Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Europe Part 2- France

(sorry for the delay)
Off to France with our friend, Herve (Herv-A or Harvey as a nickname) in the Scott mobile for some wicked skiing in Chamonix. We stayed in a little hotel at the base of the mountain right in town where Herve promised Swedish people dancing on the bar. We didn't see the Swed's (luckily) but had a decent hotel room. Seriously, why are there no shower curtains anywhere? And what's up with the shower head being mounted like a tub spout.
Zach and Herve ready for Monitier. Herve designs the skis for Scott Sports.
Aguille du Midi
We started out skiing the Grands Montet (3275M, 10,744ft.) from Argentinere down the goat step. Winds of 150km at the top, we had to put on our skis quickly so they wouldn't blow away. We skied down a gorgeous topaz blue glacier to the Vallee Blanche. Before we reached the Vallee Blanche we skied down a rock slide, seriously, a rock slide with minimal if any snow. Thank goodness for the loaner skis. I couldn't stop thinking about my dad saying "don't do anything stupid". I never thought I would be afraid of truck size boulders landing on my while skiing, until now. Herve casually kept saying "it's cool" with every ounce of sincerity. Needless to say Zach and I were relieved when we were clear of the slide. Then we headed back to the town, skiing at times and walking in others. We were lucky Europe had such a huge winter as our late spring arrival managed to be full of snow for the majority of the trip and not people.
Photos of the Aguille du Midi
Zach and Herve at a refuge we stopped at for tea down the Vallee Blanche.

The next day we lucked out with good weather and headed up by two different trams to the Aguille du Midi (3842m, 12,604ft). A famous spot for skiers and a tremendous perch on top of the Alps, the Aguille du Midi did not disappoint. We had our harnesses, beacons, snow shovels, probes, helmets, and rented cramp-on's for the journey down. Thankfully, the weather cooperated so we didn't blow off the ridge and managed to have some more great skiing with Herve, Philu, and Lionel. Zach was snapping pictures every chance he could and I was happy he had his camera along to capture it all. The entire journey took about four hours. Again being late in the season proved to be a benefit where normally people have to wait in ridiculously long lines to even get a chance to go up. Skiing down I managed to keep up with the pro's. Hiking up about 800 metal grate stairs at the end with all your gear was definitely a test. Apres beer was well deserved!
Yvan, Justin, Kathryn, Sarah, Matt, and Zach

The same day Herve gave us a ride down south (3 hours) to Monetier to meet up with our Idaho friends, the McNeals and the Stevensons in a little apartment we rented for the next four days. Our Argentinian friend, Yvan, came to visit from his ski coaching job in Courcheval, France. We had a big feast and enjoyed each others company in a new country. The next day the group headed out to ski on Serre Chevalier, where Megan has been ski paroling all winter, and Justin has been enjoying the fruits of her labor :) Four resorts are combined to create this gigantic ski resort. We visited each separate town and mountain: Monetier, Villeneuve, Chantemerle (St Chaffrey), and Briancon. Of course we stopped for the typical two hour lunch on a sunny deck and then checked in on Megan at her ski patrol post.

The French definitely have learned to appreciate life. Everything shuts down from noon to 3pm and then stays open till about 8pm. We happily embraced this :)

After our tour of the local ski resort, Megan and Justin led us and some of their ski patrol friends on a two hour hike (on our skis) up to the Napoleon Refuge. Nicola, a ski patroller, his wife and son, Nile, were definitely use to this. Nicola gave Nile a rope with a stick tied to it and then proceeded to drag his son up the mountain. The rest of us did our best to keep up! At the top of the trek we found ourselves in a romantic french chalet with numerous people, warm fires, slippers to borrow, and tasty food. We had a tremendous dinner and then skied down in the moonlight.

The next day we set out to La Grave. For those who don't know (which I was one of them until I went), La Grave is known as one of the places for the beginning of extreme skiing. It has two main "telepheriques" (or cable like cars) up the mountain and then you are on your own. No ski patrol to rescue you if something happens and everything is fair game. We skied the backside over a glacier and down into a little town (St. Chaffery) for lunch. Because of lack of communication from the restaurant owner we missed the first bus but luckily scampered onto the second to RUSH into Les Duex Alps (another enourmous ski resort) to catch a lift back up the mountain, so we could walk the rest of the way to the top on our skis, and try to ski down (over moguls bigger then me) to the last Telepherique ride out of La Grave. We made it by the skin of our teeth! Luckily, a ski patroller noticed our race as we were trying to walk up the mountain and stopped to tow all six of us behind his snowmobile with a rope. He turned out to be an Australian. Again another well deserved Apres!
Exhausted and happy! We apres!

We visited this amazing walled city in old town Briancon, which the locals call "Gargooey". I couldn't find the proper spelling for that one. Great little cobblestone streets, shops, colorful buildings, and history.

We spent the next two nights making great dinners, hiking, skiing, and touring the town before our final night as guest hosts of "The American Party" at Nicola's house. Megan really wanted to share some of the American traditions she knew as a ski patroller with her fellow French co-workers and what better time then when your friends are visiting from Idaho. We gathered together horseshoes for a game, made a shot ski, potato salad, hamburgers, and country music for one of the funniest "American" parties I have been too. I think it was a success and I heard from the French participants many times that night, "I would like to visit America". So watch out for a bunch of ski patrolers throwing random horseshoes and eating REALLY large hamburgers in your neighborhood.
Nicola stands a little too close to the BBQ with a can of gasoline.
The Frenchies taste Mr. Jack Daniels.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Europe Part 1- Switzerland

Back to Idaho and all I can say is.. Wow! We had an amazing time in Switzerland, France, and Italy with our new and old friends. There was a lot to take in with a short amount of time but we managed to do our best.

Starting out in Switzerland, we arrived in Geneva and were picked up by Kelsi (say "keel-z"). A sweet British guy with an obsession for skiing and cars. He drove us straight to the mountains in Verbier. A pair of brand new skis, bindings, and poles, courtesy of Scott Sports, awaited us along with the welcoming committee of Beat (B-yacht) and Blair. Then off to our awesome hotel with views of the town. A bit foggy on our arrival but it didn't last long. We spent the next few days skiing, eating, drinking, and skiing some more around Verbier and Zermatt. HP, another guide friend, was kind enough to drive us over to Zermatt for the day and then treat us to a delicious meal at his home with girlfriend, Syville, later that night.

Zermatt was well...Matterhorn of course! It was an adorable Swiss town that still kept it's historic appeal despite the new McDonald's in the main part of town. We skied up and over to the Italian side for a pizza lunch and then back around the Matterhorn. Leaving the town I spotted a small sign for an "English church" and luckily found the little church that my parents were married in, once upon a time. It made me happy.

Everywhere we went the food was delicious! So simple. I can't understand why people from the States think food has to come in a package. Food in Switzerland was usually from a local farmer or garden directly from their area. They don't cook what they don't have. It makes for simply wonderful food! Cheese, bread, chocolate, wine, hmmmm...

How could you out do Zermatt but with a heli-ski of course! Zach and I were surprised by a treat from Beat to heli-ski in the Swiss Alps. We had our mouths and eyes wide open the entire time! I loved the helicopter ride! Zach liked that it LANDED way up into the tops of the distant Alps for some killer powder and couloir skiing. Our guide, Olive, (O-live-E-A) was outstanding in his knowledge and expertise. Skiing down glaciers and into a little town are something I will never forget.
Happy Camper!
Sad to leave our friends in Switzerland we were off to Chamonix, France with local expert, Herve....
Overall, we LOVED Switzerland and felt very lucky to have the help from everyone at Scott Sports! Stay tuned for more Europe Adventures...

*All the photos in this post were from our little camera. Zach has some quality photos on his camera I can't wait for him to share!