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Season Diary - Day 9: From Marigolds to Powder Heaven

Updated: Mar 11

Well. To say that the last 36 hours has been a tale of two halves is an understatement. I set off for the Alps at 4am on Saturday, ski bag and boot bag in hand, set to spend the next 12 hours winding my way by plane, train and automobile to Val d'Isere.



It didn't take very long for things to go wrong. This is the story of lost bags, the deepest snow we'd experienced since Japan, and Marigolds.

 
Lots of snow falling on two large fir trees; in the gap between a pair of chalets begin to get lost in the snow, with thick layers of snow on their rooves.
A snowy morning greeted us in Val

 

My flight to Lyon went exactly to plan, taking off at 0715 and cruising nicely down to the capital of French cooking. I slept for most of it, after the early start to make the bus to the airport.



I arrived at about 10am ... my ski bag never did. This now marks the second time in a row - and the only two occasions I have taken the bag with Aer Lingus - that the bag never made it to its final destination. I was therefore the lemon stood in the baggage hall watching the carousel turn and turn and turn, as everyone else on my flight disappeared and the next load of bags came and went.



If ever you are travelling via Lyon Airport, try and avoid the Rhône Express Airport shuttle at all costs. €18 for a single ticket (€26 return) is daylight robbery for a small cramped tram the generally runs full and doesn't necessarily offer an "express" service to the city. But with direct trains from Lyon Airport to Bourg Saint Maurice sold out months ago, I had no choice.



Delightfully bereft of luggage, I made my into town, found lunch and boarded the train to Bourg. Some 3.5hrs later, the train pulled in exactly 10 minutes late, also known as the exact time my bus up the valley to Val d'Isere left... Great.



Thankfully I wasn't alone, and following a few others dashing across the coach park next to the station we found our bus waiting, waiting for the late passengers from our bus - what's French for Hallelujah?!

 
A skier looking back at the camera, covered in snow. Dressed all in black except for a pair of electric blue gloves.
Borrowed jacket, rented skis, and blue Marigolds!
 

Of course, even once in resort I was still faced with the problem with what to do tomorrow. With only ski boots, ski trousers, a pair of socks and the clothes on my back I surely had no chance to ski in the morning?



I needed to get skis, poles, helmet, gloves, backpack, transceiver, shovel, probe, and jacket. The rest I could cobble together from what I had on - my fleece can serve as my first layer, my down jacket as my insulating mid-layer, I had my boots and ski trousers in my boot bag (which I had carried on the plane with me) and had a pair of shades in their too. Oh, and some lip balm, the key ingredient.



Stuffed in my friend's flat was a ski jacket. Good start. My friend lent my his gloves - Japanese fisherman's gloves that were effectively marigolds with a warm liner. A fashion icon I perhaps would not be on the slopes. His brother also lent me a pair of goggles that must have been older than me.


Ski hardware I rented, safe in the knowledge that I could claim the cost back from my insurance - pro tip, always get the additional or optional baggage cover!


 

About 10am the next morning (today) I strike out to meet up with my friends who been at it since 9am whilst I sorted my rentals. I skied down to the first meeting point down a red run, German Matthis. To be horror, shock, delight and awe, I found the piste covered in around a foot and a half of fresh powder. We knew it had been snowing in the night and was still snowing now, but this was a surprise.



Did we chill and warm up or ski legs? Like fuck did we. Heading straight back up, with limited lift openings due to wind, we lapped the same run a million times, heading off piste through open powder meadows at the top, then winding between trees under the same lift for the bottom half of the mountain.



I've not skied snow like this in years. This wasn't nicely structured snow as I experienced just over the valley in Tignes in December, instead it was loose, light and fluffy, sitting on top of a solid snowpack beneath. Rather than being bouncy and guiding, this was flurrying, spraying back in your face powder, something you could very easily lose your balance and your skis in.

 
There's a skier there somewhere...
 

I fell over, a lot, but scored some super turns along the way. I'm not the biggest fan of tree skiing, the close knit nature of the woods adding a certain claustrophobia that socks my confidence to perform turns and avoid getting sucked into a tree well. Partly as a result of my skis, partly as a result of the experience gained so far this season, I found myself growing more and more to enjoy them, my skis pivoting quickly and effectively under me to give me a certain confidence along the way.



Power skiing saps energy like nothing else, a constant workout as your legs are bounced and moved by snow, features and bumps hidden from view under layers of powder. You need a rigid core, engaged from start to finish, and to really exaggerate your movements to disengage the skis from the snow and turn back the other way.

 
A skier skis through a narrow gully between trees.
Working my way between the trees.

 

We were all quickly knackered. At around 1430 we called it a day, skiing one final run down Vallon to La Fornet and hopping on the bus home. Vallon did not disappointed, holding snow far better than other areas thanks to a lack of wind, especially lower down. Even this late in the day we lapped up pristine powder turns, floating, darting and whopping our way down the hill.



What could have been a disaster of a start to the holiday quickly turned itself around. Fashion disasters to one side, this was easily one of the best days skiing I've had, if not ever then in a really really long time.



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