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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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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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