Monthly Archives: December 2011

24/12/11: Sledging fun on the Gadget Show and in Country Life

My dad in 1961, on a door with a metal sheet underneath. I wonder how it would have fared in the test

Top television viewing this week for me was the Gadget Show’s film for Channel Five, in which Pollyanna Woodward, one of the presenters, tested 20 toboggans at Tamworth Snowcome (see it here – http://tinyurl.com/ce9m762).

I was especially interested because my sister, nephews and I test-rode several sledges in Zermatt in October as research for an article about the joys of sledging for Country Life magazine – which, by the way, is in the shops now as part of a bumper wintry Christmas edition (£3.75 including a travel supplement).

Big air in Gloucestershire, 1961

One design Pollyanna definitely didn’t try was anything that resembled a simple yet speedy toboggan devised by my dad, uncle and aunt, photos of which my uncle sent me when I was researching the CL story.

As you can see, it proved great for getting air over stone terracing in their Gloucestershire garden in 1961.

My uncle - cushions made this toboggan the height of luxury

It was a door, with a metal sheet fastened to its underside. My dad and uncle recall that they strapped cushions to it – no wonder they look so comfortable – and used the ropes that held them down to hold onto. It once had an outing to the Wiltshire Downs, where the pair of them lugged it all the way to the top and began the run down by jumping off a cornice.

My sister inherited the family toboggan gene - she made this sledge (circa 1983) in woodwork and it's still going strong

Anyway, back to the Snowdome. Pollyanna and colleagues set up a laser speed trap to see which was the fastest of the models, whose prices ranged from £14.99 for a UFO plastic disk to the Alurunner, at £472.

Quite rightly, she also gave marks for comfort, manoeuvrability and fun.

Fastest at 21.2mph was the Zumbach Sport (£399.99), which looks like a traditional Rodel sledge, with wooden frame, webbing seat and (I’m guessing) metal runners of some kind.

Pollyanna’s favourite – just like my nephews’ top choice – was a plastic design with steering wheel and handbrake.

This Davos sledge, one of my best birthday presents of all time. I never did get the hang of big air, though. Maybe it needs a cushion

She also loved the Bobski (£55), a British invention that flies along and looks like it might be rather a handful (in a fun way). I have one, and we plan to give it a try this weekend in the Alps – I’ll let you know how it goes. Also in her top five were the extremes, price-wise, of the Zumbach and the UFO.

I’m not sure if she tried one that impressed us greatly – the Zibob, a Swiss-made shaped red box with a handle that “carves” and is as fun for adults as children. Check out the Zibob race schedule for the year here http://tinyurl.com/bolw88w.

Happy sledging, if you’re anywhere near the snow, and remember, some sledges are meant to feel slightly out of control…

PS: 2/1/2012 – you can now see the Country Life article in pdf form by clicking here.

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Filed under Gear, Link to film, Transport

23/12/11: Nine people evacuated as Rifugio Guglielmina burns down

High winds fanned the flames on the morning of 22 December

The Rifugio Guglielmina, a historic mountain hut high above the ski village of Alagna, in the Italian alps, was destroyed by fire in the early hours of yesterday.

Nine people sleeping there, including several staff, escaped unharmed, but high winds prevented help from reaching the hut, which is at 2,880m on the Col d’Olen. Its owner Alberto Calaba, a descendent of the family who first opened the hut in 1878, was down in the valley when the fire broke out.

The dining room, where a convivial supper sometimes turned into a party

Mike Crompton, who co-runs the Alagna specialist Zuba Ski (www.zubaski.com) and is a friend of Mr Calaba, said: “There were 100kph winds so helicopters couldn’t fly in the water needed to put out the fire, and they had to watch the refuge burn to the ground.

“Alberto had only opened for the winter about a week ago, and he’d just stocked up so he had 80,000 litres of fuel there.”

The hut, which slept 40, was a cut above most mountain refuges after recent renovation, with twin rooms, sheets and duvets, hot showers, Wi-fi, plenty of choice at the evening meal and a cellar of bottles from the best winemakers in Aosta and Piedmont.

The hut's distinctive warm tones on the exterior were mirrored inside by the welcome

Rustic yet comfortable, it was a favourite with ski tourers, off-piste enthusiasts and mountain guides as well as ordinary skiers, being an easy traverse from the piste, with wonderful views and acclaimed home-cooking.

“It was a full-on mountain hotel, with wonderful, welcoming staff – some of them from Nepal – and great guests,” adds Mike, who has been visiting for 15 years and sending guests there for eight.

“You always met great people there from all around the world. One night you could be there with 50 people, having a party, and the next with five, reading a book.

“You’d know you were coming to a friendly place – with a fantastic wine cellar. We’ve sent hundreds of people to stay there.”

Mike’s clients were in the Guglielmina last weekend, and a group was due to arrive next week for the Zuba’s annual five-day new year bash at the hut (http://www.zubaski.com/high-altitude-new-year.html). Alternative lodgings have been found in Alagna, but that is little consolation for regulars who loved the hut – and for its owners.

Twin rooms - in a class far above the usual hut dorms

“It’s a tragedy for Alberto – when he renovated the place in the 1990s he carried stuff there on his back,” adds Mike.

“It has been in his family for six generations, and Queen Margherita used to go there when she went walking. You can’t rebuild more than 200 years of history.”

The cause of the fire is being investigated. There is a theory that it may have begun in the generator room.

To visit the hut’s website (in English and Italian), which contains a history of the hut and pictures, go to http://www.rifugioguglielmina.com/en/firsthome.

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Filed under Food and drink, Italy, Off-piste, Ski touring, Transport

16/12/11 – Winter campervanning in Fernie in Fall-Line magazine

Nick and Bethan, the plucky campervanners

Two of the most brilliant people I met last winter were Bethan and Nick Lowe, who spent a ski season living in a campervan in Fernie, a great resort in British Columbia, Canada.

Happily for them, it was a fantastic snow year, and Bethan – who arrived an out-and-out beginner – was able to master powder skiing on Fernie’s scores of lovely, ungroomed, gladed (and often very steep) runs. Nick turned out to be a superb patient fiance (check out this post – http://tinyurl.com/d845cgm – and see if you recognise who I’m talking about) and it turned out to be a great way to spend a winter in the mountains at very low cost.

Chilly but cosy: the happy couple's home sweet home

My article about Nick and Bethan is out now, in the current issue (101) of Fall-Line, the excellent ski magazine. Find it in the newsagent, or to have a look at the piece – “Maximum Freshies, Minimum Cost” – here, follow this link:

Maximum Freshies, Minimum Cost – Fall-Line magazine, issue 101 

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Filed under Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw

15/12/11 – Interlaken’s yodel festival in Songlines magazine

They sang by night...

Regular readers of morethanskiing may recall how overexcited I was in June about visiting Switzerland’s biggest yodelling festival – an event that takes place every three years and draws crowds of 200,000 – more than Glastonbury.

They sang by day...

This excitement turned out to be thoroughly justified: the trip my sister and I took to Interlaken for the festival was one of the best weekend breaks I’ve had – and that includes ski breaks.

...and they practised in the back-streets

The Jodlerfest was directly responsible for June’s higher-than-usual blogcount on this site – and now you can read more about it, in the January/February issue of Songlines, the world music magazine.

Buy the issue to see it on paper, or click the link below to take you to a pdf of a ‘Postcard from Switzerland’ describing the amazing experience of spending a weekend at the world’s biggest celebration of Swiss mountain music.

Postcard from Switzerland in Songlines magazine, Jan/Feb 2012 issue

To read more – and for more pictures, go to June posts such as these:

http://tinyurl.com/3rph4a3

http://tinyurl.com/6zhekyr

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Filed under Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Music, Switzerland

9/12/11 – Why this winter’s jumpers are made for the Alps

One of my jumpers is pining for the Fjords

I’m no fashion expert, but I’ve detected a ski-chic theme to high-street clothing this winter. I’m talking Fair Isle meets Norwegian meets Austro-Swiss. The patterns this look involves appear not only on predictable garments such as hats, scarves and gloves, but on dresses, cardigans, wraps and jumpers – and on men’s as well as women’s wear.

Take a look at this lot:

http://tinyurl.com/5rtl9sw

http://tinyurl.com/cwp7gh3

http://tinyurl.com/bqnok26

This one is woolly and wintry

Yesterday evening I went late-night shopping in Guildford and the window of Gap, on the high street, reminded me of Aspen lodge scene from Dumb and Dumber.

As a long-time fan of these sorts of garments, I am joining in with enthusiasm. As I write, I’m wearing a striped cardie by Esprit that looks distinctly alpine, and recently I bought a long woollen top at Monsoon that has similar neat, striped patterns.

There's snow on my headband

It doesn’t stop at woollies. There is an implausiby huge choice of ear-muffs in Accessorize, which to me are a ski accessory. I wore a pair each winter aged eight to 12, both on and off the slopes, and rediscovered them in my thirties. I have two pairs, in rabbit fur, that I chanced upon in a gift shop in Devon. I often ski in them, either on their own or over a headband, but they don’t go well with goggles.

How hot is this hat?

Accessorize’s headbands looked disappointing, being un-lined, and I thought they’d probably “sag” quite quickly, and might not be that warm.

But their scarves and their gloves – including a massive choice of designs in fingerless form, with mitten fingers attached as a flap – were spot on.

In the Dale, at a restaurant in Hochgurgl, with guests of the original More Than Skiing

What’s annoying for me is that until a couple of months ago I had this winter’s perfect staple in my wardrobe – a Dale of Norway jumper. For the first time in the ten years I’ve owned it, it might have been vaguely cool.

But in a rare attack of “let’s get rid of everything I haven’t worn for a couple of years, and everything that doesn’t feel that flattering any more”, I bundled it off to charity. The other day I saw a man on the street in a Dale that looked just like it. It could well have been mine, and I have to admit it looked much better on him.

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5/12/11 – Snowheads: meet the virtual crowd who turn real on the slopes

Left to right: DeeJayDee, pixiebri and kwaka

I’m not much of a technophile, but I’m starting to see the light after a week on holiday with the good folk from snowHeads, an online community of nearly 28,000, which organises five or six “bashes” (ski trips) each winter. Last week I joined the site’s “PSB11” (pre-season bash 2011) in Tignes with 120 snowHeads, and they used their social network in ever such sensible ways.

Even before we got to the slopes, technology swung into action. On the snowHeads coach en route from Geneva airport to Tignes last Saturday, flowa, a smiley New Zealander in her 30s, let her wallet and phone slip out of her pocket while ducking out for an emergency pee in a lay-by near Annecy.

Half an hour and 50km later, she realised they were missing. What to do? Enter HolidayLoverXX – a seasoned “bash”er – a few seats away, who recalled that a snowHead named paulio lived nearby and might be able to help. Using a smartphone, someone sent paulio a PM (private message) asking if he might be able to help find the missing items.

Scroll forward to breakfast the next day and paulio replied he’d be delighted to help, but clear directions to the spot were needed. Enter HolidayLoverXX again with her laptop, looking up Annecy on Google Maps. A bit of street view sleuthing followed, and flowa thought she recognised a roundabout near the lay-by. A couple of clicks further revealed it to be the very lay-by. Tarquin – a Yorkshireman – identified the coordinates of the spot and sent them to paulio.

Paulio replied that he would drive to the spot, and ordered flowa to go skiing. By 1.30pm, news arrived that he had found the items.

Next step: how to transport them from Annecy to Tignes. HolidayLoverXX and Tarquin contacted eng-CH, who was due to drive up to the PSB that evening, to ask if she’d divert to pick them up from paulio. And so she did.

As flowa said – posting a thank-you note and an account of the triumph on snowHeads the next day, “What a team, what a community”. See flowa’s full post here – from which, you’ll see, I have borrowed extracts for this account; credit and thank you to flowa – http://tinyurl.com/cj76nwd – and scroll down to see reaction from other snowHeads.

PMs and texts were also key to arrangements both during and before the trip.

A fortnight before departure day, I had a PM in my snowHeads inbox from NicSnow, a London-based snowHead who was organising a pre-PSB11 get-together on a Friday night in a London pub. I was already busy, but 30 people turned up and had a great evening. Then, the night before the flight out, I received a text. “If you get to LHR in time tomorrow there’s a plan to meet in the Tin Goose in T1 after security!” It was great way make people feel welcome, especially those who came to the PSB on their own.

Cyber-charged ski-testing

The first couple of days, there were further useful, concise texts about boot-fitting, transceiver practice, a vodka party and free vin chaud. There was another about discounts in a restaurant – claimable on presentation of a snowHeads ‘snowcard’, a snazzy, barcoded photocard each of us had been given on arrival – and another about an avalanche safety talk.

Even for ski-testing, there was a cyber-angle. When Kneissl, White Dot, DPS and Salomon – invited by snowHeads to be present at the PSB11 – handed out skis, they scanned a barcode on each tester’s snowcard and matched it with the barcode on the skis. It’s all being uploaded to the site, so – theoretically – each of us should, on our return, have an online record of which skis we’ve tested. Genius!

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3/12/11 – Something is falling from the sky

View towards Mont Blanc from the Grande Motte yesterday: finally. a change from blue skies

Tiny flakes were swirling around the top of the Grande Motte yesterday afternoon. It wasn’t quite snow, but it wasn’t wind displacement either.

It was a kind of wafty dust that barely settled on my jacket, and later on, in the village, I saw a more substantial lone snowdrop float down from the sky. But despite predictions from weather-watchers of “snowfall at 10pm”, the sky cleared overnight.

Tignes Val Claret this morning, outside Hotel Curling

This morning, over Tignes Val Claret, where I’ve been staying this week, the cloud was much lower, enveloping the valley and spitting out miniscule flakes of something that was almost snow.

“Il neige!” I said optimistically to a man sweeping the steps (of dirt, not snow) outside the apartment on the way to breakfast. “Ce n’est pas de la neige,” he harrumphed. “C’est du givre.”

Tempted? I wasn't. The MM run back to Val Claret this morning

I looked up givre. “Tres fine couche de glace se formant par condensation du brouillard.” My inexpert French tells me this means a fine layer of ice formed by condensation from fog.

Whatever the stuff is, it’s still falling and has gathered pace a little. I’m leaving town this afternoon and didn’t think the mountain looked tempting enough to ski today, so I can’t tell you what’s going on up top.

Why the excitement? Well, in case you haven’t heard, the arrival – or not – of snow is on everyone’s minds in every ski resort in the Alps. Nothing has fallen for a month, and locals say there hasn’t been so little cover at this time of year for 50 years. The skies have been so clear this week that I’m coming home with a spring-like tan.

Midweek on the 3500 t-bar, with perfect visibility as well as great snow

Having said that, conditions have been excellent, thanks to the glacier and snowmaking. The funicular, Grande Motte cable car, Lanche and Vanoise chairs, and Rosolin, Champagny and 3500 t-bars, and the runs they serve, are in full swing – even if the odd tiny crevasse is visible on the piste and you have to watch out for patches of glacial ice. Yesterday, the Bollin chair opened, too – with 100 per cent artificial snow.

The forecast, according to the printed bulletin in the Grande Motte cable-car station, is for some kind of precipitation some time over the weekend – definitely more than a dusting of givre – and for unsettled weather next week.

Other forecasts are even more optimistic: the Ski Club of GB says 60cm of snow is forecast in Tignes, with snowfall every day from tomorrow; snow-forecast.com says something similar, starting with 10cm tomorrow. The picture looks similar across the Alps. I hope the forecasters are right!

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Filed under France