Monday, 19 December 2011

First snow

Hard snow on Thursday and Friday buries the van, and lets the pisties start to get down a good bed. That and the fact that every night since we arrived, I’ve fallen asleep to the sound of snow cannon across the valley. The mutt likes it, the hard crust in the morning reminds her of the snowy mouse hunts of her younger days.

La Foux opens; Emma and I take off like a couple of newbies, loaded down with brand-spanking kit. “No, really, I have been before, it’s just that my old stuff was worn out. Honest.” Accurate, but not believable. I even have on a jacket that’s less than a year old, for God’s sake. Only my trousers are true – bought 18 years ago from Blades on Broadway in Manhattan.

Cue the fast rush from the cabin/chalet/apartment, keen to get out there because the snow looks so good. Nope, forget it. Snow chains, whatever their qualities, aren’t designed for installation speed. Ours aren’t anyway, and judging from the number of French youths standing beside sideways Saxos, looking in astonishment at the brand-new chains dangling from their hands, neither are anyone else’s.

I always get the same feeling standing at the top of the slope, feet strapped to the board for the first time that winter. How do I do this? Made worse this year by the new-boots-and-binding-ness under my feet. For a moment the whole project seems impossible. Then the board starts to slide, knees bend on autopilot, the hips drop forward, arms go gibbon and – whoo! – I can still do it. Toe edge turn. How to get on the other edge? Feel your way round, Luke, like a Jedi slide sensei. I don’t know how it happens, but it does.

[Brief gear-freak interjection]
The new Burton Ruler boots and Can’t-remember bindings (with a toe cup) seem great. This is based on approximately 4 runs, and may be subject to revision, but at least I didn’t hate them from the get-go. They’re screwed to a Burton Custom board old enough to be taking GCSEs next summer, shorter than I’m used to (159?): it feels sweet under my feet. Is short the new long?

We don’t, in truth, do much actual snow sliding. We stand in a lift queue (in Allos? But it’s the first day, and only two lifts are open), get stuck on a chair in a biting wind, join an M25-style line for hot drinks, chase a blown-away glove into a snowdrift (thanks, Emma), and put in a few turns to make sure they still work. Plus, I get to try out my new bike-crash beard on an unsuspecting public; one woman in line ahead of me does faint, but I think it’s because she’s seen the price of the Spaghetti Bolognaise, not my chin.

Snowboarding’s great. Talk about a Ready-Brek glow.

[Second-day update]
Seignus opens, and I bundle on to a navette for a day of Boarding In Mourning for the Dear Leader. Super-fun to be able to walk and bus it to a ski slope. The one decent run open soon begins to pale, though, so I duck under an orange rope to have a spin on a nice-looking, if slightly scary-steep, powder field. Hear shouting behind: another boarder’s followed me and got his backpack tangled in the rope, and the liftie’s on his way towards us, waving his arms.

Slide away from conflict? No – I opt to take my licks. He won’t confiscate my lift pass, surely? Not on the first day.

It takes a minute, but I finally realise what the liftie’s saying: you can go and kill yourselves, that’s not my concern. Just don’t fuck up my rope by getting tangled in it. Je suis désolé, m’sieur. “Next time, go round!”

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