Sunday, December 2, 2012

Day Trip to the Alps

My new Salomon Quest Max 130 boots

There were many good reasons. I had not been on a real ski slope since August. In fact, I had not been skiing at all since September, even indoors. I needed to test my new skis and boots. I needed more points to keep my frequent flier status. There was nothing else I should be doing on Saturday. And I needed the exercise.

Still, it was difficult to fit a day of skiing into my schedule. I was returning from a business trip, heading straight from the airport to an office Christmas party. Can't miss those! By the time I got home, I had only an hour to pack before I needed to head back to the airport for my 6AM flight. Sleep? That night I only slept on airplanes. First an hour on my way back from the business trip, then three hours on my way to skiing. Not enough sleep on a regular basis, but enough to keep me awake on the road as I was psyched about opening my skiing season.

But I had some difficulties finding a suitable destination. I wanted to go to Levi in northern Finland, but all the flights were sold out. (Funny. I bet there weren't too many people on the slopes. It is common to head for the "slopes", leave the skis at the airport, and spend the entire weekend partying. Been there, done that. Being alone in the slopes in all-rooms-sold-out Levi, that is.)

At first it seemed difficult to find other options. Most ski areas that I could think of were closed. Chamonix, for instance. Then I started getting good tips from my friends. Melinda pointed out that Alyeska is open. Unfortunately Alaska was a tad too far for a day trip. Christer pointed me to an indoor ski center in Lithuania. I want to do that some day, since I have not yet skied in Lithuania.

But now I wanted a real mountain. It turned out that Val Thorens, the highest valley in Les Trois VallĂ©es had opened two days ago. I booked the three hour flight to Geneva and a rental car for the three hour drive to the resort.

Sunset on the way back to the airport

Val Thorens

Even if I left home after 4AM and got back a bit before midnight, I had only three and half hours on the ski hill. If I had had more time, I would have had lunch and some rest. But as it was, I skied the whole time.

Val Thorens, France

The slopes in Val Thorens were largely open. Funitel Peclet and Grand Fond were open, for instance. Cime Caron was not, nor were the south-facing slopes towards Meribel. And anything lower than Val Thorens had no snow at all.

Funitel Peclet, one of the main ski lifts in Val Thorens

La Folie Douce, the legendary after-ski bar was on those closed south-facing slopes. Oh well, I had more time for skiing. But the bar really is worth visiting when it opens later in the season. It is quite possibly the best after-ski bar in the world. Check out my report from earlier this year.


There was powder and sunshine!

But I was in Val Thorens also to test my new skis, Salomon Rocker 90s. These are 90mm wide semi-fat touring skis that should work well in most conditions on- and off-piste. I never intended to acquire fat skis, as I do not believe in optimizing the skis for the easy conditions, i.e., powder. But it is difficult to get skis that work well for both touring and downhill. So I ended up getting all-mountain skis that were far wider than my current skis. But I still picked skis that were narrowest among the fat ones.

My new Salomon Rocker 90 skis

The main issue with these types of skis is whether they work on ice and tight spots. From experience, I know that I often end up in extremely narrow chutes and icy slopes. Testing in Val Thorens confirmed that that the skis work very well on powder. No surprise there, and it was fun to be able to ski powder far better than ever before on my previous skis. I've also had difficulties in tracked and crappy snow, and the new skis work better there as well. This may be their most important benefit.

However, they are not as fun to ski fast on groomed slopes, and they are far more difficult on ice.

These are difficult trade-offs. I still plan to use my short and narrow K2 Superlight skis for climbing trips and most dangerous descents. But maybe I should buy on-piste skis as well. But it would be hell to drag three pairs of skis on trips. Particularly when the pair that you want will in any case be in the hotel, unreachable when you really need it.

Skis in their element

I also noticed a typical early season problem. There may be skiable off-piste routes and even some powder. But there will also be rocks under snow. The below picture shows some of the damage my new skis got on their first day of use. I think they can be repaired. And I went to Val Thorens to ski interesting runs, not to preserve my skis for eternity. My previous skis took this abuse for 5+ years. So no regrets.



Incredible pain. For the first hour I suffered. When the boots were tight. When they were open. And I could only ski short stretches before having to stop. Maybe I had bought too small boots? An odd situation, since I tested the boots in the shop for over an hour. But not an entirely unprecedented situation either. The same thing happened with my previous boots and in the end I had to get the shell slightly enlarged to fit my feet.

But after the first hour on the slopes, the situation improved. I had no major problems. I may need to test again to see if the boots require modification.


Does it make sense to fly to the Alps on a day trip? If you are like me, faced with either a day trip or no skiing then the answer might be a yes. I'm certainly glad I made the trip. But I do recommend weekend trips instead. If you can leave Friday evening and arrive Sunday evening, the trip can be much more fun.

Spotted on the road: next exit for pussy

Photos and videos (c) 2012 by Jari Arkko

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