Friday, January 17, 2014

First Week

How does Chamonix powder compare to Los Angeles sand dunes? What protective gear do you need in Chamonix town centre at New Year? Can you ski in New York's central park?

We had a small vacation in the alps for the new year, with my sons. On the third day of the year, I realised that just by following good snow, we happened to have skied in Verbier, Courmayeur, and Chamonix. But the trend was about to end, as I had to get back to work. Yet by the end of the week, I had managed to sneak a few night and morning outings, and also skied in Kauniainen, Los Angeles, and New York.

Day 1: Verbier

The Mont Blanc Unlimited ticket in Chamonix gives you access to not just the Chamonix valley, but also Verbier and Courmayeur. So we decided to use the tickets to their full extent, and visit all three places.

The car ride to Verbier took just little over an hour. Here's an essential tip for anyone who is considering the same journey: park your car at Le Châble - the village below Verbier, and take the gondola up from there; parking is easier, less driving, and no lift lines. Stay on the gondola until it reaches Les Ruinettes. Exiting at Verbier village is not necessary, and may lead to a long wait in the lift lines.

For food, I can recommend the Col Des Gentianes restaurant next to the Mont Fort gondola. The new dome building is interesting and works well. And the Mont Fort ski run, of course, is a must for all serious skiers! For after ski, my local friends recommend Fer a Cheval, a bar down the road from the main gondola station in Verbier.

Day 2: Chamonix

Like all the alps this year, Chamonix has been suffering from lack of snow and dangerous, avalanche-prone conditions outside the slopes. We skied a lot in Brevent, including the very rocky (and closed) run down to the village. But we also found some new snow, as it started snowing. I particularly liked the Schuss Des Dames black run in Les Houches (and the small forest next to it), and of course, the Charles Bozon run in Brevent.

One thing about Chamonix New Year events is that the centre is very crowded, and fireworks and champagne are flying in the crowds. Be warned.

When we visited the Aiguille du Midi station, we noticed that it had a new feature, the Step Into the Void: a glass box where you can stand above… nothing. Recommended!

Day 3: Courmayeur

The snowy weather continued in Courmayeur. Again, our lift tickets worked here, but only after having them activated at the ticket office. Note: if you have bought your ticket from the net without the dates being printed on the ticket itself, you have to bring a separate receipt to prove that the ticket is valid!

For some reason I always enjoy the backside at Courmayeur, e.g., the Zerotta lift. In the picture below I've skied the lift track under the Peindeint lift, with plenty of powder but absolutely no snow base under the powder. Bad for my skis, and tricky to ski at some points.

Day 4: Kauniainen

As we returned from our trip, the newspaper in the airplane declared that winter has been canceled. It indeed has been a bad winter so far. No snow at all in the area we live. But on the way from the airport we stopped at the melting Grani ski hill, and since there was still a few spots of man-made snow left, I skied a few meters to collect the fourth country in four days.

Days 5-7: Behind the Fence in LA

My work took me to Los Angeles. Very interesting work and even more interesting people to meet, but it also presented obstacles: no free time and no snow. But I sneaked out for an early morning outing, at the time normal people would be having breakfast or doing their morning jog. As for the lack of snow, well, how about sand? But for that I needed to find a dune. It turns out that Sand Dune Park near LAX hosts the sole remaining sand dune in the city. This 100-foot hill is an incredibly nice exercise spot; running up and down the dune is effective, and the setting is beautiful. And while the height of the dune is nominally 100 feet, on every step you will fall down a bit in the soft sand. A few runs back and forth will be a nice workout. Much better than any gym!

As a skiing spot, this park fares better than most other sand dunes; the hill is quite steep. Yet, the friction from the sand had me wishing for an even steeper hill to gain some speed. I took one run and headed back to my car to change clothes and drive to my 9am meeting.

As an aside, my first attempt to gain access to this dune late at night was blocked by a fence and big warning signs. Apparently the neighbourhood is concerned about noise coming from the people jogging in the area (!). No free roaming in the nature as we have in Finland. I would have climbed the fence, but the police is quite active in ticketing violators here. I guess other crime in LA is already eliminated?

To gain access, you have to make a reservation at the city office or on the net, and pay 1$ fee at the gate for the two (!) guards. And the time slots are very limited, just a few people at a time, and 8am-4pm only. Sad, because this hill would be a treasure for the local joggers and kids.

Day 8: Central Park

On my way back from LA my flights happened to put me in New York for the day. Between conference calls and lunch, I sneaked to Central Park with my Orthex miniskis. New York had been hit by cold weather a couple of days earlier, and there was still a little bit of snow left. I skied ten meters on slightly sloping snow-covered grass, and headed to my next flight.

Eight days, five countries (and two states). A good start for the year!

Videos and photos © 2013 by Jari Arkko and Olli Arkko. Tämä blogi on myös saatavilla suomeksi.

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