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TR: 2015 Ski Maurienne Sans Frontières

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
TR: 2015 Ski Maurienne Sans Frontières
...or how technology can fail.

We'd already been to the Maurienne Valley in 2014, 2013 and 2012 so when Gilly asked if we knew somewhere nice but cheap for her and John to go skiing just after Christmas we knew just the place. Discussion over accommodation soon led us to the inevitable conclusion that it would be cheaper to split the costs four ways. Can we come too? Of course, came the reply.

So that is how four of us booked into a camping-chalet at Le Marintan in St Michel de Maurienne. We just had to get there!

Friday, 26 Dec 2014 (Boxing Day)
The rain at 5pm was falling as snow by 7pm as we packed to drive to Gilly's in Meltham, near Huddersfield. Along the M56 the snow cleared so we just followed Mama Garmin's instructions and headed past Greenfield over the moors. As we ascended the snow got worse until, just before the summit, we lost traction all together. Buggeration! Out came the Michelin EasyGrips which I'd bought years ago because they were on offer. We'd never used them before and it now became apparent that they were quite large on Mrs A's new car - too large really. In what was now a driving blizzard I persisted and, after a pause for readjustment, we made it over the hill. Not trusting these chains, I continued at a snail's pace until we started dropping down the steep hill into Meltham. I put my foot on the brakes and, after a brief pause, reached the floor. I tried again and the same thing happened. Addled brain said 'brake servo' so I revved the engine and tried again. Yikes - we have no brakes! I knew that the hill soon became very steep with two right angle bends so I just yanked at the hand brake. The car gently spun through nearly 180° somehow missing the dry stone walls on either side and we came to a halt. Phew! I parked the car by the side of the road and had a look round. One of the chains was wedged under the bumper whilst the other was missing altogether. I could see one hydraulic hose dangling loose with fluid dripping out of the end and presumed it must be the same on the other side. It was now 9:30 and we were in a bit of a pickle. We rang Gilly who rang John who came to collect our bits in his chain-clad Mondeo. It took him some time to reach us. We also rang ADAC who said they would be 1½~2hours. John suggested that we drive down the hill linked up with his Mondeo acting as the brake. It seemed like a risky idea that wouldn't really achieve us much so we let him go off and get some sleep while we waited for ADAC. They passed us on to the AA who passed us on the a local garage. There were lots of call-outs so they didn't actually reach us until nearly 2am - and then it was only to collect the keys, sign the paperwork and drive us to Meltham. The car stayed by the side of the road until they could retrieve it. At Gilly's we crashed on a mattress on the floor and attempted to get some sleep.

Saturday, 27 Dec 2014

Up at 5am to pack John's car ready to leave at 6am. Snow still lying everywhere and we needed chains all the way to the Flouch Inn. No hold-ups despite much of the M1 being restricted to 50mph because of road works. Arrived Dover in plenty of time for our 1:30pm ferry. Declined MyFerryLink's offer to board an earlier one for £20. Yet, while we were waiting, they waived us on anyway. Result! Slight detour outside Calais when John's satnav had been configured to avoid tolls but we soon sussed her on that one. She nearly caught us again later but we just followed the signs to Reims rather than Paris. Reached the F1 in Mâcon Nord before 11pm, I think.

Sunday, 28 Dec 2014
Up at 7am for a €2.99 breakfast and then on down the A6. Weather yucky but the motorway was still clear until we got near St Jean de Maurienne. Loads of traffic was queuing to get off and, with only two lanes to play with, everything took some time to settle down. Soon after, it all came to a complete standstill. We saw an exit and managed to get off but this only led us to the Aire de St Julien Mont Denis. We stopped for a coffee anyway and waited until the traffic started to move again. We crawled all the 5km or so to St Michel de Maurienne where the Gendarmes took one look at our roof box and tried to wave us on to the next junction. Eventually, we managed to convince them that we were staying in St Michel and they let us join the queues through the town. Arrived at Le Marintan about 5pm to find that our camping-chalet was unusable because the water had frozen so we were swapped to a staff apartment on the ground floor of the main hotel. It was basic but clean and tidy with everything we needed including lots of space to spread out. Cooked and ate a meal that Gilly had prepared earlier. Mrs A sprung a migraine from all the stress.

Monday, 29 Dec 2014
Although we managed to get to the hotel without chains we guessed that the side roads up to the resorts would be a different matter. I knew that the road to Aussois was gentle and straight so that became our destination. Mrs A got up for breakfast at 7am with the rest of us but couldn't face the day so went back to bed.

We managed to get all the way without chains although the last little bit through the village was touch and go. It was cold - very cold. The car's external thermometer said -15°C. Inside La Caisse they were a bit unsure when I asked to buy our Ski Maurienne Sans Frontières cards (€120 for 5 days' skiing) but they coped so we were soon out on the slopes.

Here we are after tightening our boots, ready for our first bit of downhill into the wide gorge at the top called Fournache.

Unfortunately, much of the snow had been blown away and it what was left was all hard and scratchy - nothing like our previous visit. The wind was still noticeable and got stronger during the day. Gilly and I needed food to keep us warm so dived into Le Panoramic restaurant. All very nice but all we really needed was hot carbs. Still it kept us going. Meanwhile, John, who can survive through the day on fresh air, was doing more laps. By the middle of the afternoon the wind was so strong that riding the chairs was a bitterly painful experience and I think we were all quite glad when 4 o'clock came and we could run back to the car.

Back at Le Marintan, Mrs A was still in bed but looking better. More home cooking for tea.

Tuesday, 30 Dec 2014
With travel a bit easier and another clear but cold day forecast we opted for one of our favourite resorts - Les Karellis. Slight delay as we waited until La Poste opened at 9am to collect a parcel for me that they'd failed to deliver to Le Marintan. The road had plenty of snow and abandoned cars so we put the chains on early. There were many campers in the car park but lots of space too so we were soon on our way.

We headed left to the sunny southern side where there was still plenty of powder left between the pistes.

Mrs A was as bright as a button and looked to be improving on last year. We did a few laps and then dropped over the side to follow an off-piste route back to Albanne. There had already been a lot of uphill traffic but we were the first going the other way. Plenty of loud 'whooophy' snow about so we kept to the easier lines. It was obviously still quite windy up top but we were sheltered in the valley.

Lower down we had great views again of Albanne where we caught the end of the lunchtime rush at the restaurant opposite the piste. Lunch took an age but was good food.

Then up the Poma and down to the main resort and up the chair into the northern bowl. Despite all the food, without the sun it started to feel cold. The snow was okay but not wonderful. We soon looped back for the Tété d'Albiez Poma. The wind was howling over the ridge and it was bitterly cold but it did create a fantastic scene with all the snow blowing around in the light from the falling sun directly ahead. The black, Enfers was in fantastic condition. It doesn't get pisted and not many go that way.

We went to use the same Poma again but Gilly had had enough of the cold so went back to the village. The rest of us had one play down the powder in the middle bowl and then went up again to have another go at Enfers. Then back to the Front de Neige to collect Gilly and off down the hill. We used chains again all the way down but never needed them for the rest of the week.

On Mrs A's phone was a voicemail to say that her car was fixed and it was only £100. It could have been so much worse - we were very lucky.

Wednesday, 31 Dec 2014
By now we'd come to understand that John likes steep ground so we suggested Valfréjus. It proved to be a hit. It was still cold so, early on, we tried various ways down the south face of Punta Bagna and then, as it warmed, John and I dodged the speed-flyers on the north face.

The girls took the main black and we all planned to meet at the bottom. Wires got crossed somewhere and while I was waiting in the nice warm Salle Hors Sac the others were by the lift looking for me. Eventually, we all worked out where we were and enjoyed a picnic lunch in the newly done up room under the restaurant. There's a sink and tables and chairs and even somewhere to plug in a microwave - if you happened to be carrying one.

After lunch we tried some of the shorter slopes nearby but we didn't have to drop far before the snow became thin and scratchy so we soon headed up the Punta Bagna again. From the lift I spied a likely looking wide ridge to the left but when we got there it was steep and hard so, instead, we picked some sort of line that went near the black. Then back up the top and then all the way down Le Jeu to finish off. It's mellow but carries on for ages.

It makes a beautiful run at the end of the day, especially when the moon is up and there is lots of snow. Sadly, although my Mountain Equipment Randonne Mitts are great at keeping my hands warm, they not so good for handling a camera. I inadvertently knocked it to shutter-priority mode at 1/4000S so a batch of pics turned out dark.

My old Baby Garmin was having problems keeping track of the time so Father Christmas brought me a new one. Rather than a rechargeable battery, it uses AAAs - much more convenient while touring. However, the first set ran out part way through the day and that seems to have upset the logging. I now only have tracks from part of the morning and then from the following days - curious. Must get it sorted before we go away again.

Thursday, 1 Jan 2015 (New Year's Day)
We had all our kit with us so we thought we'd have a go at skinning to the top of La Norma. It's not far so it doesn't feel like the time is eating into your lift pass too much. We were very good and used the designated day-parking but it was nearly full of vehicles that had been there some time and was a hike back to the lift pass office. Very few people about. From the top of the bubble, the red run directly to the chair was shut because of poor cover and the alternative route wasn't much better. But once we got all the way to the top station the snow was looking reasonable. After a couple of laps on and around the piste we stopped at the top and donned our skins. Just as we set off a pisteur came over and told us to stop. He was polite but firm. Someone else at the other end of his radio seemed to be getting agitated. I later found out that only the day before a local guide had triggered an avalanche on a similar-ish aspect slope just a little further down the mountain.

They might have told us a little earlier but at least we had the exercise of putting skins on and off. Another lap of the top lift and we had a peek over into the great couloir directly opposite the top station. It looked good with some, but not loads of previous traffic. We resisted but headed back down the pistes to the bottom of it. It still looked good.

Then we wandered down via the eastern extreme of the resort to the Grizzly restaurant for hot chocolates. The snow down here was base-scatchingly thin so we didn't drop any further. Instead we went back up two slow chairs, Arlette and Clot and had another look round. There were signs of skier triggered avalanches on north-facing wind slab but little else other than Gazex triggered stuff. So we decided to zip round to the top again. A small cornice made dropping into the great couloir (I don't know its real name) a bit more awkward than before.

But once we were in the snow was great and not the Gazex-hewn lumps of ice from last time. Then down to L'Eterlou for some hot soup and, later, a few more laps around the Norma 2 chair.

We decided to get the bubble down rather than risk damage to our skis. As we were going we noticed another Salle Hors Sac under the lift station - another one to remember for next time.

Friday, 2 Jan 2015
Our last day on snow was predicted to be windy. We opted for Albiez-Montrond which we knew was sheltered from most sides. What we didn't predict was the massive temperature inversion. It was -4°C in the valley but +1.5° by the time we'd climbed to the resort. The snow was looking distinctly sad now too. We considered biting the bullet and moving on the St Sorlin but, in the end, it turned out to be a good day. It's a pretty place. Here's the Aiguille d'Arves again with the Crête de Chenallin.

By the chairs of La Blanche (that were yet to be fixed back onto the wire) we had a session of transceiver practice. And, later, a few teaching sessions too. Mrs A even managed a few good-looking 360s and she usually hates trying bracquage. The off-piste was alternately fluffy and heavy but always thin with the odd rock for excitement. Here's the Pointe d'Emy.

A lunchtime snack at a piste-side shack in Col du Mollard took an age but at least we were sat in the sun. In the afternoon we discovered that the black, Le Dôme, although bare in places, was enjoyable. Then, at the Teppes chair, some parapenters asked if we could carry their snowboards down again. Apparently, the lifty wouldn't let them on the chair without something slidy on their feet. John and I earned €10 and we had another go at Le Dôme. Then up to the top and then pistes back to the car, playing all the way.

Saturday, 3 Jan 2015
Up at 7am as usual, then packed the car and set off for Calais. Nothing much to report other than John's satnav took us via Paris. We didn't notice until it was far too late and we hit the Boulevard Périphérique around 5pm - nightmare! Gilly was driving and coped admirably. Eventually got to the F1 in Coquelles after 8pm, I think. Time to finish off the cheese and wine.

Sunday, 4 Jan 2015
John wanted to fill up with diesel before leaving France. The satnav found an Auchan supermarket nearby but, when we got there, the 24-hour pumps didn't want to work. We redirected to the Carrefour near the tunnel and then raced through the back streets of Calais arriving at the ferry port just on 7am for our 7:30 ferry.

The journey thought the UK went fine and Mrs A's car was ready and waiting for us. Managed to get home in the light.

All in (excluding wear and tear on John's car) we spend just under £400 each. Pretty good value but you do have to be comfortable with driving.

Last edited by Poster: A snowHead on Mon 12-01-15 15:46; edited 2 times in total
snow report
 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
altis wrote:

Tuesday, 30 Dec 2014
With travel a bit easier and another clear but cold day forecast we opted for one of our favourite resorts - Les Karellis. The road had plenty of snow and abandoned cars so we put the chains on early. There were many campers in the car park but lots of space too so we were soon on our way.

We headed left to the sunny southern side where there was still plenty of powder left between the pistes.

le Grand Chible with the snow plumes, that brings back memories, I skied the face you can see with Bruno in 2006 I think. Poor Bruno died later in the year on Mont Blanc.

As you say the wind was very strong and this caused a lot of problems on south facing slopes over the following days.

GPS are a pain, they use far too much power.

Thanks for sharing your report.
ski holidays
 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Thanks Altis; The first pic at Aussois made me laugh; I think you are being mooned , and I had happy memories of the off piste behind that big rock left of you in the background.
snow conditions
 You need to Login to know who's really who.
You need to Login to know who's really who.
Thanks for the TR.
Nothing I like more than settling down with a GnT and reading about someone else's holiday! Uses up the time till we go on ours. Sounds like you had a great value break.
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