Things they don’t tell you about winter in the alps and learning how to ski Swiss style.

It’s been a grey couple of weeks here in Chatel – not in terms of the atmosphere, it’s getting more lively by the day as more seasonaires arrive and locals return – but the weather has been snowing or about to snow for about 10-days straight now.

world’s smallest pillow line

This isn’t a bad thing and is great news for getting the ski areas open early and for the season to come but the one sunny day that we did have was a real treat and myself and the missus made sure that we made the most of it by taking the dog on an epic walk, wading through snow up to our knees.

The snow normally comes overnight and I don’t mean the 3-inches of snow that has just ground the UK to a standstill but rather the sort of snow that takes a whacking great shovel just to dig to the car, in order to dig the car out so that you can start it. I keep forgetting to park the car on the road and not in the little parking area in front of our apartment and so when I wake up to go somewhere in the morning, I have to factor in an extra half an hour of snow-shovelling just to get the car to the road.

The thing that no one tells you about driving in winter conditions out here is that because the snowploughs plough all the snow to the side of the road, this snow mounts up and forms little walls so that if you want to stop or turn round, there is nowhere to do so – it’s like being in a giant scalextric track. I forgot my wallet the other day when I left home and ended up driving up and down the Route de Thonon just because there was a roundabout at each end and they were the only places I could turn round…

It’s especially difficult because I haven’t yet sorted winter tyres. I’ve seen in the various snow online forums the debates that rage on about whether you do or don’t need winter tyres. Having now been in cars with and without winter tyres and experienced proper winter conditions out here when the snow has caught out the local gritters and snow ploughs, I can say with confidence that if you are coming out here to do a season and are bringing your car, clear the moths out of your wallet and get them. They make the world of difference and potentially can get you out of some very nasty situations.

Yesterday, one of my bosses at the Morgins Ski and Snowboard School invited me for a day of skiing in Verbier. Of course, I jumped at the chance and it was a good chance to see some of the guys from the Warren Smith Ski Academy who trained me for my instructor exams, who have already started teaching there.

I hadn’t seen Rolf (my boss) ski before but I did notice the ‘Swiss Snowsports Pro’ Patente pin in his jacket and his skiing certainly lived up to this. It was about all I could do to keep up and by the end of the day my confidence in my own ability was more or less gone and my body was aching. The Swiss style of skiing is very distinct and different from the BASI style that I was hammering over the summer and it’s going to take me a little while to adapt to how these guys would like me to ski.

Verbier was lovely, although after the relative solitude of Chatel and Morgins, seemed like an urban sprawl. The conditions up high (only the top lifts and runs were open) were good with a solid base and fresh snow on top. Perfect for the fast carving that Rolf seems to like so much. It was a bluebird day and I’m glad that I had the sense to put on the SPF50 in the gloom of Chatel before we left.

Training with my ski school starts on Saturday with the ski director passing judgement on my abilities (or lack of after Verbier) and there is a private school coming up for group lessons on Sunday. The winter tyres are bring fitted to the smart car on Thursday so at least I’ll be able to get there to find out exactly how rubbish I am compared to the other instructors 🙂