Category Archives: Link to film

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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…

http://tinyurl.com/kulbxo2

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

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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Filed under Food and drink, Gear, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Link to film, Music, Racing, Switzerland, Transport

14/2/12 – At last! I am in a movie!

A few months ago I went to see Flow State, a ski film, at a London cinema. Instead of trailers there were adverts or shorts supplied by the evening’s sponsors, which included Lake Tahoe, Skiset, Nissan and the Ski Club of Great Britain.

A film made by the Ski Club started rolling, and my companion, Kirstin, and I were smiling as we watched the turquoise-jacketed leaders, of which I am one, cruising around the mountain under blue skies with their… ahem… obedient, orderly, happy and very expert-looking band of British followers.

Our smiles froze when, suddenly, both of us appeared, looming in giant form over the darkened auditorium. I wish I could say we were wedeling, goddess-like, in feathery powder, but in fact we were in a distinctly un-Alpine setting.

Kirstin and Emma, the evening we caught the Ski Club cameraman's eye

Kirstin and Emma, the evening we caught the Ski Club cameraman’s eye

A couple of years before we had been videoed, together with a third friend, Emma, at the club’s summer party, knocking back the free early-evening glass of fizz.

The party was at the Hurlingham Club, a somewhat grander “white house” than Ski Club HQ in Wimbledon.

We were on screen for three seconds at the most, but it felt like a full minute as Kirstin and I sank into our seats, cringing.

Anyway, having got over the shock I wanted to have another look, so I made a quick search on Youtube. I couldn’t find it, but Kirstin made a more diligent search recently and tracked it down, under the catchline “Why join the Ski Club?”

It has had a mere 51 views as I write, which is similar to the average attracted by the far less consequential and decidedly unprofessional films I have put on Youtube (see here; my most popular by far, by the way, is of the Trofana Alm apres-ski bar at Ischgl).

As the people at the White House have gone to such trouble to put the film together, and were so nice as to think me and friends worth including, shall we try to up its view count?

You can see it here (we appear after about a minute).

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12/1/13 – Obergurgl apres-ski: David’s Hut

The Oetztaler Alpentornados at David's Hut

The Oetztaler Alpentornados at David’s Hut

Jolly, traditional, Tyrolean music in Obergurgl, I was glad to discover in December, is alive and well, even though the band at the excellent Nederhut is more inclined to high-volume “ruck’n’roll” than it was when I worked there 15 years ago (see my Telegraph article on Obergurgl – out in print in the Telegraph Saturday travel section today – for more on “then and now”).

On a Thursday evening before Christmas, our family group of three generations – aged nine to 72 – booked in to a fondue/Schweinshaxe (pork)/meat-on-stone evening at David’s Hut (Davids Huette), a few hundred yards downhill from the Nederhut and a place I knew mainly for its outstanding spaghetti Bolognese.

We walked up from the village (25 minutes from the centre, on a lane that starts steeply and flattens out); other groups arrived by taxi. It was beginning to snow.

The van of the promisingly named band, the Oetztaler Alpentornados, was parked outside; tables were filling up, mostly with German guests; a few teenage locals were drinking Weizenbier at the bar; a 20-strong British group, celebrating a birthday, were colonising one corner.

We’d booked meat fondue, mostly the chunky bourgignonne variety, but three of us had Chinoise, which came in jucier, thicker slices than usual. The sauces included sweet chilli as well as cocktail, curry, sour cream and chives, tartare and an unpindownable pink one. Salad arrived first, then rounds of chips to go with the meat.

The meal was spot on, as was the service – the friendliest I’ve encountered anywhere in the world, let alone the Alps. I first met the four longstanding chief waiting staff when working in the village in the mid-1990s, and the fact they’re all still happily there says a lot about the place (David himself is in the kitchen, or behind the bar).

But how was the music?

The band started sedately, circulating around the hut to give each set of tables a kind of private performance before plugging themselves in.

About five songs later, one of the Weizenbier-drinkers jumped up and danced energetically, all on his own. Here he is (in action on Youtube).

A few waltzes later Inge and… ah, I’ve forgotten this great David’s Hut longtimer’s name, I’m sorry to say… took a break from fetching, carrying and pouring to show how Austrian dancing is done.

Here they are – move over, everyone from Strictly (and of course we were rather amateur by comparison, too, when we had a go).

The Tornados played for well over an hour without a break, using a tableful of tuneful little metal bells for several songs – watch and listen here – and getting diners to come up and play them.

They finished their first set with a ‘Polonaise’ or conga around the benches and tables and out of the window onto the now-snowy terrace.

I was glad to see our neighbours join in: usually Brits find it too embarrassing to jig round in a queue holding onto a stranger’s shoulders from behind and being similarly grasped themselves. Usually, they pretend not to understand when beckoned to the line by a German, or they find some excuse such as finishing a drink or ordering another. But these ones were well fuelled by rounds of birthday schnapps.

As the Tornados rested at the bar in readiness for their second set, we paid up (about 45 euros each) and headed back to the village, the fresh snow beneath our feet and in our heads the swinging sounds of mountain music mingling with excitement about the next day’s powder…

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Filed under Austria, Food and drink, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Link to film, Music, Transport, United States

2/1/13 – Apres-ski at the Nederhut in Obergurgl

“GOODAFTERNOONLADIESANCHENTLEMEN!!! We are weryheppytoseeyoufortheapres-skiPARTY!!! Heute willwemake ruck’n’rolllll-boarischen-valzer andifyou nokenskidown because you loseyourski-drinktoomanyschnaps-forgetyourguggles don’tworrywetakeyoudown tothewillech withaSKIDOO! Jetzt heng ein byyourneighbour andwemakethe SCHNEEWALZER!”

The stage awaits several members of the Gamper family at the Nederhut in Obergurgl

The stage awaits several members of the Gamper family at the Nederhut in Obergurgl

The enthusiastic welcome by Rudi Gamper, hotelier, restaurateur and rocker, to his famed après-ski sessions at the Nederhut has barely changed since I was working in the Austrian resort of Obergurgl more than 15 years ago.

Then, when ski hosting for a couple of winters for Inghams, I took a group nearly every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to watch Rudi (on guitar) and two of his charismatic, musical mates – Gebi (mostly on accordion) and Toni (mostly on tambourine) – sing and play for a few hours from 4pm.

Benni (left) and Rudi

Benni (left) and Rudi Gamper

Afterwards, we’d ski the floodlit blue run, which leads to the doors of most of the village’s hotels and guesthouses. (Read more in this post.)

Every time I’ve been back, the operation has become fancier – more (and more massive) speakers, ranks of guitars and several big screens.

Just before Christmas, I was back again, and my sister and her family managed to bag us one of my favourite tables (arrival often necessary by 2.15pm to guarantee a  spot), to the left of the band at the front (best if you’re a group; the taller tables on the right, where the bar once was, are possibly better if you want to mingle).

Rudi Gamper (right) with his friends Toni (middle) and Gebi in the late 1990s

Rudi Gamper (right) with his friends Toni (middle) and Gebi in the late 1990s

Toni and Gebi are long gone – there’s a revolving cast now, the permanent fixtures being Rudi (as full of stamina as ever), Benni, his son (who has taken over running the place – I found it better than ever as a mountain restaurant), on the accordion or guitar, and his wife, Sissi, who learnt the drums so she could join in.

The order of play has evolved, though the playlist is similar. Rudi and Benni begin by standing on a table strumming like crazy, belting out AC/DC. After another couple of energetic, quite loud rock numbers it’s time for Rudi’s longstanding welcome (above) in Oetztal-German and then in funny English.

After the Schneewalzer (watch it on Youtube here!) there are two or three excellent traditional Austrian songs – one of which aims to get couples walzing with the promise of a free schnapps (on my visit the song was Gruene Tannen; the schnapps was Willi mit Birne; my partner was my fantastic dad).

Here’s one of the traditional songs on Youtube.

There follows solid rock and Europop, plus the odd country-style piece (including Vest Wirginia) until about 6.15pm, when there’s more traditional stuff after a break.

We were there with children, and didn’t want to stay too long, so I can’t tell you whether they did any yodelling later on (the Oetztaler Bergsteigerlied used to be my favourite).

Many people will prefer the new to the old Nederhut – it’s slicker and more professional (and it’s now on Thursday, too, at 4pm, as well as Monday, Wednesday and Friday).

However, as I’m only really mad about the traditional stuff, it’s probably less my thing than it once was.

I’ll still always go at least once for apres-ski (and definitely for lunch, as well) every time I’m in Obergurgl, and I’m happy to report that there are other options, too, now, concentrating on Tyrolean stuff. Read/watch more about these in another post, coming soon.

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Filed under Austria, Link to film, Music

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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Filed under Austria, Food and drink, France, Link to film, Music, Switzerland

30/3/12 – Where to go for April snow?

Spring-like Ischgl slopes this time last year

Spring ski deals have been landing in my inbox thick and fast this week. Inghams has amazing April savings – Courchevel or St Christoph am Arlberg for £349, including flights and half-board – while Powder White has slashed hundreds of pounds off holidays in St Anton and Meribel and extended the season for several of its properties. I’m sure Crystal, Iglu Ski and other operators and agents have bargains as well.

Most cut-price offers are chalet-based – not my ideal set-up as I prefer b&b or self-catering to take advantage of “local life” – but when such great savings are on offer, no matter.

Do be aware, however, that even in a bumper snow year it’s still worth aiming high (a top of somewhere around 3,000m, I suggest) if you want quality conditions.

Afternoon ski-touring in the woods near Anzere

Even if – like in many places – you still have a metre of snow at village level, if it’s 20 degrees by day then that snow will be foot-deep slush by 2pm unless you’re properly high and – just as crucially – north-ish facing.

Last weekend in south-facing Anzere, which still has mountains of snow in the village (at 1,500m), by 1pm it was over, even on upper slopes (2,400m). I was happy to ski in the morning and go touring through the woods in the afternoon, or sit on the balcony or swim at the great new indoor-outdoor pool (more on this nice, affordable Swiss resort here).

The high slopes at Grimentz last weekend

By contrast an hour away in the Val d’Anniviers, the resorts of Zinal and Grimentz had wintry piste conditions from three of their top stations (each around 2,800-2,900m), and the week-old, tracked-out powder by the side wasn’t bad either. The crucial thing was that the worthwhile top slopes were north or north-east facing (the fourth top, which faces south at 2,800m, was heavy slush by lunchtime).

The other consideration is that places where you typically find lovely “firn” or “corn snow” off-piste at this time of year (caused by freeze-thaw) may not be as good as usual.

A wet-snow slide of the full snowpack that started on a slope of around 30 degrees and crept a surprisingly long way

In Anzere you can often ski almost every square inch of south-facing slope safely during freeze-thaw if you catch it at the right time of day.

However, the cracks in the snowpack that appeared in December – after 2m of snow fell on warm, bare ground – are still there. They haven’t responded well to blasting, but some readily slide off by themselves.

Sunny side up: lunch outdoors is a pleasure of a spring trip. Just don't necessarily expect to do much skiing afterwards

“Hors piste interdit”, read a sign at the top of Le Bate at Anzere, and patrollers were posted at strategic spots near the cracks, on the alert for one to turn into something like the lift-destroying, wet-snow slide of a few weeks ago near Valmorel in France (watch the footage here).

I may not ski this April, but if I was planning a trip for myself – an affordable week or long weekend with the hope of off-piste and enough late-season après-life – these are the places I’d consider:

The Guspis off-piste run at Andermatt in wintry conditions - but this is a good spring bet, too

Engelberg (Switzerland, nearest airport Zurich) – slopes to at least 3,000m, largely north-facing; open till 29 May; great guiding office (see my article about that here).

Monterosa (Italy, Milan or Turin) – Amazingly, until this resort closes on 15 April this Italian “three valleys” is offering a free lift pass to everyone who stays three or more nights (half-board) in Gressoney or Champoluc. The slopes go to about 3,200m and face in all directions, and there are legendary off-piste runs down wild valleys (with cheapish guiding) and superb, great-value food on and off the mountain.

Andermatt (Switzerland, Zurich) – Lower Naetschen will be closed, but the 3,000-ish-metre Gemsstock mountain has an amazing north-facing bowl and various back routes. Read more in my Telegraph report here.

Zermatt (Switzerland, Zurich or Geneva) – several high tops and possible guided descent of Schwarztor. Stay in the Walliserhof for a treat or the Alphubel for a bargain. My sister has found a super-cheap, central, family apartment but it’s such a steal that it has to remain top secret so she can always get in. Sorry!

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

Ischgl (Austria, Innsbruck or Zurich) – up to 2,800-ish, but the main thing is that it has a lot of upper slopes and they face in various directions. A year ago we had a lot of fun there with Jim Costelloe, a Ski Club of GB leader who found us fabulous snow despite very scant cover. A friend and I even did an easy self-guided tour up a side-valley – although this year it would probably be less safe.

Tignes (France, Geneva or Chambery I think) – When there was virtually no snow last November, we had great conditions on the glacier. Stay on the upper slopes throughout the area for quality snow and see here for more about its group off-piste days out. Go the first weekend of May to catch the Black Shoes Telemark Festival’s 20th anniversary. The other high French resorts (Deux Alpes, Alpe d’Huez, Val Thorens) should be fine, too.

Obergurgl and/or Soelden (Austria, Innsbruck, Zurich or Salzburg) – They didn’t benefit from the big weather fronts in December and January, which approached from the north and blanketed the Arlberg again and again before arriving in the Oetz valley as wind. But now, conditions look great. Take the bus to the Aquadome at Langenfeld if it’s boiling hot in the afternoon and don’t miss the Nederhut après-ski on Mon, Wed and Fri.

I’m a great fan of St Anton, where I have been late in the season several times (most lately to do the Weisse Rausch, a mad annual race), but I recommend it less as a late-season place than my two other Austrian tips, as the number of its slopes that are really up near its tops, as well as being north-ish facing, seems to be fewer for its size, and rather scattered about, compared with other options. But if you like a busy town with plenty of après-ski, this is still a good bet well into April.

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Filed under Austria, Food and drink, Italy, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Link to film, Off-piste, Racing, Ski touring, Switzerland