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Alpe d'Huez

Apr. 12th, 2017 01:37 pm
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I just realized that I've been home from France for a month, so it's probably time to finish writing about the trip, before I completely forget all the details. I'm going to try to summarize a week in this single post, mostly because I doubt there's much value in a day-by-day account of our skiing. Instead, I'll try to cover the highlights.
  • Weather - While we did have several beautiful, sunny days, the temperatures on those days were well above freezing, which led to less than ideal snow conditions. It also meant that we were overdressed and soaking in sweat by the end of the day.  However, the early part of the week featured a full-blown blizzard, with very limited visibility, lots of fresh snow, and ugly winds.  At one point, my wife and I were stranded on a chair lift for about 15-20 minutes when the high winds forced them to shut it down.  My best guess is that the winds were gusting above 50 mph as we bounced around on that chair like a piñata at a toddler's birthday party. That was, no question, the scariest chair lift ride of my life.

  •  Food - One of the reasons I enjoy ski trips to Europe is the food. Our package included dinner each night in the hotel restaurant each evening, and we sat as a group, sharing stories over five courses of simply amazing French food, accompanied by plentiful local wine (Côtes du Rhône), both red and white. If I hadn't been getting such a workout each day on the mountain, I'm sure I would have gained several pounds!

  • Scenery - The other big reason to ski in Europe is the scenery. While you can argue pretty persuasively that the snow conditions in Colorado or Utah are normally far superior to those anywhere else in the world, the Alps possess a dramatic beauty that the mountains here simply cannot match. On the days when the sun was out, it was impossible not to stop frequently just to soak in the views. I took a lot of photos, only a few of which actually do justice to the beauty that surrounded us.

  • The location - The town of Alpe d'Huez is remarkably small, considering the size of the ski area that it serves. it is also pretty remote, at the top of a long, steep road that includes 21 hairpin switchbacks (famous in bicycle racing circles for the leg of the Tour de France that climbs it). We really didn't explore the town while we were there, focusing instead on skiing during the day, and socializing at our hotel in the evenings.  The ski area is actually a number of small ski areas that interconnect and operate on a single ski pass system that tracks the usage of the various lifts in some form of revenue sharing. Unlike the corporate environment that dominates ski areas in the US, where everything on the mountain is owned by the corporation that runs the resort, here the various restaurants and bars on the mountain were independently owned. The resulting competition meant that the prices for food and drinks on the mountain were surprisingly affordable by comparison to what we've become accustomed to seeing in the US.

  • Final thoughts - It had been more than a decade since we last visited Europe, and this trip was a reminder of how very much we enjoyed our earlier visits there. I have heard people argue that there is too much to see and do in the US, so that the cost and effort of travelling to Europe doesn't make sense. While I agree that there are plenty of great places to travel to in the US, I strongly disagree that this should be an excuse not to visit Europe. I love the experience of visiting countries with much deeper histories, as well as different languages and cultures, from what I can experience here. This trip has reminded me of the value of foreign travel, and I fully intend to do as much travelling as I can, both foreign and domestic.
We have completed six full days of skiing.  It seems weird to complain that it wasn't cold enough, but really, for a ski vacation, it has been much too warm.  I am impressed with the grooming crews, who are doing an incredible job of keeping the conditions on the mountain reasonably decent.  They have had almost no new snow through the month of January, and I don't know how much further they'll be able to stretch the 100+ inches they got in December before they need to start closing trails.

Our last two days both started with us enjoying some fast runs on the hard morning snow, while they were still empty.  As more people found their way onto the slopes, we moved into the trees for a while and finished each day working to improve our skiing in the moguls.  We have skied hard this week, pushing ourselves and our comfort zones, and I think we all have made some improvements to our skiing.

We are packing tonight, even though we don't head home until Sunday.  We need to check out from our condo tomorrow morning and we are staying in a hotel tomorrow night so our daughter can attend the Bridgestone Winter Driving School (  She will have a whole day of learning to drive in snowy and icy conditions, including significant time practicing driving on a frozen track.  It actually sounds like it should be fun, and I hope that she will learn how to drive safely in winter conditions.

It's been a weird week.  Between my colleague from work being here with his family, and the Pentagon Ski Club group that is here, we've found ourselves spending more time than normal skiing with other people.  We still had plenty of time to do our own thing, however, and it really has been a full week.  I am beginning to look forward to being home and getting back to the normal routine.

Last tracks.

Jan. 28th, 2015 10:38 pm
resqgeek: (Ambulance)
Today was our longest day of skiing so far on this trip because we signed up for the "Last Tracks" program, so we could ski with one of the mountain ambassadors we've become friends with as he did trail sweep after the lifts closed.  We've done this a few time before, and it requires us to make sure we are at the top of the mountain before the lifts start closing.  We meet the ambassodors and ski patrollers at the ski patrol hut at the top of the mountain while we wait for the lifts to close.  After ski patrol does their sweep of the back part of the mountain, we set out to do a sweep of the runs down the front of the upper mountain.  It is surreal to be the only skiers on the mountain, with the lifts shut down.  When you stop, the mountain falls into silence, which is rare during the day, when people are skiing, and talking on the lifts.

By the time we completed the sweep and returned to the base area, it was 4:30, a half hour after the last lift closed.  It will certainly be the latest that we will be out on the slopes all week.  Only two more days of skiing left for this trip...
This afternoon, we skiied with a work colleague, who is also at Steamboat with his family.  He is a friend and a supervisor (though not directly my boss).  His kids were in lessons today, so we joined him and his wife for lunch and then set out to ski a few runs with them.  I thought he might enjoy a little challenge, so I led him off trail in the the Morningside Park area of the resort, away from the nice groomed trails and into the trees.  I picked a spot that wasn't very steep and where the trees were pretty widely spaced.  He seemed to be enjoying himself, right up to the moment he hit a bump he didn't see because of a shadow and took a pretty nasty spill.  As we gathered him and his equipment, I realized that the rear binding for his right ski had come off the ski.  Of course the ski brake is attached to that binding, so the ski was sliding away down the slope, and my daughter had to chase it down.  Luckily, I was able to reattach the binding to his ski, and we skied with him to the base area, so he could take the skis back to the rental shop to exchange them for a different pair.

Watching him crash was a scary moment, especially since skiing in this area was my idea.  Luckily, he wasn't hurt, and we managed to get him safely down off the mountain.  I have never seen a binding come off of a ski on the mountain before, and as bad as his crash seemed, I don't think it was bad enough to have damaged the binding.  I think these bindings were already damaged before he started using them, and the crash simply revealed the underlying flaw.  I'm just thankful that everything ended up being okay.
When I travel to Colorado in January to go skiing, my expectation is that the weather will be COLD.  Which is exactly what we didn't get today.  The skies were blue without a cloud in sight and it was probably the warmest day we've ever felt her in Steamboat Springs.  The snow was soft and sticky (even slushy in places), which made for less than optimal ski conditions.  But when you have almost 2,000 acres to play on, and no crowds anywhere to be seen, its really hard to complain.  However, I am trying to figure out how to wear fewer layers without risking arrest for indecent exposure...

Besides weather that felt more like the Mid-Atlantic, we also spent parts of the day with people from back home.  At lunch time, we met up with a work colleague and his family, and then we skied a couple of runs with them before we headed off to do our own thing again.  Then, after finishing for the day, we headed down into town to crash the Pentagon Ski Club's group dinner.  It has been many years since we traveled with the club (in fact, our last trip with the club was our first trip to Steamboat, nine years ago), so it was nice to see some familiar faces (and meet some new people as well).  But it seems a little strange to travel all the way out to Colorado to see people who live so close to us back in the DC area.

Tomorrow's forecast is calling for another very warm, sunny day, so I'll have to figure out if there is any way to dress any lighter than today so I don't melt...
After our snowmobile adventure last night, no one seemed to be any particular hurry to hit the slopes this morning, so we got off to what was, for us, a late start.  By the time we got up the mountain, it was probably about 10am before we made our first run.  The upper portions of the resort were shrouded in clouds for much of the day, so we did a lot of skiing in the trees, where the visibility was better.  We also spent a lot of time working on our mogul skiing daughter has decided that she is a ski instructor and is determined to make a marked improvement in this, my worst ski skill.  I was getting frustrated because I would string together a set of nice looking turns and then would struggle to do anything right for the rest of the run.  I know I am getting better, but the progress is uneven and anything but steady, so I find myself getting impatient.

We ran into a several members of the Pentagon Ski Club here today.  It has been a while, but we used to travel with this club, and they have a group here for the week.  It was nice to see some friendly faces, and we found out that they are going out to dinner tomorrow night.  I sent an e-mail to the trip leader to check on the details, and it looks like we'll be joining them for dinner tomorrow.  It will be fun to catch up with those members we know from our earlier trips witht the club.
Today was an incredibly beautiful day on the skies, bright sun, temperatures as high as you would want them for skiing.  We managed to catch the lift to the highest terrain here just minutes after it opened for the first time this week, which allowed us to make a run in untouched, deep powder before it was completely chewed up by hundreds of other skiers.  It will undoubtedly be the single best ski run of the trip, possibly of the winter, and certainly makes the list of all-time best ski runs!

We ate out tonight, our one dinner out for the trip.  We asked a local to recommend a good place for barbeque and his recommendation was spot-on.  It was a delicious dinner in an almost empty restaurant with a friendly staff.  I ate *way* too much food, but I expect that I'll work it off tomorrow on the mountain.  We've been told that the resort is all but deserted on Christmas, which means that we should be able to make the most of our day, without having to wait in line for any of the lifts.

It is going to be a little weird not doing any of the traditional Christmas things tomorrow, but it didn't make sense to cart presents all the way out here to unwrap, and then lug them home again.  We'll open presents and such when we get home on the weekend. 
We made it to the mountain earlier today than we had managed so far, early enough, in fact, to squeeze in a short run before our lesson began.  We hoped that our daughter would be grouped with some more advanced skiers, so that she could challenge herself and ski parts of the mountain that her mother and I might not be comfortable attempting.  Unfortunately, she was the easily the best skier in the group lessons today, so she was grouped with her parents and three others who were about our skill level.  We spent the day working on our mogul skiing skills, trying to master the basic skills that would allow us to ski in the bumps without it feeling either like a death trap or an extreme workout.

Our instructor was excellent, and she had a way of explaining what she wanted us to do that made it easy to understand.  Implementing her suggestions was a bit more difficult, but by the end of the day, I felt like I had made some measure of progress towards being a better skier in the bumpy terrain.

Tomorrow promises to be our first bluebird day, a clear, sunny day under blue skies.  Skiing with my good camera is a bit of a pain, since it is bulky and heavy, but the promise of potentially capturing some great photos will motivate me.  I expect that we will also spend a fair bit of time on mogul runs, trying to practice everything we learned today.  I'm a little worried that the only things my daughter learned today were new ways to torture her parents!

Powder day!

Dec. 22nd, 2014 08:41 pm
resqgeek: (Ambulance)
Our normal routine on our ski trips is to get up early, hoping to hit the slopes soon after the lifts open, and then ski as much as we can before the lifts close.  When I woke up at 7:00 this morning, I thought we were doing fine, but for whatever reason, it took me longer than I expected to get breakfast cooked, and everyone seemed to operating in slow motion this morning.

When we finally got to the ski area, we lost another half hour or so because we decided to sign up for a group ski lesson tomorrow.  Then it was off to explore the mountain.  We found pockets of deep (knee deep or more) powder, and yesterday's ten inches of snow made for incredible ski conditions today.  We also began to explore the trees around the resort, especially in the afternoon when the winds started to pick up again.

We ended a little early today, so we could go shopping for some new ski mits for my daughter, whose old pair have probably served beyond their reasonable life expectancy.  While we were looking, I picked out a pair for myself.   Normally I wear gloves, but on the coldest days, they really aren't up to the task, so hopefully these can keep my fingers warm on the bitter cold days.

No excuses tomorrow...we must be on the mountain by 9:30 for our ski lesson.
This is my wife's first holiday season without her mother, who played a such large role in her holiday activities.  I knew this would difficult for her (after all, she's still struggling to come to terms with the loss of our daughter four years ago), so I suggested that we consider going away for Christmas.  We did some searching, and found a deal on a condo rental in Winter Park, Colorado, and built a ski vacation around that.

We headed to the airport yesterday afternoon, and arrived at our condo late last night, after a delay on our flight to Denver and a tight connection to our shuttle.  I didn't sleep well last night, probably because of the altitude, which is typical when we come out to Colorado.  Apparently no one else was in a rush to hit the slopes this morning, as we didn't get on the snow until almost 10am.

It snowed all day, giving us great powder conditions all over the mountain.  However, the wind picked up as the day went on, and by the end of the afternoon, it was blasting us and blowing the snow around, seriously reducing visibility.  For all the skiing we did, we barely scratched the surface of what this resort has to offer, and I'm looking forward to exploring more.
From Steamboat 2010

Our final day of skiing for this trip, and we skied with another GPS recorder all day. We tried to cover most of the resort again, and managed to ski a few more unfamiliar areas. Our totals for today were almost 32K feet of vertical and about 33 miles total distance. We really challenged ourselves in the morning, but we generally took it easy during the afternoon.

During the last hour of our skiing, our daughters managed to embarrass some poor skier. He was skiing pretty well, but managed to trip and fall, losing both his skis. My daughters stopped, picked up the ski that stopped uphill from him and brought it down. As they skied down to him, he buried his face, apparently embarrassed to be helped by two young girls.

We've spent the evening packing, and the alarm clock is set for half-past stupid so we can be ready when our airport shuttle arrives. Tomorrow will be largely taken up with travel, as we make our way back across the country. I'm curious to see what our driveway looks like. From what we've been hearing, they've had more snow back home in the last week than we've had here.

(no subject)

Jan. 30th, 2010 09:08 pm
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From Steamboat 2010

We got our latest start of the week this morning. We all slept in a bit later than other mornings, so that it was after 9am before we made our way onto the mountain. We headed over to the Sunshine Peak to enjoy the long fast runs over there before the lift lines began to get long. It was a beautiful, sunny morning with gorgeous blue skies. After making a few runs, we headed back to the top of the Gondola lift to meet the local family that owns the condo we're renting. They came out to ski for the day, and we skied a few runs with them. However, our aggressive skiing style clashed with their more laid back style, so we soon parted ways.

We spent much of the afternoon skiing in the trees in the Morningside Park area on the back of the mountain. The sun had warmed the snow, making it harder to ski in the powder, but there were lots of tracks through the trees, so that wasn't a big problem. We practiced our mogul skills as we skied around the bumps and trees. As we rode the lift back up, my daughters held bits of bread in their open hands, and the birds would fly down from the trees to eat.

All too soon, it was time to head back to the lower mountain for our final runs of the day. We now only have one more day of skiing left before we have to pack up and head home.

Blue Skies

Jan. 29th, 2010 10:45 pm
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From Steamboat 2010

The sky was overcast when we set out to go up the mountain to ski this morning. But it didn't take long for the lifts to carry us through the clouds and onto a bright, sunny mountaintop. We skied most of the day on the upper mountain, in the beautiful sunny conditions, though the morning clouds burned off and the valley got sun, too.

It was another morning of exploring new places on the mountain, seeing if we could handle more challenging terrain than we previously were comfortable with. It was fun, but it was also hard work, and we all worked up a good sweat by lunch time. Later in the afternoon, we worked our way across the upper mountain, making a number of long runs, before heading down to the lower mountain for our final runs of the day.

We decided to take advantage of today's perk for returning customers, which was a GPS recorder that tracked our movements around the resort all day. At the end of the day, the data was downloaded, and the information is available for us to review on a website. We covered 31 miles today, with a total vertical distance of 32K feet! Our daughters managed to hit 35 mph on a couple of their runs. The website shows our skiing on a map of the resort and can play back our travels for the day. Fun! We probably will pick up another one on Sunday, so we can compare our days.

Tonight we went back up the mountain for a ride on a snowcat pulled sleigh. There was a bright full moon over the mountain, with clear skies, so that it was a beautiful ride around the mountaintop. There were dozens of people hiking up the mountain with their skis, ready to ski in the moonlight. I was hoping to see some wildlife, but I'm sure the noise of the snowcat made that entirely unlikely.

First Tracks

Jan. 28th, 2010 11:02 pm
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From Steamboat 2010

We actually set an alarm clock last night, because we wanted to be up early to take advantage of a perk associated with our status as repeat customers at the ski resort. A limited number of people are allowed up the mountain before the lifts officially open to make "first tracks" on the slopes. Normally, this is a $50/person option, but our tickets were free. So, by 7:30, we were out of the condo and ready to ski.

We met up with our guide, an instructor from the ski school, and he escorted us up the mountain and had fun with us while we made three very long runs to start the day. We were the very first people down several trails, and it was fun to ski on the freshly groomed mountain almost alone, before other skiers tore up the snow. The morning was beautiful, with some low, thin clouds that provided a gorgeous rainbow over the treetops.

All too soon, the lifts were open, and other people started arriving on the mountain. We headed off to ski other parts of the mountain, mostly skiing in the trees and moguls, practicing what we'd learned in lessons yesterday. Even though this is our fourth year at this resort, we still managed to ski some areas for the very first time today.

We made a very long day of it, pushing to catch the very last lifts up before they closed, including a long race down the front of the mountain to catch the last lift ride. I can't help but think about how much my skiing has improved over the last four years, and how intimidated I used to be by some of the trails and conditions that we so casually skied today. It was probably one of the best days of skiing I've enjoyed in a long time.

Lesson Day

Jan. 27th, 2010 09:48 pm
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From Steamboat 2010

For several years, we've made it a habit to take a ski lesson on any ski trip that is more than four days long. Our lessons for this trip were originally scheduled for yesterday, but because of the uncertainty about the condition of my knee, we had them delayed so I could evaluate my ability to ski. This delay actually worked to our benefit.

We managed to get a couple of warm-up runs in before it was time to drop the girls off for their private lesson. They were spending the day with the same Australian ski instructor that they've skied with the last two years. We made sure they had money for lunch, and made arrangements to meet them after our group lesson ended at 3pm.

My wife and I had an hour to kill before our group lesson was scheduled to begin, so we headed up the mountain for some more runs. At 10am we made our way to the ski school meeting area, where the instructors were dividing people up into groups. We mentioned the instructor we skied with last year, and soon he walked over. As it turned out, he didn't think he was going to have a lesson group today, but was happy to work with us again. So, our group lesson was really more of a private lesson, with just my wife and I skiing with our instructor. While many of the drills were the same as last year, there were still lots of things for us to work on, and I think it will help me improve my skiing.

At the end of the day, we met up with our daughters and their instructor, and skied a few runs with them before calling it a day. The girls are becoming very good skiers, and probably will be better than their parents all too soon.

Skiing day two! We actually made it out of the condo early enough that we had to wait a few minutes for the lifts to open. We headed straight to the top of the mountain, and skied some of the more challenging terrain. We discovered a jump in the middle of one run, and went back to give the girls a chance to try it. Both girls need to work on their landings, but the younger daughter demonstrated her complete lack of fear, taking the jump as a speed that made me very nervous. She made a monster jump, but the landing won't win any style points!

We then headed off to ski the powder in the trees. We eventually made our way to the Morningside Park area on the back of the mountain. We enjoyed skiing between the trees in the powder. On the way up the lift, the girls pulled out the bread crumbs they'd brought along and held them out on their palms. The birds would swoop down from the trees and land on their hands to eat.

After lunch, we met up with Billy Kidd for a free ski clinic. He explained how we can improve our skiing even when we are just standing still. He emphasized that your stance in very important to the way you ski. It was a good, if brief lesson, and we spent the rest of the afternoon practicing as the snow began to come down ever harder (which suggests that tomorrow might be an excellent ski day!).
From Steamboat 2010

On Saturday, as we bustled about trying to get ready for the trip, I managed to do something to my knee as I was getting into the car. There was a distinct "pop" followed by severe pain. My knee remained stiff through the day yesterday and still is a bit now. As a result, I approached my skiing with no small amount of trepidation. I began the day skiing very cautiously, but my knee seemed fine, so I gradually started pushing the difficulty level. My knee survived the day with barely a wimper, but my thighs are seriously telling me how out of shape I've gotten! Every step aches, especially when stairs are involved. This is pretty normal for a first ski day, and hopefully things will improve tomorrow.

Even though this is our fourth year skiing here at Steamboat, we decided to take the free mountain tour offered by the Mountain Ambassadors. There was little he could show us that we didn't already know, but we had fun skiing with someone who is a regular skier here, and I think he had fun skiing with the girls.

It was a bit chilly this morning, and the top of the mountain was foggy most of the day, but there was fresh powder on the mountain, and the skiing was great. It looks like we're going to have another week of excellent skiing.

One final day

Dec. 30th, 2009 06:43 pm
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Today was a gorgeous, albeit cold, day for skiing. Yesterday's powder was largely groomed into submission, creating beautiful, smooth runs that were perfect for speeding down the mountain. The cold weather helped keep the snow from being sticky, which also contributed to the ideal skiing. We bounced around the mountain, carving graceful turns on the wide, groomed cruising runs, and working our way around the trees and bumps in the glades. We had to take a couple of breaks to warm up, but managed to squeeze in a full day of skiing, staying out until the lift operators told us it was time for our last run. The skis are packed in the van, and we're packing our bags, planning to head out on the road early tomorrow morning.
The trail report this morning looked great! 17-20 cm of fresh snow since yesterday morning. The weather forecast was less pleasing, though. The high temperature today was only -12C. We hurried through breakfast and dressed quickly, to try and get up the lifts early. And was it ever worth it! We got to make first tracks on several trails, and we found powder to ski on all day. However, the cold took its toll, especially on my daughters, who had to come in to warm up several times through the day. Still, I'd have to rate this day a 9 out of 10 for the skiing conditions. I'm already looking forward to Steamboat (Colorado) in about a month, where we hope to get some more great powder days!

(There are pictures of us making first tracks, but I forgot all the cables to download my pictures.)

When I checked this trail report this morning, I was a little disappointed to see that only 9 trails were going to be open today. However, given the condition of the runs that only had natural snow, it was understandable. The first runs of the day were a bit icy, as yesterday's rain had frozen overnight. But the open runs were all groomed, so we enjoyed some fast runs. By mid-morning, it had started to snow, and it continued to snow steadily throughout the day. The accumulating snow made the runs soft, but visibility got steadily worse. By the time we came off the mountain at 4pm, there was about 3-4 inches of new snow on the ground, so maybe tomorrow we can ski some of the other trails.