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Last week Iglu's Sales Manager, AJ, was out in Tignes enjoying spring's finest sunshine and snow.
I love spring skiing!
All season I've been reading in the media about poor snow in the Alps. I knew from reports from mates still doing seasons that this media ranting was pretty wide of the mark and pretty irresponsible. I had to get out there to see the snow conditions for myself.
I stayed in the well facilitated Chalet Arktic, with its outdoor hot tub & sauna, in Tignes Le Lac for the week starting 20th March 2011. My first impression when the transfer bus turned into the Vallée de la Tarentaise was a little worrying. The lower areas of the valley as we drove passed the Trois Vallées on the left, and the Paradiski on our right, looked like they were a little low on snow. However, in March anywhere below 1800m is susceptible to freeze/thaw conditions.
The conditions started to look a lot better as we climbed higher towards the Espace Killy and drove passed Tignes Les Brévières. I could see there was plenty of snow as far down as 1550m. As we approached Tignes Le Lac at 2100m I could see that the north facing side of the Tovière was covered in fresh powder tracks and there was plenty more to raid, the moment I could get my Stöckli Corall Snakes on (I'm still in the honeymoon period with my beloved skis).
On our first day we went high to see if there were any powder trails left for us latecomers. Up and up we went to the highest cable car in the region, Le Téléphérique de la Grande Motte, on a blue bird day. From the top we took the first piste on the left and cut high back under the cable car to find ourselves in thigh deep pow. My ski buddy and I exchanged a quick grin before the inevitable race for first tracks commenced. There are no friends on a powder day — fact!
We were enjoying the snow so much we nearly fell into the trap that deep powder causes. As we sprayed our rooster tails left and right we almost missed the last chance to turn off for the lifts. We nearly ended up flying down a valley that had no lifts and no way back to resort, apart from a long hike in four foot of powder. That's a workout I could do without on my first day. After the powder morning we had, we needed a good nosh up. We headed over towards the Folie Douce, where I like to spend my sunny afternoons in the Espace Killy. However, I don't usually eat at the Folie Douce, as the prices at the famous Fruitière restaurant are enough to make even an Oligarch choke on their cuisses de grenouilles. Instead I like to head down towards La Daille, where just off the red piste you will find a little gem called Le Trifollet. This place has the best Tartiflette on the slopes and a charming wind protected deck.
Due to the lovely sunny days we had all week, the snow below 2200m did get a little slushy in the afternoons. Higher we were finding little pockets of powder right up to the time we left, along with fantastic piste conditions. The conditions were even good enough to do the 'out of bounds' tour from the top of the Grand Prix chair down into the Vallée du Manchet. That's a great run that can also be reached by doing a high traverse from the top of the Borsat chair. These are tours that I have not done in the past due to the snow but last week it was fine and Tignes just got hit by another 30cm this week.
So much for this lack of snow malarkey the UK media keep harping on about. There's plenty of skiing left in this season but make sure you go to a resort with lots of pistes above 2500m.
Igluski's Sales Manager and former Whistler ski instructor, AJ, has offered us his top tips to skiing. Seems a little odd to hear an Aussie giving ski tips, but what the heck, it's worth a go.
1. Be a sloucher.
The perfect stance for skiing is like slouching in a car. You must bend your spine and push your rear slightly forward and hunch your shoulders. Otherwise you will be skiing in the classic duck-ass stance. Try keeping your spine straight and sticking your butt out and bending down to touch the ground. Then try bending your spine and doing the same thing. See how much easier it is. You need that same flexibility when skiing.
2. You should always be able to see your hands.
Imagine you are driving an old style bus with a huge steering wheel. That’s where your hands should be at all times.
3. Tuck in your elbows.
You are not a bird and you do not need wings to ski. Make yourself compact rather than large and flappy. The less movement in your upper body, the better.
4. Punch through your pole plants.
When you do a pole plant you must push your fist through it so that your shoulder is not thrown back. Remember rule two, keep your hands forward and always moving so that you are always looking for the next turn.
5. Your knees are your headlights.
Instigate your turns with your knees and not your upper body. Imagine your knees are lighting your way and turn them before you make other movements.
6. Always put your downhill ski on first.
Before putting your skis on always line them up across the slope and start with your downhill ski.
7. Never look at your skis once you are moving.
This is one of the biggest mistakes that intermediate skiers make. Your skis are at the end of your legs. Trust me on this. If they fall off, it will be immediately apparent. Your eyes should be focused at least five metres ahead and if you are going fast then at least ten metres ahead.
8. Thin socks are warmer.
Don’t believe me right? Boot technology is extremely advanced. By putting on thick socks you are fighting against the manufacturer who has spent millions in research and development. Thick socks keep moisture around the foot making you cold on chair lifts, they reduce your fine touch, and worst of all, they create shin friction that will hurt like crazy. Thick socks tend to bunch on the shin which brings me to another very important thing.
You want as little as possible between your shin and the boot so never wear two pairs of socks or put anything else apart from your sock in the boot including long underwear. This is the cause of the most severe pain problems most new skiers experience. Spend the money and get a decent pair of ski socks. Your woolly winter socks for hiking are the worst thing you can wear.
9. Always stop on the high side of the piste.
This is especially important for snowboarders. By staying high you give yourself more options. You don’t want to be hiking or side stepping if you don’t have to, so stay high until you know your line.
10. Take the path less trod.
A common trap for new skiers is to follow everyone else’s tracks. This puts you in the slippery zone that has been flattened and scraped by hundreds of other skiers. It will make you go too fast and slam into bumps that are created by this ‘Pied-Piper’ like phenomenon. The powdery edges are slower and easier on your knees.
11. Don’t turn on ice.
If at all possible, wait until you are past the ice before you try to turn. Some of the worst accident happen when skiers see ice and try to panic stop. Even the very best skiers struggle to turn or stop on ice. Take the speed build up and wait for a slightly softer spot to turn.
12. Goggles during ski and sunnies après ski.
If you never ski faster than you can run then keep your sunnies on, but who really skis that slow? Goggles protect your eyes in so many ways and are vital should the weather turn nasty. Skiing in sunglasses in fog, snow and low light is suicidal. Keep your sunnies with you for when you hit the aprés ski sun decks. Make sure they are trés-fashionable and have 100% UV protection. Experienced skiers use goggles in all weather, including sunny days.
13. Always check your carry-on list before you leave the chalet.
I like to carry a back pack but most jackets can handle this small list of important extras: Water!!, chap stick, glasses and goggles and lens wipe, suncream 50+ (don’t worry, you’ll still tan), piste map, phone with Ski Patrol’s number already stored, and a tool like a Swiss Army knife or one of the many specialist ski/board tools out there.
Half term is just around the corner which only means one thing, busy mountains. The chalets, hotels, apartments, restaurants, slopes and lift queues will be busy in most resorts and packed in the most popular. This in no way means you can't have a fantastic holiday, though it does mean patience and careful planning are on the agenda.
There are only a limited few weeks of the season when familys, teachers and school can take get their yearly snow fix, and who can blame them. We all love the mountains, the snow, the skiing & snowboarding and most of us love the food (read meat & cheese) and wine. Rather than complain about the larger numbers of people in resort we should relish the opportunity of a fun filled holiday full of like minded people.
Top Tips for the Slopes
If you need ski school make sure you use local schools, when it is busy you'll find in France the ESF will be able to jump to the front of the queue, as will St. Anton's ski schools and many others. If you can't beat them join them. Ask your friends, reps or Google to who the main ski school in resort are. The better the rep the smaller the classes and the better their relationship with the liftie (hence the queue jumping).
Plan your route. If you're are heading out with one of the Tour Operators we work with then find out when their ski guiding days are. They will take you with skiers and snowboarders of similar levels to the best and quietest slopes. These guys are spending their mountain time with you so will often take you to the best spots, especially if bribed with lunch, that's only a couple of Euros each for a great day on the mountain involving a reasonable restaurant.
Take your skis and boards off in the lift queues. In Europe the lift queues can be mad, if you are using your own kit and don't want a few extra scratches, pop out of your bindings for as long as possible to save your kit, plus you can often get through the crowds quicker. Frenchies on hired skis won't worry about trampling all over your shiny new top sheet and pristine edges.
Top Tips in Resort
Again if you have a rep in resort use them, find out where the best restaurants are and book on the first day, I'd even book on the transfer coach if you dare! If you are travelling without young children go for a late table, around 9pm, the restaurant will be calmer (less kids) and they won't be desperate to get you out of the door to re-use your table, they are more likely to to look after you in the hope of selling you deserts, more wine and an after dinner drink or two — take full advantage of the hospitality, I do!
Après ski will more than likely be as busy as ever. After a day on the slopes with your own children, or other people's (school teachers and ski instructors) there is a good chance a post ski beer or vin chaud with some live music will go down well. Find out where the best bars and sun terraces are and get there first. The evenings will be quieter, but by 11pm the resort staff will be filling the bars and clubs after a hard day's work, so you'll just have to wait a little longer for the post dinner crowds and atmosphere to kick in.
Hire Shops and Lift Passes
Again let your rep sort out your lift pass, you should be paying the resort's standard rate, unless you pre-booked and enjoyed a decent exchange rate, and they will do the hard work for you, often delivering them to your accommodation. Same price less work, sounds good to me. As for ski hire, whether pre-booked or arranged in resort, get to the shop early — they will be busy and there is more kit to choose from the earlier you get there. So if you've been eyeing up some twin tips, or want comfortable feet be patient and join the queue.
Throughout the season there is always loads going on in resort, from après ski bands to dog sledding, but during school holidays the entertainment often steps up a notch. Most resorts will offer torch light descents for the children to watch, other resorts have ice-rink where an entertaining ice-hockey match could be on, and an afternoon ice skating could be fun, some even have heated outdoor pools or ice racing tracks. Without sounding like a bore ask early and book as soon as you can.
The outdoor Alpe d'Huez is included in your lift pass and is always popular with parents, especially those who prefer to watch with the warmth of a hot chocolate or vin chaud. Morzine, Megeve and Chamonix all have competitive ice hockey teams with the Morzine Penguins usually playing mid-week offering a fun evening after dinner.
Whether you are there for your first holiday or are a seasoned pro at this, half term can be fun for everyone, embrace the atmosphere, go with the flow and take it all in.
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