Sunday, January 15, 2012

La Plagne: those dreaded diamonds

[It's been a busy time. After hosting a great crowd at Christmas, we made our way to Edinburgh for New Year's celebrations. (You should check out Jodi's post on the trip too!) We pick up my journal mere days later, in the French Alps.]

January 8, 2012: 4:20 p.m.

Just woke up from a most luxurious nap. We had our first time on the slopes this morning.

It was like skiing for the first time.

Yes, I've skied in Canada. But this scenery must be unrivalled the world over. The way you'd see these incredible peaks around you, and then the sun would break through the clouds, putting far, distant peaks in glorious relief, was, well, simply stunning. I just found myself holding up, having these moments of feeling ever so small on such a truly awesome planet.

Of course, I'd be stretching artistic licence to breaking and beyond if I didn't say that utter exhaustion held me up just as many times, particularly as the morning progressed. And while I certainly didn't have my Wheaties this morning, it's my conditioning (or lack thereof) that's landed me in this pickle, I'm fairly certain.

Before leaving, I was chatting with a friend who's a big skier, and amongst his excitement and envy, he asked:
So, you've been doing a lot of squats and whatnot, getting ready? When did you say you're going again?
Uh, Mike, I'm leaving tomorrow. And, nope. Nothing.
(With the utmost sympathy and lament) Oh, JJ.

My quads aren't feeling it just yet, Mike, but I know I don't have long; oh, no. (And I did pack lots of Ibuprofen, as you advised, a la Plan B.)

This UCPA... community, for lack of a better term, is fantastic! (I was going to say 'resort' because it goes with 'ski' like peas 'n' carrots, but that's the last word you'd use to describe this.) The communal eating -- including clearing away your place afterwards, loading the dishwasher rack, etc. -- communal places to socialize, store your ski equipment, play video games, the list goes on, is truly wonderful. Everyone is so friendly, helpful, and patient with our limited French. My rental equipment, while clearly well used, is in good condition, and, thanks to their well-oiled machine, took no time to procure and fits me perfectly.

I should probably hold up here and point out something I mentioned to Tea earlier: while these facilities are certainly clean and functional -- I would definitely recommend this place to friends -- I am aware that they probably don't warrant so much gushing. Clearly I have some sort of deep-seated need to belong that this place is filling admirably. (For context, I did no extracurricular activities in school, be they band, sports of any sort, clubs, etc. Probably a lesson in that.)

Oh, I haven't mentioned the food: French and fantastic! Simple, delicious stuff, done so well -- for so many! The bread is great, of course, but also the ratatouille and gammon I had for lunch, for example. And the cold stuff is great too: I had this delicious goat's cheese at lunch as well, and an excellent bow-tie pasta salad with smoked salmon throughout; it's those little touches that impress me. There aren't enough hot drinks, though; that'd probably be my one, minor complaint. (See! I'm objective!)

The drive up yesterday was gorgeous. We flew to Geneva and met up with Tea's friends, then took a bus to Aime, France. It went past Lake Annecy, which was spectacular, and reminiscent of our trip to Lake Como last summer. Similarly, the second bus we took up to La Plagne could've been driving through Mittenwald or Innsbruck -- with more snow than that German and Austrian odyssey of 2010, mind. [Speaking of Innsbruck, La Plagne hosted Olympic events as well, in 1992.]

So many good memories. I'm so... blessed, really, to have had all these opportunities. I dreamed about going so often, and yet Europe is all that I imagined and more, as it turns out.

Ski lessons start tomorrow. Wish me luck!

* * *

January 10, 2012: 4:40 p.m.

Man, I'm pooped! There's nothing quite like exhaustion after exercise, particularly when you can reflect on the sorts of vistas I've taken in these past two days. You know that backdrop to the Paramount Pictures logo? It's real, and probably near here, if I'm not smack in the middle of it, with Mont Blanc there, out my window. [Yes, I now know that that's actually the Wasatch Range, and part of the Rockies. Sort of obvious, really, but I stand by the resemblance.]

Thankfully my performance on the slopes is now well above that disaster of a first day. I'm putting that down to my terrible diet on the travel day. I've been stuffing myself three times a day -- plus snacks -- since, and it seems to be doing the trick.

I know I've been saying this a lot over the past year, but I truly believe this is one of the best ways to spend a week. Those moments on that first day have continued, with my jaw dropping at the surrounding scene: snow-covered mountains as far as I can see -- which is pretty darn far with these clear blue skies; most unmarked, or sprinkled with animal tracks, like great ridges and mounds of meringue. (Others are covered in these hypnotic patterns cut by the off-piste skiers.) We're talking about trying to return regularly once we're back in Canada. We'll see.

Well, gotta grab a shower. Can't believe it's only hump day tomorrow; we've done so much already!

* * *

January 11, 2012: late

Wow, long day: we were out by half nine this morning, went straight 'til half one, then had a 90-minute lesson starting just after three. What an amazing day! Just gorgeous weather again. [We later learned that this season is their best in 20 years(!), and that it'd been snowing for a month straight prior to our arrival. All 134 runs were open most of the week! Talk about timing.] Our bodies seem to be holding up as well, I'm happy to say.

We started at La Grande Rochette this morning, the gateway to the other side of the mountain we've played on these last three days. From the plateau at the gondola drop-off, the blue run quickly fell away along a narrow course; a bit of a tough proposition, first thing out. I could hear our instructor Yann's "Courage!" (coo-RAJ) as I went over the lip. The course then continued in curves around small peaks, still narrow. At each turn, I'd drift, like some human rally car; it was awesome! I was shaking from the adrenaline at our first stop, sucking down wind and laughing alternately.

Liv and Tea walking to the Grotte (3250 m)

[So ends my notes. Between naps and Hearts -- that's the subtitle pun, by the way: we had the Queen of Spades go out on the 4♦ three times in one evening's session alone -- there was little time off-slopes for writing. But what a trip! Two more days of great skiing, then the bus, a quick flight back to Brum, and a short drive home.]

Check out our Picasa album for more pictures from the week.

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