Wednesday, 12 December 2007

It would be rude not to...

Even on a Wednesday, when you're supposed to be working, you can't miss out on conditions like these. Though to judge by the numbers on the hill (not many) most of the rest of the world was more conscientious. Which is just how we like it – after all, there's tomorrow for skiing too, and we wouldn't want all the powder to be tracked by the masses. Come to think of it, we might have to push the boat out and do Friday as well, since we'll probably give the weekend a miss. It's bound to be bumper – there's a stunning forecast and everyone knows it's been snowing for about a week without stopping – and it just wouldn't be the same having to share. Sorry, I'll stop now. Commiserations to everyone with a proper job.

Friday, 23 November 2007

It has begun

Okay, okay, that's not really a picture from last weekend's ski-fest (over 1100 people bought tickets on Saturday at Zinal - better than the lift company expected) but we did have a couple of runs in great condition from the Corne de Sorebois at the top to below mid-station (nearly 800m of vertical) and if you were feeling brave there was a bit of powder between pistes. Without any base it was a bit of a mugs game but I enjoyed it. Sunday was wonderful - not too cold and beautiful blue skies, along with enough natural snow cover way down the valley that it felt like a day in March.
Wet this week, after really cold temperatures (down to -13C at night) and a bit more snow right now. It feels well on track for a good Christmas, though of course it could all melt away within a week. But I don't think so, certainly not above mid-station at 2400m, surely?

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Turned out nice again...

One cold front doesn't make a winter, but it's a start. A couple of days of snow has left the chapel behind the Auberge looking pretty and there's more to come tonight. It's also quite cold (minus 8C last night) so they'll be busy making snow for the delayed start of Zinal's ski season this Saturday (should have been last weekend, but a warm start to the week put paid to that).

'Very excited' doesn't even come close: I love the smell of P-Tex in the morning, and the thought that the first turns of this winter might be powdery ones, and that they'll be on the doorstep of our new home, is about as good as it gets.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

The last hike of autumn?

Despite being nuts about skiing, the snow-free months out here are wonderful too, especially when we get what counts for a heatwave in these parts, in November. Last weekend we were able to walk above 2500m, stopping for a long picnic and a doze in the sun. A couple of north-facing shady sections had tricky ice to contend with where a stream had diverted itself down the path and frozen solid, but otherwise it was like a mid-summer stroll. The big stags have calmed down in the forest (it was crawling with them during rutting season, and they bellowed into the night) and this time we saw just one with a harem of eight females. Bet he sleeps well. There was also a large chamois, who hissed at us and then ran straight down the mountain in beautiful bounds, springbok-style but over steep rough mountain terrain. Very impressive, though on the plus side he didn't have a pride of lions in hot pursuit trying to tear him limb from limb. I imagine that must be quite off-putting for his African cousins.

Thursday, 11 October 2007


When the vendors simply wouldn't drop the price further when we were haggling over the Auberge, they started bunging in any other inducements they could think of, including shares in the local lift company (ski, not tower block). So last weekend we went to the AGM - a thinly disguised excuse for a drink (actually, many drinks) and a knees-up. The presentations stretched my powers of concentration in French to the limit but we heard more about the plan to join the ski areas of Zinal and Grimentz (reminiscent of the Alagna-Gressoney link in terms of pros and cons, and what type of skier stands to gain most). Just one speaker from the floor was not happy, making the point that it's a big project for something which doesn't actually open much new terrain. But there's good precedent in the biggest lift projects of recent years - Kitzbuhel's 3S, the Vanoise Express between Les Arcs and La Plagne, and of course Whistler's "Peak to Peak" gondola (actually, mid-station to mid-station, but don't let the facts get in the way of a snappy name) that's being built right now. If Zinal is truly planning to compete with bigger resorts the integration will be essential, no matter how good they make the shuttle bus service which currently gets you back to Zinal after skiing across to Grimentz. And at least this lift will actually go up rather than along like those above. For the meantime there's also the paragliding option which seems popular in these parts.

The more vital link, which I sincerely hope will be in before winter 2010, and not subject to objections from the green party or an avalanche risk analysis, is broadband to our house. Until then we have to hoof up the hill to the telecabine station for the nearest wifi signal. That seems desperate (and potentially chilly as winter draws nearer) if you're used to being on-line constantly though it's amazing how much more productive you are when you sit down at your computer and the world doesn't pour in through port 119, wherever that is on your motherboard, or is it your hard drive? Whatever. You don't have to know how it works to be able to use it.


We finally got our stuff - all the clobber from the UK that we seriously wondered about paying good money to haul across the continent, but in the end just couldn't bear to throw away.
A very nice man arrived - at 7.30am (thank goodness he'd called the day before to warn us as he might otherwise have caught me with my curlers in) - with ten palettes on a big truck, dumped them in the car park and left us with a day's work to break them open and transfer the contents to our spacious, but not-overly-endowed-with-headroom, attic. Nothing that won't heal over time - head, not roofline - but I'm already thinking phase two of our renovations might involve roof-raising on that side of the building.
We were so excited about the whole thing we forgot to take any pix before we'd carted half of it away but trust me, there was tons of stuff. Fortunately the DIY store down the hill does a good line in wheeled chariots of various sizes, specifically designed for hernia-free shunting of big loads. Honestly, with a few of these skates I could push the combined English and French packs the length of the Stade de France car park, no bother. Assuming they'd co-operate which, I grant you, is a long shot.
I suppose we could simply have got a removal company to do the whole thing for us though the humiliation of a professionally drawn up inventory for customs - 243 cartons, 15kg, crap; armchairs, knackered, 2 etc. - would have been too much, as would the price. Likewise self-drive, which is eye-watering once you factor in fuel and other costs, though I was itching to have a go in one of those enormous lorries which, somewhat surprisingly, you can drive on a normal license. Instead we used a shipping company. I can heartily recommend for a) replying to phone messages and emails, and b) a no-frills semi-DIY service. They'll drop a container to your door, leave you to fill it, and deliver it at the other end, or you can take the gear to their Dartford warehouse where they bung it on palettes and the whole lot arrives chez vous a week later.

Monday, 8 October 2007


It's a good feeling to walk outside every day - in fact, just to look out of the window - and realise once more what a beautiful place you're now living in. That's been the case 9 times out of 10 so far. The 1 out of 10, in mid-August, was equally spectacular (at 1500m you tend to be in the storm rather than under it, surrounded by thunder and lightning), with snow reaching well below 2000m before the sun got to it. Not what most people seem to want, though I just get excited about the prospect of skiing (Zinal's lifts open 10th November...).

Monday, 1 October 2007

Auberge Edelweiss

OK, so here's what the new place looks like, along with before and after shots of the bar. We didn't have long to get going with our demolitions before having to head back to the UK for a bit, but at least we've made an impression on the locals who peer in to see what we're doing when they don't think we're looking. The electric-meter man's auntie used to run the place as a restaurant before the previous owners. He's most disappointed to hear we're converting it to a house but the daughter of the woman who built the Auberge told us to ignore him: as she explained, anyone who really wanted it to remain as a cafe-restaurant had ample chance to buy it and run it themselves - a fair point, but friendly of her to mention it as she of all people might feel sentimental about it.

Monday, 2 July 2007


We're nearly there, finally packing our bags - just a car-load to start with - and heading from London to Switzerland to sign for our house before knocking part of it down and doing major renovations. Downstairs is currently a bar/40 seat restaurant, complete with waggon wheel chandeliers. I'm told they'll have to go, as will the bar, which even the keenest drinker would find hard to love in their sitting room (pics to come later). Our first winter will be heated by burning the old tables and chairs. We'll also hope for some funds from a yard-sale featuring scores of fondue sets and raclette machines, though that's a long shot - I suspect every local gets a set on their first birthday and I can't imagine anyone needing a spare. Then there are so many plates that we won't have to wash up for a year. Or we could save them for a Greek night, or possibly for the first visit of my nieces and nephews, which might amount to the same thing in crockery-survival terms. But it's not as though we'll be sitting around not washing up and getting chilly anyway - there will be much skiing to be done, which is the whole point of coming here.