We made it to Geneva in one piece, despite driving through thick fog at speeds we can’t (legally) drive in Australia. We got to our house in Le Grand-Saconnex, an old converted farmhouse situated on one of the few functional farms inside of the city proper. It’s beside the airport, but parallel to the flight path unlike my own home in Sydney where you can enjoy the pleasant sounds of 400 tons of metal roaring about your head from 6am to 11pm.
I spent the first few day there walking around the neighbourhood. It was freezing cold, and a thick mist made the exploration more fun. I found some beautiful little villages along the way, and I’m pretty sure that I walked onto private properly on more than one occasion, but it was nice to spend more time to walk around and think to myself.
At night, I got to meet some of the neighbours. The last time I was at this house was a year ago, when I was helping my mum move in. At that time, we only had a couple of mattresses on the floor, along with a crappy table and folding chairs. The place looks much nicer now, but the rest of the apartments are also occupied. I got to meet the American couple downstairs and their young boys. I also met the young couple above us whose children we can hear running around because the roof acts like a large speaker. The children had just left, so instead of running that ended at a reasonable hour, we got fucking that was both much louder, and much later at night.
Vallandry / Les Arcs
We were not spending long in Geneva, because we headed off to the town of Vallandry for a week of skiing & snowboarding, so we piled into the van again and set off towards the Alps. I had been hearing reports that the snow was not very good this year, and as we got closer I could see why. I had taken this same trip to the alps last year on the way to Chamonix, but that time, the hills had been completely snow-covered even half an hour away. This time, we could only see snow capping tops of the tallest peaks around us. I realised that we were actually at Vallandry when I saw the cable car that goes across the valley from the village. I knew that Vallandry marked the start of the slopes, but there was barely any snow on the ground below the village. I was worried that the lower slopes may be closed entirely meaning that we wouldn’t be able to ski at all until more snow came. Thankfully, the slopes were all open, and actually looked a lot better that I had expected.
We checked into our apartment next to the slopes before heading down to hire ski gear. Since we had arrived in the afternoon, we would be hiring gear for the next day so that we could hit the slopes as soon as possible. We hired gear, and I bought myself a helmet and goggles (best thing I’ve bought), before heading back. On the way back we ran into the Groves family – friends of ours from Paris who were the ones that had suggested we join them in Les Arcs in the first place. They had just arrived, so we caught up quickly with Raf & Paul, and their young daughters Lilly & Juliette. Raf is a French flight attendant, very strong willed and very sharp and funny, and Paul is British designer in his early 40s, but comes off as much younger physically and mentally. He would be the only other person snowboarding (surf, en français) along with me, and is also a lot of fun to be with.
I was up bright and early the next morning, grabbed my gear and got to the bottom of the pistes just as the chairlift started up. As I was taken higher up the slopes, a better view of the rest of the valley opened up. The south-facing opposite side looked practically bare of snow apart from the capped peaks, but I could see that the piste below me was going to be workable. For now off-piste boarding, my favourite, would be out of the question until we had more fresh snow.
There’s nothing quite like starting the day early and going snowboarding. The cold air wakes you up, and the fresh groomers are so inviting before they get hacked up by the morning crowd. It usually takes me some time to get back into the rhythm, but this season I found that I could pick confidence back up more quickly than usual. I like to try and make myself fall a few times to start off so that I can learn to fall in a good way and won’t end up breaking a wrist when I fall at high speed. Falling turned out to be pretty damn painful because of how icy the slopes had become without consistent snowfall, but I ended up pretty confident as a result. I spent the entire day’s sunlight on the slopes before finishing down at the bar at the base of the mountain, a ritual we did each day.
After a full day’s skiing on the first day, my bad knee started hurting. It’s been a problem for me for the last 2.5 years after I hurt it doing sqatz in the gym. I bought myself a leg brace from the pharmacy that helped a lot, but I really do need to got to an orthopedician and get that sorted out properly. I got to surfing with the Groves that day and had a great time.
The next day, I decided to take half of one of my tabs of acid (50 μg) and go snowboarding. This was the first time I had tried this, but I was confident that I’d be able to function well enough to board properly. It turned out that I was fully capable of snowboarding on it. Not only that, but I had a wonderful time too. It made me more adventurous and I was generally relaxed and at ease on the slopes. I had a couple of beers with Mum & Rainer when they came up the chairlift which made me a little bit reckless afterwards, but I really enjoyed myself.
The weather that day was good, but I knew that a storm was approaching. I had seen on the news the previous night that a huge storm front was moving across Europe and had wreaked havoc along the coastline. I thought that today may be the last day of good weather, and decided to head up the Aiguille Rouge – the highest peak of Les Arcs before the weather closed the lifts. Going up was amazing. I almost felt vertigo because of simply how hight I was up. On the way I met and talked to a man from Scotland who was over with his family. Small doses of LSD always make me feel chatty, and I get to meet a bunch of people I usually wouldn’t talk to.
I got to the tip top of the mountain and got some amazing pictures that really don’t do the view from up there justice. I could see all the way to both Switzerland and Italy from the peak in France, and I could also see the storm front in the distance slowly closing in. I knew that being at over 3,200 m during a storm would not be a good position to be in, so I quickly made my way down the mountain. Since I was feeling so adventurous, I decided to go off-piste from a closed black diamond that went straight down from the peak. It was exhilaratingly steep, but since there was not too much snow I knew that it was not an avalanche prone area. Avalanches are absolutely fucking terrifying, and you need to know when to not board off-piste. Getting caught in one basically leaves you with no possible way to get out without someone coming to rescue you, and you’re going to freeze to death after 20 minutes if you don’t suffocate before that. I managed to get down in one piece and outrun the incoming storm to get to the bar for our après-ski.
That night, being Christmas Eve, we went out for dinner at a local restaurant in the next village. We ate something like a European version of Korean BBQ, with meats like duck, as well as fresh vegetables form the local area. It started snowing on the way back, so we knew we would be lucky enough to have a white Christmas, as well as some much needed snow for the slopes.
The next day, we woke up to piles of snow on top of the cars, with more still falling. The snow machines were also working at full blast, as today was the first time it’s been cold enough to use them during the day. I was eager to get out on the slopes, but we stayed in for a bit longer to give out presents, which is even better ;). I got some more ski day passes to Chamonix, an excellent cooking book filled with 4-ingredient recipes that use only one pot, and a bunch more from the family. I gave my sister a necklace that I thought was tasteful, and luckily she did too, along with quality shaving kit for Rainer and a momento of out times in Paris for my mum.
Going out on the slopes covered in fresh snow was such a change from the previous days. It was a lot easier to turn with less icy slopes and more snow to get purchase on. Also, I could finally board off-piste comfortably, the absolute best thing to do on a snowboard. The snow made visibility low, but having goggles helped immensely, especially when passing under the snow machines. That night, we had raclette with the Groves – an annual Christmas tradition for their family. Raclette is a traditional Swiss dish of belted cheese you cook yourself with vegetables, mustards and condiments. With all of the amazing cheese we can buy over here, it’s amazing. We drank a lot and had a great celebration. We could even see some fireworks being let off over the other side of the valley. On the note of cheese, the very next night we had fondue. Some people would think that two nights in a row of cheese dishes is too much, but IDGAF when it tastes this good.
Our last day on the slopes was the day after Boxing Day, and it was also the best day for skiing. The sun finally came out and there was still lots of fresh snow on the slopes. By this point, I had been boarding for a week straight and was dead tired, but it was a great end to the week.
We drove off on Saturday back to Geneva so we could celebrate my mum’s birthday on the 29th, and then I got ready to head off to Amsterdam to celebrate New Year’s there.