Monday, February 19, 2007

In the Haute Tarauntaise

Flew to Lyon on a Saturday evening; boarded a coach which took us east, slowly wending its way into that part of the Alps which curls south to define the French/Italian border. The bus made increasingly heavy work of the journey as the road became ever narrower and more precipitous. Eventually, it was a narrow two-lane switch back, with a rock wall on our left, and a deep void on our right, softly falling snow adding an extra element of interest to the driver's efforts to maintain traction.

We arrived at midnight in the village of Val d'Isere, towing our cases through streetscapes made magical by the simply alchemy of fresh powder. Our accommodation jarred a bit though - cramped, shoddy fittings, and a strong smell of vomit. Too late to move that night; but, the next day, I chewed my way through four unfortunate reps, finally getting us into a very nice chalet in on the main street very close to the lift stations.

Snowy lane in Val d'Isere

This was our first time skiing in France, and we found our resort lived up to its reputation - instructors who didn't flinch from telling us the unvarnished truth about our technique, and pistes that routinely turned out to be a grade harder than our maps modestly suggested. The ski area (Espace Killy) is truly enormous, and runs the gamut from very high (year-round) glacier skiing to gentle forest runs low in the valleys. The scenery, hidden in clouds for the first few days, made a pretty wonderful backdrop to our holiday when it eventually emerged - maybe not quite a match for the Swiss Alps mentioned a post or two back, but...

I still haven't gotten over the sheer wonder of standing on a high ridge and seeing a winter landscape that stretches to the horizon, deep snow blanketing the land from the peaks to the valleys - even the seracs on the glaciers almost invisible beneath it. Thirty miles away, the (ferocious) southern (Italian) face of Mont Blanc was clearly visible - the air so clear one might have thought it to be in the next valley.

To be continued...

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