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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

MH2SKI Blog

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Early Signs of Spring

Posted on
March 13, 2021

Hi everybody, and welcome to another post from your favourite blogging Méribel ski instructor. I hope you are all well, and getting through this period of stupid stupid Covid. This weekend as I write this post, is now one full year on from the closure of ski lifts in all French resorts. As soon as it happened last year I packed up the apartment and raced back to the UK not knowing what the future held for us all. Back to the present day and as I mentioned in my last post, I'm very aware of how lucky I am being here in the mountains, compared to people in the UK who are still staying indoors thanks to Lockdown 3. I hope these blog articles and social media posts offer you some escapism. Trust me, I'm far from gloating about being here. If anything, I'm feeling guilty!

My goal during this post is to show you how different this winter is compared to normal times. Yes, the mountains are amazing. Yes, we have snow. And yes, it is possible to ski; but in such different challenging circumstances.

Ian skinning up the Alouette red piste

I've continued to team up with friend and fellow ski instructor at the Méribel ESF ski school, Ian Saunders. Every time we head out, we try to visit somewhere different. Making sure we get to experience beautiful views and finding some skiable snow both feature on the list. During the French school holiday period, very little of the terrain was being groomed by the piste bashers. Late February was much warmer than normal, with what felt like spring coming early. This meant north facing aspects were key for good quality snow.

Looking down the Alouette piste towards the Cote Brune chairlift and Mont Vallon bubble

One trip we decided to do was to head up to the Roc des Trois Marches peak, high above Méribel-Mottaret and Les Menuires. If you are familiar with the ski area, think top of the old Plattieres 3 bubble (now replaced by the brand new Bouquetin chairlift), or the top of the Granges chairlift above St.Martin. We used a mixture of blue pistes and the Alouette piste (a steep red) to reach our destination.

Top of the new Bouquetin chairlift, so far unused in its short life.......

After four hours of skinning, we eventually made it to our 2,704 metre peak. It was a hot and sweaty saunter up (see previous blog post), and we soon aimed for shade under the roof of the Granges chairlift for our picnic. One thing we didn't expect to see was that 'Le Bouche a Oreille' mountain restaurant was open for business!?! We had no idea about that. In the middle of nowhere, there was an open mountain restaurant. After eating our picnic and glugging our water, we decided to treat ourselves and have a cool, sugary coke.

We were served by the manager; Madame explained that they had been open for business for a few weeks. They were offering a fixed three course meal, changing daily, with a glass of wine and a coffee for a set price! Yes, some of their custom came from ski tourers like Ian and myself. They were also offering rides to and from the restaurant in their piste basher for small groups of people (wearing face masks of course), for those who didn't want to walk up the mountain. "Comme un taxi" she said with a smile. That's one hell of a taxi we thought!?!

Anyway, we thanked her for the drink, which didn't even touch the sides. Then we packed away our skins in rucksacks, and prepared to the ski down. The route that we selected was the equivalent of the 'Grand Lac' blue piste which runs parallel to the Granges chairlift. As we turned the corner from the mountain restaurant, shuffling across to the top of our piste, our eyes popped out of our eye sockets. The piste was perfectly groomed, in incredible condition, and of course completely deserted! A very familiar skiing route in normal times, but now in such exceptional condition during exceptional circumstances.

Look at that, not a soul in sight

How epic was this. We couldn't understand why, in the middle of nowhere, there was a perfectly groomed piste. Right on cue, we had our answer. In the distance a piste basher was heading up our way. But it was not a normal piste basher. It was the one owned by 'Le Bouche a Oreille'! It was full of people heading up to the restaurant, which was the reason why the piste was in such good condition. Every trip it made to and from the restaurant, it was smoothing out the snow every time. HOW AMAZING. I'm not sure what the passengers thought of us, stood on skis, waving at the driver and giving a massive thumbs up for his help.

Two days later, Ian and I were heading for a different route. All was going to plan first thing in the morning, until......... Ian unfortunately slipped over on some ice in the car park, fell heavily, and fractured his arm. Instead of continuing, I drove him to the Cabinet Medical at Chaudanne. He had an appointment with Dr Smazxchchchc (not sure I've spelt his name correctly), pronounced Dr Smash! After giving Ian an x-ray, 'Smash' confirmed he had a fractured arm and promptly put on a plaster cast. Poor Ian would be out of skiing action for a while.

The next day, another very warm one, I drove over to St.Martin de Belleville. I parked up very close to the village, and started skinning up towards the top of the Tougnete. It is such a pretty area, with numerous mountain huts dotted along the pistes.

I do love a rustic mountain hut, especially when sheltering from the strong spring sun
Looking up towards the Tougnete in the Belleville valley
The Pelozet piste

Again, I had another long, hot walk up. It was absolutely beautiful, and I was in a constant state of awe with the scenery. Needless to say I sought shade at the top again, this time under the roof of the St.Martin 2 chairlift. A nice leisurely picnic was taken, and a couple of bottles of water were glugged. I knew that it would be difficult to match the descent that Ian and I had a few days previously. However a close second was skiing down Jerusalem, many people's staple favourite. It was a little narrower than normal, but who was I to picky about such things?

The start of the mighty Jerusalem

Isn't it strange seeing such empty pistes? Granted, the ski lifts aren't running, and it's very physical skinning up the mountain, but the reward is there with such bizarre quiet experiences. After skiing back down, and dropping my kit off at the car, I decided to take a short walk around the village of St.Martin. Something that I had never done before. That's the thing about this winter, the pace of life is very slow and relaxed.

My final adventure in this blog post features other ski instructor friends; Sandi, Fraser, Zoe and Les. We fancied a slight change of scenery away from the 3 Valleys, and decided on a short day trip to Pralognan, which is sometimes referred to as 'Little Chamonix'. Where is Pralognan I hear you ask? If you were to place yourself in Courchevel 1650 (Moriond), at the top of the Signal and Chapelets chairlifts, look left and there is a high steep sided ridge line. Below the other side of this ridge is the rustic, very savoyard, village of Pralognan. Not far as the crow flies; about 45 minutes by car from Méribel.

Zoe leading the way

Pralognan is right on the edge of the beautiful Vanoise National Park, and the scenery is incredibly dramatic. There are several glaciers close by including the Grande Motte, above the ski resort of Tignes. And the mighty Grand Casse glacier and peak, visible from the top of Méribel and Courchevel. The ski area is tiny compared to what we are used to, and it has a very quaint feel to match the views and authenticity. Not sure my description has done it any justice. All I'm trying to say is that it's the complete opposite to glitzy Courchevel 1850.

Yours truly in front of the Refuge les Barmette

The change of scenery and ski touring terrain, gave the day trip a very different and welcome feel. Les mentioned that he'd heard there was the second highest concentration of 'High Mountain Guides' per visitor in Pralognan within France, after Chamonix. With the terrain available, and the nature of the mountains including the massive peaks and glaciers close by, I can quite believe this. We saw at a distance a few chamois, and just as we were packing up after our picnic, a ruddy great big 'Gypaete Barbu' flew over us. This huge Gypeate (also known as lammergeier) is a vulture that thrives in sparsely populated high mountains, and enjoys feeding on animal carcasses, in particular bone marrow!?! My flapjack crumbs were safe then.

It was a lovely but brief encounter, before heading off back down to the village, passing by further beautiful mountain buildings. Twas a grand day out.

So what's next? As ever, who knows. Spring is on hold for at least a week however, with very wintery weather about to hit Méribel Town. We've hardly had many big storms this winter, so it will be nice to have a big blowout, and a decent refresh up the mountain. Hopefully Ian might be back in action again soon.

In the meantime...... 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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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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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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