Today I have been mostly…

…snowboarding! I managed to wangle a free pass and kit hire for Tignes and Val d’Isere courtesy of Chris, one of the regional managers. Who, incidentally, rocks. And who I now owe beer to.

I spent the day by myself as the rest of the group I was with were all skiers and therefore tootled off to do their own thing as they cannot, as a race, be trusted. Yeah, I know – painting an entire section of the population with one brush but I do still find that skiers are the most rude, ignorant and arrogant people on the slopes.

Like the ones who cut past me today, clipping my board. It happens. No big deal. Only he then proceeds to plough to a halt right in front of me meaning I had to swerve like hell to avoid him. Now, I know the rule of the mountain – it’s simple. The person higher up has to give way to the person further down as they have visibility. Only this skier had just gone past me, knew where I was heading and just stopped there deliberately.

Bloody skiers. I was tempted to just wipe him out, but I’m too polite.

Other than that, a good day and a reminder that I need practise. My weak leg (my right) aches as I was putting too much pressure on it. I should be putting the weight on my leading (left) one. That’s a major thing I need to address this season.

Lunch was pricey, which was a shame, but seeing as everything else cost me nothing I can’t complain. I picked up a “Menu Bazoom” from a kiosk near the shops for 10 Euros (around £7) which consisted of a very good burger, a generous amount of chips and a soft drink. Expensive for fast food, but at least the quality was top notch.

Apres-ski consisted of driving back to Chamonix as I had to collect more kit and check my email for the first time in 4 days. I managed to sort out a PC in Saas Fee on the phone after getting back. Some muppet had changed the passwords at the end of last season and not told anyone what they were. Thankfully XP has a back door to get in so I could step someone through resetting them. This is why I am password-locking all the machines I can get my hands on…

So here I sit, in the office instead of in the pub watching us being humiliated by Arsenal. At the time of writing it’s 0-1 to the visitors and I’m about 1/4 of the way through my email. And I need dinner.

I do have a fair few pics to put up as well, but simply don’t have the time. Hopefully once I’m back in Cham full time I’ll get them posted!


Snow. In Scotland. Indoors.

There’s an Xscape which has opened recently in a place called Braehead to the west of Glasgow and it took very little convincing for my uncle to pack my little cousin’s wellies and waterproofs in a rucksack and take us there. It’s not the cheapest day out, especially outside of term time, but we all had great fun.

Wee Lou and Stewart did sledging while I had an hour of snowboarding for £21 – thank you to Stewart for insisting on paying. The snow was pretty good and I was surprised by how empty it was, given the school holidays. I was also suprised that in one hour I only fell once.

Even with three-month gaps between sessions (the last time I boarded was in Dubai), it’s an easy hobby to pick back up. I know it sounds like a cheesy phrase, but it’s like riding a bike. Without the wheels, handlebars and plastic drinks cups shoved in the spokes to make VRRRRRRRR noises.

I also got to visit Granny A (Granny B – or Y, depending on how I code these things – will be graced with my presence tomorrow) . As usual, I was told how great it was to be seen. Either my grans have learned to act very well over the last 80+ years, or it’s genuine. As if I have any doubts! It’s strange that after roughly 20 months since my last visit, she still doesn’t seem to have changed. Mind, I’d not change her for the world anyway so that’s hardly a complaint.

Oh, and I treated myself to a 500Gb external hard drive from Argos. The only other place I looked was the Maplin catalogue and Argos undercut them by around £100 on price. Ouch. Admittedly, Maplin’s stuff looked way cooler but I need storage space, not gimmickry right now. With any luck, I can rip a few dozen DVDs onto it to watch while I’m in France.

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Sun, sea, sand… and snow?

And on to number 14 – Dubai, another one-night stop. You know, I’m not sure if this is a country, a state or a region. It’s one of the United Arab Emirates, a group of recently-rich oil states which are spending their money predominantly on property development to try and entice tourists in.

I arrived at what will soon be the old airport. A new one at least four times the size is under construction further to the west of the city. In fact, that’s a hugely common theme across Dubai – construction. And on a silly scale. The tourist map I have must be around one third full of areas marked as “under construction” and I hear that 60% of the world’s cranes are located here.

My flight was on the flag-carrier, Emirates, and I have to say it was one of the least comfortable flights I’ve had. Especially given the company’s reputation I thought the plane was very poor. Great staff, but the seat was uncomfortable and the TV screen on my seat didn’t work properly. The food wasn’t that great, either.

Annoyingly, my flight landed at 4:30am and I discovered that the first public bus wasn’t due until 7:41. Well, after immigration I only had just over two hours to kill so I kicked back, fired up the laptop and enjoyed free internet. Then, a few minutes after logging off I reconnected after the 7:41 bus just drove past a bunch of people waving like madmen at the stop. Just like being back home. Only a little warmer.

At 8:11, I caught the next bus which decided to try the mind-boggling technique of stopping and handed over my smallest bill – 100 Dirham. The driver laughed and asked if I had change. Erm, no. He took my 100 and popped it by his window.

A short drive later, he waved me forward and returned my hundred. “This your stop – Al Ahli Club” which turned out to be a footie ground, not the nightclub I’d imagined. Either way, I’d saved 1.5 Dirham on the bus far by not having change which was a good start.

The next 45 minutes or so were spent walking around in utter confusion up and down a main road trying to locate the hostel from the rather inadequate directions from their web site. I finally approached the nice men with guns at the Central Police Headquarters who kindly pointed me in the right direction. Had I got off at the next stop, I’d have been able to see it.

Finally, drenched in sweat and with arms like Popeye courtesy of my laptop bag I walked up to reception and checked in. A kindly American girl told me what her group had done and how much to pay, and the chap on reception gave me a written list of buses I should need. I ditched my stuff in my room, had a much-needed shower and walked to the bus stop with the aim of visiting the Gold Souk and then the Mall of Emirates.

After an hour during which time roughly 12 buses had driven right past (except one, which disgorged four people then sped off without letting anyone else on) I gave up and walked to a nearby mall for a nice Indian lunch. Back to the bus stop and a 25-minute wait until I finally got picked up.

The bus arrived at the Gold Souk around thirty minutes later. This is an area filled with shops which sell – you guessed it – gold. However, being a Friday everywhere was closed. I waited thirty minutes to board another bus to the Emirates Mall despite three being sat there for ages. I think this was due to my arrival coinciding with prayer time. Another hour and I stepped off this bus around ten minutes’ walk from the mall. Believe it or not, there’s no direct route from one of the major bus stations to the largest mall in Dubai.

It’s an awesome, though ugly, building. At 1km x 3km in rough dimensions, it’s the same size as the original Dubai. Mind, the original Dubai didn’t have an indoor snow slope squirming its way overhead.

I grabbed lunch from Carrefour then walked around a few camera shops to locate a replacement for the Olympus I lost in Laos. I settled on a newer model for around the same price, so I’m now the owner of a 770sw. Everywhere charged the same price and there just didn’t seem to be any haggling possible, but I did manage to get a 2Gb memory card.

My main reason for visiting the mall was to see the ski slope so I walked off that way and sat down to set up the camera. I had to go to an information desk to borrow some scissors to get into the memory card pack and an Indian chap talked briefly to me while I was stood there. This seems inoccuous, but remember that it happened!

Camera set up, I started to fiddle with it. Only to find that it sometimes wouldn’t switch on unless I popped the battery out and back in, and kept “forgetting” the date and asking me for it again when it did power on. Good job it failed now rather than a few weeks down the line. Back to the shop.

Oh, what fun I had trying to explain this to the muppet at the counter. When I handed him the camera, it wouldn’t switch on – the same problem I had. He did the same thing – battery out; battery in. Then it worked. I explained that’s exactly the problem I’d had. He poked and prodded, swapped the battery around and said “no problem”.

“No. There is a problem. You had the problem. When I gave you the camera it didn’t work. And it had lost the date.”

“But it works. See? You will have no problem with this camera.”

“It has a problem. You saw the problem. It has done it three times now. I am concerned that it will do it again.”

He looked puzzled. “No, no problem. See? It works.”

“It works now, it didn’t work before, it could stop working again. Can you please swap it for another one?”

“What is problem?”

I literally lowered my head and banged it on the counter top. He genuinely seemed to have mentally blanked out the fact that the camera had failed to power up when I handed it to him. I think my anguish finally got through and he swapped it for another one, telling me that there’s an international warranty anyway so it’s not an issue. Well, it is an issue when you’re waking around Europe for 3 months and can’t spend a month in one place waiting for a replacement.


Next stop, Ski Dubai. For around £20, I got all my kit (except gloves and a hat as if you need them) and two hours on the slope. Oh, man, it was good. Take your choice of chair-lift or a drag-lift, two routes down the top half and a few jumps and pipes. Death defying photographers at the bottom try to snap you as you come to a stop and sell you the pictures. I have no idea how much they charge. I was too busy having fun.

Two hours, twelve runs and my times dropped from 10 minutes a run down to 7 as I got my feet under me again. I didn’t fall down until I started trying too hard towards the end, which impressed me no end as I’ve not had a board on my feet since New Zealand last year.

Great fun and well worth the money. It also helped me work up an appetite so that I could locate a KFC and partake in one of my customary “if there’s one in the country I have to eat there” meals.

Getting back to the hostel was “fun”, by which I mean “frustrating”. I couldn’t even find a bus stop after a twenty minute walk back down the road I’d come in on and ended up catching a taxi which cost a small fortune. The trip to the mall took almost three hours and cost 4.5 Dirham. The drive back took twenty minutes and cost 50.5 Dirham. Ouch. Definitely cheaper as a group.

I booked a city tour for the next day and prompty zonked out in bed.

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Snow and fireworks

 Much better weather today with excellent visibility. However, this was partly due to less snow the night before so the snow blowers were on on the lower slopes. Lou didn’t bother getting the bus up today – her knee was still rather banged up and she was limping – so I handed her board and boots in when I got there.

The views from the upper slopes were magnificent today, so I took a few more snaps. Another morning lesson with Brett, the same chap as Wednesday, followed by lunch and then the afternoon zooming around on the powder making a complete tit of myself but having loads of fun in the process.

 It was a shame when it came time to return my hire kit and head back into town. I’d really enjoyed myself and was just reaching the point where my muscles had given up complaining about all the work they were being made to do. With any luck, I’ll make it back down again for the end of the season. Fingers crossed!

Today was also the start of the Queenstown Winter Festival, a week-long party to celebrate the start of the season. Today, the Cardrona runs opened and tomorrow The Remarkables ski park would join in. Add to that the best/worst snow they’ve had in ten years (depending on whether you’re boarding/skiing or driving) and they were really looking forward to it this year. Last year was a damp squib in all respects with awful rain for the first couple of weeks.

 The festival’s a very “local” affair, involving businesses and organisations including schools. It starts with a free party on the waterfront with a huge stage, two hours or so of free bands and an impressive fireworks display. As the week goes on, there are other parties, parades, sporting events and so on. Basically, it’s a cracking way to start your snowy season and it’s the last week before the kids break up for holidays, so they get to have a lot of fun decorating floats and making masks and so on as they impatiently wait for the school gates to close.

 Lou had started to come down with an evil cold, so we didn’t enjoy the street stuff as much as we could. Instead, we sat in Pog Mahone’s drinking and eating some delicious tomoato soup until the fireworks were due to start and then nipped outside to watch them. Not the world’s biggest display, but certainly impressive. All were launched from a boat floating in the harbour and I’m amazed the thing didn’t sink. It even took Lou’s mind off her sniffles for ten minutes or so! Posted by Picasa

More snowy fun

Another day on the mountain, though the visibility was “poor” according to the rather polite board on arrival. The signpost which went up later in the day to say that the Greengates area was closed due to “Poopy Visibility” was closer to the mark.

We set off later than yesterday as we both only had one class to attend, and there’s the option of morning or afternoon. To try and give Lou’s knee a chance to sort itself out, we caught the bus at 10:30 after a bit of a walk around town, but to no avail. She could barely bend it to get her bindings on. One day wasted for her and things don’t seem too good for it being better by tomorrow. Lou hopped on the first bus back at 1:30 and I gave the slopes a chance.

Thankfully they cleared slightly by 2:00 so I joined my class and we messed about for two hours, being shown how to do things that none of us were capable of by a very helpful instructor. Helpful, but not miracle-worker. I still have a long way to go before I’m rotating on heel while going downhill. At least on purpose.

I got to the top of the M1 run just as the lift shut down and made it back in time to get the second last bus. Another early night after dinner, I feel. You wouldn’t think sliding down a hill could be so exhausting but my muscles loved me for treating them to a hot shower when I got back.