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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 .
This past weekend saw the return of the media fuelled Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado. British snowboarder Jenny Jones was looking for her 4th X Games gold while Shaun White was tracking a record 4th consecutive superpipe gold.
The Winter X Games is the biggest winter sports event of the year. Yes the Winter Olympics are huge, the TTR is massive and the F.I.S. is well the F.I.S. but there is something about the X Games. Is it the huge media circus that ESPN brings, the ridiculous amount of money from sponsors, the prize money or the crowds? There is skiing, snowboarding and nutcases who spend their time inverted on snowmobiles. There is ski/board/sno(mobile)cross, big air, superpipe and slopestyle on offer. The biggest names in the snowsports world are in town from Shaun White to Jamie Anderson.
Over the past few years freestyle skiing has rivalled the crowds, rivalry and excitement of snowboarding and the American loved snowmobile craziness. We have seen Jon Olsen, Tanner Hall and Candide Thovex wooing the crowds, sponsors and TV cameras, but Winter X Games was the year of the snowboard.
The weekend took off with a bang on Saturday when Kelly Clark became the first female snowboarder to land a 1080 (three full rotations) in the superpipe. She had tried the trick earlier in the month at the Burton European open but her endeavor paid off with a massive 1080 in her last run in the final. Combining great style, huge amplitude and a competition first. With Olympic Champion Torah Bright taking part in the slopestyle this year her impressive riding offered the crowds a convincing win.
The women's slopestyle also threw in a few surprises and some incredible riding. Britain's Jenny Jones, winner of the last two Winter X Games and the European Winter X Games golds, was up against an in-form Jamie Anderson and the up and coming Enni Rukajarvi. After laying down a solid run with some clean 540s into a big 720 finish it looked as if she had wrapped up her third gold in a row in Aspen, only to miss out to the 20 year old Finn. The scores were marginal but the luck was on Enni's side as her final run didn't look like it would surpass Jones until the judges scores hit the board. Though Jenny Jones does get to add an X Games Silver medal to her previous haul of three golds in two years.
For the men the Big Air was the first of the three competitions that really showcased how much men's snowboarding has progressed. Big crowds turned up looking to see is Seb Toutant could add to his Beijing Air & Style win and to see if Torstein Horgmo would throw down the triple cork (three inverted rotations while spinning four full rotations). Seb Toutant stepped up with a huge switch backside 12 leaving Torstein only one choice, after slamming in his first run he threw down the first ever competition triple cork 1440 (see below) to take the gold.
The men's superpipe was pretty much a formality, but still offered great entertainment with Shaun White taking a record fourth consecutive Superpipe gold at the Winter X Games in Aspen. Coming into the final Shaun White was sitting in second place to fellow Olympian Scotty Lago, but after an earlier disappointment he had something to prove. The 'flying tomato' came back with vengeance and a frankly astonishing score of 97.33 in his final run, proving his dominance in the half pipe.
The big surprise came in the slopestyle, the aforementioned White was hoping to wrap up another gold before the halfpipe final, yet failed to qualify leaving the likes of Seb Toutant, Mark McMorris and Torstein Horgmo fighting for the gold. The world's most famous snowboarder later admitted he could no longer compete with the best slopestyle riders. After the disappointment of coming second on the big air Seb Toutant was determined to beat Horgmo to the gold. The young Canadian had qualified with the highest score ever in slopestyle smashing his run with a 97, leaving him in a great form for the final and his super-styled final run including two double corks and two 1260s took the gold comfortably.
With two months until the European X Games in Tignes we don't have to wait long for more of the same. Hopefully we'll see Jenny Jones, Aimee Fuller and Jamie Nicholls flying the flag for us and picking us more medals.
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