SkiVt-L France 1996 Edition: Val d'Isere Day 3
I contracted for the first time ever with a guide service. Half day, group of six or seven, about $50. Seemed like a deal.
We met in downtown Val d'Isere just before the lifts opened. The guide called himself Pierre (mais oui!). The other chaps in the group were all Brits. Then there was me. Neither Pierre nor the blokes really knew what to make of the odd American in the green plaid pants.
The weather was very Vermont-like that day: screaming wind, about 14 degrees F, and dumping snow. Had been dumping since early the night before.
The guide said that normally he would be taking us way off-piste, but the weather was just too bad, so we stayed "in bounds," so to speak. At first, this disappointed me, because I had already been down many of the "classic" off piste routes on my own, and was looking for something more far afield.
But this is why you hire a guide. He'd take us off the top of a lift, around a corner, between a couple of rocks and behind a tree and then whoa! Acres of untracked all to ourselves.
Well, I think there was, at any rate. Couldn't see a damn thing. We were probably a thousand feet above tree line, the wind was still howling, and the snow still blowing. Pierre would ski down first until he almost out of sight, then signal for us to follow.
The Brits, ever so polite and maybe just a little anxious, would then say, "Let the Yank go first!"
Idiots -- I mean, what wonderful mates!
This was the strangest and deepest powder I have ever skied: thigh, waist high, maybe higher, I dunno I couldn't see it. I couldn't see much of anything except Pierre's yellow jacket and occasionally a rock off to the side. Talk about floating! It was heavenly, except that when I stopped and looked back up, I couldn't oggle over my tracks.
Pierre also was paid to act as instructor. He made numerous comments and gave several pointers to the Brits. He told me two things: relax; and to ski by feel, not by sight. Well, I had to: everything was taken as a leap of faith. I saw Pierre ski it, he didn't fall or hit anything, so as long as I stayed close to his line I knew I'd be alright. Trust was everything. Very strange.
Towards the end of the morning, we were skiing something closer to the base. Visibility didn't seem quite as bad, we were pretty close to a lift. This time, I was the last to ski down, and this time, I didn't listen to Pierre nor follow close to his tracks. I headed a bit -- well, a lot -- more to the left of everyone else's lines and was showboating a bit for the crew down below. Pierre started waving his arms -- I thought he was cheering me on.
Nope. Skied over an invisible six foot ice cliff, landed square on my head. Big cheers, though, from my new mates. Awarded me Fall of the Day. I think I got a small concussion: I was more than a bit woozy on our last chairlift ride.
I recovered for the last run down, but it was pretty lame, kinda flat, and as we neared bottom Pierre took us *past* the entrance to La Valle Perdu on onto the "O.K." piste. I complained: O.K. was overskied and icy, the local DH course. La Valle Perdu was a a not steep but skinny twisting rocky deal not unlike something at MRG. Too many rocks for the Brits, I guess.
What a morning!