Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Lucky Day!

I thought I was done with writing new posts today but mother nature had a different plan. I got out on the hill late today after taking my time to have some breakfast and write a bit. My plan was to ski back to Plagne 1800 from Bellecote and just enjoy the day to scout out what I hadn't seen yet on the mountain.
The sun came out as I hit the hill and right away I noticed the amount of avalanches that had happened around Plagne Centre. I made only a couple runs off piste. The snow was good and I felt good skiing. After a few long chair lift rides I noticed one more spot I wanted to ski before I went home. I should have gone home.
I finally made it to the Verdons Nord quad and saw some off piste snow that looked good on the way up. The angle wasn't to steep, less than 35 degrees, and the snow looked great. The line would be fresh snow for less than 200 meters until I would be back on a piste(run). It was going to be a great way to end the day. On the way up I watched 3 tourist ski and snowboard just to the right of where I wanted to ski, and thought how dumb it was to ski with 3 people at the same time off piste today. I was the dumb ass.
I headed over the start of the line and realized it was still a little boney at the top, so I was being a little careful for the first couple of turns. I made one turn and it was a bit rocky, but the second turn was butter. The third turn though, made this rumbling sound like a truck coming down the hill, but with the truck came an avalanche.
After I heard the rumble and saw everything around me fracturing and cracking, I tried to ski out to my left to no avail. It happened quick. I was caught, and all I could think of was SHIT. My skies were already under the snow and pulling fast. I was thinking to myself "stay up above the snow as best as possible" and just hope I don't get buried over my head. The ride lasted just a few seconds and only took me about half way down the slope. The rest of the slide carried into a gully or run out below me. I was buried almost up to my waste and couldn't believe I had just been in an avalanche. I moved quick to get myself out, while people yelled from the chair to see if I was alright. I told them I was and moved quicker than I ever have to a safe spot. My skis stayed on and my poles were somehow still in my hands. Hello adrenaline!!!
Afterwards I couldn't stop thinking about how Leo said that I would eventually get caught in a slide in France, I didn't think it was to funny. He made it sound like it was part of the game, and everyone had been in one. I had no plans to ever, in my life, get caught in an avalanche. And I know for sure I never want it to happen again.
I was very lucky that the slope was short and had a good run out. Or the ride would have been longer, with more chance of getting fully buried. I was wearing all my gear and my beacon was on. I took a pretty big risk today and don't plan on making the same mistake twice. The danger was only at a 3, which is still very dangerous. I let the draw of the snow and that famous cliche "just one more run" influence my decision. I'm still shaking.
This experience will forever influence how I ski off piste or in the backcountry. I was rushing to ski and didn't think out the consequences. Nor did I make a good plan of attack. SO HAPPY NEW YEAR, and BE SAFE OUT THERE!!!

In these pictures you can see my first few turns, before the avalanche started. You can see the fracture width and depth. The debris plied up down the gully. I stopped right below the top of the debris pile, you may be able to see my tracks coming out of the pile. If you click on the photos you get a better view.

Christmas Gifts!

The hat is from ski patrol and the Euro Cup is for winning the money twice. How sweet it is.


As I'm writing there are bombs rattling my windows. Heidi brought a ton of snow with her to France. Sorry Colorado!! Ever since she's been here the snow keeps piling up.
A couple of days before she arrived we had a pretty good wind event that left a 3cm wind crust on most everything. Vins and I had a good run early in the day, but it was tough skiing. By noon that day the clouds had moved in and it was on.
Plagne 1800 didn't get to much snow the next morning, so I thought it was going to be a normal work day with no new snow. After the morning routine of coffee and fresh bread in Belle Plagne, we rode up to the glacier on the Bellecote Gondola. To all of our surprise we had received about 30cms of new snow up on the glacier. POW DAY!
Remember the wind event? Not good. After the management types did their phone calls and we ate jambon and bread. It was decided no explosives were going to be used today, some agreed, most didn't. So it was decided we'd ski the most used areas and check the conditions.
The conditions were ridiculous.
Olivier(O.B.) and I were headed to check La Chiaupe. A black run with some surrounding aspects that had the potential to slide. All good. We skied some of the lightest powder I've skied. France's snow has a much higher water content than Colorado, so I was stoked when it was light and soft on your face. Colorado Style!! The rest of the day the French guys argued about policy and safety, I skied as much as possible.
Heidi came in the next day so I was planning on sleeping in a bit. Nope. At 7am I awoke to the avalanche control starting for the day around the Plagne 1800 area. AND another 30cm's of snow. Windows rattling, I had a quick cup of coffee and started digging Nico's A4 out from the parking lot.
The next couple of days it snowed on and off, with about another 10-20cm on Christmas Day. The glacier had been closed while I was off. In the locker room it sounded like we were going to do some P.I.D.A (avalanche control) that day since no one had a chance to do any control work the last couple days. We had our morning coffee and jambon before heading to work on the glacier. The glacier wasn't going to open today either. Only for control work and lunch.
Vins and I went together to do a route along some chutes skiers left of Le Chaiupe. We had no big results with any of our charges. Meteo and Jean Yeves were across the slope form us and had a couple good slides through the chutes below them, but nothing to serious either. Back to the top to ski and eat.
Everyone was back safe to the outpost by late morning, and the discussion started about the snow and how safe it really was. While Quick and Lionel were out on their route above the lower chairlift that serves our sector, they had a big avalanche release with only one small charge. Quick told me he thought the fracture line was about a meter thick, and 300 meters wide. And ran for at least 500 meters. HOLY SHIT!
The snow kept falling through the week and the mountains were really starting to look good. One day I went with Olivier S. on a cool route that starts by skiing a nice couloir, and then covers an area overlooking the la Combe area of our sector. See pics.
A day before Heidi left we got some rain below 1800 meters, and it put a mental damper on things that day. Then yesterday when I took Heidi to the airport it started raining again down in the valley. Not good. The whole drive it poured rain to and from Lyon. In Bourg St. Maurice it was full on springtime raining, cold and heavy.
I made my way back to Plagne 1800 and got about 4 switchback up the hill and it was DUMPING! 10-20 cm's had fallen since we left for the airport. Talking to Nico after work he said they didn't get up the glacier until 10:30am and it had already snowed 30cm's by then on the glacier. I asked what the avy danger would be today and Nico thought it would be at a four. That's 4 out of 5. Dangerous! If it hits 5, you just stay in bed.
It snowed all day yesterday and it's still dumping this morning. The bombs have slowed down and I'm itching bad. Over a meter in the last week, I think it'll be good. Happy New Year! to everyone. And come visit any time, it'll probably be worth it.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mon copine arrives.

Heidi was here for the holidays last week. She arrived a couple of days before Christmas and was a real trooper. She was only scheduled to be here for a week, so I thought she'd get hit hard by the lag. No jet lag for this girl. Other than the first night she didn't feel too tired for anything.
The day after she arrived we hit the hill. We slept in and started late morning. It was 1pm before we got into skis. The bus system wasn't quite the same as it is first thing in the morning for employees. So we waited a little longer at the wrong stop, ran after the bus when we didn't need to, waited again in Plagne Centre, and finally made it to Plagne Bellecote. By this time, we were ready for food and cafe'.
Finally on the chair. Nico calls me to say that the glacier had closed that day and the crew was near Champagny having lunch. The visibility was pretty bad so the skiing wasn't great, we headed to Champagny for lunch after only one run. Heidi was thrown right into the French way of skiing. That means you ski when its good, or not, then eat with friends and maybe ski more if you can still stand. This day was about the eating and drinking. After a great plate de jour of duck filet, potatoes, and veggies we headed out to meet Sandy for a beer. A run down to the bottom of Champagny and up was perfect timing to meet Sandy. We also met up with Mikey Hovey. Mikey grew up in the Vail valley and is also living in La Plagne for the winter. Couple more beers and we we're headed back home to get ready for Christmas Eve dinner with Nico's fam.
Nico's family had invited Heidi and I to holiday dinner. Dinner was at Nico's mom house on the other side of the valley from La Plagne. Anyone who has been away from their family during the holidays can tell you how much it sucks. So having Heidi was amazing, and Nico's family made us both feel very welcome for the holidays.
Before dinner we all had some duck and goose foie gras with wine and bread. The foie gras was actually really good, I think Heidi and I agreed the goose was the better of the two. After some fireworks for Nico's niece, literally fireworks in the house, we exchanged some gifts. Actually, Heidi and I received a few gifts from the family and were very grateful. Of course we weren't expecting anything and only brought a bottle of red wine for dinner to give the family. It was very generous of them.
For dinner we had a boat of seafood. Crab, snails, muscles, shrimp, oysters, crayfish, more shrimp, more snails. All this stuff was in a small Styrofoam boat you could have put the baby in. I don't mind shellfish, so I housed as many shrimp and crab as possible. The snails/urchins were a bit hard to eat, but I managed to eat at least one of everything. Heidi, not so much. When I saw that boat I knew Heidi was in for a challenge. She likes an occasional shrimp or two, but a boat was going to be hard. She said the bread was really good.
Christmas day we decided not to ski and just take it easy. I hadn't really seen much of La Plagne other than Bellecote, we decided to do some walking around the resort and see what we could. We had plans to have dinner with Nico and Mikey, so we did some shopping for dinner and gifts in Plagne Centre.
The next four days I was scheduled to work. Nico had those days off and showed Heidi around the mountain. She skied some of the powder we have, ate calf head, drank wine, and really enjoyed the French culture.
After skiing each day we spent more time eating and drinking. A couple nights this week we went to friend's houses for dinner. Fondue with Jean-Yeves and his girlfriend, CiCi. Then Rochlette with Sandy and Emily. And of course Liv. Sandy is a very proud father and loves being with his daughter.
Having Heidi come visit so early was awesome. She made missing home, friends, and family much better. Knowing she'll be back soon helps too. Having a visitor who speaks English eases the pain of bashing my head into the wall because my French is still lacking.
I know Heidi had a great week and many times didn't want to go back to the U.S. Those teachers at Edwards Elementary are lucky they have such a dedicated principal, or at this very moment she'd be here on her 3rd cup of coffee and second pain au chocolate. LOVE YOU BABE!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Week 1

I had a pretty busy first week in France. Getting into Savoie from Lyon was quite a ride. Nico and Sandy were at the airport ready to pick me up and carry my over weight ski bag and duffel through the airport. Thanks British Airways. I was looking forward to a relaxing ride into town, when I was given the pleasure of riding in the "dead guy" seat in Nico's Audi A4. Of course I asked what that was about and just got a causal explanation and laugh from the boys. Just a few minutes down the highway when we almost rear ended a semi at 130km/hr I got the picture and found the "oh shit" handle for most of the ride into town.
That night we hung out at Sandy's apartment with Emily and their new baby Liv for a while. Then Nico and I headed to Plagne 1800, or home. Nico showed me my new digs at the Hilton #3, yep Hilton, and it's everything you would imagine from a Hilton. Great views, hot water, plenty of space. Nico made a piece of beef with some pasta for dinner around 10. I think the French think, we Americans just eat beef. And after a couple glasses of wine with dinner I was ready for bed, so I thought.
The next couple of days are kinda a blur because I didn't really get any sleep. Jet lag is a bitch. I just followed Nico and tried to power through the lag with vin, beer, bread, cheese, sausage, and ham.
Friday night Nico and I went to a small village for a pizza party to celebrate with the folks he works with in the summer. The setting was unbelievable, the chalets all had to be at least a hundred years old. The building we ate in was made with an oven for baking bread, and tonight, pizza. I soon realized I was in a museum for the apple cider mill and orchard outside. Nico's boss' family was from this village, and he did his best to be a great host to an American that was half asleep and speaks horrible french.
After Nico safely drove us to his mom's house in a tiny village across the valley, sleeping and my first shower were priority. The shower was great, sleeping....not so much.
The next day or two I did some shopping for my penthouse, got Leo's van, arranged a bank account, and hung out with Sandy and Nico.
Starting to feel a bit better by Monday, I went to the mountain with Nico to see how everything worked. Finally stoked to ski and see the mountains, I was amazed the whole day with the size, and beauty of the Alps. The weather was clear and cold, so you could see forever, and the skiing wasn't too bad. We need snow like everywhere else, but La Plagne seems to have enough to start. At least it wasn't Latigo with manmade snow. It was a great day, the guys on patrol were all pretty friendly. I'll be working in the same outpost with the same crew all winter, and those guys are a stitch, I'm sure I'm going to like working with them all.
My first day of work I almost oversleep. I of course didn't bring an alarm clock, and had to rely on my ipod, bad idea when you've been in a sleepless daze for a couple days. I made it though.
So far, so great. Today(friday) is my first day off and I'm headed to Bourge Ste. Maurice for a cell phone for work and groceries. And it's snowing. Driving Leo's van from hear when there's snow is a bit, ok a lot, sketchy. I had to drive it up last weekend and can't believe I made it. I'll be taking Nico's Audi to town, hopefully I can get it started and the tires get me down to the valley floor.
Next week Heidi arrives for the holidays. I can't wait to see her. She may not want to come back after she sees this place.
Nothing in France happens quickly, but I finally got my interweb working and if I'm going to be on, it will be between 10am and 2pm Colorado time, so skype me or whatever. Email me and I can give you my sign on name.
Hope everyone is great and I look forward to seeing and hearing from you soon. Ciao!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

One Week

In a weeks time I'll be headed to France for the winter. Being new to the blogging thing, I thought it would be a good idea to start one about my trip. Mainly so my family and friends could keep track of me while I'm away.
For those of you who don't know about this voyage, I'm taking part in a job exchange of sorts. Every winter (hiver) Beaver Creek and La Plange resorts, one in the Colorado Rockies, the other in the French Alps respectively, each sending one patroller to work at the other ski area. This year I was the lucky bastard who was chosen from Beaver Creek. Leo Coirier was chosen from La Plagne, and has already arrived in Colorado. Leo arrived mid November and has settled in nicely. He's been working on the Ski Patrol race crew for the World Cup event that takes place at Beaver Creek. Beaver Creek holds the only World Cup Downhill event in North America. In the United States ski racing isn't as popular as it is in Europe, so many people don't know about the race. But, it's a BIG DEAL in Europe and this particular race is a racer favorite.
All I can tell you about La Plagne is that its in the French Alps and its 5x bigger than Vail. You know Vail, the mother ship of Vail Resorts and 2nd fiddle to Beaver Creek. Not having been to France to ski (only for an 8th grade trip to Paris, Mr. Preston, anyone?) I wish I could tell you more about what I'm expecting when I get there, other than complete awe. Which is why this blog should keep you all informed about the work, play, and experiences in speaking horrible French.
Being a week out, most of my time is spent thinking about whether or not I have my shit together for the trip. I'm pretty sure I do. Visa's good, passport ready, plane ticket bought, 7 months of Rosetta Stone. That's all I need right?
Well, I'll be in touch. Hopefully once more before I actually leave. And I'll let you know how the nerves, anxiety, and excitement of leaving home for 6 months is working out. Peace, Andy