Vive la (snowboarding in) France!

Posted by jswt | Posted in France - Chamonix, General | Posted on 23-12-2009

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So this morning (Weds) I hopped on a bus to Chamonix in France. It’s this long valley region in the Alps with a whole schwack o resorts… Of course, things being as they are, forces conspired against me.

With snowboard in hand, I got on the bus at the airport and was the only one on a double decker. Enjoyed the ride to the first stop at city centre where there were a ton of other people waiting, and I was asked to exit the bus. Seems there was a rockslide on the main road to Chamonix, and we had to wait for a smaller bus that would fit under the bridges on the second road. North American efficiency would likely lead to the call for a new bus to have one delivered about the same time that ours arrived. Here though, that’s when they called the other bus driver to go to the bus depot in the suburbs and pick one up to drive into the city centre.

Well over 90 minutes later, we were on the road again and it was an amazing ride into France and up into enormous canyons and tunneling through mountainsides (These jagged steep peaks give the Rockies a run for their money).

Part way through the ride, I realize that though I’d booked a ski-shuttle through the website, I’d been lumped into a group of tours all chartered on the same bus, which was not actually going to any of the resorts in Chamonix, but continuing on with a bus tour of the alps. I hopped off at the Chamonix stop, and luckily the town has a fantastic free shuttle service that runs in a constant loop. Before catching one of the shuttles, I popped my head into a rental shop and looked for the snowboarding-stoner-guy (there’s always at least one in a rental shop) and asked him what I should be pointing myself towards for good snow and off-piste terrain. He said there was no decision – it was Les Grands Montets which had just had 25cm+ of snow the night before.

Of course, once I get there I find out that 2/3 of the mountain is currently closed due to “too much snow”. Having come all that way (and without a bus home until 5pm) I figured I’d make the most of it and have some fun on what was open.

Then the ticket agent informs me that their credit card machine is broken.
And they only take Euros (of which I have none).
And they don’t normally do it, but they can convert the Swiss Francs I’ve got.
It’ll be 70.
I’ve got 40 left after buying breakfast.

In the end the woman working the counter took pity on me, and said I couldn’t have come all the way from Canada not to play in the snow, and she sold me a child’s ticket which somehow ended up getting me back 5 euros.

So I eagerly busted up the gondola and wanted to grab some fuel before riding.
Of course, the cards aren’t working at the top of the mountain either.
And i have only 5 euros.

Again, sympathy prevailed and the girl at the counter hooked me up with a great sandwich and a drink for about half what it should have cost… Back home, they would have told me to f’off, but I seriously appreciate the French willingness to help out and sway to the winds of judgement. Vive la France!

So, fueled up and halfway up the resort, I was ready to hit it, and looked outside and realized what I was getting myself into: Enormous tree free powder fields splayed endlessly out from the peaks and glaciers far overhead. My first run led me into waist deep fresh untouched powder just off the main chair. I could have gone home happy after that one beautiful run, and it just kept getting better from there. About an hour in, they opened another chair into a bowl that they’d finished blasting, and I got to spend all afternoon hitting fresh tracks on huge wide open faces… Sooooooooo good.

Took a midafternoon break, and since the card machines were working again, I treated myself to the frenchest snack I could sort out: French onion soup, a local beer, vin chaud (mulled wine) and a crepe.

Even without the gondola to the top open, there was so much wide open challenging terrain and tit-deep snow, my day was filled with what was on tap, and my legs were giving out way before I wanted to stop. After riding out, I found a great pub near the bus station that worked out wonderfully for some aprez-ski until my bus came and shuttled me uneventfully back to Geneva.

So in all, it was a bit of a challenging effort to get there, but smiles and good manners thwarted those negative forces, and thanks to French hospitality, I had one of the best days of riding of my life at Les Grands Montets.

Ahhhhhh oui!

Welcome to 2nd class.

Posted by jswt | Posted in Switzerland - Geneva | Posted on 23-12-2009

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So I spent Tuesday afternoon walking around Geneva’s downtown and never have I had a city make me feel quite so much like a human trashbag.

There is just so much pompous wealth in this city it’s depressing. Everyone’s buried their money here in the private banks that are all over the city centre, and pops in to check on it from time to time and pick up a new fur/facelift/supercar/$50k watch (Piaget/Patek Phillipe/Rolex… line em up!). It seems as well that when you take that wealth and apply a heavy smear of French attitude across the Swiss, it turns into a very strong and unpleasant mix.

The people aside, the city is beautiful – it’s centered around a bay where the Rhone river meets the Geneva lake. It’s all beautiful old buildings over top of winding wonderful alleyways. I wandered up through the UN/WTO area yesterday where there is a fortified zone right up on the hill that you can tell was built hundreds of years ago. No streetfront cafes here, but lots of nice looking restaurants and choclatiers – it’s just unfortunate that they won’t give the time of day to anyone not flashing cash.

When I was taking the train back, I got on with the metro pass supplied by the hotel.
The attendant checked my ticket and said “this is a 2nd class ticket. you need to go 2 trains back”.
That kind of sums up this city.

So yeah — I’m kind of mixed on Geneva…
I think it’s just a very pretty city, full of richly adorned assholes.

Genevaaah.

Posted by jswt | Posted in General, Switzerland - Geneva | Posted on 22-12-2009

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Have been in Geneva for just under a week now, and there hasn’t been a huge amount to write about as I’ve been laying low, and just falling back into a life-on-the-road routine.

I still haven’t completely wrapped my head around Geneva, but it’s a strange little blip of Switzerland that’s bordered very closely by France. There’s some Swiss spoken here, but it’s mostly French (and though somewhat spotty, my high-school french immersion has come back really quickly!).

There is a lot of old money here – the UN HQ is here which puts a lot of diplomats in the area, and the whole “swiss banking” thing is in full effect. So the area’s got a serious “facelifts and furs” feel to it.

It’s beautiful though – clean and oldy feeling with the alps looming abruptly in all directions.

The tour was off on Monday, so we took the day and wandered off to one of the 50+ local ski areas. There was fresh snow in the city, and the skies had cleared and lifted above the mountain tops so the 90 minute drive along Lake Geneva was spotted with beautiful old castles, cute small swiss chalet towns and high hill villas. The hill itself was a beginner resort which was good for the crew we rolled out with – snow was decent, but as with most of the resorts around here, they just opened last week and snow base is still low and not too many lifts are open. It was the first time I’ve ever bought my pass and then taken a train up the side of a mountain to the first chair.

The resorts are very different than North American ones… it’s just not such a modernized consumer driven experience. Things aren’t labeled clearly. You take time to get up there. Instead of single peak:resort ratios they have multi-peak multi-base multi-resort sprawling areas. At first I was kind of frustrated and fell into rah-rah North American mode and was thinking “why the hell can’t they get it right?”. Then I realized, they just do it differently and much more relaxed and that unto itself it’s a more appropriate vibe.

Finished riding for the day, stopped for a spot of mulled wine, and then went to a fantastic hot spring resort at the base of a mountain. Sitting outside in a snowstorm soaking in a steaming pool o’ bliss with good people and tired muscles made for one of the best aprez-ski’s I’ve ever had.

Dinner before heading home was a traditional Swiss fondue and a lot more mulled wine.

Slept hard and deep and today is the first day I’ve felt the jetlag completely behind me and that I’m fully in the life-on-the-road rhythm…

On y va a Geneva!

Posted by jswt | Posted in General | Posted on 17-12-2009

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20+ hours in planes and airport plunked me down in Geneva mid afternoon “today”. Checked into the hotel, unpacked and hit the gym (helps reset your body rythyms) and am about to go out for a day-late bday dinner with Chris…

Adventures forthcoming.