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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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Feeling a bit of a Berk

Posted on
May 21, 2014
Feeling a bit of a Berk

There are many aspects to working as a ski instructor, more than just being in a position to hand over various nuggets of gold about skiing. Michael often says "You can't just stare at your ski boots and be silent when on a chair lift with clients." In other words, having a scintillating conversation with people can have a very positive influence over the success of a ski lesson, and often away from the subject of skiing. Michael can easily wax lyrical about 18th century trumpet concertos as well as other noble subjects! I on the other hand am generally ok unless conversation turns to television programmes, I come out in a bit of a sweat (even in sub-zero temperatures), and will always end up feeling a bit of a berk.

Because you see the thing is, I watch television just as often George Best had a day without drinking alcohol, ie hardly ever. Strictly Come Talent, The Jump, Downtown Top Gear, The X Jungle...... and all the other programmes I've never heard of mean absolutely nothing to me. It took me a couple of years to realise who Heston Blumenthal was, apparently I look like him according to loads of skiing clients, and have been told this most recently last weekend by a bridesmaid at a wedding I was photographing! What a berk I was for not realising who Heston is, he is rather famous, and skis too !?! You can click on each image for an enlarged version.

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Anyhow, I'm waffling. Rewind a few weeks ago, to the last day that Michael was in resort where we had a quick chat. We had previously finished teaching around the same kind of time a couple of days before. He decided to leave resort almost immediately, I on the other hand had delayed my return to the UK for a further ten days or so. Michael said to me in an genuine inquisitve manner "Martin, what on earth are you going to do with yourself during this time?" I instantly felt a bit of a wally, and found it hard to put across how much I loved the mountains and had plenty of things still to do. What a berk again!

On a completely different note, you know when you travel out to the Alps for your precious ski holiday, there will be points on your journey that trigger emotions and you feel as though you are back in your beloved mountains. The first emotion could be on your flight to Geneva, the moment when you see the Alpine peaks miles away before landing at the airport. Or during your airport transfer as you travel past the stunning lake at Annecy. It could be the moment you see Méribel's Saulire peak on the dual carriageway between Albertville and Moutiers. It's that moment in life where your eyes are hooked onto something, and you know that it's great being back in the Alps and you are about to start skiing again.

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The Espace Killy ski area, of Val d'Isere and Tignes, has an iconic landmark that would also act as such a trigger of emotions. The dam (or barrage in French) of Lac du Chevril is a huge hydro electric reservoir. When it was built in the early 1950's, it was the largest dam in Europe. Every ten years or so it is drained for essential maintenance. It just so happened to be the this year that coincided with the water level at its lowest, this time round, in early spring to be precise. I had found out about this in the local rag (and social media), and it was something I wanted to experience and see for myself. After all, with only a spare few days available between working through the winter months and travelling home, this felt like a once in a lifetime experience.

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When full of water, the reservoir is capable of storing 230 million cubic meters of water. That is the equivalent of about 960 million bath tubs full of water! And the reservoir is deep, very deep indeed. After a morning of decorating in Méribel, I decided to drive to the reservoir for a wander down into its depths. Don't forget you can click on each image for an enlarged version.

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It is so deep that it even has its own steep sided ravine, which of course would normally be flooded and out of sight. You can see, and gingerly walk across, the old bridge that linked the road between the original Tignes village to further up the mountain to Val d'Isere. It was a most bizarre experience, almost feeling as though it were a lunar landscape. Many years of under water errosion had affected remains of the forest, and further more, any evidence of habitation. I had heard the story about the end of the original village's life before being flooded, and was keen to have a poke about. The terrain was mostly thick, deep silt, and provided some interesting patterns to walk across.

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After a while I found some remains of buidlings that were clearly houses, sixty plus years ago. I've got to be honest, I had envisaged walking down the old street surrounded by flakey Savoie houses and a church with its bell still dangling in the tower. Perhaps even make out a boulangerie. There was nothing of the sort, just the odd random wall, and a few crumpled roof tops almost completely immersed under the silt. Guess who felt like a right berk again for expecting such sentimental thoughts?

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It was an eerie, ghostly and even a supernatural experience. This village had been home to many families for generations dating back way beyond the 17th Century. The construction of the dam for hydro electric purposes, all of which is very noble bearing in mind it can supply carbon free electricity to the equivalent population of Grenoble, was a deeply unpopular moment in the history of the French Alps. The final night before the village was due to be flooded, bulldozers and riot police were sent in to help 'evacuate' any remaining residents. Here is the only building that resembled any kind of normality and recognition, with half of its cellar buried under the silt.

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You can just make out shelf brackets and hooks where produce would've hung. Many of the residents were re-located further up the mountain to where the newly established Tignes ski resorts would be. Some would say that it seems ironic that those who were displaced have since become very wealthy indeed, due to the rapid expansion of the world class ski area within France's then new and booming winter tourism industry! Here is a short video (black and white and in French) that shows the last moments of the village, well worth a look, click here for the link.

I put up a few photos of this trip on various social media platforms at the time, and received lots of feedback. Including a few people mentioning something called 'The Returned'. Didn't have a clue what they were talking about, I wondered if it was a novel. Sure enough, after doing some probing, I found out it is a TV programme. What a berk! Apparently some of the filming has taken place at the dam !?!

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At the start of every winter I drive across this dam to head up to the ski area of Tignes. It won't be the same from now on looking across the lac. I'm really pleased that I made the effort to go and have a look, I might even download 'The Returned' tv programme thingy. Maybe not though. In fact definitely not, I've just read some reviews, it looks rather scary.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you might like to read another from back in December about skiing over in Tignes called 'Skiing Slippers', click here for the link. Feel free to share away on Facebook, Twitter and Goggle+ by using the social media buttons. Or please write a comment below, it is dead simple to do and would love to hear from you. Will write another post in a couple of weeks time. Don't forget everyone, Live With Passion. Martin.

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