I was never outdoorsy, or I thought I wasn’t. Completely uninterested in sport or any strenuous activity, it never even occurred to me to try skiing and when Steve first took me I remember saying that I couldn’t imagine a worse job than being a ski instructor. Out early every day in freezing blizzards, what a nightmare! I liked my nice warm desk job. Now on my second season living in a ski resort, my whole attitude has completely changed. I love seeing nature’s extremes every day and getting out amongst it. If I feel a little low I pop my skis on and get up a mountain. The stunning scenery lifts the soul and the crisp, clean air in your lungs and your hair as you slide back down will blow any cobwebs or cares away. The sky is so unbelievably blue here in our isolated, high up spot with so little light pollution, the stars and the moon are so bright, the snow covering everything so pure and white. If I’m sat at my laptop for too long my feet are itching to get out. Leaving the safety of employment to work for myself was terrifying, but the reward has been this unreal life – here’s a taster of my favourite 24 hours this week…
We walked the dog over the (frozen) lake as usual in the morning. The sun was out and now it’s almost Spring it was hot so we decided to eat our lunch outside on deckchairs perched on top of the snow dune that’s almost blocking our back door. The dog was pottering around digging in the snow, we amused ourselves watching skiers stumbling down the black run on the opposite side of the lake and just taking in the view. From our garden you can see over to the next part of the resort, Tignes Val Claret, which I always think looks like the buildings Superman finds rising out of the ice (check out the pic above, see if you agree).
After lunch I walked 5 minutes over the main piste to an interview I’d arranged, for my online magazine, with my friend Sarah who’s the first female (and English) piste basher mechanic to be hired in the Savoie! She introduced me to her French boss who was lovely and we chatted (interviewed) over tea and cake in the garage where they repair the bashers. Then I hopped on the back of her skidoo and we drove right through the resort and over the lake to the garage at Val Claret, where they had a basher waiting to be fixed. I’d texted Steve before setting off so he was waving from our window as I flew by whooping.
I got in the cab of a piste basher with Sarah and she drove me up and down their practice piste, demonstrating how to drive it as I videoed her. Unbelievably, her boss then suggested I give driving it a go! Terrified, I refused but he insisted and I got into the drivers seat, got to grips with the joysticks and buttons, and off we went. It was a real privilege to experience it – these machines hold a fascination for most people who come skiing as they’re so different to anything else and totally unique to ski resorts. They look like tanks and they’re out all night long grooming the pistes, making the snow nice and even and giving it that corduroy texture ready for you to enjoy the next morning. You see their lights blinking like stars from the top of a dark mountain and think about the drivers, who have to be out there in all extremes of weather. Some slopes are so steep they have to be attached by a winch so they don’t topple down. Read more about the job of piste bashers and pisteurs (caretakers of the ski resort) in this article published in my last magazine. The article about Sarah will be coming soon to www.edgemag.net. Coming down even the short slope I was driving on was pretty scary – you’re strapped in but you’ve got to put your foot on the windscreen to keep yourself in position in the seat so you’re not dangling from your seatbelt.
After I watched Sarah at work we skidoo-ed back over the lake, waving to our friends who were sat on the sun terrace of a bar – and on my way back home I joined them for a quick drink in the sun. Steve came over to walk the dog too and we had a little chill.
Some more friends came over and the group were heading to another beer terrace but Steve and I went home to prepare for an evening ski tour we’d been planning (preparation for a weekend ski touring trip coming up when my sister and friend visit next week). We stuck skins to the bottom of our skis so they grip the snow and we can walk up the slope. We packed our backpacks with avalanche safety gear, snacks, coffee, juice, put on several layers (it’s hot work walking on skis up a slope!) and all the usual gear including head torches, got the dog prepped and went to the bottom of the ski slope just 2 minutes’ walk away. We set off up the hill about an hour before sunset so as we climbed we could see the sun’s shadow creeping up the mountains all around us. Looking back on Tignes and the dam below us, as the bright blue sky turned to pink with just the mountain peaks still radiating light, was spectacular.
The dog loves touring – he tears up and down the mountain, sticking his head in holes, uncovering sticks from the snow. He must cover 10 times the distance we do and keeps coming back wondering why we’re so slow. I’m not sure what he gets up to while he’s out of sight but last time he came back without his coat – apparently having worked out how to undo the press studs, possibly aided by a marmot. We stopped at the top of the slope, took off the skins, had a snack and set off skiing back down as the sun set. Just us – the only skiers on the mountain, the slope all to ourselves except for the piste bashers on their way up to groom it. The dog tore along with us – he sticks with me, I think to make sure I’m ok as I’m the worst skier – looking amazed that we’re suddenly going so fast. An hour up, 5 minutes down, but completely worth it.
At home we put the skins back on the skis and set our alarm for 4.30am so we could tour up the other side of the resort for sunrise! We left the dog at home this time – skinning up the steepest black run in resort is a different proposition and a challenge we needed to concentrate on. It was dark as we set off, though the moon was so bright we didn’t need our head torches. The climb was much harder work and it was so steep our skis were sliding back. We later had a ski instructor friend over for dinner, who laughed when we told her about our mission as apparently we’d done it totally wrong and you’re meant to zig-zig up the steep bits rather than tackle them head on. But, without realising this, we soldiered on. Our friend Garry had set off on snow shoes, carrying his snowboard on his back, from a different point and the idea was that we’d meet up en route and summit together as the sun rose. However, he was left waiting at the top for an hour as Steve and I experienced the sky turn pink, yellow then blue from a hut lower down while attempting to rest and refuel our destroyed bodies. It was still a stunning sight but not quite the 360-degree view he had. Next time.
After we finally made it to the top we all skied down, the first ones to make tracks in the perfectly groomed pistes, again racing the piste bashers as they trundled back down to base. The lifts just started moving, ready for the first ‘normal’ skiers of the day, as we got to the bottom. When we walked back into our apartment the Air BnB guests we had staying in the spare room couldn’t believe we’d already finished our day’s skiing by 8am – neither could we.
Despite being broken and completely knackered I had a full day of magazine deliveries to do to refill all the stands as it’s the start of one of the busiest weeks in resort – Easter. This involves me loading up the car with 10 heavy boxes full of about 45 magazines each, then driving to various points around Tignes and Val d’Isere, filling my backpack with a boxful and hauling myself round all the shops, bars, hotels and over 100 places that stock the mag. I’ve almost run out of the 10,000 magazines I print for this area – that’s many miles walked and kilos carried. I hardly ever look forward to it but once I’m out walking round, checking everywhere out, bumping into friends old and new, noticing new things, surrounded by amazing views, stopping off for a coffee or a demi, I always end up with a big smile on my face. Sometimes I take the dog – more interesting but can get draining when he pulls the lead, tries to pee on shop merchandise and I end up carrying a poo as well as 45 weighty magazines.
So I ended that random 24 hours back home for lunch, shattered but happy that’s a day I definitely made the most of.