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Ski guiding in Meribel France with British ski instructors
Ski guiding in Meribel France with British ski instructors
Ski guiding in Meribel France with British ski instructors
Ski guiding in Meribel France with British ski instructors

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A Winter Bookended

Posted on
April 30, 2021
A beautiful spring morning in Courchevel Le Praz

Hello everybody and welcome to another post from your favourite blogging ski instructor in Méribel, with what will be the final article this winter/spring direct from resort. At the end of my previous post I hinted that the Covid numbers in France were getting worse, and sure enough within a few days President Macron put the country into a "Lockdown Light" for four weeks. One of the measures put in place was a 10 kilometre limit of travelling from your home, which as I understood at the time, put paid to me driving up through the country to return to the UK. On the flip side, at least we could continue ski touring locally. All photos in this post were taken in the last three to four weeks.

I know floppy hats aren't a great look, but protection from the raging sun was needed last weekend

Rewind four months...... and the world was in a very different place to now. There were a number of questions being asked by friends and family back then about what my plans were for the coming ski season. And to be honest it was very tricky giving them a definitive answer because there were so many variables. What was the pandemic situation in France, would the ski lifts open, would people be able to travel, will the ski resorts be able to function, and what will happen about Brexit (more on this later)? One thing I did know was that if I wanted to work this winter I had to arrive in France before the January 1st at the very least, due to the ending of the cooling down period of Brexit. I remember saying to my Dad on Christmas Eve before I left the UK, "Dad, I have no idea what I'm driving towards this winter, not a clue. In fact I don't even know if I will be let out of this country." New strict travel restrictions had been introduced.

Snow art under the Dou de Lanches chairlift above Courchevel La Tania
Ian enjoying some fresh April powder snow above Courchevel La Tania
Me skiing alongside Ian's tracks

As I'm sure you have already guessed, after showing my travel documents at border control, I was waved through and eventually arrived in Méribel on 30th December. Happy days. One week later the opening date for the ski lifts - which had already been postponed several times - was delayed yet again. As time went on through January, it became clear that there was a high probability that the ski lifts in fact wouldn't open at all. When I said to my Dad back at Christmas that I didn't know what I was driving into, it was now becoming a bit clearer.

Ian in more April powder, under the Tougnete chairlift, looking down on Méribel Town
Looking back up towards the empty Tougnete chairlift

We were then in the situation of making the most of our bizarre situation, which meant continuing to get fitter by skinning (walking) up the mountain for just one ski run down. Quite what non-skiers would make of such behaviour I do not know!?! I have to say though, our mental health was all the better for it.

There will have been many things this extraordinary winter will be remembered for. One of these has been the silence up the mountain, it was deafening. Don't get me wrong, a normal ski season isn't that noisy, unless you are stood outside a mountain restaurant blasting out dance music. But this year, I've never known silence like it.

And a visual difference this year has been the stillness of the ski lifts. Some chairlifts had their chairs attached, others with only their cables cables exposed, just like the bubbles. We witnessed endless weeks of empty dormant ski lifts, which are normally a critical part of a ski resort's infrastructure.

The top of the Saulire Express bubble, partially buried under snowdrifts

One question that I've been asked by a few people, is how much 'vert' have I accumulated over the winter. I assumed they mean how many metres have we skinned up (vertical). To be honest I haven't kept track. Ian and I spoke about this several times and we thought that we probably ascended up to about 3,000 metres a week, which could add up to over 50,000 metres over the length of the season. If that's the case, this is the equivalent of ski touring up Mount Everest six times!?! Who knows.

Now then, another huge subject this winter which has almost been overshadowed by the pandemic, is Brexit. I will do my best to try to avoid sounding political here, and help explain why I think the landscape of the British ski industry, particularly in resort, will have now changed. Britain voted to leave the European Union, and all of the rights to work within the EU have now disappeared, fact. Gone are the days of tens of thousands of British workers crossing the English Channel every winter (and summer of course for the summer holiday industry), without worrying about paperwork and visas. This 'freedom' to work anywhere in the EU has vanished. We will now see very few if any British staff working for chalet companies. We will now see very few if any British staff working in bars and restaurants. The Rond Point mountain restaurant will have a very different feel to it. Unless.....

Above Courchevel Moriond (previously known as '1650')
Skinning up alongside the Pyramides double drag lift

Yes, working visas can be applied for. Apparently it is a complicated process with local job centres needing to be involved, and these visas aren't ideal for the length of a ski season. So where does that leave British ski instructors wanting to work in France? There are a couple of important things to note here. Those who were already ski teaching in France will still have a valid qualification/licence - thankfully a current licence will be recognised. That's not the issue, which comes down to being a UK national. There is some good news however. If you apply to become a French resident, you can teach with your current qualification, and be able to legally live and work in France all winter season.

Sunrise in the Méribel Valley looking towards the Roc de Fer and Mont Vallon

Up until the end of June this year it is possible to apply for residency under the 'WARP', this means the 'Withdrawal Agreement Residency Permit'. This is the process that I started during this season. Without going into too many details, the next stage for me is to wait to be invited by my local prefecture (think county council headquarters) which is located in Chambéry, to attend a short meeting. There I will need to provide certain items of paperwork, plus give finger prints, smile a lot and sign a piece of paper. A few weeks after that I should receive my Titre de Séjour through the post, which means I will be a French resident.

The marmottes are waking up from their winter hibernation, near Lac de Tueda
A carpet of wild crocuses
A bouquetin in the Vanoise National Park just before "Lockdown Light" started

I try to avoid speculation, but I do wonder if there will be fewer British ski instructors in resort next winter compared to a normal ski season. I was talking to a friend of mine a few days ago who is a director of a British ski school here in Méribel. He was saying that at the moment he believes he will have fewer British instructors available on his books. This situation is nothing to do with an 'us against them' mentality. It's purely because Britain voted to leave the EU. I'm just extremely grateful that I should still be able to come out every winter and do the job I love, ski instructing, thanks to the French offering residency.

Contemplating life above Méribel-Mottaret....... the brand new and still unused Bouquetin chairlift

What will happen over the next few months? Who knows with this damn stupid stupid pandemic. Things are very slowly improving in France, many of my friends here have already had their first jabs, in fact my mate Slippers Jackson had his second jab over a month ago. The UK looks like a very different place now compared to when I left back in the dark days of late December. Fingers crossed things will continue to improve. It's been quite a breathtaking and extraordinary winter here in the mountains, one that nobody could've predicted. I've a Covid test booked here in France on Monday, if that goes to plan I will be heading back to the UK soon after. Then I can take my first jab after self-isolation.

I hope the summer goes well for you all. I'm going to sign off with the credo that I've used for the last twelve months or so ......Stay Safe, Stay Healthy, and Stay Fabulous. Martin.

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With our skills- based system of learning, we give you the tools to safely negotiate any demands the mountains make on you, helping you to increase your comfort zone and ski in a wider range of conditions. Whether you are a nervous novice, a blue piste cruiser or an all mountain adventurer, we tailor your ski lessons to create a perfect fit. The question is, which one are you?

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A Winter Bookended

Hello everybody and welcome to another post from your favourite blogging ski instructor in Méribel, with what will be the final article this winter/spring direct from resort. At the end of my previous post I hinted that the Covid numbers in France were getting worse, and sure enough within a few days President Macron put the country into a "Lockdown Light" for four weeks.

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With our skills- based system of learning, we give you the tools to safely negotiate any demands the mountains make on you, helping you to increase your comfort zone and ski in a wider range of conditions. Whether you are a nervous novice, a blue piste cruiser or an all mountain adventurer, we tailor your ski lessons to create a perfect fit. The question is, which one are you?

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