Grimentz and grumbles

IMG_3089After my one-woman tribute to the 80s on the ski slopes last winter, I swore that this year I would get new gear. If only to keep up with my husband who is fully outfitted in the latest high-tech layers, skis and boots, including a set of seal skins for going uphill. I didn’t make it to new skis but did manage to get a new pair of boots, the most challenging part of the whole operation.

Let’s just say I have a rather substantial calf. A pair of gams that call up images not of limbs so much as tree trunks, or, as one (obviously former) suitor once said: “Your leg looks like something that should be put on a spit and rotated.”

Getting a ski boot I can actually do up without cutting off all the circulation in my lower extremities is a challenge. After terrorizing two salespeople and trying on at least six different models, I finally thought we had a good fit in a Salomon. Last weekend it was time to put them to the test.

Now that the spring is upon us, the Alps offer my kind of fair-weather skiing. We decided to make a weekend of it on the Swiss side, more picturesque and less crowded than France. On Friday night we headed for Grimentz, a cute little village in the Valais region of Switzerland where I’d been once before for a work event.

The trouble began the next morning when I tried to do up the boots. Either my calves had expanded in the weeks since we left the store or the altitude was playing tricks with my brain. We somehow managed to do them up but I was feeling pins and needles by the time we got to the télécabine.

The view from the top
The view from the top

My husband instructed me to wait while he got the ski passes. He has this habit of taking charge whenever we get near a mountain. He then directed me to the gondola lift and up, up, up we went – a full twenty-minute ride to the top. What the–? I tried to catch my breath as we got off the lift but the air was a little thin. This was not what I’d had in mind. I studied the map of ski runs. Where were all the blues? And the restaurant? Hubby looked at the map and pointed out that we were on the other side of the resort, its highest point. Seemed there had been two possible ways up and we had taken the wrong one. A few choice words were exchanged but I’ll spare you having to pardon my French. I admired the view while he did a few red and black runs. We took the next cable car down.

By the time we got down to the nice blue slopes it was almost lunch time. We got in a few runs before heading for a sunny spot on a terrace where, a sausage and a large beer later, I began to enjoy myself.

The boots were still a bit tight but at least I could feel my feet. We skied several runs and enjoyed the afternoon.

IMG_3092The best part of the weekend was being in Grimentz. It is a picturesque mountain village built almost entirely out of wood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fire hydrant

Which probably explains why there’s a fire hydrant on every corner.

 

Unlike the French, who so often let their ski resorts turn into concrete monstrosities, this place is nothing but old wood and cobbled streets. Lots of good places to eat, too, and the Valaisans make great wine and cheese.

 

 

 

Stay tuned for more adventures next winter!

 

Le ski: It’s all downhill from here

Ski tips above the cloudsI grew up in a country where snow was abundant. Even in the southern-most climes of Canada, we have plenty of the white stuff every winter. What we don’t have is mountains. The biggest ski hills in our parts have a vertical drop that’s less than the average apartment building.

Still, I learned to snowplow and do the herringbone at an early age and became a competent if not adventurous skier. The biggest resort we went to back then was Blue Mountain. We would line up forever for the lift, then come zipping down the slopes in two minutes to do it all over again.

None of these things prepared me for skiing in the French Alps. The vertical is, well…vertical. Chair-lifts can feel more like elevators. And most of the pistes require a level of skill that is beyond my comfort zone.

My first experience of skiing in France was at Les 3 Vallées, a massive domaine skiable that claims to be the world’s biggest ski area. I don’t know whether that’s technically true but it certainly felt that way to me on the day I got lost in a blizzard somewhere around 3,000 meters.

My husband learned to ski at Les Ménuires, one of the resorts in the 3 valleys area, shortly after learning to walk. He loves the snow and anything to do with mountains. The higher the better. He was keen to show me around its highest peaks. It was un grand moment in our marriage. Right up there with learning to drive a standard and arguing our way around French Polynesia.

The first shock was the accommodation. The resort was above the tree line, with forests of high-rise buildings perched in a lunar landscape. We stayed in a borrowed apartment that managed to squeeze 2 bedrooms, a bathroom and kitchen-living area into a space about the size of a walk-in closet. I felt claustrophobic from the start.

“Don’t worry, it’s the altitude. Just wait until you get on top of the mountain and see the view,” reassured my husband, ever the optimist.

I have only a vague memory of that first day’s skiing together. So the details are blurry. But I’ll never forget the name of the place where I lost any remaining illusions about my spirit of adventure: Cime de Caron.

To cut to the chase: I lost my way down whatever slope we were on and became immobilized with fear in front of a piste noire (black run for expert skiers). My husband disappeared into the white-out and I ended up, shaking with fear and cold, in some sort of refuge with a snack bar until someone took pity on me and showed me the way to the nearest lift down.

I learned a few important things from that first ski trip:

  1. Always check the plan des pistes (map of ski runs) before you go up to make sure you can get down
  2. Avoid going anywhere with the word ‘cime’ or ‘col’ in the name. It will probably end in tears, or a nosebleed. Or both.
  3. If all else fails, head for the bar

Oh, and one more: never trust my husband if there’s a mountain involved.

I still enjoy skiing from time to time. But I’m a fairweather skier – the conditions have to be just right. Mostly I stick to the blue runs. I can manage the reds if I have to – even if it means sliding down part of the way on my derrière. But there’s only way I’m heading down a piste noire:

How to descend a black run

Et toi? Are you a snow bunny or a lounge lizard? Schuss or snow plow?