Saturday, January 13, 2007

Everybody hurts

My body at the moment is in a fair bit of pain. This pain has been inflicted on me by throwing myself down the side of mountains on what's essentially a plank. I have bruised and battered knees, hips, elbows, wrists, coccyx (aka arse bone) and ribs and just about every muscle in between aches like buggery. But it was great fun! This is what happens when you spend three days snowboarding in the French Alps.

So on Wednesday of my trip to Geneva spacetimewaster and I got up at the ungodly hour of 6:30 in the morning in an attempt to get out to the ski resorts. Carrying our ski gear we headed to the bus station to see where the buses would take us. The weather was quite foggy, but wasn't too cold and looked like it would clear. At the bus station we were able to buy a combined ticket and skipass for the day. We had the option of either heading to Les Houches or Chamonix, and decided to start of at Les Houches as it would give us slightly longer on the slopes between being dropped off and picked up by the bus. The bus trip to Les Houches took us straight out of Switzerland, as Geneva is right on the border, and into France, and then up into the French Alps towards Mount Blanc. As we headed higher we got above the cloud cover and the weather cleared to give a really bright day. The view into the Alps was fantastic and the mountains started to surround us as we travelled further into them. After a drive of about one hour with Mount Blanc looming over us we got to Les Houches. We were then slightly shocked and a bit a anxious about our choice of ski resort. The rather warm weather had meant that this has been one of the worst winters for snow in the Alps, and the bottom of the slopes at Les Houches showed this up. There was hardly any snow at all. One of the skiing World Cup events was supposed to have been hosted there, but had had to be cancelled due to lack of snow, but there we were and we had to make the most of it. The only way was up.

We put on our ski gear and headed for the ski lift hoping that as we ascended the snow situation wouldn't look as bleak. Now I'm a complete beginner at snow boarding - I'd never done it or anything like it before - so at the bottom of the slope spacetimewaster tried giving me some pointers. Due to my novice state I wanted to head for the green beginners slope at the top of the mountain. This required heading up three sets of ski lifts, which in themselves are a bit of a challenge to get on and off for a beginner. When we got to the top of the mountain at just under 2000m in altitude the snow situation was looking a lot better, however I still had to make it the from the ski lift to the beginner slope, which was a couple of hundred metres away. Under spacetimewaster's (who is rather good at skiing) guidance I slid and fell, and slid and fell, and slid and fell my way over to it. In some points I managed to stay upright for metres at a time, although a large fraction of my bruises arose from this period. The beginners slope at this resort was very short, but was good practice for me to get going. My main challenge on this slope was getting back to the top on the ski lift which was a tow. With this you put the tow between your legs and it pulls you up the slope, which is harder for snowboarders than skiers. The look of exasperation on the guy who operated the thing after my seventh or so failed attempt to make it up the tow without falling over became quite amusing - I did attempt to apologise in French, with more and more conviction, several times. Finally, however, I got the hang of the thing - it's all about keeping your centre of balance over the middle of the board. The best thing about Les Houches was the views it gave over Mount Blanc - over lunch at the restaurant we had an absolutely fabulous and clear view of the mountain and all its glaciers. It's one of those views you wish you could see every day. The temperature was surprisingly warm as well and we had to strip off out outermost layer when having lunch. In terms of learning how to snowboard the day was pretty successful despite all the bruising. We left for the bus back to Geneva quite happy with our day. That night in Geneva we went for dinner at a, very popular, Chinese retaurant, which had the quickest table service I've ever seen - we were probably in and out of the place in about 25 mins! We then hung out with all Geneva's youthful posse's by going on the bumper cars at a fair set up in the town - out of all the rides there were actually three separate dodgems - the main difference being the type of music being blasted out of each!

The next day was also a ski trip. It again involved getting up stupidly early - which I was none to pleased with at the time. We decided to take the bus slightly further into Chamonix this time - Chamonix having several different ski resorts to go to. As I was still fairly novice at the whole sliding down snowy slopes thing we decided to go to Flegere which had a couple of green (aka beginner) runs. Arriving at Flegere (after going up the cable car) we found a lot more snow than we'd seen the previous day at Les Houches. We also found that the green slope was actually quite a challenge. It started off with a narrow and fairly steep winding path, which for the beginner is very daunting. This lead onto a good wide slope, which enabled me to experiment with my turning skills, and was a lot of fun to go down. I still had a lot of falling over, but it was accompanied by an increase in confidence and ability - I also got a lot better at handling the ski lift. The day again had impressively nice weather affording nice views of Mount Blanc (from a different angle this time). That night I went to bed with racing down the slopes dominating my mind.

I'd though that two days of snowboarding could well have done me in - indeed it had left me battered and bruised - but I still was having enough fun to subject myself to a third morning of the early start. We were getting to know the staff at the bus station by now and also recgonised some of the other ski enthusiasts who had been on the bus the last couple of days. As it had been good to us the day before we decided to go back to Chamonix and Flegere for another go. This allowed me to improve a bit more and add in some toe edge to heel edge, and back, turns to my repertoire. It was great fun again and involved slightly less (proportionally) falling down - I did, however, manage to take a skier out by ploughing straight into them and wind myself (adding bruised ribs to my injuries). There had also been a fresh fall of snow the night before, which helped turning on the board and also in breaking falls. I managed to get down and learn the main green slope pretty well (although still without fail stacked-it at the bottom).

Overall I really enjoyed my Alpine snowboarding experience and would love to do it again. This might have to be substituted by some dry ski slopes, or if possible some actually proper snow in Scotland!