26.01.2013 - 03.02.2013 -2 °C
Hola a todos otra vez!! Por favor perdóname para mi ausencia! So sorry for my absence! I have been unbelievably busy the past couple of months with visitors, trips, and other exciting things that you will hear lots about over the next couple of blog posts. So let´s rewind the ol´ hands of time back to the end of January, to find me hopping on an airplane to Switzerland and then a bus to Chamonix, France!
Even though I have found myself traveling abroad to another beach town, I am much closer this time to some big mountains and knew from the beginning that I wanted to get skiing in the Alps if possible. After being unable to drag any friends from home over to ski for a week, I found a program online through an English company that included lodging, food, equipment, and a guide for a weeks worth of skiing. Unable to resist, I signed up without really understanding completely how it would work. I had brought my boots over with me, though, so I figured I could just deal with whatever type of skis I was given.
What transpired was way beyond any expectations. The entire group (220 I think) were housed in a hostel owned and operated by the French government, complete with a bar and a huge cafeteria. Every meal was provided, with a cold breakfast and sandwich makings for lunch, followed by a gigantic 6 course meal for dinner every night. The head chef was a complete nutcase, exuberant and boisterous, but his food was commendable so I didn´t have a problem hearing his shrieks over my meal. Dinners were always soup, a huge green salad, two main courses, usually meat or fish and potatoes or rice, and then dessert, which was always cheese with pepper and honey (a French thing, I was told, which I took an immediate liking to), and then cake or ice cream. Needless to say I didn´t go hungry. And I´m getting hungry now thinking about it.
The ´big-boy camp´ as I took to calling it, was split into a bunch of different groups, from very beginners all the way up to a backcountry touring course. I was somewhere in the middle, in a group called ´Haupte Montagne´ (means high mountain, for those like myself for whom violà is the extent of your French). The eight of us (4 French, 3 Danes and myself) were assigned a mountain guide instead of an instructor and set loose in Chamonix.
For those unfamiliar, Chamonix is an absolute behemoth of a mountain. In fact, it is the alliance of about 6 different mountains to create one resort. The advantage of such a huge place is that there is always good snow out there somewhere. The disadvantage is that sometimes it takes the whole day traversing mountains and hopping on and off buses to find it. Luckily, we got about 8 inches of snow the night before we started, so the first two days were spectacular.
One of the cool features of Chamonix is the ability to ski on one of the many glaciers that wind their way down from the top of the cragged peaks. A mountain guide with a rope and a harness is essential for glacier skiing, since a hidden crevasse (sometimes tens of feet deep) can really ruin your day. Although not particularly technical skiing, the glaciers are huge bowls and had untracked powder the first day. Here you have a view of the blue ice looking across the craggy gnarled bottom part of the glacier that is quite unskiable.
Another iconic Chamonix run is the Vallé Blanche (White Valley), which runs off one of the highest peaks and down to the town for an really long run. Disappointingly, toward the end of the week when our guide wanted to take us up, the weather cratered and the high winds kept the higher lifts closed. We still managed just fine, though, and I supposed this gives me reason to go back!!!I suppose this is as good a time as any to link the gopro video I made of the week. Take a look! Disclaimer: I am by no means a videographer, and my incomplete knowledge of slow motion made for some choppy moments, but it is a great reminder of a great week.
One thing that I had very little experience with before this trip as well was the risk of, and the safety precautions taken around avalanches. Skiing my whole life on the east coast and the tightly controlled bowls in the west coast, I was by far the most experienced skier there to have never seen a beacon in real life. We did a couple of exercises the first day to get acquainted with the equipment, which is very intuitive. With all the snow and windy weather during the week, we actually saw about 5 avalanches: 3 were just off in the distance roaring down a chute, but then our guide set one off that was absolutely massive, but he skied out above it. Then just a minute later, a small one caught one of the skiers and dragged him about 25 feet. He stayed on the surface the whole time, so there wasn´t any danger, but it was still a nerve-wracking sight and I can confess that it got into my head and my form was miserable the rest of the run. If I get into more big mountain skiing, avalanche gear will be high on the Christmas list.
Overall, what an incredible week. Met some great new friends, got my skiing fix in for the year (although I did actually go this past weekend too, we´ll get there!) and escaped the city for a few days.
On the way home, I decided I would spend a night and a day in Geneva, since I was flying through anyway. Geneva wraps around one pointy end of Lake Léman within sight of the French Alps. Although not on the top of the list for many people visiting Europe, I got to see the headquarters of the United Nations, as well as those for the Red Cross before wandering around the old part of the city. They also have a really impressive geyser in the bay of the lake, which appeared to be their main claim to fame. Everything in Switzerland was much more expensive, and they have their own currency so I tried not to spend very much money. And interestingly, a stark difference between Switzerland and Spain—A man stopped me after I almost (I didn´t even do it) jaywalked when the light was red for me. He explained that one will actually get a ticket in Switzerland for jaywalking and that he himself was charged heavily when he had just arrived. I was glad for the advice though, since I had not budgeted for a 100 Franc bill. Luckily though I did not have any more run-ins with the law, and made my way back to Barcelona uneventfully.
So there´s adventure number one, thanks for reading! Next stop, Marrakech, Marruecos!