Monday, January 30, 2012

Snow at last

There has been no snow all season, which seemed to signal a relaxing non-skiing ski weekend of spas and bars for Handyman at beautiful Foux d’Allos, pictured, in the Var. So you can imagine his distress at reading the snow forecast last Thursday to discover it was due to blizzard from Friday lunchtime onwards. In the words of that old disco classic I Haven't Stopped Laughing Yet (or was it dancing?)

We left Bar sur Loup kitted out with snow socks(a treat for the Jeep,) leaving a huge vat of Thai chicken curry so the girls didn't starve as they opted to stay at home in the rain rather than join the oldies on the slopes. I filled the fridge with appealing foods and not so appealing oven chips and left strict instructions on walking the dogs, feeding the cats and dogs and refilling their water bowl. The last time we left the girls home alone, the dog bowls were bone dry, pardon the pun, when we arrived back and the poor mutts drank for five minutes without stopping. I'm more worried about the survival of the pets than the girls, who will languish in PJs, unwashed, snacking on pizza and chocolate and watching Celebrity Big Brother until we get home.

We arrived to find the sparsest snow in a decade but by Saturday morning, the white stuff was gently falling and it didn’t stop all weekend. Handyman was quietly gutted at the prospect of actually skiing. Some of the printable comments I heard muttered behind me on the slopes were: ‘I feel like I’ve just hiked up the Eiger with a Mini on my back,’ ‘Welcome to hell’, ‘My thighs feel like they have been smashed with giant mallets,’ and on spotting the bodies of powder virgins strewn across the piste below us, ‘It’s like a scene from Casualty.’

He only needs the tiniest incentive to quit skiing for a glass of red in front of a roaring fire at a bar. In fact as we ate pizza and drank wine (him) and champagne (me) at lunchtime, he confessed that if he was with his friends he wouldn't even venture out of the restaurant until closing time. But he was with me. And I came here to ski. At least he remembered his ski jacket this time.

We arrived back at the hotel pleasantly pooped to hear that there had been an earthquake in Liguria which measured 5.3 on the Richter scale and the tremors were felt as far afield as the Var, the Alpes Maritimes….and Fenelon School! Livvy rang to say that her building was shaking so much that a projector fell to the floor and smashed, causing major panic among the students. They evacuated the lycee but poor Issy, who is at the college building down the road, was forced to continue playing ping pong in the gym as everything shook around her! French teachers don’t get fazed by much. I wanted to laugh but given that I was 100 km away from my babies while they endured a minor earthquake, that would make me a very bad momma indeed.

We spent Saturday on un-groomed reds and perfect off-piste powder with virtually no visibility due to continuous snow and low cloud. It was like skiing with a black bag over your head but it was amazing nonetheless and although I was shattered by late afternoon, the hammam and steam room restored me in time for a scrummy supper at the Dahut in town.

The journey home was another story. Three and a half hours in blizzards along snow packed passes and narrow cols with sheer drops to be exact. I’ve experienced some dramatic journeys over the years – hanging off the edge of a sheer drop in Meribel with my precious 15 month old Livvy strapped into her car seat as we teetered precariously and navigating from the Grand Canyon to the Rockies in Colorado in an open top Porsche Carrera on the Bull Run are right up there – but this was something else.

The sat nav inexplicably bypassed snow-free Castellane to take us on am icy climb through medieval villages at the top of the world which would have been gloriously picturesque in the summer but in failing light and snow storms was anything but fun. As we slowed down to put the car back into four wheel drive mode near Greolieres, we started slipping backwards towards a snowy ditch. The signal on our phones went kaput and despite gentle acceleration, the car kept slipping backwards off the road. A very stressed Handyman had to get out and wrestle with the snow socks before we finally managed to get back on the road and creep along the scariest pass of all, some 1000 metres high in driving snow, with a sheer drop on skating rink style roads with not a snow plough in sight.

Fifteen minutes from home, the snow gave way to slush. I have never been so pleased to see rain in my life.