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Skiing in Les Crosets, Switzerland

January 2012

Our chalet in the middle of the pistes.
Our chalet in the middle of the pistes.

Some of my friends asked me whether I wanted to join their yearly skiing trip to Les Crosets. One of them couldn't go and there was a spare place. I didn't hesitate a second, though I had never skied before. They had a lot of experience planning this trip, and I didn't need to do any planning myself except for packing my personal stuff. Of course, that included my snow shoes and shovel, 'cause I can't go anywhere snowy without these! Everything fit into the two cars nicely, and we drove off to Switzerland in (and with!) good spirits. I was quickly introduced to some of the established rituals, such as using the voucher one gets for paying at the Swiss motorway toilets to buy a chocolate marshmallow. After a refreshing tea-and-chocolate break at Esther's in Bern we did some final shopping in a supermarket in Monthey before we left the motorway and continued on smaller roads up into the mountains.

The view from our chalet
The view from our chalet's living room: Les Dents du Midi in the evening sun. In the front is the lift up to our local mountain.

As promised, the chalet was located in closest proximity to three ski lifts and surrounded by pistes. The drawback of this was, for those unaccustomed with the proceedings in such areas, that snowcats prowled around the chalet during the night. So when I started my first attemt at skiing, I wasn't in the best mood, lacking sleep and money (due to the horrendous exchange rate of the Swiss Franc), and already feeling the pressure of the skiing boots on my unsuspecting shins. However, supported by my friends, who are not only experts at skiing, but also at teaching to ski, I got into the lift and exited at the top of the local mountain without any incidents, and also got down the slope without serious bruises. Though I probably covered more distance on my butt or tummy than on the skies. I wasn't quite ready yet to join the most important mission of the day: to ski to the cheese tavern and acquire a wheel of Swiss cheese to suport us through the week. Instead, Sonja took me onto the nursery slope to familiarise me with the secrets of braking. Which is actually a very useful skill, I'd say in retrospect. In the afternoon, I tried the "beginnining racecourse". While one would think this name results from a mistake in the translation and should really be called "beginner's piste", it was a racecourse all right! I was very happy about a patch of deep snow conveniently located at the end of the piste, functioning as an emergency lane. Quite a lot of the wheel of cheese had already vanished before Sonja and I got inside in the evening. Cheese is a most universal source of protein and energy. It can be put over pasta, into vegetable soup, on top of bread, or eaten by itself. I woud learn even more applications during the course of the week.

The small chapel at the end of the village definitely looks more intriguing at night-time.

On the second day, my frieds wanted to go on a larger tour and they described the advantages so vividly that I couldn't keep myself from asking "Will you take me with you?". They looked stunned, but then challenged me to go down the beginning racecourse without landing in the snow at the end. If I could do that, I would be allowed to accompany them. Well, this was a better motivation that just trying to not get injured, and I slowly glided down with nothing but the skies and poles touching the snow. And off we went on a big roundtrip! Unfortunately it was very foggy and most of the time we couldn't really see where we were going. Which was not a problem for my friends, because they knew the area from their previous visits. And it was indeed advantageous for me, because I guess I wouldn't have gone down some of the pistes had I been able to see how steep they really were! I practiced sliding downhill sideways quite a lot, since without a proper braking technique, not getting too fast in the first place seemed to be the safest way to get down.

Signposts for the snowshoe trails.
Signposts for the snowshoe trails.
Les Dents du Midi again.
Les Dents du Midi again.
For Tuesday, I had planned a snowshoe tour. More precisely, I had decided to go snowshoeing, you couldn't really call that a plan. The first destination en route was therefore the shop where I rented the skis, since they offered a map indicating the local snowshoe trails. The attendant even showed me where to start (which was definitely necessary, because the map didn't show much besides the actual trail, making it hard to determine where one was in relation to the surroundings). The weather was foggy again, saving a lot of space on my camera's memory card which would otherwise have been filled with pictures of the Dents du Midi. As expected, it wasn't long until I lost the trail. The fact that it was signposted didn't really help because the trails had a directionality and the signs were positioned such that they were impossible to see if you came from the wrong direction. I ended up much higher on the mountain Pointe de l' Au than expected, and due to the danger of avalanches it wasn't possible to get back on track without going all the way to the top and around the Aiguille des Champeys (which we had also come down yesterday). In the village of Champoussin I asked for directions, and a very eager lift attendant instructed me where to go... alas, in French. The only thing I understood was that I still had to go 10 km, which thankfully turned out to be a vast exaggeration. The way back was uneventful along a flat track trough the woods. With an occassional view of the clouds hiding the Dents du Midi. We had cheese fondue for dinner, and because of a misunderstanding there was an abundance of cheese. Nonetheless, there were long faces when the caquelon was finally empty.

We
We're not the only ones haunting the night.

The evenings in the chalet were a very relaxed affair. Usually, everybody took a bath, and then dinner was prepared. Those not involved in either activity enjoyed the sofa and their books. Another favourite was to watch the snow groomers with their bright lights travelling through the dark. Sometimes, we went for a walk after dinner, in a vain attempt to promote the digestion of the cheese.

Master of Orion. Click to enlarge.
Master of Orion. Click to enlarge.

Wednesday was the day of the Chavanette. This piste is among the most difficult in Europe, it not in the world. Due to the excellent snow conditions this year, it was more manageable than in other years, and the four who entered it got down without any broken bones. Rolland and I preferred the challenge of riding the ski lift downwards, heroically diving over the steep edge facing forward. In spite of a minor injury the atmosphere was generally gleeful and we headed for the next available tavern, Les Marmottes for lunch. I don't remember the French names for the dishes, but most involved lots of cheese, some meat and sausages, and a tiny amount — if any — of bread. Tonight, some pistes were illuminated for night-skiing, and we did endless roundtrips on the local mountain. My steering skills improved rapidly, because this was the only way to avoid going crosswise over all the humps that had developed on the piste during the day. Just after Rolland had praised me loudly, I shot past him, flailing my arms and shouting "can't stop right now", only to literally fall back to my original braking technique seconds later. The GPS showed I had done over 60 km today, with a maximum speed of 57 km per hour. And still no broken bones.

Les Dents du Midi on a sunny day.
Les Dents du Midi on a sunny day.
Thursday was a beautiful day, blue skies all over and not a cloud in sight. I was a little upset when my friends took me down the pistes I had already done a few days ago — now I could see how steep they were! but I managed quite well. After lunch, I ditched the only chance at riding a black piste in favour of a blue one I had discovered during my snowshoe tour. It turned out to be a lot of fun and I raised my speed record to nearly 80 km per hour. I was almost as quick as they were on the black one. Unfortunately on the second round I covered some of the distance on my belly rather than on the skis, which slowed me down a bit. The result of this was that I was unable to lift my left arm and — like a frail old woman — needed help undressing. But I have five witnesses to testify that most of the times I fell, I was laughing so hard it actually hindered me at getting up again (apart from the fact that often, my hands and feet were entangled in such stange ways that I was unable to identify which part to move first to un-tangle myself again).

Mystic mountain mist and icky icicles. A few clouds definitely make for more interesting photographs.

Skiing is a most enjoyable experience, especially if one is surrounded by such excellent friends as were with me, who kept watch over me all the time. "You're not afraid of anything, are you?" they asked now and again when they caught up with me after I had dashed past them in an uncontrolled schuss which more often than not ended up with me face down in the snow. "Why should I? I know you'll be there if things get really dangerous!", I replied. And they were, patiently calling "Put weight on the downhill ski!" whenever my skies wanted to go straight down the hill, and waiting for me, pointing out the least steep part of the slope whenever I was afraid to go on.

The Llama Karma Cafe? No, the Restaurant Le Relais.
I had only bought a ski pass for five days, so I was kind of forced to showshoe hike on the sixt day again. The weather, as predicted, was bad, with lots of wet snow coming down, further obscuring the trail. I went in the same direction as last time (there's not really much choice if you're at the upper end of a circular deep valley) but still couldn't find the path that was shown on the map (though I saw its end on my way back). This time, I got as far as Sur Crete. I left the official trail to go to the top of the Croix de l'Aiguille, a small summit on the way.
Path on the ridge near the Croix de l
Path on the ridge near the Croix de l'Aiguille.
Fascinating shapes molded into the snow by a small stream.
Fascinating shapes molded into the snow by a small stream.

Today being the last day of the trip, it was the last chance to make use of the sleds. So after eating half of the delicious lasagna (it was cheese with lasagna more than lasagna with cheese), we went outside again. Did you know that you can steer a sled with your ass just like you steer the skis with your feet? Put weight on the left buttock and you'll go to the right, and vice versa. Fascinating!

Thus ended this year's first week of outdoor fun. May there be many happy returns!

One last foggy look at the snowcats.
One last foggy look at the snowcats.