SkiVt-L France 1996 Edition: Arrival
The road back to France was particularly long
this time. We got a good price on British Airways tickets from
Boston to Geneva, so the journey began with a car ride from Burlington
on early Sunday morning and a 5:00 P.M. departure from the gate.
British Airways made us fairly comfortable on the ride over the
big pond. All-you-can drink O.J. before take off, a dinner of
teriyaki salmon, and pretty much all you could drink liquor all
the way to London. We passed out, satiated with food and drink,
and awoke sometime around 5:00 A.M. in Heathrow. Not much to do
in Heathrow until the duty-frees open up at 6:00 AM, but we nonetheless
managed to busy ourselves before the subsequent flight to Geneva.
Geneva was gray. Cold and gray. We secured
a small white Renault automobile and headed into the grayness
in search of the tiny hamlet of Genolier, and our friends Josh
and Hilary. Hilary, formerly of Burlington's own Skirack, is now
is a pediatric cardiac technology specialist who has hooked on
temporarily at a small clinic in Genolier. Her spouse, Josh, was
a Boston lawyer and Sugarbush Ski Patroller. Now he's a ski bum,
with St. Cergue - a small Swiss ski resort - practically in his
Problem was, there was no snow in Switzerland
So Josh had plenty of time on his hands, and
he used that time to treat us like royal guests. He started out
by hauling us up the road and above the gray clouds to the blue
sky and brown slopes of St. Cergue, and our first view of the
Vickie almost keeled over: for that matter,
I almost did, too. The view across the Lake Généve
Valley to the Alps was nothing short of spectacular. At the center
of it all was Mount Blanc, dwarfing all competition, as well it
The next twenty-four hours or so was pretty
uneventful. Dinner, some glorious sleep time, breakfast, and a
A car ride that started off as a seemingly
bleak quest for snow. The Swiss Jura mountains were bare. Annecy,
France, had nothing. Albertville, home of the 1992 Olympics, was
brown. We passed through these latter two en route to the equally
barren Mondane and the entrance to the Tunnel de Frejus. Modane
just put in a new gondola, linking it with Val Thorens and the
Trois Vallees. The Tunnel de Fejus a 13 KM wonder that burrows
beneath the Valfrejus ski resort. All these resorts, and no snow.
The Tunnel de Fejus also connects France to
Italy. But on this day, it also connected autumn to winter. The
Italian side was just covered in snow, a truly welcome sight.
The exit from the tunnel is only 100 meters
higher than the entrance, so it was certainly a microclimate and
not the altitude that made the difference. Such is the nature
of the Alps. Just to get from one valley to the next, sometimes
you have to visit another country. Just a few thousand meters
sideways and a few hundred meters up into that valley, the weather
is always different. This was dramatically demonstrated again
as we climbed our way through the Italian Milky Way resorts towards
the Col de Montgénevre and back into France. As we approached
the col, we found ourselves in ever thickening clouds, guided
along the switch backs only by the taillights of a tractor trailer
in front of us. Two kilometers back down the French side of the
col, we were treated to star shine and moonlight. Go figure.
Another 10 km down the pass found us in our
destination for the evening, the city of Briançon.
Briançon is an old city, and is known
as the highest fortified city in all of Europe. Having never seen
a fortified city in Europe, I'm not about to dispute the claim.
The old fortified city rests above the more modern town center,
and seemed to consist of more than half a dozen walled fortifications.
We had time to visit but one - Vaubon - the largest of the group.
We wandered about the narrow streets and old
stone buildings for some time before settling in for dinner at
the Restaurant Simple. This small, attractive bistro was one of
several establishments which - in collaboration with the local
historical society - offered a menu historique, fashioned
after a typical 17th century Vaubon regional meal. I abandoned
my normally meatless diet in favor of pork parts wrapped in salty
spinach, lamb chops and fried dough, followed by good old fashioned
cheesecake. Washed it all down with a pale but palatable local
red wine. My version of a macrobiotic diet.
Tomorrow, at last, we would ski.