A year in the French alps

It’s been a busy year living in the French Alps…

When the builders completed the transformation of the shell of our 1850s Savoyard barn in August we spent a fun, exhausting and fascinating five months completing the renovation ourselves. From fitting floors to building furniture.
here is how we renovated a tumble down barn to boutique ski chaletbarn to boutique chalet

Finishing just in time for winter season we had a busy year; enjoying time with friends old and new to enjoy winter season in the French Alps. Getting just a little better at snowboarding, learning to ski again.
Here’s our winter season captured in pictureswinter season Portes du soleil

We were also busy during this first year living in the French Alps managing our holiday rental business in the UK and building up to the sale of the business in May and June.

We think we amused and inspired the team at Travel Chapter (the new owners of the Sheepskin brand and UK holiday property collection) in equal measure by choosing to camp in our VW camper van throughout the six week sales completion process.
Just for fun here’s our business sale ‘adventure’ in picturesIMG_4539

Business sale complete, at the end of June we were off on the road with Adam’s parents this time for two weeks sharing some of our favourite places with them on a camper van trip as part celebration of their 60th wedding anniversary.
A day in Provence, ten days in Italy and back to the French Alps….ten day motorhome holiday Italy Pastum

In July, back to home in Montriond in time for the bikers to arrive in force. 10,000 Harley riders, two BMW riders (us!) and one Triumph rider (my dad!). We made the most of the Harley Days Festival with two ride outs on Harleys, a night at the Blues Brothers concert and a quiet evening BBQ at Lac du Montriond.
All in all a great Harley Days Morzine 2017Harley Days experience tour

In August the mediterranean sea and sunshine were calling us but so were the peaks around our home in the French Alps so in August we completed our quest of walking the four peaks that we can see and that inspire the artwork in our home; Roc D’Enfer, Nyon, Ressachaux and Nantau and a few other wonderful alpine walks with friends too.
Walking in portes du soleil.walking portes du soleil

So that is the whistle stop summary of our year in the french alps, from August to August.

Of course we didn’t sit still in September,  we’re still busy and I’m busy writing so stay tuned….

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Harley Days Morzine

The annual Harley Days came to Morzine 14-17th July.  Apparently 10,000 Harley motorbikes and 30,000 visitors were in Morzine over the weekend, I can only say there were a LOT of Harley motorbikes and a LOT of Harley riders.

I can confirm there were two BMW HP2 riders (me and Adam) Harley Days Morzine 2017 Avoriaz

and one Triumph rider in town too, my Dad, who is already planning how to get his Triumph Thunderbird down to Morzine for Harley Days 2018.Harley Days parade Col du Joux Plane

Harley generously organised one hour experience tours on any of the Harley bikes.  The three of us thought this was an experienced not to be missed; riding a Harley and riding with my dad!  Harley Days experience tour

Here we are having a breather (me with my helmet off and my dad in the BMW jacket) after riding the windy road up from Morzine to Avoriaz.Harley Days Morzine riding

On the day of the Harley parade Adam and I rode up to Avoriaz to join the thousands of bikers there and there were still thousands in Morzine too!Harley Days parade Avoriaz

On Saturday we had lunch at Col du Joux Verte restaurant (always a great plat du jour there) and a perfect spectator spot for the Harley Days parade too which set off from Avoriaz and wound down to Morzine town centre.Harley Days Morzine parade

On Sunday we wound down from the Harley Days festival with a strangely peaceful BBQ at Lac du Montriond.  With so many people in the area we were amazed we were the only people at the lake on such a beautiful evening.Lac du montriond picnic

After the excitement of the Harley Days festival we had the motorbiking bug again and had some great ride outs through over the Col du Joux Plane motorbiking french alps

trying to focus on the winding mountain roads ahead and not the amazing views.Motorbike riding french alps

The start of some great riding over the rest of the summer.  We’re already looking forward to next spring for more riding and the Harley Days festival next year.

 

 

Winter season in Portes du Soleil

During 2017 winter season in Portes du Soleil we:

Learned a lot – to ski again, to snowboard better, the portes du soleil piste map

Laughed a lot – with new friends and old we’ve had some fabulous times

Lived a lot!

Here’s my photoblog of our first winter season in Portes du Soleil after completing our chalet renovation.

The winter season in Portes du Soleil started slowly as we waited for big snow and it came in early January… so for the first day out on our snowboards, a white out!  Hooray!

and we had a great excuse to use our new, snow shovel to clear the drive when we arrived back home.

We didn’t reserve a table for our first visit of the winter season to our favourite mountain restaurant in Portes du soleil, Chez Nannon so, now as frequent visiting locals, we had the best table in the house!  A corner of the preparation table in the kitchen to watch being cooked and then enjoy Patates au Reblochon!

With beautiful sunshine the powder us snowboarders love disappeared so we took the opportunity to try skiing again, on perfectly groomed pistes.  After over ten years dedicated to snowboarding we were probably a little premature trying off-piste on the first day but it was very entertaining watching Adam put his ski back on!

After a few more days on skis and we joined friends over at Mont Chery for a beautiful sunny day with a little skiing,

a little drinking and then a lot of dancing in ski boots!  Well why not?screen-shot-2017-11-07.png

Some of the friends we met last year on a Back Country Snowboarding week came to visit so we loaded the snowboards…

for a few fun days of great boarding, great food and most of all great company.

The snow came again in February and after a day boarding on fresh off-piste powder

we were held up going home when we found friends at Happy Hours and an Ibiza DJ playing fantastic dance tunes for apres ski!  

A change of pace and activities with the visit of my nephew.  We celebrated my sister’s birthday with a few days of fantastic fun sledging, throwing snowballs, lots of cheese and cured meat feasts and a day teaching a five year old how to ski!winter sledging

When Max and Lucy arrived at the beginning of March we loaded the snowboards again and headed to Ardent where we know some great off-piste runs.IMG_4327

Fresh snow and our off-piste adventures tested Max’s snow boarding legs a little and we all had a fantastic few days in the fresh powder and out and about in town.IMG_4330IMG_4331

When the snow storms came again a few days later we experience skiing more on our own than we ever anticipated.   All lifts and pistes in Portes du Soleil were completely closed one afternoon due to an impending storm.

We would have been stuck in Avoriaz, several miles from our car, had it not been for a very helpful and thoughtful piste secour gentleman. When we explained our predicament to him, by the ‘piste-closed’ fence he was guarding, he swiftly attached two tow ropes to the back of his ski-doo and asked ‘Are you good skiers?’ ‘Good enough, we hope’ we replied.  ‘Hold on then’ he yelled as he accelerated his ski-doo up the closed piste towards our  home run in the next valley.  We grinned and chuckled at each other as we zoomed up empty pistes and past closed chair lifts.   I am not a good enough skier to have taken pictures whilst on the ski-doo unfortunately!  Maybe next time.

When he dropped us at the top of the, normally busy, Zore piste we enjoyed an eerily quiet and empty run back to the car with the wind occasionally blowing us to a stand still to remind us of the force of nature.

Mid March the ‘boys’ were in town for our annual ‘boy’s ski’ weekend.  We had dutifully been out, on glorious fresh powder I hate to say, testing ski runs, bookings bars and restaurants so that we could make the most of every day with the group.  IMG_4363

The bars were well and truly tried and tested over the next few days though we didn’t get to all of the pistes that we had planned.IMG_4365

we had some fantastic  scenery on the sunny days…IMG_4369

As usual an amazing, few days that left our stomach muscles sore not from exercise but from laughing so much!IMG_4380

No rest for the wicked – the following week was Rock the Piste! Live music concerts played at various locations in the mountains, on the piste, around Portes du Soleil.

Rock the Piste 2017 included Rag n Bone Man (he’s down there somewhere)…RagnBone man rock the piste

Matmatah, favourite of our friend David who donned his Bretagne flag/cape for the concert in support of his fellow Bretagnes.IMG_4392 (1)

Chinese Man (quite hard core for a Monday afternoon!)IMG_4396

On Friday friends Kieran, Matt, Sangeeta and Gina joined us for a skiing, drinking and dancing weekend and to see our absolute favourite, Caravan Palace perform at the top of Pleney ski lift…IMG_2062

We carried on doing our snow dances into April hoping that the white stuff would hold out long enough for our last visitors at Easter.

We persevered as the snow more that a little patchy IMG_4394and enjoyed riding with friends Angela and MartinIMG_4413

finally though it seemed more appropriate to be walking the hills in the sunshine IMG_4429

A sprinkling of snow saved the day for our friends Phil, Lucy, Andrew and Lenka and their families for their Easter family ski trip and our last few days on boards and skis for winter season 2017…IMG_4431

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Walking in Portes du Soleil

As soon as the snow disappears, normally early May, we are out walking in Portes du Soleil.  Walking in Portes du Soleil mountains from Morzine and Montriond has easy access and is very rewarding with amazing views across Haute Savoie region from many of the peaks.Morzine portesdusoleil summer hikingIn spring and summer the valleys and peaks are transformed by nature.  Verdant and welcoming from the valley floor to the rocky peaks where miraculously mountain flowers appear everywhereSpring mountain flowersand crocuses force their way through the fading patches of snow.sheepskinalps-walking-holiday1.jpgDuring May and June, the wonderfully peaceful ‘inter-season’ Adam and I enjoy a variety of walks from our home in Portes du Soleil.  Some walking out to conquer particular peaks and others simply a nice circuit along the rolling hills of the lower slopes.

Everywhere is well sign posted so, as long as you have an idea of where you want to head to, it’s easy to walk in Portes du Soleil without a map.sheepskinalps-walking-portesduesoleil14.jpgWe have now completed/conquered the four main peaks that dominate the skyline from Morzine & Montriond; Pointe de Nantaux, Ressachaux, Pointe de Nyon and Roc D’Enfer.

Pointe de Nantaux was particularly daunting and rewarding at the same time and took us two attempts to conquer since the first time the summit was still very much covered with snow but in August 2017 we made it to the top with our friend David.Nantaux-summit-Haute-savoieThe sign at the bottom ‘KMV’ (kilometre vertical) gives it away that this is not the easiest of walks and this is by no means the roughest or steepest part.
KMV-walking-portesduesoleil1
In short the KMV is 1000m of ascent in 2000m of distance covered and then you have another 200m or so of climb and around 500m distance to reach the summit.

The arrow shows the top of the KMV (where I took the photo below), you may just make out the path directly below and the summit you see to the right is not the true summit….Nantau-Montriond-portes-du-soleil

IMG_4775The peace and tranquility, that we had all to ourselves (even on a bank holiday), at the summit was spellbinding.walking-in-portes-du-soleil-nantaux-summitNantaux-summit-montriondWalking the descent was harder on the legs though easier on the lungs and the scenery, with views across Portes du Soleil, absolutely breathtaking.  Oh to be the shepherd who gets to stay here!Sheepskinalps-walking-portesduesoleil5Everywhere reminders of the power of nature.amazing-nature-walking-portesduesoleil

Pointe de Ressachaux is another must conquer peak when walking in Portes du Soleil. We set off reasonably early suspecting it was a 5-6 hour walk to the summit and back.   It was Sunday so, after several cups of coffee, 10.30am wasn’t a bad achievement!Sheepskinalps-walking-portesduesoleil2As we huffed and puffed up and up through the forest we were embarrassed and just a little demotivated to be cheerily greeted by a group of pot-bellied, grey haired ‘ramblers’ striding down towards us at 11.30am.

In my halting French I asked were they returning from the summit already? ‘Bien sûr! Bonne Montée!’ they replied as they disappeared down through the forest.

A few corners later some very kind, and fit, person had made a welcome bench from a fallen tree…Sheepskinalps-walking-portesduesoleil11We envied the French group, probably enjoying a menu du jour very soon but the tasty cheese baguettes in our rucksacks for lunch at the summit spurred us on. and hat a picnic spot it is.Morzine walking amazing viewshiking morzine portesdusoleil area

Pointe de Nyon, our favourite peak in winter for easy to reach, fun, off-piste on powder days and actually a deceivingly difficult walk in summer.
Morzine spring summer walk bike resortWe have walked from our home in Montriond, through town and up to the plateau du Nyon via the Cascade de Nyon which makes it about 5 hours to the top and back.IMG_4663On a clear day, as our next walk to the summit of Nyon, you can clearly see Mont Blanc from here…IMG_4659To make it shorter we’ve driven up to the plateau and walked from there which makes it a little more relaxing and leaves time for lunch at Chez Nannon.

You can even get the chair lift to just below the summit so that you can reach the amazing viewswalking-ported-du-soleil-Nyon

Roc D’Enfer lives up to its name Rock of Hell.

We walked from home which made the total circuit about 30km and around 7 hours. On the way to the base of Roc D’Enfer you have spectacular views, even Mont Blanc in the distance.walking Portes du soleil Mont Blanc viewWhen you pass the sign that basically says ‘ this way if you’re sensible and want an easy walk back to Les Gets or this way Danger of death’ you know you will have to keep your wits about you.

A steep, scramble over rocks takes you up to a narrow path along the long ridge which follows the crest where sometime it can be quite tricky to see where the path is.walking portes du soleil Roc D'EnferFor several kilometres the narrow path picks it way up and down the ridgesRoc D'Enfer walking portes du soleiluntil finally emerging into a mountain meadow and the long track back to Col D’Encrenaz and home with Roc D’Enfer looming large behind you.walking portes du soleil mountain meadow

Walking in Portes du Soleil is not all about ‘up’, high peaks and tough climbs.

We’ve had great days wandering in the valley and found virtually flat walks with friends and family by the river and around Morzine town using the suspension foot-bridge to avoid ups and downs.Morzine  - 6th July 2016The advantage of staying close to town is that there are always plenty of places for refreshments in the sunshine…IMG_3686and if you do fancy exploring and walking a little higher in Portes du Soleil you can always take the lift up.Sheepskinalps-walking-portesduesoleil15

My favourite, relaxing rather than challenging, walking in Portes du Soleil has got to be around Lac du Montriond.  A flat walk with spectacular views in every direction and a bar at either end!

Sheepskinalps-walking-portesduesoleil16

Similarly Lac du Mines D’Or is a short drive, up, along Vallee de la Manche and rewards you with amazing views, a short walk and the Chalet Freterolle just a little further up for a spot of local lunch…

walking-portes-du-soleil-lac-mines-d'or

Renovation & French building lessons

Having managed the renovation of several houses in the UK we were now looking forward to and prepared for some French building and renovation lessons too.

Three months into our renovation of an old French barn in the Portes du Soleil and our weeks have already been filled with, emotional and financial ups and downs, and many lessons in French building.

French building lesson 1 – trust the local systems
With our planning permission, to transform the barn into a chalet, approved prior to our taking ownership in December the first French building lesson was an easy and enjoyable one, though the ‘Compromis de Vente’ certainly tested our French language skills.

The building team were ready to go in January, come rain, shine and hopefully (with our snowboards at the ready) lots of snow!  The old barn is on the ‘grid’ but had not been lived in for several years; a few pipes draped from the walls where the long gone sink, toilet and bath had sat, bare wires poked from the ceilings and lifeless sockets hung from the walls.

So experience tells us that our first job was to ensure there would be water and electric or we would risk mutiny without the facility for cups of tea and coffee and power for tools too of course.

Our planning approval dossier from the Montriond Marie included a form for us to request the water to be reconnected as well as information required to have electricity switched back on.

Water reconnection form completed and French cheque written (there is another lesson!) we visited the Montriond Mairie mid December with the hope of having water switched on before January and enjoyed our most surprising French lesson so far.  Bernadette made a phone call whilst we waited and a few minutes later said that ‘the water would be switched on but not until around 3pm that afternoon, was that ok?’  Amazing not just ok!

French building lesson 2 – have courage
Since the water had been so easy we asked advice on how we might have the electricity switched on, the answer was not so encouraging ‘it is not so easy, I am not sure exactly how you do it I only know that you need courage and time’.

A few days and several phone calls later we did find the right person to speak to at ERDF and they booked an engineer to visit just a few days later.  He looked rather perplexed as he got out of his van clearly expecting to see a habitable dwelling not a tumble down building but still within twenty minutes he had re-established power to the house and reset the meter. We have light! and under floor heating too which seemed a little bizarre when insulation material exposed through holes in the wood clad walls was moss!

old-moss-insulation
Moss insulation removed from old walls
renovation-french-building-electric
We have light!

French building lessons 3 – let the building show you the way
The builders started the renovation first by emptying out all of the dusty old wood, taking down the wobbly looking hay loft and stripping out the interior to its basic frame.

For the first few weeks each morning our visits to site were rewarded with more of the stunning original framework of the barn and the majority in good condition.  We and the whole team were like excited children in a sweet shop and we all quickly agreed that our current layout would hide or remove too much of the wonderful materials and craftsmanship that was now apparent.

stunning-french-woodwork
Beautiful old wood revealed
design-around-framework
Designing around the old frame

The demolition and clearing work continued as we scratched our heads, shuffled walls, beds and bathrooms within the restrictions of the revealed structure finally to confirm a new chalet interior layout that preserves and exposes as much as the framework as possible and allows great views of the mountains from the main rooms.

French building lesson 4 – prioritise local life
The next French building lesson followed quickly; we needed a new water pipe into the house and the only way in was into the kitchen underneath what would be the garage back to the mains connection at our boundary edge not a big deal at all however since the gentleman booked with his digger to do the work also operates one the local snow ploughs each fresh fall of snow, though eagerly anticipated and welcomed by the majority including us, meant a frustrating delay as Jerome had to prioritise ensuring roads to Morzine and Montriond were clear of snow.  A nice lesson on French local life and priorities.

On a rainy day we were all smiles as Jerome and his digger made fast progress. That afternoon the digger was still going, deeper & towards the road, and all faces and bodies looked tired.  With a quickly sought permission from the mairie, the road was cordoned off and the digger pierced the tarmac, finally finding the connection point to the main pipe in the centre of the road.

French-lesson-local-life-digger
Good progress…
french-lesson-bureaucracy
Sadly more digging needed

Leaning on the safety rails across our unplanned trench next to grass verges churned by cars forced around and off the roadway not the ideal time of place to meet our nearest neighbours but that are friendly and understanding and we think have already forgiven the disruption.

Lessons in French bureaucracy and diplomacy that the team took in their stride.

French building lesson 5 – go with the flow but be persistent and follow your heart
The last, for now, and the hardest, the funniest and most eye-opening so far…

Though it feels alien we are hoping each snow fall is the last of the season as unless the roofer has a dry spell in which to open and re-close the lid of the building the work inside will grind to a halt.

In a few glorious, sunny days several tons of slate are removed from the roof to reveal very old, grey roof boards; beautiful warm brown underneath where they will be exposed but dappled with rot above and treacherously thin.  The roofer estimates new tiles were laid around 60-70 years ago but were laid on top of already damp boards.

Debate ensues as to how much of the beautiful, original roof boards can be saved but the roofer must build a roof that complies with the rules, will cope with the possible burden of 40tons of snow and with a 10year guarantee therefore unfortunately the final decision is driven by him.

Our hearts sink the following morning; the roof is stripped bare of all but a few planks and the site deserted. We search the messy pile of discarded timber in the vain hope of finding salvageable bits of wood but the roofing team have carefully put aside the few planks that are not too ravaged by time and damp to be used again.

We gaze up unbelieving at the blue sky through what remains of the roof structure, a sad but stunning sight all at once.  We fight back tears and anger, take a deep breathe and go to find the team and a solution.

blue-skies-open-roof
Stunning structure but a sad day

Over coffee we review the options to replace the 250m2 of roof boards, all additions to the budget; new pine – no way!; old wood maybe but at 65€ per metre square too much; new ‘dead-standing’ wood, being the direct translation from French, but even the character of the knots and fissures cannot obscure the pale shine of new pine.  We leave with the only  agreement that we need to figure out how to replace our rotten old wood with good, reclaimed, old wood.

The hillsides in the French alps are scattered with seemingly forgotten old wooden buildings and piles of old wood, put aside for a future use and not for sale it seems but the local grape-vine suggested there may be ‘vieux bois’ for sale at a few wood yards.  Adam and I headed down the mountain with, Simon, one of the building team along for expert advise and French translation as needed in search of 250m2 (~6m3) of reclaimed timber but specifically in lengths of 3-4m long and a consistent thickness between 21-27mm, ideally tongue and groove too.

The first broccante was fascinating with rows of old gondola cabins alongside an array of ancient doors but distinctly lacking old wood.

ski-resort-gondolas-broccante

We pressed our noses against the tall metal fence of the next wood yard trying to see if the piles of wood we saw were worth trying to contact the owner and gain access.  We had decided it wasn’t worth it and turned away when a car pulled up and an old gentleman curled himself slowly out.  He greeted us with hand-shakes for everyone, as is customary, and his round, smiling face, framed with swept back grey hair above and a hastily tied cravat below, told us he was very pleased to see us.   We politely explained what we needed and he was sure he had what we were looking for.  He led us through grass corridors lined with higgledy-piggledy piles of all shapes and sizes of old wood that beautifully framed the snow topped mountains in the distance.

old-alpine-woodyard-mountains

Our first conclusion had been correct and the old gentleman didn’t have anything that we could use for the roof but he was insistent he could provide what we needed and very persistent.  Not enough?  he would find more.  Not brushed or processed enough? not a problem he had a friend that could do that.  Too thin for the roof? his own roof was made with wood like this.  Simon bravely left his mobile number and promised to call him if we didn’t find anything better.

The next wood yard was our last hope and as soon as we drove into the yard we could see that here we could find what we wanted.  We found a few pallets of old wood that were the right specification and the owner, Frank, announced that we should agree a deal with a Grappa.

From an old wooden cabinet in the corner of his homely kitchen emerged a perfectly clear bottle.  After pouring 4 shots glasses he put the bottle on the rough wooden table to reveal a snake floating in the liquor! What snake is that? asked Simon.  Just an ordinary one was the answer.  OK then, Santé! we all chinked glasses, drank down the amazingly quaffable liquid and returned our glasses to the table with our thanks.  Price now agreed, Simon explained we would call Frank to confirm if we could take the wood once we had spoken to the roofer.

‘That’s fine, now try this one’ said Frank this time a yellow tinge and a pungent floral aroma to the liquid poured from a large round bottle into the 4 glasses despite our protests that one of us had to drive and we all had planned to work that afternoon.  He explained he made 1 litre from 40kg of the root of a mountain plant, I could imagine an evening around this table enjoying this gentle medicinal taste and aroma but too potent for another on a Monday afternoon.

Before we put our glasses on the table Frank pulled the stopper on a third bottle whose aroma reminded us all of local Caribbean bars, ‘this one I make from a plant my kids grow’ Frank winked and with a straight face looked to Adam and said ‘you will be fine to drive but promise me to pull over if you see Giraffes crossing!’  With laughs, smiles and hand-shakes we parted.

A few days later we waited in the sunshine with a couple of guys from the team eagerly awaiting Frank with the two piles of reclaimed boards.  As soon as we saw his trailer driving up the lane we knew that what was strapped to his trailer was not the wood we had identified and shook on over ‘Grappa’ and what was there would not be suitable.french-lesson-waiting

After quite a lengthy debate between the builders, the roofer and Frank who every few minutes left the discussion and started to unload the wood.  Each time our protests stopped him but looking more frustrated each time. Finally Frank quietly re-strapped his trailer, interrupted the ongoing discussion to shake hands with each of us and drove slowly away down the narrow lane pausing briefly to catapult a stone at the windscreen of the roofers’ van and then disappeared around the corner.
old-wood-french-lessonWe were all astonished and flabbergasted.  I am not entirely sure what this particular French building lesson taught us but it certainly was an experience!

and the search for old wood, ‘vieux bois’, and a solution to finish our roof continued.

Off-piste, back country Snowboarding

Serene-snowscene-Avoriaz

Off-piste, back country is what snowboarding is all about for many keen snowboarders. Previously, we now know, we have been, reasonably safe, ‘side-country’ off-piste snowboarders.

Off-piste, side-country snowboarding is what most snowboarders do, it’s the type of off-piste snowboarding that is likely to be covered in your travel insurance, it’s normally easy to find (not far from or in-between the pistes), doesn’t involve hikes or walks, so long as you keep a lift in sight somewhere, however it does mean you need to be an early bird to get first tracks and fresh powder.

backcountry-guide-morzine-luke-rees
backcountry-guide-morzine-luke-rees
Helen-snowboarding-offpiste-backcountry-luke-rees
Helen-snowboarding-offpiste-backcountry-luke-rees

There is so much more off-piste snowboarding to discover in the back-country!

We are both reasonably good snowboarders and love exploring independently so over time we could get to know the back-country off-piste in the Porte du Soleil however we are also both very impatient.  Rather than spend lots of time searching ourselves we saw the value in joining a guided group on a week long off-piste back-country course and chose the ‘off-piste back-country ‘ with Mint Snowboarding in Morzine.

We had high expectations of the week off-piste and David, our Mint snowboarding guide / guru (the ‘green giant’ disappearing off into the mist below), did not disappoint.

misty-backcountry-hike-offpiste-luke-rees
misty-backcountry-hike-offpiste-luke-rees

When the group, of six, met on the first morning David asked each of us what we wished for from the course; the answers were all reassuringly similar.  To have a better understanding off-piste conditions, to improve our confidence riding in the twists, turns and powder of back-country conditions.

A couple mentioned they’d like to do some cliff drops which scared and excited me all at once.  During the week we practised (and landed!) several cliff-drops which all felt, and looked from above, a lot bigger than they do here)…

adams-cliff-drop-luke-rees
adams-cliff-drop-luke-rees
helens-cliff-drop-luke-rees
helens-cliff-drop-luke-rees

But before we went into the back-country search of fresh tracks off-piste first a refresher for us all on avalanche safety.  We all had avalanche transceivers, probes and shovels and had been on avalanche training courses before and all agreed you can never have too much practise using your equipment, practising avalanche situations and understanding as much as possible about weather and mountain conditions to hopefully avoid the avalanche in the first place.

After practise using our transceivers and probes we dug a snow pit to investigate the snow pack which fascinatingly and worryingly showed a few weak layers.  Here I am separating off one of the weak layers…

offpiste-avalanche-training-mint-snowboarding-rob-palmer
offpiste-avalanche-training-mint-snowboarding-rob-palmer

I hasten to add I am stood in a hole here which makes David look even more like the Jolly Green Giant towering over little me – one of the group, Rob, took to calling me ‘Ninja’ from this picture I can see why ;-).

One thing we learnt quickly was that although it is great to snowboard the ‘off-piste’ that you can find easily from the lifts you are amply rewarded if you hike a little off-the-beaten-track and into the back-country.

ridge-hike-to-backcountry-offpiste-snowboarding-luke-rees
ridge-hike-to-backcountry-offpiste-snowboarding-luke-rees

No matter where you are in the mountains there is always a stunning vista to remind you what an amazing and beautiful world it is and how privileged you are to be in the special place.  Our hikes into the back-country often rewarded us with spectacular views and special moments…

view-worth-the-walk-in-off-piste-backcountry
view-worth-the-walk-in-off-piste-backcountry
helen-and-adam-enjoy-mountain-view-off-piste-back-country
helen-and-adam-enjoy-mountain-view-off-piste-back-country
offpiste-backcountry-course-mint-snowboarding-alex-horton
offpiste-backcountry-course-mint-snowboarding-alex-horton

On each of the five days we had a few ‘five’ minute hikes (or at least five minutes for David with legs twice as long as mine and who thinks nothing of hiking up 700m and snow-boarding down off-piste before breakfast!) and a few climbs…

climbing-offpiste-backcountry-alex-horton
climbing-offpiste-backcountry-alex-horton
climb-offpiste-backcountry-luke-rees
climb-offpiste-backcountry-luke-rees

and more often than not beautiful powder and fresh tracks once we reached the back-country destination…

fresh-powder-worth-walk-off-piste-backcountry
fresh-powder-worth-walk-off-piste-backcountry
more-first-tracks-in-fresh-powder-offpiste-backcountry
more-first-tracks-in-fresh-powder-offpiste-backcountry

One of our group, Luke, is owner and writer for adventure travel website awe365.com and wrote a great article about the five day back-country course with more detail of what we did and where.

magical-mystery-tour-offpiste-backcountry
magical-mystery-tour-offpiste-backcountry

Overall it was a wonderful week when nature was kind to us with frequent falls of fresh snow to make each day different and amazing fun.

more-snow-portes-du-soleil-ardent-car-park-mint-snowboarding-off-piste-back-country-course
more-snow-portes-du-soleil-ardent-mint-snowboarding-off-piste-back-country-course

Vanity struck at some points and on mellower, less demanding slopes we played with videos.

An eye-opening, exhausting, exhilarating and extremely enjoyable five days with a fantastic bunch of like-minded and fun-loving people.  One of those life-changing experiences.

mint-snowboarding-backcountry-offpiste-group-alex-horton
mint-snowboarding-backcountry-offpiste-group-alex-horton
offpiste-funky-views-nature-alex-horton
offpiste-funky-views-nature-alex-horton

Relocating, renovating, regenerating

Sunrise over French alps

We are constantly on the move; regenerating ourselves, our ideas and horizons, through travel and exploring or relocating and renovating houses, all as jobs or life require it.

After a summer of regenerating ourselves and indulging our passion for travel we have also thrived on the changes that our business and our life choices have brought. The result is we are relocating again.

We thoroughly enjoyed renovating and regenerating a 1960s bungalow, transforming it into a contemporary home.  We learned a lot about building, renovating and, enjoying the privilege of living there, we learned a lot about us. We surprised ourselves when the day came by how difficult we found it was to leave.

We both felt a mix of nostalgia, apprehension and excitement as we stood one last time in the now empty rooms together.  A pair of Muntjac deer came to say goodbye and we smiled as each of us silently pictured the wonderful memories of our time there.

Time to move on, we nodded to each other, we had made our home in this house for a short time but our hearts have already relocated and we leave the house to be regenerated into their home by the new, young family.

Relocating this time is driven by our enthusiasm to expand our holiday cottage business outside of the UK and what better way to do it than guided by our passion for the outdoors, the stunning landscapes of the French alps and for renovating houses.

On a visit to the French Alps last year we fell in love with a tumble down barn in dire need of renovating and, though it wasn’t in our plans quite so soon, we decided that regenerating the ancient building into a luxurious and unique chalet could be a perfect fit us and for our holiday property business, sheepskin.

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Over the year we have been through the processes of French planning, selling in Oxford and buying in France and are now, for the foreseeable future, relocated in Morzine, France.

This week we started renovating the ancient French alpine barn, or Grange in French, with the plan of sympathetically, regenerating the scruffy old man into a more contemporary and unique modern gentleman.

This year we will continue to transition each day between laptops and perhaps, not to flip flops but instead to snowboard boots and hiking boots.  We have been out and about getting to know the slopes and back-country of the Portes du Soleil…

…exploring the Aprés ski places, especially our local favourite a micro-brewery and great place to relax, Bec Jaune.

Each day we will be visiting the barn/building site as we help the team with the renovation…

renovating, regenerating French alps property…and then regenerating ourselves with fresh mountain air, exercise and indulging in great local food, ales and wine.

We will be out exploring with the future guests of our chalet in mind so that we can point them to the best spots during their holidays with us.  We will also be searching for other like-minded chalet owners who have done their own regenerating of a beautiful, traditional building here and want to share their home with Sheepskin guests.

When we have a moment during the renovating, we will post the progress on the barn as it is regenerated into a chalet for the Sheepskin holiday property collection.

If you know Morzine and the Portes du Soleil and have tips on best places to eat, drink, ski or snowboard please do comment below.

If you have already done or are in progress of renovating of a chalet in the French alps and would like to talk about joining Sheepskin as we launch in the mountains again please comment below.