the 1992-93 season, the first being at Chamrousse. Since that first day, we visited Lyon and took advantage to be in the beautiful city to get our Christmas shopping done prior to family get-together on Christmas. A gray Christmas Eve with rain, fog and unseasonably warm +12c; I was very far from my Canadian White Christmas that I was accustomed to in Montreal or the Laurentians. I was somewhat depressed by the constant humidity and fog of this place and probably one of the main reasons why living in France would be so difficult for myself.


Lyon

The French resort of Alpe d’Huez was unknown to me and I imagine off the radar of most North American enthusiasts like myself. The place was grand and so much bigger than what I was accustomed to, but that wasn’t the reason why I remember this day so many years later; it was rather my introduction to the French Holiday Mountain Madness. Let just say that it was a day of multiple happenings. After 9 days away from the mountain and snow, we got to return to the bigger and higher Alpe d’Huez also located in the Department of l’Isère. Main village is located at 1860 metres with a top elevation of 3330 metres. The lowest elevation 1120m making the 2210 meters vertical drop. One major resort connecting with 4 smaller ones with 125 trails for 220km of skiing served by 82 lifts with a 90,000 people per hour capacity.

The Drive

We left in the fog for another pre-dawn morning to drive to go skiing. The drive is only 160 km; a good part of distance on the 2-lane autoroute that connects Lyon to Grenoble. Do it on a Sunday between Christmas and New Year, and you’re going to get rushed by traffic driving way faster than the 130kmh speed limit. Over one million people live in Lyon and are within day trip range to reach the ski areas above Grenoble: Alpe d’Huez one of the two major resorts with Les Deux Alpes. My wife was driving the Peugeot 309 dodging from slow lane to fast lane back to slow as she was trying to move out-of-the-way of people driving probably over 160 kmh tailgating and flashing their headlights, then put the brakes as she changed into the slow lane where two-trailer trucks are limited to only 60kmh. Although the French get minimum 5-weeks vacation a year, my experience in France over the years tell me that many city folks are stressed. The drive was only the part of the impatience of the French version of the weekend warrior mentality.

alphuez
The 160km morning drive to Alpe d’Huez

grenoble2
Isère skiing near Grenoble (B) with Chamrousse (A) and Alpe d’Huez (C)

Grenoble and the valley beyond were in the dark; it wasn’t going to get interesting until we left the main highway. At that point, it would become one of the most spectacular drive and the most stomach turning ski access road until I would go to Valle Nevado in Chile 15 years later in 2007. Although many North American skiers never heard of Alpe d’Huez, cycling fans have heard of this road. The road starts climbing once you leave the main highway below in the valley and unto 15km of zigzags in the mountain along side cliffs. The perfect road for car sickness. The worst part of it is that a number of cars passed us on the switchback road even if they couldn’t see ahead. We have to climb in altitude because snow rarely makes it down in the valleys. As we gained elevation, we were suddenly out of the darkness and cloud, and greeted with blue skies. This made for spectacular scenery. The ski resort is located at 5500 feet (almost as high as Mt. Washington). The mountain summit is over 10000 feet. During the drive up, you get to pass the beautiful mountain village of Huez, located at 4350 feet (1450m); however, even if the postcard scenery has a ton of snow, the reality is that there isn’t any snow: it hasn’t snowed since early December, that is why we had to find a ski resort in high altitude or with snowmaking like Alpe d’Huez.


Photo : Pierre Guillot
January 24th Postcard written to my mother in Canada


Getting out of the valley and above the clouds


Village of Huez above the clouds – not easy taking pictures on switchback roads. Concentrate with the postcard

Mountain : Anarchy & Chaos

Unlike Chamrousse, the bottom of Alpe d’Huez is above treeline and there are lifts everythere on the lower mountain. We parked next to a road that connects different parts of the resort a few feet from the snow and the flat slope. The bottom third of the mountain was pretty flat and served mainly green skiers (beginners); the driver and myself felt a bit green ourselves, but it was mostly from the drive, maybe a bit from the altitude and the long past breakfast a few hours away. It was already pretty late, and we were in a rush to get our lift pass.

The queue or lineups are often non-existent in France; buying a lift ticket was total anarchy and chaos. There was no queue, just a semi-circle of masses squeezed against each other up to the ticket counters. It was almost as bad as the pushing and shoving I’ve experienced for concert tickets or attending general admission shows at certain rock concerts.

Once we finally got our tickets, we skied a few runs, then headed straight to the top elevation of the ski area: Pic Blanc at 3330 meters. We took two large gondolas, which got us to 2700m then hopped on the Pic Blanc Aerial Tram for the last leg to the summit. No pylons, just a base and summit stations separated by almost 700 meters and spanning 2km. As it was for the ticket window, we were crushed in a tram with over 90 people. We managed to squeeze in as the door closed and started our final climb. The slope of ascent is pretty steep at the end and height was really impressive, not good if you are afraid of heights. At this point, my girlfriend passed out and had to catch her as she slumped, her skis falling against someone’s face; the person seemed pissed off, not realizing what had happened. I was struggling to keep her from falling, and making sure our skis didn’t crash onto someone else, hoping we arrived real soon. As the tram arrived and people walked out, Caroline had regained consciousness. We seeked for help with the Ski Patrol; after a few minutes, it was determined that we needed to eat and drink water, and spend time at a lower elevation. Caroline’s hometown village has an altitude of 190 meters, so it was an over 3km altitude gain that morning. It was also decided that it would be better not to take the black run called Le Tunnel down: we were going to use the Tram back down. On the other side of the summit, there is, or at least in 1992-93, summer skiing. The skiing starts on the other side and they is a tunnel through the mountain to cross towards the resort side.


View from our car


View from the top of Pic Blanc

The closest restaurant off the base of the Tram was at Le Plat des Marmottes at 2300m. We needed to ski down a blue run called Le Couloir where at one point it became le Boulevard des Marmottes, mainly a traverse across the slope with a few small cliffs on the uphill side. All of sudden, I heard a crash behind me and saw that a skier had suddenly tumbled down a small cliff. I turned around, and rushed to see if he was okay. After a few minutes, I headed back towards our restaurant. That running and the altitude had made me woozy also. There was a nice restaurant with lawn chairs on the snow; however you needed to pay or buy something to be allowed to use them: a foreign concept at the time. I can’t remember if we had a lunch or we bought some food to eat? I just know that I had a sore stomach with bad cramps and needed to go to the W.C. like they say in France. I can’t remember either if you had to pay to use the toilet, but what shock when I opened the stall door: there was no toilet to sit on. WTF? It was what they call a Turkish Toilet (known as Squat Toilet). Now imagine my discomfort when you have ski pants and ski boots and you really need to go.

Image of a Turkish Toilet (Wikipedia)
Image of a Turkish Toilet (Wikipedia)

Unbelievable

Minutes later, I came back to finally manage to eat some food. It was possibly past noon before we started really skiing, when we weren’t waiting in line. We skied down, but wanted to stay above the chaos of the lower slopes, so we headed towards to bottom of the Lievre Blanc double chair at 2100m. The liftline was another example of frustration as people didn’t leave anyone any elbow room, constantly stepping on your skis and your tips; I really can’t stand when that happens. Almost felt like doing as hockey players do, and dropping my gloves. Merry Christmas to you to…get the F*@! off my skis!!! You couldn’t move, and everyone tried to move ahead of you, regardless if you were there before or not. A few people couldn’t take it anymore and removed their skis, I did the same… but some of them actually had the gall to actually walk ahead of the line. At the end of the day, everyone in line had removed their skis then re-putting them just before getting on the chairlift. The person in charge sat in his cabin; no liftee to hand over the chair. The only thing he did was looking if people had passes or stopping the lift. A number of chairs were going up empty as people weren’t all expert in stepping in their bindings; the efficiency of the experience was mind-boggling. We did just a few 450m runs on the chair, skiing mostly artificial snow towards the bottom of the serviced trails. Gondolas and Tram had huge lineup, like a farm animal being coraled into a meat processing plant.


View of top of Lièvre Blanc lift and resort of Alpe d’Huez at the bottom


View of Lièvre blanc run

Peace and Steep

We did find some peace, skiing great short and steep runs above the Lièvre Blanc lift. There was the tiny Clocher du Macle double chairlift reaching up to 2780m and under the summit ridge. There was two short 250m runs serviced by that lift and a long secluded descente in La Combe Chardonnière down towards to bottom of the resort. The snow was firm edgeable snow and was great to ski on, similar to skiing on chalk and the stuff I’ve skied at Mammoth of Chair 23 in mid-June 2005. Even if they were short runs, the runs on Balcons were definitely the most memorable skiing souvenir from Alpe d’Huez that I have twenty years later. It was probably one of the steepest runs I had ever skied at a ski resort at that time. I remember having to give pointers to Caroline as she was intimidated by the slope.

That lift no longer exists and the quietness of the place has probably changed. The location has been serviced since 2000 by first, a two-stage 6-person gondola (Mamottes 1 and Marmottes 2), the last stage connecting Plate des Marmottes with Clocher de Macle at 2800m. In 2004, there would be a third stage: a 33 place Funitel Gondola (Marmottes 3) connected Clocher with the Glacier above the ridge at 3060 meters.


Upper mountain and steep Les Balcons run


MadPat’s sunset run for possible last run

As the day ended, the last long run of the day was another memorable one. A long winding descente with steep terrain with gullies. We had a few slow skiers struggling in a steep section ahead of us and the patrol closing the trail behind us wanting us to move. The trail mellowed at the end; snow wasn’t as good as we approached the zoo. Not sure which trails we took as it was so long ago; it was probably The Balme red trail which was a nice 4km descente away starting off at Le Plat des Marmottes, but not impossible that it was the even more secluded and longer La Combe Chardonnière. I remember wanting to do it, but don’t think we made it.

What a day, I was somewhat disappointed we didn’t get to ski the top off Pic Blanc and Le Tunnel, but it turned out not so bad after a bad start. I would probably return someday before leaving France at the end of January. We were about to leave for a few days and New Year as we were invited by a university ski team friend that happens to be from Paris.

Lessons of the day:
– eat a good breakfast,
– try to acclimatize yourself to the altitude
– drink plenty of water
– and avoid Alpe d’Huez during the Holidays

Note: that was my observation twenty years ago, the first three-point still definitely apply, not so sure on the fourth one.

Details info on current lifts from the remontees mécaniques website : www.remontees-mecaniques.net

Click to access 1995-96 trail map

MadPat’s Gallery:
27 décembre 1992 : Alpe d’Huez

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With the assistance from postcards written on December 14 & 20, 1992.


Photo: Thierry Astruc
December 14th Postcard written to my mother in Canada

I’ve rarely had time to ski prior to Christmas due to midterm exams, correcting or other engagements. Always had no time with Killington’s October stealth openings then would generally manage one or two outings before the end of semester crunch in December.

Fall 1992 was slightly different; I had absolutely no time to go skiing. I had to meet a self-imposed deadline and finish almost 4 years of graduate studies. Thesis was completed on November 30, numerous copies made for the faculty, jury and directors and off to Mirabel Airport for the Montreal-London-Lyon flights. Graduate work was over until the jury would meet, which gave me probably 2-3 months of time off with the Christmas Holidays.

Overnight flight and unable to sleep after being awake for over 55 hours and barely slept in the last month in order to compete the thesis. Blame it on last-minute major “suggestions” by one of my directors and formatting changes from one computer to the next (home computer was new to me, I had just bought a Mac Classic with no printer in the last few months and didn’t know that formatting changed with the type of printer used). A five and a half hour wait at Heathrow Airport in London until my 90 minutes flight to Lyon, France. I was going to visit my girlfriend and her family outside Lyon. This wasn’t my first visit to France and it wasn’t my first time in the Alps either. The New Year 1991 trip was for less than 2 weeks with the University ski team and was only about skiing, although some people might think that skiing in gates isn’t skiing. This trip was 2 months and it wasn’t focused on skiing, but I brought my ski gear anyway.

The first week was spent recuperating and sleeping from the high stress of the last few months. We also visited the surrounding villages, Lyon, the Beaujolais and Burgundy regions. It took us 18 days to finally make it to the Alps on December 18.


Flying into London with St. Paul Cathedral below


December in Lyon


Cremieu, Isère : a few minutes from my in-laws


Beaujolais


Brançion, Burgundy

This was the latest start to my ski season in memory, and first time I hadn’t skied in November since I’ve been keeping track back in 1981. It had been just above 6 months since my last day at Killington on June 11th.

In Lyon I bought the Guide Curien de la Neige, a French magazine that listed France 383 ski areas. Caroline had mentioned Chamrousse was a real option as it was only 135km and 2 hours away; she had skied there a few times as a teen. The base is located at 1600 metres and sits on the mountains just above Grenoble, the site of the 1968 Winter Olympics. Chamrousse was host to the Games alpine skiing events. Croix de Chamrousse is the summit located at 2255m.

chamrousse
Google Maps: The 135km day drive from the in-laws to the Olympic Mountain: Chamrousse

So the skiing was about the same distance as Tremblant from Montreal with approximately the same vertical, but much less expensive. Lift tickets were sold 80 FF ($20 CDN), although it was low season prior to this coming weekend. Today was Friday, we were hoping to come on Wednesday, but we wanted Winter tires installed on the mother-in-law’s Peugeot first. I found this reproduction of an old 50 year-old postcard; Chamrousse was arguably one of the first locations where skiing was practiced in France in the late 1800s.


Edition R. Girard, Photo : Centrale Grenoble
December 20th Postcard written to my mother in Canada

Skimap.org: Chamrousse Ski Map 2006
Source: Skimap.org: Chamrousse Ski Map 2005-06

We drove up to Roche Béranger base at 1750 metres. The place was quiet and it was a low-tide Friday, one week away from Christmas. Chamrousse’s elevation is lower than other Isère Department ski areas like Alpe d’Huez and Les Deux Alpes. We started skiing around Roche Béranger and slowly towards the left on the trails network and base area of Le Recoin at 1650m. The skiing terrain was fine near Roche Béranger; Arolles and Gaboureaux were some of the steeper open stuff which lead to the other base. That base was bigger and a tram reached the highest point. Runs down to Lac Robert or lower down towards 1400m weren’t open.

Caroline had started skiing when she was 6, and she spent a few years of her childhood in France’s Southern Alps; her technique was a bunch of mixed elements, some probably dating back to the 1960s French technique when Killy and Canadian Tiger Greene won medals at Chamrousse. She had skied only twice during her year in Canada, and once with me at Tremblant in late April. I gave her a few pointers, and continued to deprogram her from bad habits, and teach her from scratch. She was much better than an ex-girlfriend which had never skied before meeting me and that was in 1992. Now she is so a much better skier.

We skied Les Crêtes and the excellent and fun Mens’ Olympics Downhill, which was steep at the top and twisted on the mountain face. I was jealous of people living in Grenoble with this ski area sitting above them.

It would seem that snow is rare, even in the mountains. The lack of artificial snow and no base means rocks. It was super warm on that day, and the past week with +12c. The snow was good with some freshies, however the lack of base and a few rocks isn’t good for your ski bases: now my skis needed a place to get fixed.


Crossing over onto Le Recoin : Croix de Chamrousse and Tram to the summit


Skiing on the Roche Béranger side with Tram in the distance


Le Recoin below and Grenoble further below


Grenoble in the valley


Backside


Looking at the summit from Le Recoin base


December days are short

MadPat’s Gallery:
18 décembre 1992 : Chamrousse

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Stoked : June turns and … Birthday turns. Yeah!!!!

Skiing on my birthday. What a beautiful day. A quiet weekday. I did a day trip alone from Montreal that day.

My friend wanted to make me some crepes for my birthday and asked if I could stop over at a crazy early time in Montreal. She wouldn’t join me this time. I was 4 “S” = super stoked to Ski Superstar with the Rossi 4S skis.

My last June turns: 10 days ago on Superstar. Last birthday turns: 1988 on Horstman Glacier.

One thing both days have in common is that it rained both times. Today is totally the opposite, bright sunny bluebird day. A beautiful quiet midweek mid-June sunny ski day.

Not many car in the parking lot, people were parked on the side of the road next to the Superstar Quad. Continuous skiing, corn and bumps was the menu of the day. There was only a short walk involved at the top and to bottom to the snow or on the lift.

At the end of the day as I was getting my boots off, I chatted with a fellow skier, all of a wonderful June day. He gave me a beer and we raised a toast to a memorable day. What a day. All I can say, it was one of my best birthday ever.

At Day 34, this was going to be my last day of 1991-92 season. Kiilington would close on the coming Sunday, June 14; the longest season in the East with a start October 21, and you have to go back to 1983-84 to find a longer and latest end of the season.


A very green Skye and Killington Peaks from Rams Head parking lot. The only snow is on Superstar and a very small patch on Ovation. There wasn’t any snow on the trails on the left of Superstar (picture not posted).


Almost there, just a few more feet.


Need to carry your skis in the chairlift.


Just a short walk at the top of the Headwall.


Wow, Superstar. What amazing condition. No walking required except on and off the lift.


Just before the bottom pitch. Notice the number of cars parked at the bottom. It was a weekday in mid-june after all.


Bottom part of Superstar and end of the snow. Funny how much snow melted in 10 days.


Afterday beer from fellow hardcore skier. No T-shirt, but I got the lift ticket.

MadPat’s Gallery:
Killington, June 11, 1992

Pictures and describing text has been initially posted as part of the “Killington mostly June 11, 1992 pics” thread on Sat Jun 28, 2003 10:34 pm on firsttracksonline Link to images have long been broken

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