Tuesday, January 30, 2024

50th wedding anniversary ski trip

Mt Blanc seen from col du Balme

 In this day and age being married for fifty years is an achievement in its self.  Going off-piste skiing as part of the celebration is possibly unique.

Fiona & Reuben celebrating 50 years of marriage.

Yet over quite a few years Reuben and Fiona have skied on their wedding anniversary with me and they could not see any reason to not continue in the same vein.

On our first day together we skied at Le Tour and combined this with a delicious lunch at the Cafe Comptoir in Vallorcine.  

On our second day we headed round to Les Contamines where despite the recent warm weather the snow cover was impressive- although strange to be skiing wonderful spring snow in late January.

On our third day we skied at Les Grands Montets.  The snow was firm, but because the resort faces north it wasn't icy and we did a lot of skiing before arriving at the "Cremerie"for a late lunch.

They are both an inspiration to anyone who thinks that they should retire from skiing , let alone off-piste skiing.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

End of an Era

 We traveled to Klosters to ski, but also for a "pilgrimage." We were there to say a last goodbye to the last remaining flying Granny who died in July last year. Sue Mills had skied there for over 50 years; at first with friends, then with her late husband and then when her daughter Jane married a mountain guide, me.

Looking out over Serneus towards the Austrian border.

It was in her 60’s that she had a renaissance and together with a group of likeminded women she formed the  "Flying Grannies."  Possibly the most famous group to ever grace the Klosters slopes.  They aquired their name because they use to do quite a lot of heliskiing in other parts of the alps too. Yet Klosters was thier spiritual home.  Mind you they were never seen on the pistes only off the  pistes.  [Pistes were too icy and there were too many people who might crash into them they said.]

My wife Jane and I drove from Chamonix and  met Bill and Henny at the famous Wynegg Hotel. The only place Sue and the flying Grannies ever stayed.  Sadly it was not possible for Mary, Sue's forth child to make the journey from Hong Kong where she lives.

This is what -Vanity Fair magazine wrote about the Hotel Wynegg:

The hotel was famous for as much for its formidable owner but also its list of famous guests.

Ruth Guler (1930-2015) was a Swiss skier and hotelier who ran the Hotel Wynegg in Klosters, which regularly hosted members of the British Royal Family. Guler was born and raised in Klosters, and inherited the Wynegg from her parents. She learned English at a British language school and found work as an au pair before taking on the management of the hotel after her father's death. 

She was the only female at the local ski school in the early 1950s, during which time she regularly participated in secret upper-class events. Guler also enjoyed watching the racing at Royal Ascot. She was friends with royalty, particularly Charles Ill as the Prince of Wales and Princess Diana who also liked staying at the Wynegg.

Guler was known for her no-nonsense approach to hotel man-agement. The playwright Robert L.Joseph described her as 'diva-like.

She kept the facilities at the Wynegg basic and ensured rigid discipline. Guests arriving with snow on their boots would be reprimanded and told to brush it off outside. On several occasions, she threw drunk guests out into the street, at another time, she refused to give a newlywed couple a double bed, saying *You are not here to sleep; you are here to ski". 

Socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson said Guler ran the hotel like a boarding school, throwing guests out of bed at 8 am and saying "Come on, get up!"

Though royalty stayed at the Wynegg regularly, she treated them no differently from any other guests, saying that "otherwise, they'd tear the place down". 

She loved the British sense of humour and the, particularly its eccentric-ity, and despite her stern demands Ruth was popular with the regular guests including the royals.

 In 2013, due to ill health, Guler retired from managing the Wynegg, leaving the running of it to three locals, a popular choice in Klosters.

She died on 10 February 2015, having never married, and without children.

«The legends of Ruth are legendary. Stavros Niarchos timidly asked for a telephone in his room. "And why would you want to ring anyone up?" In 1958 an article appeared in the Daily Mail headlined "Duke of Kent Stayed at the Cheapest Hotel in Town". So did the King and Queen of Norway, Sir Alec Issigonis (inventor of he Mini) and Tony Snowdon. They were all ticked off just the same, particularly Lord Snowdon, who chucked Peter Saunder's bedding out of the window into a snow drift.»

So naturally this is where we stayed.  Mind you the new owners have made some changes.  Like rewiring the whole place and sympathetically making renovations.  It also now has the best restaurant in Klosters.

Yet the most important reason for being in Klosters is that it has the finest lift accessed skiing of any resort in the alps and possibly the world.  It is consistently , significantly better skiing  than anywhere else I have ever skied.  Partly  because the best off-piste is hard to find without a Mountain Guide who knows the terrain well.

Once again it did not dissapoint.  On our first day the snow was good, but then it snowed overnight and the skiing the next day was sensational.  We opted to ski Sue's favourite run through the widely spaced trees in the Chalbersaas woods on the north facing slopes above Klosters.  We saw no one and enjoyed untracked powder snow.

  Sue would have been delighted that we were able to replicate her perfect skiing.

Jane Bill Henny emerging from the Chalbersass woods

We were also lucky enough to explore the whole area and enjoy wonderful skiing.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Fresh Tracks Everyday

Annie,Jimmy,Eathen,Mark,David all complete with their "Batons d'Allain"

 When the group have  come all the way from Boulder Colorado to ski with you, the bar of expectation always seems to be set slightly higher.  Its made more so when its the teams third consecutive trip. David and Mark returned, this time with their children.

Blue skies don't generally give good off-piste powder snow, and  its just as well because we had a forecast of fog.  On our first day, Saturday, in an attempt to gain some visibility and ski in the trees, we headed through the Mont  Blanc Tunnel to Courmayeur, where there was no fog, just sunshine and very good snow conditions, the only down side was it was quite busy, it being a Sunday and the tail end of the New Year skiing.  This did not stop us enjoying an excellent lunch at La Chaumiere. 

The off-piste run back to the car was sublime.

On the Sunday the high season crowds were going home . But the fog was still around - so we headed down the valley to tree ski in  Combloux.  The skiing was absolutely fantastic.

Quiet unique and beautiful.

On the Monday the weather was clearer and we skied for the fisrt time in the Chamonix Valley, this time at Les Grands Montets where we had good conditions, no one around and a magical lunch at the Cremerie.

High above the clouds at Les Grands Montets

Tuesday we skied at Le Tour.  Due to the fact the top lift had been closed for several days due to a malfunction, we found our selves with lots of still untracked snow to ski.  When we had used this up we went on a 30 minutes ski tour across the border into Switzerland which opened up further swathes of fresh snow, and gave us fanatstic views up the Rhone valley.
Looking east up the Rhone Valley

The barrage d'Emosson

On our final day Wednesday we returned to Les Grands Montets with the aim of climbing up and over the col du Rachasse so that we could ski down onto the Argentiiere glacier- one of Chamonix's most  iconic ski descents.
Team coming over the col du Rachasse.

All was going fine until we actually got over the col, because as we did the light went flat.  Although you could see the mountains in the distance , it was very difficult to distinguish the immediate ground in front of your skis.  This is quite problematic when your on a glacier dealing with concealed crevasses.

In the end having seen over the course of the previous four days that the team were made up a very good skiers, I decided to give it ago and ski down onto the glacier.  At first the skiing was made even more difficult because there were was a crust.  Yet within about a 100 meters vertical descent the light improved and so did the quality of the snow.  We eneded up with a wonderful descent and an awe inspiring ski down the side of the Argentire glacier, all the way to the Chalet Lognon where we had an excellent late lunch.

Big Seracs on the glacier du Rognan

Mark & David about to thread their way down the side of the Argentire glacier.