That end of season feeling…

The snow is melting fast in the Portes du Soleil and unless you are looking in the right direction, you might be forgiven for thinking that we are in the middle of summer. A strange winter season keeps getting stranger, with yet another couple of weeks of remorseless sun and blue skies.

No sarky comment.  Just a pretty picture.

The locals have taken to hiking up to local spots to get their fix of powder but unfortunately for them, there are only so many good spots and almost everything including all the difficult lines are now all skied out. Personally, I can sort of understand hiking for 45 minutes to find some fresh to ski for 2 minutes, but not when it’s 10 degrees and slushy, it’s too much like hard work.

With the complete absence of any new snow for weeks, the pisteurs are doing all they can to keep the various ski areas in decent nick but we now have ice in the mornings for a couple of hours and then slush, locally known as ‘soupe’ from about 11.30 onwards. Slush is fine if you know how to ride it but it’s getting so heavy at the end of the day, it’s almost impossible to use.

Teaching work at the ski school has dropped off a cliff with the last week or so. Pas de neige means pas de touristes. I’m planning to check the records of how much work there was this time last year because if this is normal for this time of year then next year I’m going to book a trip to Canada or the US to get some proper deep snow skiing done.

There is a real start of summer feeling in Chatel at the moment with ‘liquidation’ sales going on in all the ski shops (still not making them anywhere near cheap enough to consider buying anything) and people leaving for home early. All of the seasonaires starting to think about summer and whether they are going on staying, much depending on what work they can find. It seems sexist to stay but the way it seems to work is that all the girls go to work as waitresses and all the boys go and build stuff.

We’re all still praying for the usual expected but unexpected April dumps of snow but for now it feels like the winter is almost over and that’s very sad.

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x x x


It feels like the end of season..

We’ve almost got Chatel back to ourselves now as the bulk of school holiday tourists are long gone.

An agent of exploitation

There are only a few French school groups left in town, inexplicably traipsing back through town from the gondola to their hotel, presumably to have lunch, before tramping all the way back to the gondola again to go skiing. I don’t understand why they do this as they must lose about 3 hours of skiing time just walking about and having lunch. They are French I suppose and being in a hurry is not a concept here.

The great tourist getaway means that takings for the local bars are starting to drop off as the French, Dutch and English who pay with actual real money are replaced by seasonaires who were hibernating for February, running up tabs that they can’t really afford on the £100 a week that a chalet girl earns.

It’s still hot here and there is some serious snow-melt going on. A lot of the businesses here are thinking that this is pretty much it for the winter season and I’m hearing of people having their contracts terminated early at the end of March instead of April.

The main topic in town now is the eternal question of ‘what are you going to do in the summer?’. I’m pleased to say that both the missus and myself have managed to line up summer work already, with the missus carrying on her glamorous work as a waitress and me taking the first steps towards a new summer career coaching football.

Many people who have seen me play before will be horrified at the thought that I’m teaching kids football, especially when most of my career was spent shirt pulling and kicking lumps out of centre forwards and then passing the ball to someone who could actually play.

There is still some ski teaching work going on in the slush though and this week we’ve got a really pleasant group of kids over from a school in Hornchurch on a ski holiday dressed up as a ‘French trip’. They are all typical cockey North London kids and considering my group hadn’t skied on snow before, they are doing really well.

I thought it was going to be a long week when all 8 of them fell at the same time like bowling pins the first time we did something difficult but as each hour passes, they are getting more confident. It’s the first all boy group I’ve had this season and they are being typical boys, crashing into each other, fighting and generally not listening. It’s nice to hear some London accents again though as everyone in Chatel seems to be a northern monkey for some reason.

As a last harrah this season before all the work dries and I teach young kids the finer arts of how to defend like an Italian number 5, I’ve booked myself onto an Alpine Development coach BASI course which will be the first of eight modules that I take on my way to my BASI level 3. I’m planning on ticking off all of the other straightforward ones before the level 3 technical skiing exam because I’m still crap in a lot of areas and need to improve before I do that one.

This blog might sound a little odd given that it’s only mid-March but there is a real end of season feeling about Chatel at the moment, perhaps because the season started so early in December. Perhaps this will change if we get more snow. The clouds have rolled in tonight so perhaps we might get lucky.

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Interview with Nico Cruz

Earlier this month I was out on a rare non-teaching powder day with a few mates in Chatel and caught up with local freerider, Nico Cruz who was off to the US in search of powder to shred and cliffs to drop.

Nico has starred in a few videos and has a few magazine covers to his name so I grabbed an interview with him for Mad Dog Ski before he left.

So you’re off to the US in February. What are you up to out there?

Skiing some resorts around Salt Lake. Alta, Snowbird, Park City and also Jackson Hole.

I’m looking to be skiing some powder since Europe is so dry at the moment. I’m realizing a dream to be skiing in some of the mecca of powder skiing.

I’ve looked at your videos online and seen the magazine covers that you’ve done. It looks like you’re all about hitting the powder and jumping off cliffs. What’s your favourite thing to do when you ski for yourself?

Well it’s definitely skiing powder, nothing beats skiing powder. When you feel the snow hitting your chest and you get face-shots every turn is the sole purpose of skiing for me. Also hucking stuff is quite a good feeling. Knowing that you chuck yourself off high cliff and just land in powder.

So Chatel is your winter hometown, what do you like about it so much?

First it’s where my family is from and even though I wasn’t raised here I still feel a strong bond with this place. Secondly, I’ve travelled quite a bit and to be honest it’s difficult to find a resort that’s got has much variety in terrain than Chatel.

Chatel is a place that a lot of UK skiers and boarders come to. Why do you think they like it here so much?

First, it’s the closest resort from the airport, Geneva and then it’s a real village before being a ski resort so you got the real feel of being in France. It’s quite authentic. And it’s part of the Portes du Soleil.

Where are your favourite spots to ski in the Portes du Soleil?

Well besides Chatel obviously, i quite enjoy the park in Avoriaz and cruising around all the resorts actually.

The kickers in Les Crosets were bigger last year…

Well they actually had snow last year (laughs)

Any secret spots that you want to share?

Not too sure I would like them to be completely canned tomorrow and also not sure I want the responsibility of pushing out of bounds but if I have to pick one of them it would be through the forest down to Les Lindarets.

And what about if you aren’t skiing the Portes du Soleil. What other places do you like to ride?

Well I absolutely loved Japan, it really lived up to my expectations regarding snow.

The Portes du Soleil is well known for having lots of lazy blue and red runs and generally easy skiing. How did you come to be known for jumping off cliffs and getting buried in powder turns?

Well when you’re there on the days that it dumps you can easily get covered. Also the off-piste in the Portes du Soleil is massive, so not much link to the colours of the slopes I have to say.

Freeride skis have moved on a lot in the last few years. When we were out the other day the pair you were on had a bit of rocker and a fairly unique shape. Does this really help in the deep stuff or is it a gimmick?

Yes it helps a lot. The fatter the ski the more float you get, so you can concentrate on riding more than lifting your tips of the pow, then the rocker camber helps the ski rise form the snow even more so it’s pretty amazing.

How much time do you spend in the snowpark? The standard of riding in the videos has gone up massively in the last few years so I guess you’ve got to be pretty good at everything?

Well, people kind of specialise and in my case I use the park to train then bring it to the backcountry but where I really want to get better is at skiing very steep and gnarly lines.

Where do you hope that skiing can take you? What’s next for you?

I’m not really sure. If i can keep on skiing and getting taken around resorts around the globe it’d be amazing. The travel is great and really part of my experience in skiing. The places you see, the people you meet. It just makes you want to do more and see more. It’s definitely an addiction.

Ok, finally, four other mini questions;

1. Black or white?

Black, even though snow’s white.

2. Person you’d most like to share a T Bar with?

Michael Jordan if he skied.

3. Plane, Train or Automobile?


4. Top Gun or Days of Thunder?

What? I’m French remember.

Top Gun never made it to France?

Yes but what’s the other one?

Same movie but with cars – exactly the same.

Top Gun then. Love the F16.

Nico is sponsored by Amplid, Orage, Hestra, Electric, Discrete, Bern, Châtel, Skullcandy, Lange and Look

Photography credits to : Jahl Marshall and Niseko Photography.

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‘For those of you still on your feet, welcome to the Aspen Ski School hiring clinic’

Life in the goldfish bowl of Chatel continues at a relentless pace and I can’t believe that we are into March already. I either need to find work somewhere that has a longer winter season or start appreciating what I’ve got a little more.

An ego of ski instructors.

I say goldfish bowl because in a one horse town like Chatel (essentially it is if you take away the tourists who have no idea how the place really works) every little event or piece of news seems magnified.

For example, it seems like a really big deal if you skip going to the pub for a week (because you have the same stupid flipping cold that everyone else has got) you miss so much of what’s going on. Silly little things like who is or isn’t splitting up with each other and whether the owner of this or that business is leaving town or going out of business. If this was London, no-one would give a monkeys but because it’s here, it’s likely to affect you in some way or other, hence the goldfish bowl.

Finally today, I forgave the owner of The Avalanche Bar, Gavin, for a slalom ski stealing incident when the Rossignol Demo Tour was in town. This afternoon, Gav effectively guided me around all the best off-piste bits in the Pre la Joux area of Chatel. Although I’m a ski instructor, I’m average at best at off-piste and I also have a mortal fear of falling over and looking like a dickhead so I tend to make pretty ’S’ shapes in the pow like I’m in an 80’s ski video and some of this stuff was almost waist deep. A great 2 or 3 hours and probably the best skiing of the season so far.

Taking of old ski videos, my copy of ‘Aspen Extreme’ arrived via Amazon the other day and it is my gift to Gavin is return for his constant ribbing about how I’m not allowed to have fun when I’m skiing because I’m an instructor. For those who haven’t seen it, the funniest section for me is the scene with the Aspen ski school ski off which brings back memories of the Morgins Ski School ski off at the start of the season.

Talking of instructors, Jimmy King and Timmy Rah arrived last week for a short visit and the constant drinking (although not on the scale of my mates from home) did nothing to shift my cold but it was great to see them. We all qualified together in Saas-Fee and we are planning a re-union there this summer for some glacier action.

Timmy was still skiing well but it seems that Jimmy has more or less forgotten everything he learnt and also his choice of GS skis for the powder day we had was not a good one. Because it was half term, I could only find 45-mins to ski with them in the time they were here but for those 45-minutes, we ripped it and it was like being beamed back to the final day of Saas-Fee all those months ago when many of us achieved a lifetime dream.

Note: We were searching for the collective noun for a group of ski instructors. ‘Ego of ski instructors’ was the best we could come up with. I can offer a spare copy of ‘Aspen Extreme’ to any better suggestions..

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