The 16th of December found us laying our first tracks of the ski season in the vast Trois-Vallées ski area of the French Alps.
On the previous day, after a long but painless rail journey across France we arrived in Albertville, boarded our waiting taxi and began the long climb towards our base in Les Menuires. Early indications were good; we passed through the snowline long below Saint-Martin de Belleville, one of our favourite corners of the 3V. By now temperatures were plummeting, giving us high hopes for the quality of the snow which might await us. Sure enough, the mountains had retained a healthy covering of snow from the heavy falls which had kick-started so many ski areas early this season.
The following morning we snapped into our skis, schussed over to the nearest lift and headed up the mountain for what would turn out to be one of the finest starts to a season we can recall. Despite glacial temperatures, the sky was for the most part clear blue, and the surrounding landscapes underlined the fact that we were in the one of the world’s truly great ski areas.
When the lifts finally closed and the mountains fell silent we simmered decadently for awhile in the Jacuzzi perched incongruously on the balcony of our apartment, before heading down to Saint-Martin de Belleville for a relaxed meal in the cosy surroundings of La Bouitte, which currently holds not one but two Michelin-stars. By the time we bade our host a reluctant farewell the first flakes of a fresh snowfall were dancing in the lights.
The forecast said to expect 8cm but we awoke to at least twice that figure.
Which slowed things down somewhat as snow was cleared from the ski-lift loading areas and avalanche teams ignited their scientifically-controlled charges to dislodge any potentially unstable accumulations of snow before the pistes could be opened for the first skiers of the day.
What a morning we had, floating around in near-silence on deep powder as visibility alternated between pretty good and not a lot. It was another ski-day we’ll long remember, rounded off with a memorable taxi descent among the snowplough teams doing their best to keep things moving while the snow continued to fall (right down to the valley floor).
As we reached the Gare SNCF in Albertville with 30 min or so in hand before our return train was due, we thought that we’d put the lid on a brief but uplifting experience.
How wrong could we be? The classic, loco-hauled TER train arrived pretty much on time, but was subject to speed restrictions owing to the snowfalls, and reached Lyon too late for us to transfer to our TGV service to Paris. With hoards of people in the same situation from other regional service delays, we were told to board the next Paris train. By now 50min behind schedule, we left Lyon and travelled a few hundred metres before being halted by news of a breakdown in Macon paralysing the train ahead of us – our intended train? We may never know, but I can tell you that I’m writing these words from the top deck of a duplex TGV running (after cunning re-routing) around 1hr 45min late – way to late to allow us to get across Paris on the metro system and catch the return TGV which should have taken us safely back home tonight.