The train took the strain


Flying out from the UK is getting to be more of a faff, what with all the ridiculous security at airports, weight restrictions, no liquids except the tears you shed waiting coatless, shoeless and beltless to be frisked by a burly officer. And don’t get me started on rip-off prices for mediocre food and dishwater coffee or having to buy bottled water because there’s nothing drinkable in the taps.

So for our ski trip  to the French Alps, we thought we’d let the train take the strain while we still have free movement to Europe through the Channel  Tunnel. There’s no  restriction on luggage and you can carry all the water  you can drink. Queues are negligible and there’s more freedom of movement and space, precious space. The faff factor is low.

Noel had always wanted to travel on the snow train,  that’s a train direct to the snow from London. He had this romantic notion of falling asleep in one country, waking up in the mountains, throwing on our ski stuff then hitting the slopes. Well, two out of three isn’t bad.

I thought we’d have comfortable beds with little curtains, maybe a chocolate on the pillow (both for Noel, sugar-free February continues). It turns out the overnighter has no beds, it used to be the all-night-booze train, but now there’s no booze, in fact alcohol is not allowed on board, unless it is bought from the bar. Not a problem for us, breweries would go out of business if everyone drank as little as we do, but the lack of bed was going to put a serious dent in the energy reserves needed to put our skis on.

It was definitely worth paying the extra for first class travel. Bigger, more comfortable seats, passable, even good food, and a sleeping kit including a blanket, eye mask, ear plugs and neck pillow, though no chocolate. And we would have slept well had it not been for Mr Tedious and his drunken friends. They’d smuggled litres of alcohol aboard in their own bellies and spent the entire journey talking complete bollocks in loud voices. We were all too British to tell them to shut the f#ck up, but if they are in the same carriage on the way back, they’ll feel the rough side of my tongue.

It turns out we were wildly optimistic in thinking we could ski straight away, but we did manage to ski after a couple of hours kip.  Meanwhile our chalet mates arrived late into the evening, exhausted after an extended coach trip from the airport. We’ll also get to ski the day everyone else leaves, that’s if my legs survive, before retiring to our comfortable-ish seat on the train.  Yes, I think we’ll do this again. Probably.

It’s turning into a bad ski season

One of us got to ski today!

One of us got to ski today!

I’ve often suspected that ski resorts have their heads in the clouds when it comes to describing conditions and potential for great skiing. Websites are snowdrift-deep in fabulous pictures of deliriously happy skiers emerging from pristine pistes covered in fine powder snow. Pictures like that would not have been taken here today. Nor yesterday. And probably not tomorrow.

We arrived in the beautiful hamlet of Gressoney La Trinite 1600m above sea level, expecting to see white everywhere. Beautiful crisp snow dusting the roofs and gardens. Maybe the odd snowman, his alpine cap tipped at a jaunty angle, his stick arms holding a ski pole retrieved from last year’s deep snow, waving at us merrily. Or perhaps icicles, carved by nature herself, teasing us with the will-it-won’t-it-fall-on-my-head game in the mid-afternoon thaw.

But nature has been having a bit of a laugh at the crazy humans who wear ultra-padded trousers and squeeze feet into strange-angled boots which creak and jangle and thrust them forward so that the answer to the question ‘does my bum look big in this?’ is always ‘yes, yes it does.’ Instead of white, the early snow is melting away to reveal brown and green and autumn’s detritus, still frozen, including the dog poo.

It’s turning into a bad ski season here, but you wouldn’t know it from the cheery websites . Of course they can’t be blamed for the snow coming, then going or the high winds which closed most of the lifts. No commercial enterprise will post a photo of brightly-clad skiers and boarders standing on frozen grass looking wistfully uphill, but a hint of less-than-ideal conditions on a given day would have been nice, especially as many or us booked in ages ago so were coming anyway.

Yesterday was challenging enough, with high winds not only making it draughty round the houses but whipping up a frenzy of spindrift activity and forcing the closure of the telecabine, our stress-free escape route. So we had to go with the stress option, where the optimistic description of the piste as a ‘cruisey red’ should be changed to ‘terrifying ice-riddled steep piste with no toilet stops’. But I’m sure they wouldn’t print that either. The one consolation was that as the last folk on the mountain, the rather dishy doe-eyed Italian ski patroller coaxed us down, Rachel and I that is, the boys didn’t need help. Nor were they impressed with our description of said patroller. Noel said he was only helping us so we didn’t die on his bit of the mountain. But he called us ‘miss’ and didn’t snigger out loud as I skied like the worst beginner in the history of skiing.

So today as we piled off the bus and waddled our way to the lift, we were just in time to see it grind to a halt and a little man put up a ‘chiuso’ sign.  The electronic board featuring lots of little mini lifts went from green to red. If the high winds that forced the closure were forecast, they weren’t on any of the sites we saw. There was nothing for it but to head back and drink coffee, which is never a bad thing, particularly in Italy which has splendid coffee.

At least one member of our party did get to ski today, though. The nursery slopes are kept going with snow brought down from on high and four-year-old Matilda showed us what it was like to have fun. Maybe I’ll send that photo to the websites.

Embrace the ice

Ice comes in all shapes and colours

Ice comes in all shapes and colours.

Funny,  I thought as I skittered to a halt after a spectacular,  but rather untidy 50 metre breakdance move down one of the easiest slopes in Canada, ice and snow can be embraced in all their majesty and beauty. Yet on this occasion,  with a couple of kilos of the cold stuff working its way up my back to my sleeves and a further heap forcing its way down to my boots, I wasn’t so sure.

Back home,  the social media was as gridlocked as Leeds city centre traffic with stories of three centimetres of snow causing one-minute journeys to take hours. Schools were closed and everyone wanted to go home early. Again. No-one was talking about the unique crystalline structure of snowflakes.

As we drove the 50km from Banff to Lake Louise after a night storm we saw not one but two vehicles on their rooves, victims of the hazardous conditions. It was scary, but the police were soon on the scene and a procession of snowploughs made it safe for careful drivers.

After picking myself up from the breakdancing incident caused by poor style and not paying attention, I was in need of retail therapy. From Kicking Horse,  we headed for the small town of Golden, British Columbia. In common with all the towns in this frozen part of the world,  Golden celebrates snow and ice. This weekend sees the Snow King Masque Parade, which brings together snow and ice-related activities with err masks. We’ll  miss it, but got a sneak preview of the coloured ice sculptures made by local children using anything from plastic bottles to rubber gloves to make the ice shapes. Simple, but effective. Who says ice and snow aren’t beautiful?

Snow daze

The Calverley Angel and St Wilfrid's Church.

The Calverley Angel and St Wilfrid’s Church.

‘What are the odds’, I asked as we crunched through the deep snow into the woods, ‘of us getting out of here without being smacked on the head by falling snow?’ ‘Low,’ replied Noel, as a large plop of snow landed next to him. ‘Make that vanishingly small’ he said as I dodged a bough-full which spattered the back of my neck with meltwater.

Last night’s snow covered Yorkshire and. for all I know, the rest of the country, with a thick fluffy fleece. The road outside became smaller as the snow grew on cars, trees and any creature that stood still long enough.

It was gorgeous, but not destined to stay for long with rain forecast to wash it all away, so there was no time to lose, we wanted to be out there and play. Even though midnight was approaching, I had to persuade Noel that heading up to the golf course to ski from the 18th hole by the light of his headtorch probably wasn’t a good idea. He’d skied down a neighbouring street the other day, taking off on the speedbumps,and was desperate to get out on his skis again, with this deeper and better snow.Maybe not champagne powder, but as good as the head on a pint of Tetley’s.

At first light, we were off, camera in hand, to capture the loveliness of the village. Skiing was out of the question, already a roof-full of snow had migrated to the conservatory and was making its way to ground level and water was dripping from every fence, sign and abandoned car. These were the sort of conditions where only rental skis would do, our own were far too valuable!.

We had to be quick, I told Noel, or there would be no snow left. Noel smiled enigmatically, he does maths and physics and things like that, he knew the snow would be around for at least the rest of the day.

So much snow had fallen that bendy branches on the trees in Calverley Woods were weighted down, all it took was one shake of the trunk by mischievous hands. And so it was that neither of us left the woods with snow-free heads. Who’d have guessed it, eh?

Ow ow ow ow ow ow OW!!!!

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The snow may have been thick enough to cover the steep slope on Soldiers’ Field in Roundhay Park, but it couldn’t smooth out the ridges. We watched and winced as two men who were old enough to know better hurtled down on their nothing-but-a-few-millimetres-of-plastic-between-you-and-a-serious-bottom-injury sledges.

The second, who arrived shortly after the first, creakily picked himself up in a way that suggested the journey hadn’t been as smooth as he remembered as a lad. He confessed to his companion that once launched, he had to follow, knowing that one bone-jarring ridge would follow another. All punctuated with an ‘ow!’.

Noel asked if they were a couple of inches shorter than when they set off, they didn’t think so, but a flicker of concern crossed their faces as they checked their trouser turn-ups for length. They then turned to each other, with a mutual slap on the back, shouted ‘again, again!’ and headed back up the hill with an enthusiastic but cautious gait.

The park was heaving with every kind of sledge ever made, ranging from the high-off-the-ground Rosebud-style which were as functional as they were elegant, to plastic sheets which lasted one run at best.Hundreds of men, women and children and a couple of dogs tracked out every inch of the slopes in the Leeds park. The air was thick with the sound laughter, shouts of glee, yelps of fear and collisions as plastic hit metal and chaos hit the slopes.

If there were any health and safety warnings being shouted, no-one was listening as whole families were loaded on to sledges made for one and spilled out at the bottom into bushes, trees and the Mr Whippy ice cream van which was doing a roaring trade in medicinal 99s.

In my thinking out-of-the-box moments, I contemplated that If the laughter, fun and goodwill there that day could have been captured, distilled, bottled, shipped to the world’s troubled ones and sprayed liberally over those suffering nations, we could see an end to all wars and strife. If only it was as simple as that.

Winter. Don’t blink – you’ll miss it!

Originally uploaded by StripeyAnne.

Winter came. And went within 36 hours. That's global warming for you.

The garden was getting up to all sorts of tricks, refusing to shed leaves that should have fluttered away in winter. And throwing out shoots from the roses and hydrangea. It's just not natural!

But winter gave one last blast. After the previous weekend when we were all in short sleeves, it was back. Traffic chaos ensued. Shovels were retrieved from the back of garages to clear driveways and roads – and the sledges were dusted down. Children made snowmen and a bunch of juveniles got themselves into REAL trouble for making a 4ft-high snow penis. No photographic evidence, I'm afraid, and I'm certainly not going to Google THAT one!

We woke to the sound of melting snow so I dashed out to take this before it all went. Lucky I did!

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