What gives you a thrill in the snow? Making fresh tracks in deep powder? Being the first down a perfectly groomed piste in the sunshine? Building a stylish snowman? Maybe all of them. But there’s a different kind of challenge, one needing stamina and planning rather than bravado or skill.
We decided – for the fourth time – to see if we could ski all the lifts in the Méribel valley in a day. We’ve succeeded twice before but we’re older now! We set the criteria first – which lifts were in scope and which weren’t. Cheating, do I hear you say? Well, not really. We eliminated a couple of beginners’ ‘magic carpets’ and the transport lift from Brides les Bains. It still left 35 lifts – enough to challenge us. A mid-March, sunny day when most lifts are open until 5pm chose itself.
My husband, Tony, planned the route carefully. The total descent is fixed by the lifts;the distance – and the time – across the snow isn’t. We aimed to do five lifts per hour, giving us some contingency for mishaps. But not all lifts are equal, nor are the routes down.
We carried our water and food – sandwiches, chocolate and chewy bars. Calories don’t count on a challenge day. Lunch would be in a cabin – chair lifts make you drop anything not attached to you. We started at the earliest opening lift. No-one queues properly, of course; only the English know how to do that.
The gremlins are always out to get you. Lifts will open late, some will stop. The person in front you will have a non-working ski-pass. There will be queues. Having a Plan B is useful. Trouble is, you don’t know what it looks like until something goes wrong. ‘That’s going to bugger us up!’ is a much-heard expression.
We always felt we were running late, mainly because we kept losing track of how many lifts we’d done. Counting to 35 can be difficult!
Crud and slush at the end of the day is inevitable. We couldn’t avoid skiing into Méribel five times – there are five lifts from there – and conditions deteriorated with each descent. However, the rumours of trench foot from leaking boots are widely exaggerated.
When a ten-year-old French boy on a snowboard cuts you up, he will mutter ‘Merde!’ when you complain.
We skied the most economical way using minimum effort. There are no points for style (do we have any, anyway?) And we always chose the easiest slopes if there was more than one way down. There was one well-pisted and tempting black but we were sensible and saved our legs. We synchronised loo visits (whether you need to go or not is irrelevant). Things got really bad around lift 28 when the legs screamed and the knees belonged to someone else. Tony went quiet. When I asked him what he was thinking about, he replied, ‘Our sofa’. I focussed on a glass of Sancerre and a couple of ibuprofen. It takes superhuman strength to resist the allure of a deckchair. We gave in to a hard wooden bench for ten minutes.
We didn’t expect to enjoy it all – but we did enjoy most of it. Especially the victory photo at the end! We congratulated ourselves on the fact that we had skied down a total height of 12,500m. That’s nearly 1.5 Everests and about 9 x Ben Nevis! And with forty-five minutes to spare. Not bad for Oldies.