Monday, 6 February 2012

Valle Maira 2012

The gathering of the “ Red Devils” drew us in from far and wide for the 2012 ski tour, from the slopes of Val d’isere and Glenshee, those clearly cheating and getting a head start,  to Glasgow, Dundee, London, Brighton and Bristol. The rendezvous point Turin airport, excitement about meeting the newbies, John and Alan who I reckon were extremely brave to withstand a week with us lot but managed it with great fortitude and it was a delight that they could join us all and raise the quantity of medics in the party just in case of disaster, luckily their collective professional expertise was not needed for anything more serious than blisters and poor Sally’s tooth abscess who was lucky enough to have the benefit of their fantastic cocktail of drugs.
Simon S was immediately put forward as our designated Italian speaker as he was way ahead and had previously done an Italian course and so tasked with organizing the transport to Valle Maira as the rest of us took on the parts of his mute friends who tried in vain to speak a combination of other languages in the vague hope that there would be an iota of comprehension, sadly we were disappointed.

Jean Marc and Olivier have organized these trips for us for years, each time finding new locations and staying in some of the most delightful little hotels in the middle of nowhere, generally with spectacular scenery, delicious food and comfortable beds. They have reached new heights as tour operators and mountain guides. Our first destination was the Locanda di Chialvetta in the Southern Alps, which surpassed all of our expectations, a traditional stone and wood building in a tiny village. We arrived after a long journey and as the roads got smaller and smaller, the snow thicker and laying heavily on all the trees around us, suddenly there were the twinkling lights of the Locanda. Not what you would call the hotbed of Italian tourism, we were in the middle of nowhere, suffice it to say we felt that leaving our skis outside the front door wasn’t really going to pose a huge security risk.
We were greeted in the beautiful vaulted bar area by the owners and it wasn’t long before the beers and wine started to flow and we could catch up on all the news  from JM and Olivier and with the roaring log fire to warm us it made the perfect setting. Thankfully ski touring has to be one of the most aerobic activities so we could all enjoy the endless delicious meals without any guilty conscience.

The aim each day, depending on weather and the conditions was to climb to the summit of various mountains from our hotel. Day 1 there was the usual “faffing” so much clobber and kit that needed to be remembered and put in the right pocket ready for immediate use that it took a while to assemble ready for the off. I was somewhat nervous as I had taken Simon H’s advice on his visualization training technique and wasn’t  sure if it was going to pay dividends on the first 1000m climb. I felt it was my duty to take one for the team and be bottom of the class at the back so everyone else could exhibit their exceptional fitness levels as they sprinted up the mountain like goats, notice the lack of “old” I omitted there. I limped up to the top with Olivier coaxing me the last few hundred metres which I have to say on arrival at the top was a thrilling moment.

The scenery in these valleys is out of this world. We climbed through larch woods, saw white hares, passed derelict old traditional farmhouses, a property developers dream, the sun filtering through hazy clouds creating the most amazing light, catching all the snow crystals that made the air sparkle. As you climb in a slow line in a world of your own it was almost overwhelming the vista before your eyes, nature throwing out its best, a privilege to have experienced this.

The ski down through fresh powder is always a thrill, putting tracks in and feeling the sensation of weightlessness as you float through the snow. The temperatures plummeted as the week progressed to  -19 C. it was a first as we were walking along the river and it looked as if it was smoking, this was on the edge of freezing before your eyes, really quite a sight.

Our second location was the wonderful Mascha Parpaja Locanda in Preit, we thought our first hotel couldn’t get any better until we had the first dinner here, I think it only right to say “OMG” it was out of this world, as was every dinner for our 4 night stay, the owners were so delightful and welcoming I would advise anyone to go and stay at any time of the year just to enjoy their wonderful food.

I think this valley is even more beautiful, as the days progressed it was clear that Simon H had pulled a fast one and had not employed his own visualization technique for his own training programme as he was with the fast boys at the front every day vying for the front spot, I hasten to say this is someone with a new hip. They were all so keen that on day 4 all having returned that they would skin up another 500m for more action, I gather, as funnily enough I wasn’t in this party that Alan decided it was an excellent time to practice some of his swimming prowess in the river, skis in the air and an award winning head plant. Funnily enough he was always very keen to borrow Olivier’s skis after this, although I am not so sure Olivier was as thrilled as he did an immediate head plant much to all of our amusement, clearly an equipment malfunction.

I could go on and on, the highlight for me was climbing the Bric Bocasso 1100m climb and our last day the summit with no name, as finally fitness was returning although slowly, the ski down was out of this world all bathed in sun, making for me two very memorable days which I feel very fortunate to have been part of. The skin up was stunning and the ski down spectacular with the river crossing thrown in at the end  which was very entertaining. As JM and Oliver were trying to find somewhere we could cross they had no idea Louella had done a raft making course and was ready to show her proficiency and help the team. All I can say is we laughed a lot, skied some fantastic powder and experienced some of the most breathtaking scenery all with good friends and welcoming new ones, so a big thankyou to Jean Marc and Olivier for making all this possible and already looking forward to our next trip.

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