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Ski Blog

Val d'Anniviers — Keep It To Yourself

clock 13th December 2011 | comment0 Comments

Mid-December and it's the time of year where many of us pop out to the mountains before the season hits full swing, to meet new people, check out some new resorts and, of course, to get in the first tracks of the season. Most of us have been to visit resorts new to us as individuals, with staff heading out to the ever popular resorts in the Tarantaise and Austria, but I was lucky enough to go somewhere new for all of us... the only problem is I don't want to tell too many people about it.

Over the weekend, along with Jay from the sales team, I went out to Val d'Anniviers, to visit the resorts of Grimentz and Zinal and to take a look at the new properties we will be featuring and to see what the ski area had to offer. The two resorts offer around 50-60km of piste each and include the nearby resorts of St. Luc & Vercorin on the lift pass, offering an additional 120km of piste and making up a decent amount of skiing for a week's holiday. But that's not what about this ski area is about, yes there is 200km of skiing, and yes the inter resort buses are typically efficient, Grimentz and Zinal is more about the quiet pistes and easy access to countless off-piste adventures.

We arrived in Geneva on Friday night and enjoyed a relaxing, though busy, transfer to resort on the train. Being Swiss, the train was waiting for us when we arrived and even got to the destination on time, with minimal fuss — well, you can't imagine the Swiss letting any pesky leaves get in the way, can you! The drive up to resort was quick, though as the sun had gone down we missed the dramatic views. The valley rises up quite dramatically before getting into resort, as we climbed over 1,000m in altitude in around half an hour.

Chalet Edelweiss was both charming and relaxing, and our hosts Eric & Penny were fantastic. Penny had prepared a fantastic meal for us, while Eric showed off their stock of Scott skis and fitted everyone out with the latest kit, apart from me, as I was apparently their first ever snowboarding guest. The chalet is extremely welcoming, and being run by a mature couple means you felt more like guests in their home.

Eric and Penny are clearly huge ski enthusiasts, and were keen to share their knowledge of the local mountains and to talk about the regular weeks they organise where the guests can ski with a mountain guide every day. Saturday morning, after a hearty breakfast, they whisked us up to the lift station, and by 9:30 we were hitting the slopes for our first runs of the winter.

The resort may have been only half open, but within minutes you could sense the endless possibilities off off-piste riding. After a few runs to warm up, we headed up to the top of the Combe de Sorebois, where a huge bowl offering great back country skiing was shown to us. We hiked along the ridge for ten minutes and dropped into the first knee deep powder of the winter. We skied the area throughout they day, never tiring of what is a relatively small area, only dreaming of coming back later in the season, armed with a transceiver, a guide and some snowshoes.

That evening, after another fantastic meal in the chalet, we went for a short hike along the river basin in the valley, heading up passed the resort into the relative wilderness, where Eric lit a small fire and Penny produced some Vin Chaud to help keep us warm. It was a full moon and the views across to the Weisshorn and the Dent Blanche were impressive. This was just one of the nice little touches that the couple offer their guests, should you chose to take it.

The following morning we took the short drive, around 15-20 minutes over to Grimentz, where our next host Will, would take over the reins. Will had collected us from the station in Sierre and had skied with us the day before, but we were now in his back garden. Grimentz had only opened for the season the day before, the cruisy blues and red runs, filled with rollers and corduroy were fantastic, though the off-piste looked pretty tracked out.

Again, after a hour of warming up and playing around in the sidecountry, we were taken on a short ten minute hike from the highest open lift. I say a short hike, for the skiers it was nice and easy, but for the token snowboarder, hiking in thigh deep snow, was hard work, but rewarding. We ended up in a huge, untracked bowl, with lovely rollers, and small trees to play with, followed by a little bit of tree skiing. The snow was knee deep throughout, and was one of the many hidden gems the region has to offer.

Throughout the morning and early afternoon we enjoyed the easily accessed off-the-beaten-track skiing with Will, Eric and Penny, and definitely got a feel for why the three of them had upped sticks and left London for a life on the slopes.

Later that afternoon we were in for another treat, when we checked into our accommodation for our final night, the gorgeous Chalet C by Chivoone, nicknamed Chalet CBC, much to the owner's dismay. The views from the balcony, all across the valley were truly stunning, as was the chalet itself. The master bedroom boasted a huge standing bath in the middle of the room, offering the same fab views. The terrace has a hot tub, and for those looking to cater for themselves, a kitchen to die for.

After settling in we visited the many high-end chalets on offer, before checking out the charming, and superbly named, Chalet la Legende. This chalet sits in the centre of the old town, filled with typical Swiss charm. After our tour of the accommodation, we left the chalet, expecting a short walk to the restaurant booked for the evening, only to be taken into the little cave, underneath the property, where we were treated to a glass of wine, in charming surroundings — for guests staying here Will can arrange for Raclette and wine to be served here, though unfortunately you don't get to indulge in the owner's wine collection.

We ended the evening with a trip to Le Mélèze, one of the many quaint restaurants offering typical mountain cuisine, where we were in for another treat. Our table essentially had a barbeque built into it, with hot coals and a grill over the top, and after a starter of salad, we where given a bowl of meat to cook for ourselves. We were treated to veal, veal sausage, merguez, beef and bacon — what else do you need after a day of deep powder and good wine!

This trip took me to an undiscovered corner of Switzerland, the valley offers views of the nearby Crans Montana, and is across a ridge from Zermatt along with bieng a short drive from Verbier, but has been left alone for years. The people we met moved there as it offers great skiing, incredible backcountry and no crowds. The only problem now, is I want people to go there and enjoy it for themselves, just not too many...



Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

clock 7th December 2011 | comment0 Comments

Over the past week winter has returned to the Alps in style, even though the BBC, Daily Mail, Guardian and the Metro would have had us thinking differently.

The three well known purveyors of news all ran articles of doom and gloom on the slopes on Monday sparking us, and many others in the ski community, into a Twitter frenzy of live snow updates, photos and forecasts. Thanks to team members and friends in the Alps, our snow reports section, using snow data we receive from Snow-Forecast and the Ski Club, and a variety of up-to-date webcams, we helped to dispel the rumour.


Okay, so I have to concede, following some fantastic early November snowfall, with the likes of Zermatt and Saas Fee boasting well over a metre of snow, the temperatures in Europe warmed and the best early snow seemed to be arriving in North America, with British Columbia and Whistler in particular, looking impressive and more akin to mid-season conditions already.

But, thanks to Mother Natures, the snow gods, or to whom you choose to believe in, the snow is coming back in huge amounts at the moment. Over the weekend a think dusting or fresh, cold, white snow covered to Alps, from Austria to France, via Switzerland and Italy. The webcams began to tell a story of fantastic snow and the pictures from resort started to appear in my inbox.


By Monday we were receiving powder-filled photo's from some of our staff in Tignes, followed by snow-covered photo updates from the Masterclass ski school in Alpe d'Huez and, as always, some fantastic photos of Val d'Isere courtesy of Y.S.E Ski. Before we knew it we were bombarding the offending press with snow-filled tweets and more and more of our followers and friends jumped on the bandwagon.

As the week has gone on more and more snow has arrived in resort. Official snow reports are showing 20cm a day in some places, while eye witness and resorts locals have reported half a meter falling in Val d'Isere, Verbier, Mayrhofen and Avoriaz in the past 24 hours. There is more snow arriving today, and though there is a sunnier outlook for the weekend, the temperatures are cold and the long range weather forecast is showing signs of more of the same next week.

The old adage of head high in early season, is still the sensible approach, given last months lack of snow, though there are plenty of micro-climates out there also worth a look. Flaine is boasted 70cm of snow in two days this week, as did Avoriaz and Megeve — with all three ski areas benefitting from a close proximity to a huge supply of water, Lake Lucerne, and a huge Mountain to cool any precipitation, Mt. Blanc.


Val d'Isere this morning — photo Y.S.E.

Over in Austria and the Arlberg region also boasts a renowned micro-climate, with St. Anton, Lech and St. Christoph boasting some fabulous snowfall this week. High resorts such Ischgl and Soll have also had some fantastic snow over the past five days.

The season is approaching full swing, with the Christmas holiday season two weeks away, and the mountains are getting into the right spirit for a white Christmas. So, as the old song goes: Let it snow, let it snow, let is snow...



The Ski Holiday Checklist

clock 2nd December 2011 | comment0 Comments

Now I appreciate most people who use Igluski are regular skiers, but for those who are either new to the sport, are forgetful or wonder why they are always cold, no matter how big their jackets are, here is our ski holiday checklist, to make packing that little bit easier.

Whether skiing or snowboarding, the vast majority of your 'software' will be the same, brands apart. Where it differs is down to personal preference, the weather and the type of skiing or snowboarding you plan to undertake — for example you don't really want a shovel on your back and an expensive transceiver on if you are hitting the park.


Don't be left feeling like something's missing.

The Essentials

So to help you be prepared for every occasion, here are a few essential items to make sure are in your suitcase and ski bag before you leave the house:

  • Thermals: thermals keep you warm and dry, they are breathable and keep moisture away from the body, but don't have to be expensive.
  • Gloves: ski gloves, not woolly gloves, as they are waterproof, windproof and warm.
  • Goggles & sunglasses: Goggles are for skiing in, sunglasses are for wearing at lunch. Most goggles come with spare lenses which are always worth taking too.
  • Sun cream, lip balm and after sun: you are several hundred metres close to the sun, surrounded by a white reflective surface, you've been warned!
  • Beanie or headband: remember the old adage that you loose 70% of you heat through your head? Well keep it in. Headbands are for skiers only!
  • Water bottle: simple, you're doing exercise, so keep hydrated. There are loads of different types from camelpacks to thermos bottles you can use.
  • Ski jacket: a proper outdoor jacket is needed, they are water/snow proof, breathable and keep you warm, ski jackets also have garters to prevent you getting snow everywhere.
  • Salopets: again, proper ski salopets or board pants will keep you warm and dry. Skiing in jeans won't!
  • Ski socks: you don't need expensive ones, but you need proper ski socks are as opposed to thick socks or football socks, which won't keep you warm at -5°c.
  • Helmet: would you ride a motorbike without one? Thought not. Your head's pretty important, keep it safe.
  • Travel insurance details: make sure you are covered for winter sports and in an emergency you know where you've put it. Also take emergency contact details with you.
  • Phone: pay for a roaming package as you'll be surprised to how many times people take 'the other left' on the mountain.
  • Rucksack: whether carrying a hip flask or packing your kids off to ski school for the day, rucksacks are essential.
  • Labels: if you are skiing with your family, label EVERYTHING. You'll be surprised how helpful it is at ski school the following morning when little Johnny gets his gloves back.

Layering

You've probably heard all this before, but it's all about layering when skiing and wearing the correct layers. Just because something is heavy, doesn't mean it's going to keep you warm, and that goes for everything from your socks to your jacket.

Whether you are on your first lesson, a seasoned skier or hiking the Vallée Blanche, wearing the correct layers is essential. Remember it's easier to cool down then to warm up. As basic guide to layers is:

  • Thermals: in all weather it's good to wear a thermal top, they keep you warm when it's cold and cool when it warm. If you feel the cold or it's particularly chilly one day, thermal long johns or leggings will help keep you warm, I even know ski instructors (male may I add) who wear tights as well.
  • T-shirt: short sleeve or long sleeve depending on the weather and comfort.
  • Fleece, hoody or jumper: try and pack at least one 100 weight and one 200 weight fleece or hoody, so you can dress for the weather.
  • Ski jacket and salopets: I prefer a Gore tex shell most of the time and have a big down jacket for those -20°c powder days.

Off Piste & Ski Touring

If you are planning on doing some off piste skiing or back country hiking here are a few more essentials to pack for the mountain:

  • Helipack: for piste skiing a comfortable backpack is enough, but when backcountry skiing you need a rucksack designed to carry all your kit, including your skis.
  • Avalanche transceiver: these things are literally a life saver, but don't just carry one, learn to use it first.
  • Shovel: from digging out buried friends to building a kicker, shovels are an essential piece of kit.
  • Probe: you can use your probe to test the snow depth, or to find buried friends, a very helpful piece of kit.
  • Spare goggles and gloves: there's nothing worse than cold hands or snow-filled goggles miles from home.
  • Water and snacks: you may find yourself further from a mountain restaurant than usual, so essential to keep you going. I personally go for Mars and Snickers.
  • Walkie talkie: you may not have phone coverage and will want to keep in contact with your buddies either in front or behind you.
  • Avalanche whistle:; not essential, but a helpful tool so your friends can find you.
  • Spare batteries: you don't want your transceiver or walkie talkie running out of juice on the mountain.

Everyone has their own idea what to pack a trip to the slopes, some people like hand warmers, others need a good bottle or brandy or single malt for their hip flask. Forgetting the essentials can cost you a fortune in resort and even ruin your holiday. So as Robert Baden Powell would say: "be prepared".



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