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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.
Last week Esther, Igluski's Commercial Executive, headed off to Morzine and the Portes du Soleil with Snow-Camp as part of the Everest Challenge. Back in January we organised a pub quiz with the help of Tim Warwood and so far Esther has raised £1500 for the charity.
Day One: Heathrow to Morzine
The day started with a hectic journey across London, dragging my snowboard and kit to Heathrow airport where I was met by the organisers of the event, Snow-Camp. After a few months of email and phone conversations it was great to finally put a few names to faces, I also met my room mate for the weekend, Becky, and the fun began. Everyone was excited about the challenge and we were not really sure what to expect. We arrived in Morzine with time for a walk around the village and a chance for some beanie shopping, always a must when in resort. It was then time for dinner, where a glass or two of wine helped get us into the mood for the first part of the challenge, the night ski. We made our way over to the floodlit Pleney and clocked up our first 7km over a couple of hours while we get our legs warmed up for the challenge ahead.
After the night ski we were spilt up into three groups for the rest of the weekend's riding. With another 143km to cover in the next two days and 34 people participating the groups were planned to hopefully cause a little less Snow-Camp carnage on the slopes.
The slope was icy and hard work but we survived. Luckily Elaine was there to give us a hot chocolate and rum to keep us going! We had some comedy adventures on that first night. Staff, Sam, Becky & I thought it would be a good idea to be strapped in before we got off the lift, that way we would cover more ground. However getting three snowboarders strapped in, turning in our seats, whilst not pushing anyone off the lift was more difficult than it first seemed, with Staff benefitting from a superman face plant. After a few hours the first part was complete and then it was off to the hotel bar for a much deserved glass of wine before the real challenge began.
Day Two: Morzine to Chatel
The day began with breakfast at 7am before being rounded up on to the shuttle bus ready to head to the slopes and start the challenge. All the teams were waiting for the lifts to start and then off we went. I was in the Orange team which from now on will be referred to as the 'Tangerine Dream Team', if you were lucky enough you may have heard us singing the A Team theme song to get us in the mood with Steve leading us in some 'Snow-Camp Baby' chants.
After a few hours we realised just how hard this was going to be. There were four snowboarders in the Tangerine Dream Team and our ski guide Marcel seemed to take it easy on us the first morning to see if we would be quick enough to keep up with the skiers. We arrived at lunch having only covered 37km and in need of picking up the pace. We had only been riding for three hours when realised the magnitude of the challenge ahead of us.
The afternoon began at 12:45 with Marcel picking up the pace considerably. The snow wasn't in bad a condition though it was icy in spots and there were a few games of avoid the rock. In the afternoon there was a slight accident when Nick thought it was about time he did an impression of superman. We had been going pretty quickly and he suddenly came across a big patch of grass that he couldn't avoid, he flew out of his bindings landing on his shoulder. It looked painful but he carried on like a trooper and Sam carried his bag for the rest of the afternoon to help him out. The afternoon followed the same story as the morning, with Marcel realising the snowboarders could keep up. We got to the bottom of the slope at 16:40 and saw the blue team get into the shuttle bus and head home. Not to be beaten we took the last lift up and it felt good that we could keep on going even if we were all pretty tired.
After a full day on the mountain we had a night hike to look forward too and the thought of another 5km after the days riding made me want to cry. After a couple more glasses of wine over dinner, and having our offer of a 5k bar crawl shot down, we went and got our snowshoes on. In the end as much as we really didn't want to do it we all had fun. It was stunningly beautiful, we walked and chatted and got to stop for a few drinks, so can't complain. When we got back to the hotel everyone seemed to crash and burn, the hard-core members of the group were determined to stay up all hours, but I headed to bed.
Day Three: Chatel to Morzine
The day again began with breakfast at 7:00 and getting out of bed was not easy! The Tangerine Dream Team skied all morning, with absolutely no stopping including taking on a huge mogul field, which on a snowboard is not fun, with Marcel (our lovely guide) having fun at the expense of the snowboarders (me, Steve, Sam & Staff). His favourite sentence seemed to be "skiers you will like this, snowboarders not so much. follow me". After a thigh burning journey through the moguls we were all in need of a break, but we had to carry on, at least until I gave the guys a bit of a break after having a special moment on the drag lift where I decided to drop my bank card. I was trying to get my lip balm out of my pocket and didn't realise my card was there too. I got to the top and the team had started heading off already, I told Fergie about my 'accident' and we skied back down to retrieve my card.
We made our way up the lift for a second time to find the Tangerine Dream Team were nowhere to be seen before realising that we hadn't exchanged numbers with anyone... oops! We decided we would get to the top and if we still couldn't see them then we would call Elaine, but luckily at the top of the lift we were greeted with cheers and shouts from The Tangerine Dream Team. During our absence Marcel had been filling them in on how many people die on the Wall (a famous black run on the way back to Switzerland). When we stopped for lunch at 12.30 having clocked up an impressive 50km. We had time for a slightly longer lunch and let's face it we deserved it. Nick & Jeff were kind enough to top us up with wine, which we are very much enjoyed.
In the afternoon we had another 50km to cover and by now the pain barrier had been and gone. Becky unfortunately had a fall and hurt her leg but she soldiered on and told us she was fine, though trust me when I say she wasn't. I soon managed to lose the team again, this time with Steve, through no fault of our own of course. We strapped in and looked up to discover there was no orange as far as the eye could see. The problem was we had two directions to choose from and obviously we picked the wrong route down. I had actually swapped numbers with Becky after the last incident and she text me and told me to meet her at the bottom of the women's downhill slope and I had no idea where that was. In the lift queue we pulled out a piste map to try and figure it out, then out of nowhere we saw a flash of orange and it was Sam.
We arrived back in Morzine and took ourselves for a much deserved drink and rest. We had never skied so fast and so hard and covered such a long distance in such a short time but we loved every minute.That evening we sampled a few Morzine's bars to celebrate our achievement.
Day Four: Morzine to Heathrow
Day four and the journey home, everyone slept on both the coach journey and flight and before long I was in Heathrow. I had a fantastic time, made some new friends, rode hard, partied a little bit and helped raise money for a great cause. I would definitely recommend the challenge to anyone who fancies taking part next year as I'm thinking of joining in again. A big thank you needs to go to Dan & Elaine from Snow-Camp and Fergie from Basecamp who put this event together.
If you would like to donate visit Esther's Just Giving page .
his September Dave Mills, Iglu's Head of Commercial, will be attempting the Conquer the Alps Cycling Challenge for Macmillan Cancer Support.
The Conquer the Alps Cycling Challenge takes place from the 15th - 19th September and involves three days of climbs made famous by the Tour de France, including the gruelling 21 bends to Alpe d'Huez. The event involves over 100km of riding per day and will take Dave from Bonneville to Bourg d'Oisans.
I asked Dave how he feels about the challenge, and after reading Lance Armstrong's Tour France tweets he was feeling positive, "I'm 99% terrified and 1% excited, but this could well be the other way round by the time it comes around..."
I've compiled a day-to-day guide of the epic ride, and we'll be keeping up-to-date with Dave once he's on his bike.
Luckily this part of the journey involves a flight to Geneva followed by a transfer to the French town of Bonneville, where the cyclists will stay overnight. Knowing what he has in front of him we'll let him off for not cycling to the start point.
The first challenge for Millsy will be the 60 miles from Bonneville to Albertville via the Col de Aravis and the Col Saisies. The first climb from Bonneville involves a 1km rise in altitude and a steady ride up to the 1487m summit of the relatively gentle Col de Aravis. After the first serious descent Dave will be taking on the Col des Saisies, which tops out at 1650m before the long sweeping descent into Albertville where he will spend the second night.
After the first, and a relatively easy day of cycling, the 64 mile route from Albertville to Valloire is going to burn. Heading out of Albertville the first climb of the day is the 25km ride to the Col de la Madeline, after this warm up the descent to La Chambre will be a welcome one.
The afternoon stretch of this journey involves taking on the Col de Telegraph, the 12km climb is shorter but steeper, gaining nearly 900m in height. After the most difficult of these two challenging climbs, it's down to Valloire to rest and recover from the second day's burn.
The route from Valloire to Alpe d'Huez will take Dave via the Col du Glabier. This section of the ride is full of hair-pin bends through the stunning mountains and passes the monument to Henri des Granges, the founder of the Tour de France.
The final climb is the most famous of them all, and possibly the most gruelling in the Alps, the 21 bend to Alpe d'Huez! The ride to the peak is the pinnacle of the challenge, and the bend after bend of cycling to the top is rewarded by the adrenaline fuelled ride back down to Bourg d'Oisans.
After three days, and 315km on his saddle Dave will make his way home. Hopefully his leg's wont seize up and he'll make it onto the flight home from Geneva having completing this feat, and raising money for a good cause.
This challenge is pretty full on and so far Dave has four months of training behind him, the Iglu team will be supporting him the whole way, and if you would like to support him visit his Just Giving page. Dave is hoping to raise £2000 for Macmillan Cancer Support and will be grateful for every donation.
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