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Posts Tagged ‘December’

What did I go during the Holidays? Not sure other than ski many days at Edelweiss and watch hours of Doctor Who episodes. We also got away for New Year Eve Celebration at Titus Mountain, New York.

Saturday December 21

On the first day of Christmas,
Ullr and MSSI gave to me:
Yodeler, Chute, Trou du Diable, Easy Street and Chemin des bois trails to ski.
A snowing drive after the previous day long snowing drive to and from Tremblant.
A nice -7c and smooth skiing.
One coach off to Newfoundland and the another at Tremblant resulting in me skiing with the U10s.
Great day with the exception of one hour of freezing fog and a young racer being plowed by a snowboarder on Chemin des bois.

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Sunday December 22

On the second day of Christmas,
Ullr and MSSI gave to me:
Yodeler, Chute, Trou du Diable, Easy Street and Chemin des bois trails to ski.
Woke up by some ice pellets hitting the window.
No snowplows on Ottawa streets and crazy slow snowing drive after I managed to hit the highway.
A nice -6c and 12cm of fresh snow with a layer of sugar on top with was hard for the U10s.
Freezing windshield and goggles weather turned us into skiing glazed donuts.

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Monday December 23

On the third day of Christmas,
Ullr and MSSI gave to me:
Upper Zoomer is added to Yodeler, Chute, Trou du Diable, Easy Street and Chemin des bois trails to ski.
Brushes on Upper Zoomer for the younger kids to brush up on their stance and pole plant while older kids got full gates on Lower Yodeler.
Again nice -7c and awesome groomed packed powder skiing.
So good that I added a couple of extra runs after the training was done.

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Friday December 27

On the fourth day of Christmas,
Ullr and MSSI gave to me:
Upper Zoomer, Yodeler, Chute, Trou du Diable, Easy Street and Chemin des bois trails to ski.
Skiers’ Boxing Day…after wrapping, unwrapping and shopping in the last 3 days, it is time for the folks to hit the slopes.
The Strief chair opened for the first time this season, but no extra terrain open.
An 8am arrival for my daughter Morgane’s CSIA Level 1 Instructor Course even if the lifts only opened at 9am.
One coach gone and two were back – Christmas Camp is starting for the whole race program.
Brushes and stubbies on Upper Zoomer and Full gates and hand timing of slalom runs for older kids.
Conditions were awesome in the morning, but I was helping to set the course.
Deep cold as moved in those days, but the cold morning temperature, turned out to blue bird and -7c again.

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Saturday December 28

On the fifth day of Christmas,
Ullr and MSSI gave to me:
Upper Zoomer, Yodeler, Chute, Trou du Diable, Easy Street and Chemin trails to ski.
Second day of CSIA course for Morgane, second day of camp for the race program.
Racers skiing GS while younger kids begged me to take them in the “bumps” which was in fact ungroomed mounts of snowmaking on the skiers’ left of Upper Zoomer.
Warm day in Ottawa with a -1c at 7am, temperature hovered around freezing all day.
A very light spitting like on Day 2.
The top of hill was covered with a fog/mist when we left.

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Sunday December 29

On the sixth day of Christmas,
Ullr and MSSI gave to me:
Upper Zoomer, Yodeler, Chute, Trou du Diable, Easy Street and Chemin trails to ski.
Morgane passed her CSIA Level 1 and follows in the tracks of her grandfather more than 60 years later.
Christmas camp day two and I’m with the U12s today as we set on Upper Zoomer.


Congratulation Morgane!!!

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Monday December 30

On the seventh day of Christmas,
Ullr and MSSI gave to me:
Upper Zoomer, Yodeler, Chute, Trou du Diable, Easy Street and Chemin trails to ski.
Cold -20c and the snowguns are back on Zoomer.
Frozen U10 kids in and out of the lodge a few times.
My whole family is at the hill and Morgane’s season pass snapped in half while training GS with the U16s.
Warmed up to a -18c in the afternoon.

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Thursday January 2

On the eighth day of Christmas,
Ullr and MSSI gave to me:
Upper Zoomer, Yodeler, Chute, Trou du Diable, Easy Street and Chemin trails to ski.
Car had difficulty to start when it was time to leave the hill.
-29c makes for a freaking cold day, almost record-breaking, wind chill warning in Ottawa, frozen toes and frostbite at the end of nose to end the day… even if it had warmed up to -24c. Hard to believe that it could be colder than earlier in the week.
We had the hill to ourselves, except for a few brave frozen souls.
The kids trained GS top to bottom on Yodeler on a Polar Vortex day.
Too cold for the radios to function; awesome groomed conditions.
Huge mountain of snow on Zoomer…can’t wait to have it flatten so we can have another run open. There was also limited snowmaking operations on Easter Bowl and Streif for the first time.

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Friday January 3

On the ninth day of Christmas,
Ullr and MSSI gave to me:
Mountain of snow on Zoomer are flatten.
The rest of Zoomer is added to Upper Zoomer, Yodeler, Chute, Trou du Diable, Easy Street and Chemin trails to ski.
Another -29c start at a freaking cold day, wind chill warning, frostbite on nose and frozen toes as it warmed up to -25c.
Stubbies slalom instead of full gates due to cold and the risk of breaking them.
As for my body, I thought my nose would fall off.
Incredible skiing on incredible new grabby hero snow on Zoomer.
Snowmaking on Easter Bowl and Strief.

20140103_edelweiss

Saturday January 4

On the tenth day of Christmas,
Ullr and MSSI gave to me:
Zoomer, Yodeler, Chute, Trou du Diable, Easy Street and Chemin trails to ski.
Couple centimeters of fresh snow and Slalom training on Zoomer.
Much warmer day forecast gave us a still cold -22c to start and increased wind. Temps managed to crawl up to -14c, but still had frozen toes and nose.
And Mikaela Tommy visiting her coaching brother and giving back to her club and community. Never saw someone ski so fast in a course without touching the gates.
18-year old Mikaela received the rockstar welcome from the kids.

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Sunday January 5

On the eleventh day and last day of Christmas holidays,
Ullr and MSSI gave to me:
Zoomer, Yodeler, Chute, Trou du Diable, Easy Street and Chemin trails to ski.
Great conditions and awesome skiing with fresh snow again. You know its good when a World Cup skier skis Edelweiss on fat skis.
People tracking powder when we are setting.
Mikaela was back in the afternoon with her race gear to ski with the club and her dad, Mike Tommy (twice Olympian and Canadian Champion in the 1980s), gave a few pointers to the racers and coaches.
It was a great conclusion to the last day of the Holidays. Awesome snow conditions, awesome skiing by the kids and awesome pointers from World Cup skiers.
And real warm day compared to the last few days; -12c to -4!!!

Last Holidays were real good, but the 2013 Christmas Holidays skiing at Edelweiss was overall the best in over 5 years!!!! The Ottawa region was blessed by Ullr this Christmas, let’s just hope he doesn’t take too much of a break this Winter and keep delivering.

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Pictures courtesy of Julie from the Edelweiss Ski Racing Team

U12s on Lower Yodeler


Mikaela skiing the awesome conditions


Maddie U16 training slalom on Zoomer


Adam


Chris


Xavier


Mikaela and her fans!!! You can even see a piece of MadPat in that picture

Support Mikaela Tommy : Make A Champ website

S-Media : Q&A with Canadian Rising Star Mikaela Tommy by C.J. Feehan

FIS website : Mikaela Tommy’s biography and results


Bob and Doug McKenzie : Twelve Days of Christmas
Truly is the Great White North!!!

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Celebrating the New Year in New York!!!

Ti..s is the place!!!

Not TIMES Square at the centre of Manhattan, but TITUS Mountain on the Northern edge of the Adirondack mountains a few miles south of the Whippleville near Malone, New York.

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In the last days of 2013 I received an email from Titus informing me of their plans. I thought it would so cool. I had skied a number of times on the first day on New Year, but never at the stroke of midnight.

Quote from Titus:

This New Year’s Eve, we’re pulling-out all the stops to ring in 2014 & you don’t want to miss it!

Great food & beverages, LIVE entertainment, nightskiing & much, much more!

Our lifts will be OPEN ’til 1am on New Year’s Day! For the FIRST TIME, you can lay down the FIRST TRACKS of the New Year!

As midnight approaches, you can enjoy our Torchlight Parade down the main slope in front of our expanded lodge & patio area . . .

. . . and, at the stroke of midnight as the last torch goes out, the FIREWORKS explode over the mountain!

The North Country has never seen a New Year’s celebration like this! Join us & welcome in 2014 the Titus way!

It was something that I had looked for New Year 2000, but I didn’t find. Now we were going into 2014 and a family ski area few miles south of the border was going to make it happen. The month of January 2014 was also a personal skiing milestone for myself.


Wait at US Customs on New Year’s Eve

Although I was skiing locally at Edelweiss almost every day during the Holidays, the family thought it would be so cool to drive to Malone, New York. The forecast was calling for an extremely cold night, but the lowest temperatures of the week was pushed back 24 hours making me breath a sign of relief as my youngest daughter had a hard time the previous day at Edelweiss. We hadn’t planned to ski for the whole day, but the last few hours of the year and getting first tracks of the year past midnight was on a “Bucket list somewhere”. We left Ottawa after 6pm to make the 100 miles 2-hour journey across the border. Between the traffic, slippery roads with snow and the cold below -21c, the longer than average wait at the US Border and the odd extremely slow driving individual such as 30mph in a 55mph zone (they were either drunk or never drove when snowing types): the drive took us over 2:40. We arrived shortly after the torchlight parade (which had been moved earlier in the evening) which gave us a parking spot not far from the lodge.


Sign to Titus


Base Lodge


Party in the Base Lodge with band playing some Guns

We walk through the the bar which was rocking with lights and a live band playing stuff like Guns N’ Roses. It was passed 9pm when we got our lift tickets. This was my third trip to Titus: the last one involved us showing up at unfortunately closed ski area during a terrible Spring Break 2012. The only visit which featured actual skiing was in February 2005. Morgane was only 7 at that time and it proved to be an excellent family ski area. It is a 1200′ vertical area with 3 small mountain with a calm atmosphere. The night skiing is limited to two sides of the smaller of these hills.

Ski Map


Ready for some turns


Sunset at the base of Chair I


Chair I

This was the ‘least’ good and the iciest conditions I had experienced in 18 outings so far this season. I have to say that the conditions for the last month have been consistently amazing. It was snowing and there was a nice layer of fresh snow, however the base was slick and firm and would have called for sharpen skis to fully appreciate it. It is true that ski areas north of the St.Lawrence divide hadn’t suffered any real thaw this season, unlike near or south of the border.

A trip to Titus is a bit of travel to simpler time with old lifts, old lighting and quieter trails. I always love skiing at rustic ski areas. The terrain offered to us didn’t add any extra value to make the trip from Ottawa, especially for the night skiing. The skiing isn’t steeper and the vertical isn’t really greater than the Ottawa locals have to offer. For the same distance, you can make it to Tremblant, but you won’t be able to find that rustic feeling, excellent family, quiet and beginner ski area.


Snowing on Chair I


Main Side and Chair IV

Our late evening started with a slow ride up the triple and a descent towards the other side of Moon Valley. Morgane mentioned that the black run wasn’t that much harder than Edelweiss’ green run Easy Street. There was maybe 7 various descents to be skied on this night. The plan had to ski non-stop until next year, but it was a cold night. The temperature was warmer than anticipated with a -14c compared to the -20c it was in Ottawa when we left, but it didn’t stop us from taking a small break to warm up.


Warming up


Fireworks and snowflakes galore

Our last moments of 2013 we done riding the slow double. Certain trails had their light shutoff and the trail closed by a simple chair during the fireworks so we could ski back to the main side from our location. With a few other skiers, we watched the fireworks from behind the chair then heading down the still blackened trails. The darken trails reminded me of night skiing when I was in High School in the early 1980s.

The run on the side of the double chair (chair I) with runs like Whistler, Sunset and Milky West-Ravine Run were more interesting than the flatter main side with chair IV with Milky West, Little Dip/Meadow Run, Chocolate Chip and Ridge Run, however that more remote Pine Run was nice and quiet. The Face was a sheet of ice-covered by small layer of snow. Besides the entertainment inside the Base Lodge, there was also a few people riding the beginner handle tow, in the novice terrain park or at the snowtubing park. A wonderful evening to spend outside.


First turns of 2014 in the dark

Tara and my wife were cold and called it quits for the night with maybe 30 minutes left. Morgane and I closed off our evening until last chair on the main side at 1am. It was a wonderful evening and I could see a better great way to celebrate the New Year and reaching month 100 in the ski streak. I have a voucher for Titus and I might make a return visit when the bigger mountain is open, because 2-hour
is a long drive for this skier to only ski 155 meters (508ft) vertical which is smaller than the hills next door. Still I wouldn’t have wanted to be at another place on this day.


MadPat celebrating the 100-month mark

Happy New Year everyone in the Ski Mad World.

20131231_titus

MadPat’s Gallery:
Titus NY – December 31, 2013 – New Years

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After a brutal cold -23c Saturday in Ottawa, it was time for a +23cm powder day at Edelweiss.

Unfortunately I couldn’t go skiing on the cold part of the weekend 🙂 as it was that time of the year for Christmas shows and kids. So one week after my last outing on groomed awesomeness…it was time for a rare real local powder day.

Not sure how much snow had fallen on Ottawa when we left, I just know that it was deep trackless driving on my street. We arrived shortly after 8:30am and the lift had open earlier than announced. I hurried up and joined the team. As we got to the lift, it might have been the first I’ve seen the GM ski. We joked that he had the lift turned on and was skiing since 3am.

The kids were training their stances and balance in light champagne powder. No gates on a powder day. Give them some mileage and work on some different conditions. Morgane was also out with the team to get some practice runs.

The guns were blazing on Yodeler, but Ullr wasn’t being out gun by machine; it started really puking in the afternoon.

In one week, Edelweiss had added Trou du Diable, Pitch and Rue principale to Easy Street and Chemin des bois. The patrol dropped the rope on the steeper Yodeler and the short Chute. They were also busy trying to bust people for skiing closed runs like Zoomer.

I started skiing with my old Atomic slalom skis as the kids all had they race skis, but I had issues with one binding which popped off a few times. Not sure what was wrong there? The afternoon was spent on my fatter skis with a touring binding.

It was a big day, 24 runs at Edelweiss. The day started ungroomed and trackless; definitely one of my deepest days locally. The only people at the hill in the morning where the racing plus those in instructor training or coach taking the course. In the afternoon the mounds of loose snow were building up as the snow was being tracked up fast.

It is an awesome start to the season, just hoping it continues that way.

20131215_edelweiss

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Three day course at the hill. A course to become a certified coach. You see, after skiing for the first time in 1968, I finally went to go some type of skiing certification. I guess I’m living life upside down…almost everyone get into skiing then get a real job…I’m doing the opposite.

All the friends I know that went to get some type of skiing certification did so when they were in their late teens or early twenties; the demographics of this course wasn’t any different. I was the outlier, everyone else were maybe 21 and under. I was almost the oldest, except for the “facilitator” who was 2 months older than me. A majority of the people in the course were ex-FIS racers.

Friday December 6

The day after the rain and thaw, the temperature was holding steady at -1c. The meeting place for in the main lodge at 8:30am even if the lift only opened at 9am. There wasn’t many cars in the parking lot when I arrived at 8:15am.

The course was a mixed of “in-class” and “on snow”. On the first two days we would ski from 10 to 2:30 then back into the class until close to 5pm.

The coverage was still good on Chemin des bois and Easy Street, but the surface was of a frozen granular type. A bit like skiing on small marbles. Let’s just say it was much better a few days ago. The terrain was limited, but the Easy Street is nice for a green run. The facilitator showed us a series of exercises and drills. The intensity increased until I was sweating. A few in the group got warned about their lift ticket not being placed on their jacket, geez there were maybe 10 other people on the hill. Not surprising the kids from the club have been asked about their pass when they had skinsuits. That being said, not sure how busy the weekend will be?

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Saturday December 7

Another -1c this morning. Edelweiss has a few snow guns blowing on Yodeler (aka Rockstar) and one the side of Easy Street pitch. It was frozen granular, but the surface was much better. The ski team has on the hill this morning plus the early season skiers and boarders. I always use the term skiers, but when I do, it includes all riders (ski and snowboard). Edelweiss is known for its park, so they get a fair percentages of boarders on the hill. You wouldn’t know that segment of the sport was in sharp decline.

Skiing on weekends can bring a few pet peeves. Instead of lift tickets, we were bugged about having to go around and use the coral when no one was there. That is probably where I damaged my base with the few peddles lying around. There were a few peddles on the hill also, I guess that what happens when the groomer drive over gravel.

As the class was skiing on Chemin des bois, one from our group was cutoff and had to avoid a crash by a split second. There were a few of those busy moments on the hill during the weekend which is one of the dangers when there is limited terrain.

Our facilitator reminded me of the coach I had in university. Both of them escaped Eastern Europe via flights to Cuba in the mid 1980s and spoke in a thick accent, in both official languages.

20131207_edelweiss

Sunday December 8

A cold -13c morning for Evaluation Day. I was in terrible shape as I managed to sleep only 2 terrible hours. One of my daughters was sick while the other had a sleepover. Tara was going to the hill with her friend and her ski patrol dad. I had to adjust her used boots with Morgane’s old skis and bring then at the hill. I wasn’t going to be able to lookout for my daughter for lunch or anything else, so I asked my wife to come to the hill with me.

When we arrived at 8:15am, Tara was already ready. For the course, I was told what I needed to go to pass. It should have been easy, but my brain was scrabbled from lack of sleep and fatigue plus going the exercises.

The snowguns had more all night and the conditions were groomed to awesomeness. Best day out of the three. They were huge mounds of snow on Yodeler and Trou du Diable, so it shouldn’t be long until the area had some extra terrain.

We got on the snow at 9, as everyone had to do a lesson. It warm up to a nice -6c, conditions were awesome; I wasn’t. 😦 It would have been easier if we still had straight skis and shape skis never existed. Damn A-frame which come back as a reflex. After waiting for over one hour, we had individual interviews.

The wise Polish guy said to me today that I need to work hard to become a good skier…and he is right. I could have skied better today, a good night sleep can’t be overstated. If they had a retro category, I would rock!!! Bring back to 205s. Technique has changed, but hard to teach an old dog a new trick, but I squeaked by, I passed… it was ugly. Anyway, I’ll have to ski more to work on it.

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After three days of 8 to 5 at the hill and six out of the last eight on snow; I’ll take a break for a few days, even if there is fresh snow on the ground.

What’s next in skiing? I don’t know, there is always working to get better. What is better than a Level 1? Level 2! I already have a Avy 1. Avy 2 wouldn’t be in the cards for this Winte, but somewhere down the road. Oh yeah, Instructor 1 & 2 and Coach 2 would also be nice; it would make four Level 2 as I already have my Race Official 2. You see, I’m living life upside down…almost everyone get into skiing then get a real job…I’m doing the opposite.

Over sixty years after my father became a Certified Ski Instructor at Chalet Cochand in 1952, now it was my turn. My mother always discouraged me of being to involved in skiing like my father and focus on getting a good job unlike him. I’m at the crossroads and not sure what I want to do in life, but one thing is certain, I want to ski!!!

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Two trails, two hours for two nights!!!

After two days at Tremblant, my old home mountain. It was time to pay a return visit at my new home, a place where I have spent many days over the last few seasons This season isn’t going to be any different.

Edelweiss versus Tremblant
Since 2005-06 : 99 vs 8
From 1981-82 to 1999-2000 prior to Morgane’s 1st real season : 3 vs 78 with many more days since 1968.
Since 1981-82 at the end of last season : 138 vs 103

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The advantage of Edelweiss is that is just over 30 minutes next to my home west of downtown Ottawa. November 2013 was like the ones I used to remember as a kid; it gave us some snow and cold temps close to the normal where ski crews could make some snow. Camp Fortune had opened on November 22 and last Friday it was the turn of Mont Cascades, Mont Ste-Marie and Edelweiss. Edelweiss is the only local area currently offering night skiing or open weekdays. After 25cm last Wednesday November 27: it was time to take advantage of the proximity of local skiing and make a few turns.

Monday December 2
Day 4:

I needed to get my season pass before the ski team season started on this coming weekend. My time was limited in more ways than one, I also had to back in town for 6pm.

I left Ottawa as the afternoon rush-hour traffic started as I coundn’t leave before my youngest daughter got home. She had forgotten her key and I needed to wait for her. The temperature was slightly below freezing, much warmer that the last few days. Edelweiss generally starts the season with only Chemin des bois, but with the cold temps they managed to get Easy Street open also. Chemin des bois is more leveled will Easy Street has one good pitch for green run.

It was already dark and the lights were up when I got on the old High speed quad at 4:15pm. I managed to ski 8 runs in 1 hour until I had to hurry back to Ottawa.

The conditions weren’t the excellent packed powder variety found the previous day or last week at Tremblant, but it was easy carving. I had my old Atomic slalom skis and practiced my turn cranking. There was some loose snow on top of an artificial base. It was foggy with the odd flurries and the odd light freezing drizzle.

Tuesday December 3
Day 5:

Another afternoon rush-hour departure from Ottawa for another 8 runs in one hour. I had a date with the family at a restaurant for a birthday followed by a movie.

Today was a sunny day and the drive up to Wakefield wasn’t as dark as the previous day. The temperature was the same, but the snow texture had changed somewhat and the base was freezing up as the temperature dipped under 0c. It felt more like an early Spring night skiing with a refreezing base with a sunset when I got on the lift.

It was the same pattern as the previous day: 4:15 to 5:15 and 8 runs, 4 in each run. As in the previous day, they were at the most two-dozen people on the hill, most of them snowboarders hitting the few rails setup at the bottom of Easy Street.

Two hour workout over two days, better than watching TV. Tonight I mostly wanted to get out before the potential warm weather and rain hit on Thursday. After that it should be back under freezing, but surfaces aren’t going to be the same.

PS. Calling it night skiing even if I left prior to 5:30pm as I was skiing under the lights both time.

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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

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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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