Dramatic Start for Les Arcs, France

24 January 2011

“to have a slash”: to go for a piss.

My Dad:

God I’ve really gotta have a slash and fill up these water bottles.

One of my Dad’s friends luckily picked up on the order of those words, to much amusement. Even more luckily, the two statements weren’t linked in any way.

Getting back to business.

The week in France from the 9th to the 16th Jan started out pretty dramatically. I didn’t get robbed (been there, done that: July 2008 in Hyères, France).

We (my Dad, 2 of his friends and I) had true wood fire pizzas. I’m no food connoisseur, but with the little amount that was on the pizza and the apparent ‘raw’ look of the pizza I would guess that it was very well made since it tasted so nice. The pizza wasn’t so expensive, but it may well have been one costing approximately the price of a new Volkswagen Golf…

At the car hire centre, 3 middle-aged men debated whether to get snow chains for the tyres. We were about to ascend 1800m in altitude, so there were heaps of mountain roads to go on. We got them in the end.

After the lovely aforementioned pizza, we ran out to the car in the heavy rain and drove to our mountain road. We passed a pretty legendary sign with Les Arcs (our destination), Meribel, Val des Airs and all those other resorts all on one sign. The problem with driving at 10pm in the pouring rain in France is that you’re driving on the other side of the road without any cat’s eyes (the little reflective markers in the middle and edge of the road). Getting to the base of our mountain the rain had gotten pretty heavy.

You know, with this sort of rain it’d be snowing pretty heavily up there. Good,

We thought.

fresh snow for us!

After climbing about 400m, the heavy rain suddenly turned to equally heavy snow. A further 100m up found our honest VW Golf started slipping and sliding in the fresh dumping of snow. The visibility dropped to about 10m and going about 10km/h up the hill was just as reassuring. We couldn’t afford to slow down and stop, because the car either slides down the hill if you stop on a slant and if you do properly stop, you can’t get going again unless you’re able to get to a flat surface (on a mountain road?!) and put on chains.

So there was a real risk of being stuck on the mountain; it happened to a guy I was with a few years ago. In the current blizzard, we hadn’t seen any buses come up, so there was no way to get up so far. The real problem was getting anywhere, because we would have to do a reverse slide down a mountain. The protocol was to abandon the car, but then we’d have to make sure the car wouldn’t be a hero and slide down itself without us in there.

Somehow, we found a semi-flat section of the mountain. Working out how to attach the chains took what felt like 2 hours. At least the weather was nice to be outside the car. One my Dad’s friends is an avid sailor so he knew the gist of ratchets and hooks and all that.

So, there we were, revving the bollocks off of the Golf in 1st gear at 5000rpm through a blizzard, dare I say, getting slizzard. I thought I’d put that pop reference in as my audience instantly broadens to the entire Western world. Great!

By half past midnight we got to Arc 1950, a ski resort 1950m above sea level where we were due to stay:

The highest point in Australia is at 2228 metres – here, there’s a resort at 2000m, with a cable car going to over 3200m. A good week was ahead.