Sunday 10 August 2008

Sierre-Zinal 2008

The 35th edition of this 31km, 2200m ascent, 800m descent mountain race has just finished. Archie entered the junior event ('just' 19km, from Chandolin to Zinal) coming 19th in a field of 82 boys with a time of 1 hour 57 minutes. Under two hours with minimal knowledge of the course and only last-minute training was outstanding. He will be back. To win. And it will be our porridge that makes the difference.

Thursday 7 August 2008

First floor renovations

Friends Archie and Roo spent the week on site with us after the fete. At 17 and 15 years old, destruction was the most popular part of the program for them ("Can we use sledgehammers please?...") but they also found time for last-minute training for the Sierre-Zinal race as well as enthusiastic but ultimately futile attempts to chat up one of the very pretty girls who lives nearby. Bravely knocking on the door and saying in French: "We've lost our black dog" must rate as one of the more unusual chat up lines, but full marks for trying.

Monday 4 August 2008

Mottec Fete

For a hamlet where only a handful of people live, Mottec - just down the road from Zinal - seems an unlikely candidate to have not one but two chapels. The one practically in our back garden was restored with funds raised ten years ago; this year it was the turn of the chapel St. Laurent. Our neighbour Georgine masterminded the whole event, putting on an epic two day show. Statistics - principally bottles of wine consumed and chickens roasted - still to come, but I know that enough was raised to do much more than just repair the roof. More to the point, lots of people had a very good time...

Wednesday 16 July 2008


It always pays to glance out of the window at sunset, especially when there's a spectacular moonrise. The first shot is from the balcony a couple of nights ago, which inspired us to climb up to Sorebois last night for a chilly picnic while waiting for a repeat performance. It was worth it, particularly for that moment just before the last red glow leaves the peaks. The way down by moonlight through herds of munching cows (I think they graze all night long, without so much as a sit down) was more exciting than it should have been due to electric fences across the path at random intervals, which are very tricky to see in the dark.

Monday 23 June 2008

Summer flowers

At this time of year the field behind the house makes most gardening efforts, wherever in the world, seem rather pointless. About 3 million different flowers per square metre emerge each spring, all on their own, and just keep coming back regardless of how often the meadows are cut for hay. They do pretty well up high too, just as long as you stay clear of the ski pistes which never look good in summer. They're easy to avoid around here - there's a lot more wild mountain than ski area - but the temptation to ride a lift for the first 800m of ascent is strong when it's this warm.

Sunday 8 June 2008

Out with the old, in with the new

Still demolishing... after months, but at least we've moved to the first floor, meaning that Jon (Penny's brother) and I could lob massive chimney blocks from the baclony into the skip. And we've finally started construction: here's a picture of my first ever wall - aerated concrete block with a thin bed mortar, since you were wondering - which I built on Saturday (an excuse for quality-time with my favourite new toy, a cross-level laser which shines spectacular horizontal and vertical lines through the dusty atmosphere).
We've had so much rain that the delivery truck which brought the palette of blocks got stuck in our back garden, having obligingly reversed as close to the house as possible, so we now have a couple of whopping wheel ruts for the local badgers to fall into at night.

Saturday 3 May 2008

Tour de Romandie

The Tour de Romandie had a stage finish in Zinal today, won by Italy's Francesco de Bonis. That they were still really racing by the time they passed our house was pretty extraordinary, as was the transformation of the village, with a full-blown media circus, massive lorries with mobile TV studios and enough helicopters filling the air that you might have thought a war had broken out. As a keen cyclist of a non-racing kind, my strongest impression was that there must have been more support cars (and certainly motorbikes) than there were cyclists. It reminded me of the US statistic that more miles are driven in cars carrying bikes than are ridden on them, which I reckon is nearly as silly as driving to a gym to pedal an exercise bike.

Wednesday 30 April 2008

On top of the world...

...well, on top of the highest mountain in western Europe at least. I had a call from Nick at Mountaintracks late on Saturday afternoon, asking if I wanted to climb Mont Blanc and then ski down it... on Sunday. So that's what I did, with guides Farmer & Stuart, plus Rick, Tom and James.

The helicopter from Courmayeur got us to about 3800m - roughly the same height as the top of the Aiguille du Midi lift above Chamonix - leaving 1000m to climb, mainly along snowy ridges. We had hoped to skin some of it but in the end just carried our skis due to the conditions. The ski down is immense, through spectacular scenery and in our case through some very deep, very wet snow, following the Bosson glacier, then the river, into the forest and out to the tunnel entrance above Chamonix. A long day, and I'd have preferred a bit of acclimatisation, but a great way to end the season. Though of course you can never be sure when you might get a phone call...

"Now is fog, is not high..."

Those words preceeded a series of ascents in bad weather, all in the cause of a bit of ski touring at the end of a wonderful winter.

We were lucky to be in the able hands of Klemen, our local Slovenian guide for some interesting routes to the top of Triglav and elsewhere. He's not a man to let a storm stop play but be warned that once you have to remove skis and climb on foot, anyone under 2 metres tall won't have a chance of following his footsteps through deep snow.

The weather didn't let up over in the Sudtirol in Italy. Hannes took us through thick fog to the top of Col Bechei (actually a peak, not a col) where we had fleeting glimpses straight down to the valley floor 1800m below, as well as a magical view of Tofane silhouetted against blue sky for a few seconds. Staying in the luxurious Fanes Hutte makes everything all right and short days out meant we managed to squeeze lunch in, as well as tea and supper. And of course we have to go back next year in better weather, to see the scenery - which is some of the Dolomites' finest.

Sunday 30 March 2008

Dam skiing

Two great days out with Nick, Archie and Tara (on telemark) after a week of wind, snow and storm. Day one: lots of powder in Zinal's freeride area, followed by a good run down to the Moiry dam. Day two: the gullies at the top of the Chamois and the north side of Orzival in Grimentz, ending with a picnic and a grassy descent into St Jean, through meadows of crocus and primrose. Not that spring is here quite yet - minus 10 degrees and a snowstorm is on its way, apparently...
Mountain Tracks

Wednesday 19 March 2008

Playing away from home

It's an easy hour by car to Crans Montana, but yesterday was the first time we managed to visit this season. After the weekend snow there was plenty of powder, much of it easily accessible between pistes. The resort's trademark sunshine warmed things up by lunchtime, but it was still very skiable in the afternoon. And the advantage of a resort where just 30% of visitors ski or board - and many of them being what locals call 'ski-bar' type skiers - means there's little competition for the good stuff. We'll be back.

Sunday 16 March 2008

Zinal Freeride

This weekend has been the free-ride competition in Zinal. Recent snow and blue sky for some of the weekend gave great conditions for riders to show their stuff in some of Zinal's top off-piste terrain.

Sunday 2 March 2008


We've had the builders in to install the RSJs - at over 150kgs a piece it takes a certain 'type' to get them into place.

More walls have been demolished and another skip filled - we thought that this would be the last one for this stage but it just keeps on coming...

Thursday 31 January 2008

Going, going, gone

With a little help from my brother and a sledge hammer we've knocked 4 rooms into 1 to make our new hall. I think we'll wait until the weather warms up to knock through to the outside for our front door (or at least until we've got a door to put in the hole). We've filled 2 skips so far (the first time I've put stuff in rather than taking rare finds out). One more next week should see most of the knocking down and digging up phase finished inside. We've also got our permission from the local Commune to change the outside of the building so it is really starting to happen at last... But just when you think you're making progress, another snow-laden cold front pops up with the threat of more skiing to get in the way. Ho-hum.

Saturday 5 January 2008

Season's greetings

Christmas and New Year have been and gone, and all evidence has been covered by the recent snow fall. The Val d'Anniviers' population exploded during the festive weeks as people rolled in to ski and take part in the events. A Christmas market wound its way through Grimentz old village while young circus stars twirled on wires above the street or juggled their way between the stalls. Santa, arriving by paraglider, kicked off the festivities which continued in all the villages with more carols, nativities, fireworks, skiing by the light of the moon, and paragliding down at night with flares - spectacular, though you wouldn't want to set fire to your canopy.

One of the biggest events was the Guggen open air concert with bands competing against each other, going crazy under the stars. Music, wild costumes, 35 meters of bar and fireworks combined to keep most of Zinal awake well into the small hours.

With the Christmas break and lots of snow we had to get out to ski but the start of the New Year got us knuckling down to some more renovations and the filling of our first skip. Work has finally really begun...