Tag Archives: Mountains

Skiing in the ’80s and 70s

Wednesday 24 January 2024 – Some Guy has challenged me to show myself in my skiing gear, 20th vs 21st century.

So I will.  But you’ll have to read through some  more of my ramblings first.  For every prize, there’s a price!

I started skiing in 1980, 44 years ago, when I was 27, on a visit to Sauze D’Oulx.  The fact that I’ve now visited a further eight times since then shows that I like the place.  Is it perfect? No, not for several reasons. But its character is clearly something that resonates with me.

The place has changed somewhat since that first visit.

  • The best bar in town, Andy Capp’s Pub, closed down sometime before 2003; its eponymous ski race, that I always used to look forward to participating in, therefore is no longer run. When I mentioned this race to a group of Scottish people also staying in my hotel, there was a somewhat shocked reaction as they tried to absorb the implications of running a ski race on a public piste.  But the race course was set up every week and used for racing by  punters recruited from Andy’s and also by the ski school for people who had been taking lessons. More on this later.
  • The lift system has got better – a bit. The lift near the town now carries four people at a time rather than two, but is still slow; the large number of drag lifts have been replaced by a smaller number of (better located) chair lifts; the most important chair lifts have been upgraded to high-speed operation; and a few new lifts have been installed, and these now link Sauze to neighbouring resorts in a big area called the Via Lattea – the Milky Way.  It’s great to have the possibilities of skiing further afield, but I read somewhere a telling comment that the lift operator’s business model is cost minimisation rather than market share expansion.

Some things haven’t changed much.

  • The Sportinia plateau that I mentioned earlier, is still a lively hub, with several restaurants and cafés, most of which are pretty much exactly as they were back then, and all of which provide great rest stops and a contribution to the charm of the place which (you’ll have noticed from my previous post) is important to me.

  • The best place on the mountain is still the best place – a hotel/restaurant called Ciao Pais.

  • The town is a lively place in the evenings.  There are some great bars, some dating back to 1980, like the Scotch Bar and Il Lampione, and some new ones, like the Ghost Bar. That said, I didn’t spend a lot of time in them, but that’s down to me; as a younger man, I was ever in favour of bar crawls, but I’ve grown out of that desire. Or maybe, as Robert Heinlein so memorably put it “It’s amazing how much ‘mature wisdom’ resembles being too tired”. OK, I’ll come clean; I was too tired even for a post-prandial drink in the hotel bar, far less an evening going out drinking. But I did take an after-dinner walk a couple of times around the town and it was clear that it’s still a lively place, if not quite as hooligan as I remember it.

And, finally, I’ve changed, in more than just my attitude to drinking.  I used to choose skiing resorts to visit on the basis of the extent of the ski area, as I used simply to want to cover as much of the lift system and as many of the pistes as I could.  On this holiday, I relished the exercise component of skiing; I’m now probably much fitter than I ever used to be, and my main objective this week was to ski from the start of a run to the end, without stopping (or crashing into something, of course).  This is something that I rarely, if ever, used to do, simply because I often needed to stop and rest on the way down. This week (after a slow start, admittedly), I could do a 4.5km run from top to bottom of the hill at an average 25kph with energy to spare, which I found rather gratifying at my age.

On my first day in Sauze this year, I covered 17km at an average of 18kph, and expended 747 calories doing so. On my last, I skied 18km at 25kph, expending just 395 calories, which is an elegant demonstration of how my confidence and ability increased over the course of the week. I even felt, at the end, that I was near regaining whatever used to pass for style when I was a regular skier:

A gentle potter down the piste in 1987 or thereabouts

And so to my friend Guy’s challenge – to display my skiing gear between the centuries.

Here is a selection of my various outfits between then and now.

And these days?  Well, the jacket and trousers haven’t changed since 2001 (just not quite so tight, these days), with one exception….


I used to hate wearing a hat or goggles. I only tolerated a woolly hat when my increasing baldness meant that I otherwise got a sunburnt scalp.  This year, as a precaution in case the 18-year lacuna led to a crash, I rented a helmet but was sure I wouldn’t use it after day 1.  Wrongly, as it turned out; should I ever go skiing again, I will be sure to be sporting one and using goggles as well.

And for a final laugh, here is my first ever lift pass

Will I ever buy another lift pass?  Who knows?  I certainly enjoyed myself enough to entertain the idea of skiing well into my 70s.

France v Italy

Friday 19 January 2024 – One of the various activities that Crystal Ski had organised during the week was an outing from the Sauze end of the Via Lattea – Milky Way – skiing area over to the other end of the system: Montgenèvre, which is just over the border in France.  I had the very vaguest recollection that I might have visited there on a previous Sauze holiday, but couldn’t be certain.  Anyway, after a week of getting very familiar with the lifts and runs close to Sauze D’Oulx, I thought that a change would be as good as a rest.

I was slightly, but tellingly, wrong in that.  Read on to find out in what way….

While it’s possible to ski from Sauze to Montgenèvre, it’s somewhat time-consuming and in any case one couldn’t rely on the links being open, as high winds were bedevilling the area, resulting in some critical link lifts occasionally being closed for safety reasons. Crystal Ski had, in any case, organised a coach to take us over, a journey of about 40 minutes, at an extra cost of €25.  The coach was to depart from the Tourist information Office, which was where (you’ll remember) we were deposited on our arrival some days before – a 10 minute walk down through the town, carrying boots and skis.  So about 40 people arrived and checked in with the Crystal team, loaded skis and boots into the loading bays of the coach and hopped on board for the journey.

When we arrived, the reverse process was a little more chaotic, as people tried to unearth their skis and boots from piles of other people’s equipment

but soon enough we were heading for the nearest lift.

Montgenèvre’s skiing in split by the road. The majority of the lifts were on the same side as the coaches, but the Crystal team recommended crossing the road and heading up the other side, the Chalvet area, as this would get the benefit of the morning sun; so I hied myself thither. There was a bit of jostling for position for the gondola ride up but after only a short delay I was headed up the mountain.

At the top of the gondola, there was a very limited choice of activity – ski back down, or choose between two lifts. The nearer of these, a chair lift, was very iced up and not operational, so I headed for the other, a drag lift. As I approached it, it also stopped going, which was a bit dull. There was obviously Something Going On, as a skidoo with flashing lights headed up the track after a few minutes; perhaps someone had had a misfortune? We never knew. After some moments, people got fed up and began to drift away to other parts of the mountain, so of course the lift started again. So I hopped on.

It was a long, long drag lift – and cold. It was difficult to get an accurate idea of temperature, but I suspect it was several degrees below freezing and there was quite a stiff and chilly wind blowing.  As I went up, I looked for evidence of pistes to ski down, and such evidence seemed a bit scant.

(Actually, if you look carefully at the picture above, you can just see that there’s a track in the distance on the left.)

Having reached the top, it was clear that there was only one way down – the piste to a further lift was marked “closed”

and it was here that the difference in style between this resort and Sauze began to be borne in on me. Much of Sauze’s skiing area is below the tree line, which I find very attractive, and which helps when trying to work out which general direction one is supposed to take.  Much of  Montgenèvre’s is above the tree line, and hence very open, making the choice of direction less intuitive.  These wide open spaces are great for people who are looking to ski off-piste, but I wasn’t – it’s fucking dangerous to go off piste by oneself – so I found the area a bit disorienting.  What was even more disconcerting was the discovery that very few people had skied in the area, and so the snow was soft and deep.  Again, expert skiers tend to love this and actively seek it out.  Me? Not so much – particularly since I was on my own, meaning potential problems if I fell and incapacitated myself.  I could just about see where people had skied before and so followed this general direction

but it was hard work for me, as the soft snow highlighted the shortcomings of my technique, and frankly I didn’t enjoy myself hugely.  However, I was where I was, so I blundered about, fortunately without falling or doing anyone else any damage.  Restful, it was not – skiing in this deep stuff saw the one and only time during the week when I actually had to stop and take a breather because I was exhausted. I did, though, eventually find some satisfaction in being able to link a few turns even in the softer snow. I doubt I’d have got many points for technical expertise, but my artistic impression, consisting mainly of swearing loudly when the conditions caught me out, was certainly unique, and I have to admit that the views were pretty good.

At this point – the point at which I could really have done with a rest and a coffee, the other key difference between this French resort and the Italian one I was used to became clear – finding a mountainside restaurant was difficult, because they’re very few and far between and don’t advertise themselves with any clarity.  In Sauze, it is difficult to ski more than a few hundred metres without passing a sun deck that announces the presence of a restaurant or café.  Here, I couldn’t find any such evidence.  Montgenèvre is a purpose-built ski area, and the priority was clearly on getting people skiing rather than relaxing.

I decided to get down to the town in search of a coffee, so skied down and crossed the road.  The other side did feature some trees, but was largely more of the same wide-open space

and even standing by the main buildings, I couldn’t detect anywhere to have a coffee.  Anyway, it was getting close to lunchtime, so I decided that a restaurant was what I should seek.  I got Google Maps out and could see that there were just a couple anywhere near the skiing area, which, again, I thought was odd; I would have expected several to be available.  The first one was packed, but the second one had space, so I sat myself down to a simple, but very good, lunch of steak haché and chips with a beer.

After lunch I skied on the other side, where more people had skied and thus the pistes were firmer – indeed, icy in places.  A couple of the pistes and lifts I wanted to explore were closed, but it was a decent afternoon’s skiing.  Again, there were some fine views to be had

but I found that I had used up a lot of my energy dealing with the morning’s more challenging (to me) conditions, so I stopped skiing quite early in the afternoon, making sure that I had enough time to find that elusive cup of coffee before the 4pm deadline for getting back on the coach home.

The skiing was more varied and more challenging than in Sauze;

but, being a purpose-built skiing operation, I found it less charming.  This is not a view shared by others who were part of this excursion, for whom, the views and the existence of some very easy skiing made for great enjoyment. But I missed the charm – and particularly being able easily to stop for a coffee/beer and a rest. This is, I think, a difference in my current approach to skiing and how I used to go about things; before, I was more interested in covering ground and ticking off all the lifts and runs in an area; now, I’m more engaged by simply being active and relishing the exercise, not minding repeating pistes if I found them enjoyable. The net of this is that, at least for this limited sample of two resorts, I found the Italian experience the more attractive.

I’ve got a couple more posts up my sleeve about this holiday and how I’ve found it, so I hope you’ll check in to read them in the coming days. For now, au revoir!

Farewell to Victoria – Victoria to Farewell

Tuesday 23 August 2022 – For reasons which will become clear, this will be a fairly brief post, somewhat hastily cobbled together. I hope you enjoy the photos, though.

The day started well, in that we were up promptly, breakfasted, checked out of the hotel and in for our private charter flight, a small float plane, from Victoria to the Farewell Harbour Lodge. For a while, though, it all fell apart. The lass behind the check-in desk at Harbour Air told us that there would be a delay. It wasn’t quite clear why for a while, but eventually we understood the situation. Cloud and fog made flying in to Farewell Harbour too dangerous in the view of the Harbour Air despatcher, who was therefore unwilling to send a plane to us in Victoria unless the situation at the far end cleared. We were advised to wait and see whether the weather and the forecast changed. New forecasts came in every hour, and each one indicated that visibility would still be a problem.

Naturally, we started pondering alternatives, but the raw truth is that we needed to get somewhere over 500km away to an island in the Johnstone Strait, so flagging down a cab or seeking a bus ride wasn’t really an option. Even driving to the nearest place on Vancouver Island whence we could catch a water taxi looked too difficult.

Despite the best efforts of BT, whose circuitry detected a crisis and therefore implemented a cap on Jane’s phone, we managed to contact Discover Holidays, who are looking after us whilst we’re in Canada. Fortunately, Jane got through to a lady called Sarah, who had worked on developing our itinerary with the heroic Brendan at NATS, so we didn’t have to waste time explaining the problem to her. The idea of a driver was mooted, but then all of a sudden, a plan came into being which was to fly us as near to Farewell Harbour as the weather allowed (e.g. Campbell River) and take a water taxi from there. So we got our plane after all.

We climbed in, buckled up and the pilot taxied out past the air traffic control tower

(because Victoria Harbour is unique in Canada because it actually has a runway marked in the harbour), and off we went. Conditions were pretty clear, so here are some of the photos we managed to garner as we went:

Victoria Harbour, with the breakwater we walked around yesterday at the top of the picture;

Butchart Gardens;

evidence of some fairly drastic logging;

several views showing what a big slab of land Vancouver Island is;

a couple of arty attempts on my part;

a photo by Jane of Campbell River (meaning – yippee! – it had cleared and we were carrying on all the way to our proper destination);

coming down towards our landing and skimming along just below the clouds; and finally

arrival at Farewell Harbour Lodge, where we found out a couple of interesting nuggets. Firstly, the pilot of our plane (a De Havilland Beaver – I was going to call this post “Nice Beaver” but Jane gave me One Of Her Looks) was named, appropriately, Dakota; and secondly, Tim, the proprietor of the lodge, could take the credit for us arriving, as it was his suggestion that we fly as far as the weather allowed, and he was pretty sure it would clear, as indeed it did.

It was, thus, with considerable relief that we arrived at the lodge (which looks great and seems very well-organised)

only some five hours late and just in time to get a beer in as Tim gave us the indoctrination spiel. A key fact that emerged from this is that tomorrow will be an early start, hence my brevity. I am being brief. Yes, I am.

We actually peered round the back of our cabin and found where they park the boats, as well as this scene

which is documentary proof that you can indeed have your kayak and heat it. Thank you. Thank you for listening to my joke.

A delicious dinner was at 7, after which we got a very interesting talk on humpback whales from a lady called Vicky, and so it’s now quite late – at least relative to the 0530 alarm we’ll need if we are to join in tomorrow’s excursion to seek grizzly bears and other fauna. So I hope you’ll excuse me whilst I get to bed to try to get some sleep. Come back tomorrow and find out if we made it.