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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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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

16/8/12 – London 2012: the Alpine houses

Our very first stop was this maze, built of 250,000 books inside the Royal Festival Hall. Pretty cool

The Olympics are over. Everything I saw – the beach volleyball from the stands at Horseguards Parade; the athletics on television; the cycle road race in Surrey – I loved.

But one of the most memorable parts, for me, was a couple of hours spent in the early evening near Tower Bridge, at Austria House. Various countries set up bases in London and one afternoon a couple of friends and I took a walking tour of the ‘houses’ of three Alpine skiing countries by the Thames.

The Swiss House, where we watched Steve Guerdat win gold in show jumping

First stop, after getting waylaid at a maze made entirely of books that we came across while hunting down a loo in the Royal Festival Hall, was Switzerland, near London Bridge. There a big screen, a stage and picnic tables were set up in a shady square and a few minutes after our arrival, the Swiss show jumper Steve Guerdat won gold – to rather restrained applause, we thought. We toasted his success with the free extra half-pint of lager we’d landed due to a mix-up at the bar (where half-pints cost £3; pints £4.50 – dearer than Switzerland, we noted!).

My friend Rebecca contemplates Tom Stoddart’s pictures on the South Bank, between the Swiss and Austrian houses

En route to Tower Bridge, we stopped to see Tom Stoddart’s moving outdoor exhibition of black and white photographs, mostly taken in conflict zones over the past 30 years, printed large on a maze of boards near City hall. This runs till 12 September and is well worth a visit.

On the far side of Tower Bridge, Alpinbanda were warming up…

On the north side of Tower Bridge, Austria had its base at Trinity House, with tables crammed into a courtyard, a couple of small screens and a bar where dirndl- and lederhosen-clad bartenders served beer, wine and bratwurst.

Paul Heis on washboard, Leena Schoepf on accordion and Miss Amadea (is she really called that?) on double bass

We grabbed a seat next to a tiny stage, on which, promisingly, stood a double bass. Sure enough, within minutes, a three-part band materialised and launched straight into the Kufstein Lied (more easily recognised as the song that goes: “…bei uns in Tirol”) and then the Zillertaler Hochzeitsmarsch.

On double bass, yodelling in harmony and frequently belting out a yyeeeeeeeeaaahhoooaaaa was a musician known as Miss Amadea (I know this because I saw her play the violin at a reception at Austria House a few days earlier – though I can find pretty much nothing about her online).

Leena plants a Tirol transfer on Kirstie's arm

Leena plants a Tirol transfer on Kirstie’s arm

On the accordion, and singing and yodelling with gusto – as well as throwing in a few yipps of her own – was Leena, short for Karolina Schoepf, who comes from the Oetztal, according to her website. Singing and playing the clarinet or sax and the washboard (with a cymbal on its top) was Paul Heis, who leads Alpinbanda.

With a glass or two of Austrian Gruener Veltliner, a few sociable neighbours at the trestle table and much enthusiasm from the crowd it was a brilliant couple of hours. Needless to say we never made it to the French house, also on the north side of the Thames – though we were told it was a great place to go after pub hours.

By the time we left Trinity House, the yodelling had drawn enough people to create a queue

By the time we left Trinity House, the yodelling had drawn enough people to create a queue

My recordings are pretty ropey, and I should have filmed the complete Kufstein Lied, but you can see and hear them by following these links: Kufstein Lied, film one, film two, film three.

I’d travel to London any time to hear Austrian music like this – what a shame they’ve all gone home!

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22/3/12 – Poor Tom Lynch, but today’s slopes aren’t built for high speeds

I was dismayed to read in the papers that Tom Lynch, the British skier who died in Val d’Isere on Tuesday after crashing into a snow cannon, may have been trying to break the 100kph barrier while using an iPhone app called Ski Tracks. Read the story in the Telegraph here.

Followers of this blog will know what I think about gadgets on the slopes – and elsewhere, for that matter. Read this post from last October to find out – and in the same post you can also find out what happened when I sampled the Ski Tracks app a couple of years ago.

I very much feel for Tom’s family and friends, and whether or not this or any gadget encourages people to ski beyond their capabilities and lose control I don’t know.

What I do hope is that, whatever the cause of his accident, others will take heed about speed.

Many of today’s slopes – especially the ones typically frequented by Brits, in over-rated places such as Val d’Isere – are so crowded that tearing around them at high speed is madness.

There are, however, ways to ski at pace without putting yourself and others in undue danger – and even to have your kph recorded (and not on a gadget you are carrying, which I think is safer).

The safest way to be a speed merchant - in this case, at the Inferno in Muerren

I’m not talking about the speed traps dotted about in some resorts but about the dozens of amateur races – downhills, giant slaloms, parallel slaloms – that take place all over the Alps. The Germans have been enjoying these alongside locals for years, but surprisingly few Brits join in with the Euro-organised ones.

A few weekends ago, for instance, you could choose between the Parsenn Derby in Davos and the Inter-Club Championships in Gstaad, for instance. Last weekend the City Ski Championships took place in Crans, and the weekend after next there’s the Gardenissima in Val Gardena as well as the Allalin in Saas Fee. Then on 4 April there’s a Ski Club of GB dual slalom in Tignes.

Read about some of Europe’s great amateur races here – and with a bit of planning, you too can be a speed merchant – but in a controlled environment (or semi-controlled, in the case of the Weisse Rausch in St Anton…), where your chances of colliding with an obstacle or another skier are pretty low and a helmet will be compulsory.

There are plenty of race-training courses for adults these days – with the likes of Amanda Pirie, Phil Smith and organisations such as Inspired to Ski – which should make you safer at speed.

My other tip for collision-free skiing is to steer clear of the busy resorts and go to ones with less kilometre-age but where you have those kilometres pretty much to yourself. Where are those? Now, that would be telling…

Addendum, 22/3/12: Here is an interesting thread on Snowheads.com relating to collisions.

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22/2/12 – My brush with Jean-Claude Baumgartner

Jean-Claude Baumgartner in an igloo in 2007

I was interested to read in various papers recently about a man named Jean-Claude Baumgartner, who was jailed for more than two years last Friday for fraud.

Baumgartner was involved in at least two ski-related businesses, and in relation to one of them, the Satski – a GPS device for the slopes – he appeared on Dragons’ Den in 2010 and secured investment to the tune of £230,000 from Peter Jones and Theo Paphitis. You can watch his stint on the programme, nearly two years ago, here.

According to the Daily Telegraph report of Friday, Baumgartner, 50, “duped the Dragons [of the television show] into handing over the cash with false promises of a successful business backed up by fake emails and letters”.

Baumgartner’s other venture, which he co-founded, was Picnics on the Piste. I met him in spring 2007 when I visited Val d’Isere with half a dozen other journalists, the main aim of the trip being to sample POTP’s services and write an article about it for the Sunday Telegraph. I remember him as publicity-savvy, talkative (with one of those “been all over the world” accents) and pleasant.

Before the article I wrote could be published, POTP folded, and today the company, like Satski Limited and one other where Baumgartner held a directorship, is listed by Companies House as dissolved.

So I never thought that binned article would see the light of day, but now, I suppose, it might hold minor interest. So with apologies that it’s not exactly a masterpiece, here it is, complete with a few snaps…

When the weather is fine enough to ski without long johns and a thermal vest I like to take a picnic up the mountain. Much as I enjoy eating tartiflette, Gulaschsuppe or salade savoyade at an alpine restaurant, there’s something satisfying and slightly intrepid about filling a rucksack with goodies from the supermarket and stopping for lunch whenever and wherever one likes.

In France, the core of my feast is usually a wedge of Beaufort or Comté cheese; in Austria pairs of Landjäger sausages; in Switzerland viande sêchée or, in one resort, raw Bratwurst sausages, to cook on wood fires the pisteurs light every morning in cow-sheds. Wherever I am, I carry a bar of whichever chocolate I’m addicted to that week (last spring’s favourite was red-packaged Lindt, which melts to exactly the right texture during a sunny morning’s skiing).

Jean-Claude Baumgartner poised to feed us in Val d'Isere

So finely have my usual skiing friends and I perfected the art of alpine picnicking that I was sceptical at first when I heard about a new company – launched last season in France – that delivers picnics to hungry skiers up the mountain. Could they assemble as tasty a spread as we can? Would it be expensive, compared to doing one’s own shopping? Would you have to book ages in advance, and be subject to the whims of the weather?

The company, Picnics on the Piste, was set up by two regular visitors to Val d’Isère: Englishman Mark Strachan and Dutch-French, Australian-based Jean-Claude Baumgartner. Their backgrounds are in computer games and marketing, but they are keen mountain picnickers – and determined characters, it seems, too, as they first had to take on the Val d’Isère commune in court after locals resisted their plans. “We found support as well as resistance, and we’re not really a threat to anyone because most of our customers only have a picnic once a week,” Baumgartner told me.

Last season, their “trial period”, POTP’s 20 staff served 2,000 picnics in Val d’Isère, Tignes, Méribel and Courchevel, 70 per cent of them to British guests, and to parties of up to 80 as well as small groups, couples and families. This season the service expands to Verbier, Val Thorens, La Tania, La Plagne, Les Arcs and St Anton.

A “green” picnic (picnics graduate to the ski-run colours of blue, red and black as you pay more), with hot soup, baguette, Babybel cheese, ham, fruit, crisps, chocolate and water, costs £9.99 per head. Supplies come from local firms – meat from a Val d’Isère butcher, general food from the wholesaler Cash Hotel 2000 and cakes from Maison Chevallot pâtisserie – although foreign produce, such as Cheddar, nevertheless creeps in.

Picnic-hands and their wares

We didn’t have the excuse of a corporate outing, birthday or marriage proposal (all of which Baumgartner’s customers have celebrated with a POTP), but we opted for the elite “black” picnic (£29.99 each), complete with table and chairs, Bollinger (£29.99 extra per bottle) and a skidoo ride to a scenic plateau away from the whizz and whirr of the ski area. Not a cloud had been spotted for weeks and the snow was turning to slush by midday, so we felt confident, first, that we’d be warm enough, and second, that we’d happily curtail our skiing day with a leisurely lunch.

We set out from beneath the Tommeuses chairlift, piloting the shiny skidoos ourselves after watching a cursory demo – luckily, driving was as easy as it looked – and dismounted a few minutes later next to a wooden picnic table (there was too little snow left for a dug-out “snow table”). Our waiters – cheerful young Antipodeans clad in black hoodies, combats and sunglasses – distributed plastic glasses of fizz.

Well, if you insist...

Picnics on the Piste’s off-piste lunch venue is a sensational spot, and one that few would come across unless they are brave enough to negotiate one of the couloirs above, named “les Oreilles de Mickey” after a radio mast on the ridge that resembles the cartoon mouse’s ears. As we squinted up in awe there was no action; just a few faded snowboard tracks. In the valley lies an expanse of deep turquoise – the dam, Lac du Chevril – and in the distance the hump of Mont Blanc. To one side are the slopes above Tignes Les Brévières and Les Boisses, the concrete of Lac de Tignes just peeking into view; to the other, the shoulder of Bellevarde and the more distant Solaise. What a contrast to elbowing one’s way among hordes of sweaty holidaymakers in the hunt for a space in a mountain restaurant.

We piled into firm, buttery foie gras, quiche, bunches of grapes and creamy patisserie and chocolates. Everything was cold, apart from soup and coffee, and of the “can’t go wrong” ilk – Camembert, smoked salmon, salami and a somewhat un-alpine Greek salad. It was a treat to picnic on delicate, squashable food that I wouldn’t normally risk or bother carrying; in fact, we ate so well that back at our base, Chalet Santons, we had no room for afternoon tea. I was impressed, too, that someone had thought to put a proper pepper-grinder on the table, although if I’d packed the hamper myself I’d have thrown in salad dressing as well.

We had our glasses filled and our mess cleared up, but picnickers who opt for piste-side delivery – meeting their meal at an accessible spot within the ski area – put their rubbish in a plastic bag (which can be worn like a rucksack) and take it to a bin.

What about the weather? POTP operates on the basis that there will be 50 days per season that are fine enough to eat in the open, and takes bookings until 10am so that clients can decide to picnic the same morning. Baumgartner and his crew also build igloos – for use during bad weather as well as for candlelit picnics – using a giant inflatable mould and a snow-blasting machine. Bizarrely, the structures have to be inspected and certified by the local fire-brigade.

A POTP is fun and convenient, but is it value for money? Well, yes and no. A green picnic comes cheaper than a soup, sandwich, crisps, chocolate bar, apple and drink at a self-service mountain restaurant, but dearer than at the local Spar. A black picnic is only marginally cheaper than a four-course lunch at the top-tier mountain restaurant La Fruitière, although POTP clients save on alcohol, with wine at £10 and Bollinger £30: La Fruitière’s cheapest wine is £14; its Champagne from £43.

For the black picnic, too, you could assemble most of the ingredients yourself from the shops for less money. But you’d struggle to carry it all morning, especially getting on and off Val’s super-swift chairlifts and squeezing into funiculars and telecabins, without bruising grapes, leaking soup or coffee, cracking plastic glasses and decimating those scrumptious Chevallot cakes.

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Filed under Food and drink, France, Transport

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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