Tips for snowboarders

These are probably relevant to a lot of people, but they’re from snowboarding experience so…

Quite simple, really. A lot of ‘boarders carry a small rucksack with stuff in. I usually use it to store my clothes in. As I get warmer, I strip layers and pop them into the rucksack. I also use it to carry my lunch. Herein lies the tip – get a strong lunch box and don’t otherwise carry anything squishable. Sandwiches have an amazing ability to work their way into a nook or cranny right where you’ll land on them when you (inevitably) fall. Bananas are the same, and anyone taking a cardboard carton of juice snowboarding without securing it in a sturdy plastic lunch box is a fool or a person who enjoys having all their clothing soaked in drink.

You’d think it would be common sense, but the last time I went boarding with a group around half of them had lunch that looked like it had been run over by a steamroller.

A word to skiers

A few words for ‘boarders as well, but this is mainly a mini-rant at skiers. I know not all skiers are pompous, arrogant, selfish, ignorant, piste-greedy idiots, but far too many of them are. They annoy me, you may have guessed. I have seen several accidents on the slopes, and without exception every single one has been the fault of a skier – some very experienced (and therefore reckless), and some beginners (who then ski off very quickly without helping out or apologising).

There are a few rules on the mountain. A very few. Basically, they revolve around politeness and common sense. Most people seem to get these rules, or are just polite by instinct. An annoying number don’t.

  1. The person lower down the slope has right of way. That means if you’re cannoning down a piste at 80km/h, it is your job to avoid people further down (they can’t see you, remember?) and it’s not their fault if they swerve into your path. This can easily be avoided by skiing/boarding within the bounds of your ability and the current terrain. If you’re on a narrow piste, don’t go so quickly as someone else can get in your way more easily. It’s common sense. I see too many skiers in particular crouched in a “speed” position, zooming down green runs where beginners are trying to practise.
  2. Don’t stop, sit down or rest in the middle of the piste. If you have to stop for whatever reason, get to the side. This includes the areas just off the lifts. Again, just today I had several incidents where I saw skiers blocking the exits from lifts as they ski’d off, then just stopped on the middle of the run. On one of the green runs, I saw three people stopped while one of their friends built a small ramp off-piste. The boarder was to the side of the piste, the two skiers in the middle, round a corner and under a crest from the upper part of the run – and therefore in a bloody stupid place to loaf.
  3. Before you set off, check uphill to ensure you won’t get in someone’s way when you set off. Again, skiers assume they don’t have to – my experience – though I notice boarders making the same mistake from time to time. However, tie this in with the previous point and at least most boarders are at the piste’s edge so less likely to get in someone’s way.
  4. Give suitable clearance when overtaking someone. This one really, really gets my goat. Boarders are more likely to be guilty of this one than the others in my experience, but skiers are horrendous for doing it. Cutting someone up is rude and dangerous. Just because you’re used to haring downhill at speed and letting someone slip past you on the inside doesn’t mean that the kid who’s skis/board you missed by 3cm doesn’t mind either. So often I have seen skiers/boarders wooshing past people with virtually no distance to spare and the person they’ve narrowly missed panic and fall. Sure, you’re great and you have control, but the person you’ve just gone past had no idea you were there till you overtook them – it’s scary especially to a learner.
  5. Don’t pull in and stop suddenly on a slope right in front of someone. I have had arguments with skiers who’ve done just this – never a boarder. They cut me up, skid to a halt and then I either collapse in a heap, collide with them or clip their skis. They complain that it’s my fault due to point number one – I’m higher up so it’s my job to dodge them. Thing is, one second they weren’t there and then *pop*, they appear and block my way. This also happens when I’m just about to set off. I’m stationary, about to start sliding and a skier decides to stop in the one path I can take to get some momentum. Imagine you’re parked on the side of the road. You’re indicating to come out and just waiting for a car to go past. Is passes you… then stops half a metre in front of you and puts on its handbrake. Pretty damn rude, isn’t it? You can get round it, but it takes effort and the guy could have parked two metres further down and given you space but just decided to ignore you.

There are more “rules”, many of them spelled out on a per-resort basis. I’m sure you can see by looking at the above that they’re simple enough and generally are common sense. I also try not to rail against skiers in particular, but as I said it’s just my experience that the vast majority of people who do cause problems are skiers. The ratio hugely outweighs the number of skiers:number of boarders one.

Anyway, besides all that I had a good day off and finally figured out how to snowboard again. I can now actually go down a good few runs without falling on my backside. This is a good thing. I’m getting there! I feel sorry for the guy (a skier) who was airlifted off in dramatic style by helicopter, however. He was conscious and hopping prior to being loaded on the trailer of a Skidoo so I suspect just a badly broken leg. The worst I’ve had so far is a bruised botty – and I hope it stays that way.

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Quite a headline-grabbing title, but actually a serious post.

Around Chamonix at the moment, you can often here cannon-like blasts in the early morning. These are set charges being blasted to shift snow in controlled circumstances to help prevent avalanches. Recently, I went to a meeting organised by Henry’s Avalanche Talk in a local bar. It was a superb introduction to the dangers involved in skiing and snowboarding off-piste. Definitely recommended if you’re in the Chamonix area – they’re done regularly and cost very little.

The reason this post came us is because we’ve lost at least one staff member – an experienced boarder/skier – in an avalanche recently. It can happen to anyone. He was a chef at one of our hotels and by all accounts a really nice guy. I can’t say I knew him, but it’s always sad to hear of someone dying while pursuing a hobby when they should be enjoying themselves. Another important thing to bear in mind is that those that cause avalanches aren’t always the only victims – anyone downhill is in serious danger as well.

Soap box time over, folks. But if you’re going to go off-piste – please, please be aware of the dangers.

Travelling to Europe? Sure?

A quick update and a little story from last Sunday at Geneva Airport for you.

This week I have mainly been hanging around with Leah. She made time in her busy schedule (i.e. the long winter holiday) to pop over and spend new year with me. We had a few really good nights out, got rather tiddly, ate some decent nosh and Leah tried her hand (or rather backside) at snowboarding. Her sis is apparently pretty good, having spent a fair amount of time in New Zealand. Leah didn’t do too badly for a complete novice, but we didn’t have an enormous amount of time for her to practice.

But back to the previous weekend and Geneva Airport. Now, look at a map and you’ll be aware that Switzerland is part of Europe. However, it is <em>not</em> part of the European Union. There are many agreements between the EU and Switzerland, one of which involves the freedom of movement of people – citizens of one can travel through the other unhindered and without a need for visas. You generally speaking won’t have to stop at a customs point on a border and so on.

However, if you’re an EU citizen and you <em>do</em> get stopped on the border (they randomly stop vehicles) then you must have your passport. Any other form of ID is not sufficient. Likewise if you fly in/out of Switzerland then you require a passport.

For those who are not EU citizens, it gets slightly more complicated…

If you’re from outside of Europe and you plan a holiday here you generally apply for your visa in advance (depending on where you’re from). The family who had the problem last week were from South America. They did as so many other people do – landed within Europe (I assume in the UK in their case) and their visa was checked, sorted and they went on their way. From then on, travel within Europe is fine but generally the visa will expire when you leave Europe and try to re-enter.

Ah, now I just made the same mistake they probably did. I said "Europe" when I should have said "the EU". They booked a holiday with us, hopped onto their plane in London or wherever, got off in Geneva… and then found out that they didn’t have a visa to enter Switzerland. Their holiday destination was actually to be in France, but we use Geneva as a main hub as it’s a larger airport than our alternative (Chambery).

Technically the fault lies with the airline as the family should not have been allowed on the flight in the first place. But airports make mistakes (witness my visa-less flight to Australia) and so they ended up stuck at immigration in Geneva Airport. We did get the situation sorted and they caught a later bus to their resort. Apparently there’s a French area or something at the airport where they were allowed to pass through, but don’t expect this to work for everyone.

So it’s a simple warning – when traveling, don’t assume that every country has the same immigration regulations for you as every other – even if they share borders.

Well, it’ll be white here…

Well, here I sit at my desk on Christmas Eve. With a huge burger from Midnight Express to one side, a large glass of Glenfiddich in front of me and Judas Priest streaming down the interwebnet from Planet Rock. Very seasonal.

It’s been a hectic… however long since I last updated. I’ve been round umpteen sites, fixed umpteen things, met umpteen-and-a-bit people and realised beyond all doubt that France Telecom are British Telecom with funny accents. That is, they’re bloody useless. We still have two offices with no working telephones, though FT say the lines are live because if you call them there is a ringing tone down the line. The fact that the phones in the office don’t ring (or have a dial tone) is seemingly irrelevant. File under “ongoing”.

Printers have been distributed to most of our sites by a third party supplier. A shame they should all have been distributed by now. And those that are out of ink should have had replenishments by now, but no sign of the packages. This resulted in one trip for me out to Les Arcs to take out a backup printer and ink the day before transfer day so the resort could get all their welcome packs done.

Thing is, it meant I spent a couple of hours with a great bunch of stressed-out Resort Managers, reps and chalet managers. All of them were snowed under … but laughing. I got back at silly o’clock (again) that night, but was singing along with the car stereo the whole way.

Transfer day this week was the first full-scale one of the season with scenes of (mostly) organised chaos everywhere. One bus was late due to a flat tyre and bust axle, and a few decided to park up at the international terminal instead of the charter one which caused us a few problems. Aside from that it went mostly smoothly. There were a lot of children (I’m forbidden to call them “kids” by company policy) around with it being Christmas week, which made it particularly special.

It was a fairly long day and as always one of the tensest of the week. I actually ended up having a rather frank discussion with my boss regarding my role and her use of it, which could have gone very sour indeed. I had my issues and I have my duties and I felt these weren’t being taken into account so I took a pretty firm stance – adapt or I walk.

Thing is, we got it all sorted. And very amicably. In a typically English way – over a cup of tea. We even got to batting a few more ideas around which should make life easier for both of us (and everyone else) over the course of the season. Result.

On Thursday I’d been taken to Ski Set in Cham Sud (south Chamonix) to get my board and boots. I’d like to make a recommendation regarding this shop – avoid. The staff are less knowledgeable than I am, their equipment’s crap and the guy who runs the shop is a miserable arse. Part of me can see the sense in giving all the seasonaires third-rate equipment – it’s cheap and they’re probably on a really tight deal through their employer. Plus it makes sense to keep your best stuff for the more profitable punter (sorry, “guest”), especially at this time of year when it’s busy.

However, it doesn’t excuse being a miserable sod. Neither does it excuse being shirty and refusing to give staff snowboards, instead palming off crap skis on people who’ve never ski’d before. I was lucky as I went down in the morning. I got the only board out of all the local staff. The rest were told to come back in on a day-to-day basis if they wanted a board. Having said that, all the boards looked rubbish anyway. Mine was.

Up on the slope on Friday with a bunch of people from the Sapiniere, Pieter (the hotel manager) noticed something about the bindings on my board. They were the ones he’d discarded last year. The exact same ones. That would explain why they were so worn. They also fit badly and one of the plastic straps broke. This was when I discovered that I couldn’t get Flo bindings fixed anywhere in Argentiere. OK, not quite true. I did find one shop but they usually charge for the work whereas the Ski Set would do it for free – if they had the parts.

I lost two hours of slope time locating a shop and getting back to the piste. Not good. At least the company was good, with the bunch from Chamonix being of varying ability there was always someone I could catch up with. Good snow and a variety of slopes, plus Pieter available to give me some tips – thanks, fella.

Apres-board, we headed for FuBar. This is a sister bar to Bar d’Up on Chamonix and has a rather natty spinny-rotaty bull-ride. I did pretty well, managing 25 seconds on level two as my first attempt. I only did it for the free shot. A couple of beers later, Simon picked us up in the minibus and we headed into Chamonix for more socialising (i.e. beer) during which time I developed a stomach ache and a marginal case of the squits. Not a good way to spend a night out till 3am…

Back to the board – I did get it swapped out and I think I now have one of their “silver” class boards. Which means it’s slightly less crap then the one I had before, but does have better bindings. The owner’s “what is he doing complaining – he’s not allowed to do that” expression was priceless. I think he’s the first stereotypical “rude Frenchman” I’ve met. And hopefully the last.

The town looks fantastic right now, especially after dark. Lights everywhere, crowds walking around, shops selling mulled wine and hot waffles. Horse-drawn carriages clip-clopping along the streets. And best of all, wide-eyed kids absolutely sure they’ll see Santa this year because there’s actually snow everywhere. I can honestly say I don’t recall being anywhere so Christmassy in my entire life and it beggars belief but I really like it.

So, back to the now. This time last year I was in Agra. Temperature-wise it couldn’t be more different. Then I had one great mate with me. Now I have a bunch of good friends. Then I was being ferried round in a little white car playing dodgem with huge trucks. Now I’m on a snowboard playing dodgem with bloody skiers.

Variety. It truly is the spice of life.