Tag Archives: Val d’Isere

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

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

5/7/11 – Here’s a Facebook competition I won’t enter – but you might like to

You know my feelings about chalet slaves (if not, find out here http://tinyurl.com/6hxuu8m). I’ve never wanted to be one, and I’m not the greatest fan of chalets either, even though I understand the appeal and realise many holidaymakers couldn’t do without this very British set-up. Anyway, in case you know a brave person who dreams of baking a daily cake, hosting a dinner party each night, making beds and cleaning loos, all for a chance to whizz up the mountain from 11 till 3.30 and collect a few quid a week, here’s a heads-up about a slightly unusual opportunity.

Strictly forbidden: a bought cake

The seasonal jobs agency Natives.co.uk has launched a Facebook competition called “Who wants to be a Seasonnaire”? The “winner” will land a job at a chalet “in one of Europe’s premier resorts such as Val d’Isere or Meribel” plus a place worth £599 on the Natives cookery course (think leek and roquefort tart and sole meuniere) and £200 of vouchers for Dare2be gear (think midlayers, baselayers, windshells and all those clever things that weren’t invented back in the day).

Applicants can bypass the usual interview process by posting applications to the Natives Facebook page – by video, if they wish – by 11 July (next Monday). Natives will draw up a shortlist, then the fun starts, as fans of the Natives.co.uk page (and there are 3,234 of them as I write) will carry out “interviews”: each finalist will have 24 hours to answer a raft of questions and challenges set by the Facebookers. Finally there will be voting, and the chalet-host-to-be will be revealed on 1 August.

The interesting thing is that the job is with Skiworld, a large and established chalet operator that you may remember rocketed to notoriety in 1998 after the BBC fly-on-the-wall “documentary” War and Piste, which focused on its chalet boys staggering around in Val d’Isere before and during monumental hangovers. Thankfully for Skiworld, as this article – http://tinyurl.com/6hf35gj – shows, it turned out to be a case of any publicity being good publicity. Another article I found online, from The Independent (http://tinyurl.com/6ekpygv), reveals how the docu-soap indirectly led to the founding of Natives.co.uk. So the companies have a history together.

Good luck, then, to all aspirant chalet hosts – the competition can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/natives.co.uk. And for those who don’t enter but feel they can do a good Chris Tarrant, why not throw in a few questions or challenges to the finalists? (Just don’t mention War and Piste.)

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Filed under Austria, Food and drink, France, Gear

21/1/11 – Avalanche article – skiers warned…

Below is a link to an article of mine that appeared in Country Life magazine in one of its January issues and at http://www.countrylife.co.uk. It was in the wake of two horrific recent avalanches in the Le Fornet section of Val d’Isere, in which two groups, led by mountain guides, were caught in separate incidents.

http://www.countrylife.co.uk/countryside/article/513587/Skiers+urged+to+exercise+caution.html

During the Ski Club of GB leaders’ course (see posts from December) a lot of the teaching related to avalanches. I think that the more skiers and boarders know about the risks, and the better they understand them, the better.

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Filed under France, Link to article by Yolanda Carslaw, Off-piste