10/2/14 – Kicking Horse versus Revelstoke

The view from Revelstoke ski area, down to the Columbia river

The view from Revelstoke ski area, down to the Columbia river

I’ve spent four days at one (see previous post) and two at the other. And those days were spent skiing in supposedly unimpressive conditions rather than the fresh powder people travel half-way round the world for.

But I have a few observations about the resorts of Kicking Horse and Revelstoke, both recommended for experienced skiers, which may be useful for readers researching which to visit.


A morning ruA morning blast at Kicking Horsen at Kicking Horse

A morning blast at Kicking Horse

First, there’s the aspect. The slopes and base station at KH face east. There are three main ridges, with bowls between, giving a few north and south aspects too.

During our visit temperatures were minus-12 at warmest and snow was excellent quality on 90pc of the mountain; the only dud stuff was a few stretches of “dust on crust” on the few south-ish-facing slopes (due to freeze-thaw the previous week).

We loved the tree runs in the north bowl, and always seemed to end up in this gulley

We loved the tree runs in the north bowl, and always seemed to end up in this gulley

Revelstoke ski area faces mostly west and has an extensive bowl that’s wholly north-facing, and quite a few of the other runs face south-west.

During our visit, snow quality in the North Bowl was excellent but the south and west slopes, especially at lower elevations, were hard work, with ice underneath a thin layer of fresh.

Lift pass prices were similar at both resorts

Lift pass prices were similar at both resorts

There’s a difference in altitude and lift configuration. At KH the base is 1,190m and the top 2,445m (a pretty big vertical drop in North American terms).

A bubble takes you almost all the way to 2,345m; the Stairway to Heaven chair, by the next ridge, goes 100m higher and there are two shortish, low-altitude chairs (useful if the weather is bad up high).

We found that, apart from a couple of loops of the Stairway, we skied almost the full vertical difference, using the bubble, all day.

We loved exploring the dozens of different ways down, mostly on thigh-busting mogulfields (there are few groomed runs), with a warm ride up each time. But some skiers may feel peeved that there’s just one main lift, and little sense of “travelling” around the place.

Dropping into North Bowl at Revelstoke. There are easy ways into it, and some trickier couloirs

Dropping into North Bowl at Revelstoke. There are easy ways into it, and some trickier couloirs

At Revelstoke, the lifts go from 512m to 2,225m: an even greater vertical drop. A bubble takes you part-way, then there are two upper chairs, the Ripper and the Stoke. We mainly used the chairs, as the snow was best up top. Like in KH, the terrain is extensive compared with the number of lifts and there are some inbounds high-up runs that require a little hike.

Revelstoke's mountain restaurant

Revelstoke’s mountain restaurant

It’s a shame there is no warm uplift on the top slopes, especially as the resort only about five years old: why haven’t bubble-chairs and heated seats caught on this side of the Atlantic? During our visit it was minus-30 (including windchill); not unusual here. The Stoke chair was especially bitter; the Ripper is more sheltered and our faces were to the sun on the way up.

We kept warm by staying away from the few groomers, doing moguls without stopping and ducking off into trees to find hidden gulleys – lots of fun.

Eagle's Eye restaurant at Kicking Horse

Eagle’s Eye restaurant at Kicking Horse

KH has a spectacular mountaintop restaurant, Eagle’s Eye, with great service and exotic fare (scallops, wild boar, duck confit, butternut squash pave, cocktails: bring your credit card); there are also cheaper options at the base station. Revelstoke’s mid-mountain self-service place is more functional than fancy (Thai soup, at about CAN$6, was excellent).

The base station at Revelstoke. Convenient but not very cosy

The base station at Revelstoke. Convenient but not very cosy

We met people during our trip who stayed in the condos at the Revelstoke base station; some liked them, while some found the place soulless .

To me it felt bland and characterless (the restaurants/bars/ski shops there belong to “the resort” and have an institutional feel). It reminded me of the less attractive of the French purpose-builts, yet without the sense of community of those places.

We stayed instead at a motel (Revelstoke Lodge, about $90/night) close to the centre of Revelstoke town, which grew up around the railway, next to a river, and is less than a 10-minute drive from the ski hill (there’s free parking at the hill, plus a shuttle from town). We had a tasty meal at Ginger & Spice, an appealing restaurant with sofas and a fire, then watched a film at the cinema opposite.

The day lodge at Kicking Horse

The day lodge at Kicking Horse

KH base station is much more lovable. For a start, it’s snowier, being higher, and not dominated by car parks. A block or two of condos are clustered around the lift base, and rustic-looking lodges and homes arranged in the woods around. There’s a little community of lodge- and home-owners, and tourists.

We had homely meals at the two pubs – both with plenty of atmosphere, one packed with locals and visitors watching an excellent jazz band, with the mayor of Golden on vocals – and an nice dinner at Corks wine bar (though our food took more than an hour to arrive).

The valley town of Golden is 20 minutes away and seems less “connected” than Revelstoke is with its mountain: there is no daytime shuttle for the moment, but an evening shuttle goes to town and back on Fridays and Saturdays. If you’re staying at the base station it’s worth going down for the evening: we had fantastic meals at the Whitetooth Bistro and Eleven22, and a few games of pool at the Taps pub.

Trees, trees, everywhere... Exploring from Revelstoke's Ripper chair

Trees, trees, everywhere… Exploring from Revelstoke’s Ripper chair

So what do Revelstoke and KH have in common? Tremendous views, few lifts, masses of steep and challenging terrain, long empty mogul runs, empty slopes in general (though there may be queues at weekends, for instance at KH base station), excellent tree skiing, few “groomers” (Revelstoke slightly more), friendly locals and pricey-ish lift passes (CAN$80-ish/day) with negligible multi-day discounts.

KH is three hours' drive from Calgary; Revelstoke is five

KH is three hours’ drive from Calgary; Revelstoke is five

KH, in good driving conditions, is three hours from Calgary while Revelstoke is five. To Europeans, especially contemplating a nine-hour flight and a seven-hour time change, both are a trek. But I reckon the big journey is worth it for those deserted, mogulled and often powdery slopes.

To hit the best conditions, don’t be afraid of booking little but your flights (we paid £400 each with Air Transat to Calgary) and hire car, as we did, and deciding last-minute which resorts to visit. It’s easy to find a place to stay outside of peak holiday times. And on top of KH and Revelstoke, powder hounds may also like Fernie (see posts from my three-week visit in 2011), Red Mountain and Whitewater (lift passes at these last two are apparently much cheaper) – also on the “powder highway”.

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Filed under Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw

4/2/14 – On camera at Kicking Horse


Kicking Horse

Up high at the Horse

After months of bloglessness  it’s time to start posting again, as I’m back doing something worth writing about ski-wise. (I haven’t been idle since my last post by the way: I have got married, left my job and been settling into a new house/district 300 miles from my old home.)

Right now my ski-eenite husband, PJ, and I are on a fortnight’s road-trip in Canada, with a few days’ heliskiing along the way. Heliskiing! It’s on lots of people’s wish-lists and we are lucky enough to be about to do it, as a kind of winter honeymoon.

Powder highway

On the powder highway with two sunroofs

I’ll tell you more about the heli part later. For now, more about our warm-up, following the “powder highway” of British Columbia.

Not as powdery as sometimes (we have heard there’s more mountain biking than skiing at Whistler at the moment; luckily we are further inland, where there’s good cover), but first impressions were good: we disembarked at Calgary (Air Transat from Gatwick, 399 GBP each, including ski carriage, booked a fortnight in advance) into a blizzard.

Kicking Horse ski resort, Canada

Fresh snow at Kicking Horse, BC

We picked Kicking Horse (three hours’ drive from Calgary in easy conditions) as our first stop, cruising there in a rental car (4WD, about 500 GBP for two weeks) with two sunroofs.

KH has a reputation for nice, steep terrain and quiet slopes, many ungroomed. There’s a telecabin, rather than chilly chairlifts: a bonus when Jan/Feb temperatures are typically in the minus-teens.

Vagabond Lodge

Vagabond Lodge, a lovely welcoming place to stay, close to the lift

At the small base station – a handful of lodges, apartments, shops and restaurants – we checked into Vagabond Lodge, recommended in guidebooks and through word of mouth.

It turned out to be a winner. [Here, added later in February, is my review for the Telegraph.]

Ken and Lori Chilibeck, our hosts at Vagabond, arranged for us to take a mountain tour with Don, a seasoned local. He took us to his favourite spots and we all enjoyed making the most of the great conditions – 10cm of fresh snow on a decent base.

Kicking Horse

Yet another long mogul run. The mountains opposite are the Rockies

We explored more by ourselves on day two, dropping off the ridge into Feuz bowl (pronounced “fuse” by the Canadians), where the snow was in excellent shape after a rocky entry, and taking the “goat track” into Superbowl.

By day three we’d recovered from the time change and our legs were getting used to the “foreign” snow (lighter, colder, lots of moguls).

Vagabond Lodge lunch

Lunch at Vagabond pre-climb was make-your-own sandwiches. Another day it was Thai curry

At lunch, back at the lodge, Ken asked if we’d like to join him on a hike up a peak known as T2.

It’s within the ski area boundary, but the half-hour climb means it’s even quieter than the super-quiet other slopes.

What a privilege!

Climbing T2 at Kicking Horse

A little wobbly in places… It was easier not to hold onto the rope

The scenery was spectacular, the climb challenging enough (for me, a heights-o-phobe), the ski back down fantastic.

But pictures say so much more than words, so below is a link to the film Ken made of our adventure…


Ken Chilibeck

Ken Chilibeck, once a star television reporter who covered Canada’s most important sport, hockey

Can you tell that Ken was a star sports reporter in a previous life? I hope heliskiing will be as much fun as our afternoon on T2.

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Filed under Canada, Link to film, Off-piste

20/4/13 – Now the snow really is coming down in Val

Val d'Isere snowfall

Somewhere in this picture is a car

What a difference two days makes. After four days of deep blue skies, thick fog yesterday turned into snow clouds by evening.

The flakes fell feebly at first, then during the night winter returned with gusto.

Today we awoke to an almighty 50cm of fresh snow at valley level – and it was still coming down.

Val d'Isere snowfall

At least 50cm fell at village level last night. And it has started again

The fogged-in valley echoed to the sound of blasting, and as we clicked into our bindings 50 yards from our chalet, we could hardly believe it – late-April powder, on the final day of our trip, after nearly a week of wonderful spring conditions.

The temperature was zero in the village.

Val d'Isere snowfall

Matching snow-blankets

At first only the nursery slopes were open but at 10.40am the Solaise Express cranked into action and dozens of rucksack- and headcam-clad powder hounds piled on up.

The air was filled with ear-splitting yipps as the first tracks decorated the fresh stuff.

Val d'Isere snowfall

Jean-Marc Pic in the deep stuff on Solaise

Up top it was way deeper than 50cm – closer to a metre, we reckoned – and people were sinking to their waists, tumbling about, losing skis, shrieking with joy.

We dipped into the trees lower down and thought we were in Canada.

Weight on both skis, quiet body, middle position, gentle up and down motion – it was a chance to practise the powder style, but sometimes we sank so deep it was easiest just to follow the fall line.

Val d'Isere powder

Dave, whose fat skis finally came into their own

Bellevarde opened around midday and we headed there next, doing a circuit towards La Daille (the Face was closed). The sun was pushing through and after we stopped for a bite at Triffolet the lower stretches were getting heavy.

By the time we crossed back to Solaise at 3pm conditions were a bit porridgey – no wonder, as the temperature had risen to six degrees.

Chalet Lafitenia hot tub at Le Chardon Mountain Lodges

Val d’Isere’s most scenic hot tub, at Chalet Lafitenia – ideal apres-ski after a day of powder

Our last run, nevertheless, was still brilliant, on a blanket of powder somewhat melted and shallower than morning, but powder still.

As I write, snow has begun to fall again, thickly, properly, and there’s another 15cm expected overnight.

Val d’Isere is open for two more weeks – I think it’ll be an end-of-season to remember.

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Filed under France, Off-piste

18/4/13 – The snow’s coming down in Val d’Isere

avalanche Val d'Isere

One of the many avalanches in Val d’Isere this week. Note the single point of release at the top

Never have I seen so many enormous avalanches all over the place as this week in Val d’Isere.

On slopes of every aspect, they have been tumbling down in giant proportions, engulfing acres of mountainside with tons of wet snow. Some have begun as slabs; others have a single release point no bigger than a handspan.

Many have widened to more than a hundred yards and travelled half a mile. Many must be at least 100 feet deep.

Sadly, a few days ago not far from the resort, three members of a ski touring group died in an avalanche soon after setting out from a mountain hut one morning (read a report about it here).

Lanches avalanche Tignes

This avalanche crossed the Lanches piste near Tignes Val Claret – after skiing hours

Several runs within the ski area are closed due either to avalanche danger or simply being crammed with avalanche debris – for instance, the blue Santons run and Piste L, from Solaise to Le Laisinant.

Above Val Claret, a giant wet-snow slide, with a single release point, spilled onto the Lanches piste on Monday evening.

Avalanche Val d'Isere

This is where Mattis (open) meets Piste L (closed, and filled with debris)

A couple of days ago a massive wet-snow slide blocked the road somewhere between Val d’Isere and Bourg St Maurice. The road was closed again for ‘Pida’ (blasting) yesterday. There are good bulletins on the Radio Val d’Isere website.

Where we’re staying, at Le Chardon Mountain Lodges, which has a sensational view towards Le Manchet and the Rocher du Charvet, we’ve been watching them from the hot tub each afternoon.

Usually they’re tumbling down the west side of the valley, and two days ago there was a spectacular display, way up the valley, far from lifts or any sane off-pisters.

Avalanche Val d'Isere

Here’s one on a west-facing slope

At 4.30m today, a slab broke off on the east side, showing that the time of day/aspect is not always predictable. It was just up the valley from the open Epaule du Charvet mogul run and ground to a halt by the summer sports pitches.

I was surprised by its speed – wet-snow avalanches certainly don’t always amble down, leaving time for people to get out of the way.

Despite the visible carnage, and the fact that the danger level has been at four since we arrived (and sometimes four/five), we have been on two fantastic day tours, led by a super-experienced French mountain guide in his fifties, Jean-Marc. The crucial thing in such conditions, is timing and route choice.

Cornices near Col d'Iseran

Cornices, facing east, near the Col d’Iseran

Yesterday, we rode the Le Fornet lifts and skied into the Col d’Iseran, where several groups were taking similar routes.

Our highest point was almost within touching distance of some horrific-looking cornices, but our route was safe. We started skinning at 10am, arrived at the top at 11.15, descended past the Refuge du Fond des Fours and arrived at the Manchet lift by midday.

Ski touring at Val d'Isere

Our happy group, this morning. After an hour and a half’s ascent, we skied down on perfect spring snow

Today, we took the lifts to the top of Cugnai, skied over the back on rattly, west-facing frozen slush, ascended past the same Refuge as yesterday, and continued climbing gentle, mostly east-facing slopes – with no other groups in sight – in the blazing sun to reach the top, drenched in sweat, by 11.30am.

Ski touring Val d'Isere

Exiting the valley we had plenty of debris to negotiate

Our descent, on beautiful, west-facing, untracked spring snow, culminated, near the valley floor, in traverses of the giant avalanches we had watched from the hot tub, now set into a mass of frozen boulders of snow. We were at Manchet just after midday.

Rain is forecast tomorrow – though it seems inconceivable it will arrive, looking at the deep blue sky this afternoon.

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Filed under France, Off-piste, Ski touring, Transport

5/4/13 – April skiing: where to go for a last blast

Fabulous spring skiing in Ischgl two years ago. This year, those brown patches are white

Fabulous spring skiing in Ischgl two years ago. This year, those brown patches are white

To round off this snow-blessed winter in the Alps and escape the persistent winter chill of home, if you have a few days and a few pounds to spare I suggest you go skiing.

I have a final trip booked, to Val d’Isere – not a usual haunt of mine as I generally head for Austria, Italy or Switzerland, but it will be a nice change. Last time I stayed there, apart from one short press trip a couple of years ago, was when I was training to be an Inghams rep nearly 20 years ago.

Anyway, if I didn’t have that trip booked, here are the places I’d consider…

1. Engelberg in Switzerland. The top slopes are open till May 26, the town is lively, there’s accommodation for all budgets (including a youth hostel) and it’s only an hour from Zurich airport. There are also some brilliant local guides. Read more about that in my Telegraph article from last season about where to join off-piste groups.

...and when the slush sets in, here's what you can do instead

…and when the slush sets in, here’s what you can do instead

Zermatt, where the views are at their best at the end of the season

Zermatt, where the views are at their best at the end of the season

2. Zermatt in Switzerland. It’s open till May 5, the town is vibrant, busy and full of ski mountaineering folk – and the shops, for once, are offering plenty of end-of-season bargains on gear (not forgetting the pyjamas, nighties and underwear, at Calida, towards the top of the main street). Again, there’s lodging for all budgets. But it’s far from the airport, so go for a week to make it worthwhile. Read more in the insider’s guide (and here is page 2) I compiled at the start of this season.

3. Obergurgl in Austria. It’s open till April 28, and with the village at about 1,900m and most of the skiing between there and 3,000m, there’s very quick access from hotel or b&b direct to the snow. What’s more, there’s fantastic touring, with a great choice of day tours. It’s less than 90 minutes from Innsbruck, and if winter flights have tailed off by the time you want to go, you can fly to Friedrichshafen, Salzburg or Zurich instead. Read my recent piece in the Telegraph, and my off-piste article from last year, to find out more.

4. Ischgl in Austria. The lifts aren’t due to close until May 1. I went late in the season a couple of years ago and despite it not being a good snow year, there was excellent cover thanks to super-efficient snowmaking earlier in the season. There’s good touring nearby in the Silvrettas – hire a guide and stay overnight in the Jamtal Hut (open till May 4), for instance. Keen apres-skiers will know its reputation for lively bars, which is merited – read more in past blogs of mine, such as this one, by entering ‘Ischgl’ in the search box on the right.

Just think of the tan you will get

Just think of the tan you will get

Other late-season favourites of mine are St Anton in Austria, which stays open till April 21; Alagna/Gressoney/Champoluc in Italy (only till April 14, sadly – but lift passes are free till then if you book three nights locally, and it’s amazing value for food and drink); or Cervinia in Italy, which shares Zermatt’s slopes but not its prices (open till May 5). An underrated place probably not on your radar is the Engadine, where Diavolezza/Lagalb stays open well until May 20, and Corvatsch until May 5. The area offers excellent ski touring too – and don’t be put off that it’s in the St Moritz area: there are hostels and modest b&bs as well as swanky hotels.

Of course, you could always plump for Colorado or Utah, where a snowstorm is meant to be heading right now, or for snowy Scotland, where conditions are excellent.

I’ll leave you with the details of four great cut-price deals that landed in my inbox  this week from Inghams, which might be worth a look if you can make a dash for the Alps at the last minute. I’m sure the other tour operators have similar offerings at equally appealing prices.

St Christoph, Austria. £349 for a week’s chalet-board (that means half-board, including wine with dinner and CHOCOLATES afterwards) in a chalet hotel with a pool and doorstep skiing, including return flight from Gatwick to Innsbruck on April 13.

St Anton, Austria. £349, chalet-board, similar to above. There’s no pool but the place, Chalet Gampen, looks pretty good, with whirlpool, sauna and all that stuff. Departing from Gatwick on April 13.

Tignes, France. £369 at Chalet Hotel Le Dome, described as ski-in, ski-out. Similar deal as above, flying to Chambery on April 13 from Gatwick – easily the best airport for Tignes, being about 90 minutes away.

Val Thorens, France – the high-altitude end of the Three Valleys. £369 at Chalet Anais, departing from Gatwick on April 13, flying to Chambery.

Happy holiday-hunting, if you have time!

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Filed under Austria, Food and drink, France, Italy, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Off-piste, Ski touring, Switzerland, Transport, United States

30/03/13 – Scottish skiing: my first time

Unpromising: the road to Cairngorm ski area

Unpromising: the road to Cairngorm ski area during my visit in mid-February

Spring, apparently, has been delayed this year in the British Isles, and the forecast for the next month, we are told, is chilly.

This might be bad news for heating bills, but it’s good news for Scottish skiing.

In general there’s excellent cover – which, with the cold temperatures, should last – and open lifts. Bright, settled weather, without much wind, is forecast (more details on conditions at ski.visitscotland.com/conditions/).

My day ticket - £32.50, about the same as many Alpine places

My day ticket – £32.50, about the same as many Alpine places

If you’ve always wanted to ski in Scotland and can get a few days off, now would be a good moment.

I’m fairly fresh from my own first ski trip there, during a weekend in February.

Why had I left it so long? Well, as I’m a southerner it has always seemed as convenient to travel to the Alps as to Aviemore, Glenshee, Glencoe, Nevis or the Lecht, and a safer bet conditions-wise. 

The top. Our visit followed a blizzard

The top. Our visit followed a blizzard

But in February a last-minute plan, hatched with my boyfriend, PJ, resulted in a great three-day break.

Our main aim was to practise cross-country skiing ahead of the Engadine Marathon, and Scotland seemed a cheaper and handier option than the Alps as it was half-term, and last-minute flights to Europe were expensive.

The runs. There are plenty of them

The runs at Cairngorm Mountain. There are plenty of them

In the event, we also did downhill skiing, night-skiing, ski-touring and walking, stayed in a brilliant hotel and enjoyed amazing food.

We threw the plan together two days before setting off – which can be the best approach for Scotland, I now know, because sometimes the slopes are closed for days on end due to high winds.

My research involved phoning a Nordic ski centre I’d read about at Huntly, between Aberdeen and Inverness, to check the trails at nearby Clashinarroch Forest had good cover. They did.

Fog. It's quite normal

Fog. It’s quite normal

I consulted Ski-scotland.com, which showed conditions on the downhill runs at Aviemore to be promising.

I used sites such as laterooms.co.uk, booking.com and Tripadvisor to track down a mid-range hotel between Aviemore and Clashindarroch Forest, and struck gold – for comfort, welcome, company and dining – with Tigh Na Sgiath.

Between the snow-catching fences, conditions were perfect

Between the snow-catching fences, conditions were perfect

I booked myself onto the Caledonian Sleeper and caught it straight from work on a Thursday night, while PJ got to Inverness from the north of England under his own steam and picked me up in a rental car.

Under moody skies but in high spirits we drove to Aviemore town, whose main street is lined with outdoor and gear shops, high-street stores, cafes, b&bs and ski rental places.

Waiting for a t-bar - queues are very orderly and polite

Waiting for a t-bar – queues are very orderly and polite

It took 45 minutes, plus a further 20 to the ski slopes of the Cairngorm Mountain which, after several stormy days, had re-opened that morning.

We parked in a lower car park, as the closest one to the base station (altitude 635m) was full. Despite the recent blizzards, swathes of hillside were bare.

There's a knack to putting it back in the reel

There’s a knack to putting it back in the reel

On the shuttle bus to the base we clocked where much of the snow had been blown – onto the road, on which the snowplough had carved a corridor, leaving towering banks either side.

“Funicular this way! Tickets that way! Thank you!” The cheerful official who greeted our busload reminded me of the volunteers pointing newcomers in the right direction in North American resorts.

A little bit of health and safety

A little bit of health and safety

Lift passes cost £32.50 a day – a similar price to many Alpine resorts; 6-16s are £19.50 and tinies are free; 65s-plus and students pay £23.50.

There are various family and multi-day offers, and from 12.30pm the adult rate drops to £21.50.

We bought our day passes at the desks by the funicular, but you can buy them in the adjacent ski shop, too, if you’re renting gear. “Those passes lasts till 8pm today!” said the assistant excitedly. We’d struck a rare night-skiing day.

The day lodge at the base station offered tasty food at sensible prices

The day lodge at the base station offered tasty food at sensible prices

Cairngorm Mountain has 11 lifts and a vertical drop of less than 500m. We rode the funicular to the main top station (1,097m, though the T-bars of Ptarmigan bowl, where the night skiing and some of the beginners’ slopes are, go slightly higher).

The wind blew and the upper third of the mountain was shrouded in fog as we set off down the White Lady, a red run I had heard of. Like many of the pistes, parts of it are lined by wood-and-wire picket fences, effectively placed to “catch” snow and wind-drift.

Wall decoration upstairs in the day lodge

Wall decoration upstairs in the day lodge

A film of drizzle stuck stubbornly to my goggles – I could see better without them.

Lower down we relished the long, grey views towards the Monadhliath mountains, as well as the sight of old-school ski suits (including 1980s Nevica favourites), rear-entry boots and skinny skis.

After lunch we walked up. As part of our fitness plan, in case you're wondering

After lunch we walked up. As part of our fitness campaign, in case you’re wondering

There was a high snowboarder count, a few telemarkers and several groups of mountaineers on foot or crampons trudging here and there.

There were a dozen or so people skinning up – and we found out later you can buy a “ski mountaineering ticket” for a tenner – allowing two uplifts, excluding the funicular.

We had a drink in the friendly restaurant at the top. There's also a good shop up there

We had a drink in the friendly restaurant at the top. There’s also a good shop up there

We mastered the slowly-retracting T-bars, which mustn’t be thrown away, but handed patiently back to the reel as it circles the pylon.

We joined queues even more orderly than those found in North America, overseen by helpful lift attendants.

We found a favourite lift, Fiacaill Ridge Poma, which had no queue, being at the edge of the ski area, and accessed a fun stretch of Firn-like off-piste in between rocks.

After a few runs, and a quick go on the jumps and tabletops in the snow-park, we had French onion soup at the base-station day lodge; tasty enough for £2.85, and venison burger looked good too.

We then skinned to the top of the funicular, via Fiacaill Ridge. At Ptarmigan station we had “gluwine” (me) and a pint of lager (him), and got chatting to a Pole who had come for the day from Inverness and to a Scotsman who had a season ticket (about £300, he said, if you pay a few months before the season).

Skiing M2 once the cloud had lifted

Skiing M2 once the cloud had lifted

M2, they both said, was the pick of the runs, so that’s where we headed next, and found a scenic, rolling piste on a ridge with dramatic views.

Though graded blue and in great condition, it has narrower parts. Half way down I offered to help a girl who had taken off her skis and was carrying them down awkwardly (“I got the fear,” she explained with a grin, but was happy to continue as she was).

We had an afternoon appointment in Aviemore to pick up some cross-country skis for the next day, so we peeled off towards the West Wall poma (where a couple of black runs are found) and headed off-piste towards where we thought our car was parked – which it was.

Night-skiing in Ptarmigan bowl

Night-skiing in Ptarmigan bowl

A couple of hours later, we were back, layered up for night-skiing on Coire na Ciste T-bar at the top of the funicular, where portable floodlights were rigged up on a green run.

The queue was a chilly 10 minutes so we only managed three circuits before bailing out at about 6.45pm.

This was only Day One – and I haven’t even told you about the cross-country skiing at Clashindarroch, which was excellent. I’ll save it for a future post.

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16/3/13 – Engadine marathon 2013: the verdict

Engadine marathon - making for the starting pens on the lake at Maloja

Making for the starting pens on the lake at Maloja

Aches and pains? Huffing and puffing?

Well, up to a point.You can read more about what it was like to be a first-timer in the largest ski race in the Alps in my Telegraph and Planet Ski articles.

But last Sunday I had a surprise: the Engadine marathon was fun, satisfying and not as exhausting as I’d predicted.

They arrived in matching pairs...

They arrived in matching pairs…

Along with 11,312 of  the 12,540 starters, from elite athletes to flailing novices, aged 16 to mid-eighties, I finished the 26-mile course.

It followed the snow-clad frozen lakes and wooded paths of the far eastern corner of Switzerland, in the Graubunden canon.

...they arrived in matching groups

…they arrived in matching groups

If you’ve seen it in the papers lately it’s mainly because Pippa and James Middleton – the siblings of Kate Middleton, Prince William’s wife, in case you live on another planet – were taking part.

Pippa was the fastest British girl at 2hr48 and her brother, James, took 2hr17.

And there was even a Brit in tweeds and a Jimmy hat

And there was even a Brit in rather fetching tweeds and a Jimmy hat

The fastest Brit, Alan Eason, clocked an impressive 1hr41.

The overall female winner, a Finn in her mid-thirties, glid round in 1hr29, setting a women’s course record on her first Engadine outing.

Which ones are mine again?

Which ones are mine again?

She was only a minute behind the male winner, a 23-year-old Frenchman, while the slowest racers took six hours.

I was overjoyed with my time of 3hr30 (as a first-timer of questionable fitness, four hours had been my target).

Engadine marathon start

And we’re off. You can see the classic style racers on the right, following the grooves

Anyway, here’s the full list of results.

After clicking on Results 2013, you can view them by class (which corresponds to age and gender), or by nationality.

Something especially impressive is that there were 223 finishers in the men’s over-70s category – and the oldest racer was born in 1926. This is a sport for everyone.

A few miles before Pontresina, where there are bottlenecks by the hills

This is me a few miles before Pontresina, where there are bottlenecks by the hills

Here’s another link some readers may find entertaining.

The super-efficient organisers have posted videos of – seemingly – almost every finisher crossing the line.

Simply find a person on the results list you want to watch, look up their start number (eighth column from the left), input it or their name into the field on the right of the screen and there they are. 

This is what was needed afterwards

This is what was needed afterwards – cakes from Kochendorfer Conditorei in Pontresina

Here are some numbers to try – though with the first few it’s hard to tell which is which as they’re going so fast:

Pierre Guedon (the male winner, from France) – 317

Riita-Liisa Ropenen (the female winner, from Finland) – 9

Alan Eason (the fastest Brit – I can’t identify him, but you get an idea of the speed) – 1079

Pippa in the middle: the Middletons and friends at the finish

Pippa in the middle: the Middletons and friends at the finish

Christian Wenk (a paraplegic who completed the race in a sitski) – 4191

Pippa Middleton (in red and black; photographer close by) – 4606

James Middleton (in black, I think, with red headband, skating past camera) – 41847

Me (in pink and black; the knackered-looking one making straight for the camera) – 5807

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