“Come on! You can do it!”

“My whole career has been from scratch, so I never took it for granted that people care and support what I do.”  – G-Eazy

If you read this blog you will see that I often make reference to Alpkit, who for the last 18 months have kindly supported me on my adventures. When I mention that I am an Alpkiteer to people you get a look of respect (or is that confusion?) in return. Only the pro’s and truly awesome adventurers get supported, right? I don’t put myself in either of those brackets, and I am not a social media “trend setter” either. Who has time or energy to maintain such a public image? But I do get out and about and often end up chatting to random people (or ‘my wafes and strays’ as I tend to call them!) about how great there gear is. I often get asked how I got supported and why did I go with Alpkit?

The answers to both of these questions is simple.

I got supported because I was doing something slightly different and I had the nerve to ask the question, even though I am not a big name. I told them my plan, I told them what I was after, and I told them how I would aid the brand, after all it is a business not a charity! I wasn’t greedy, I didn’t want huge amounts off them. I wasn’t boastful, I had no history of big, epic trips. But I was confident, the challenge was big but it was achievable even with my lack of experience. Brands understand that things happen that cause trips to be abandoned but they want to know that at the start there is a good chance that you will succeed.

And why did I ask Alpkit. Well this was down to a number of things:

  1. They did the gear I was after… well you wouldn’t want to be supported by a surf brand if you are a high altitude mountaineer would you!
  2. I like the way they do thing. The brand isn’t one of the old school established brands, they are trying to do something different and be more approachable.
  3. The ethics. This will be slightly different for everyone, I think ethics are quite a personal thing. Alpkit have a foundation that tries to help people from less privileged backgrounds access the outdoors and generally get people out and about. Would I really like to attach my name to a company that hasn’t got any qualms about using sweatshops and live plucked down? No thank you!

If you are looking at getting supported as an adventurer I would suggest that you talk to the brands that you use, you trust and want your name to be associated with. If you are looking at being supported you have to remember you aren’t just representing that brand, but that brand is becoming representing your beliefs. But my biggest bit of advice for anyone who has read this is: just ask them the question.

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High Point

So the last few days I have been held up at the Icefield Centre as there has been an avalanche between me and my next stop, Lake Louise, but as places to get stack go its not bad. The views of the Athabasca Glacier are stunning, and even though I couldn’t walk on the glacier (its too dodgy with the gear I have) I had a walk up the various trails to it which normally resulted in a shoe full of ice-cold water and jeans that wouldn’t dry for hours!

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Athabasca Glacier

Eventually the avalanche was cleared late on Saturday (6th May 2017) and I could get on with my trip.

Icefield Centre to Lake Louise (7th May 2017)

This was going to be another tough day, they all seem to be! I was starting at a height of just under 2000m and would be 1400m before rising again to 2000m, after that it would mainly be down hill to Lake Louise at 1541m, so a lot of accent hills in general.

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The route

Its hard to describe the day, I was following Route 93 to Saskatchewan River Crossing. This road had been described to me as one of the most beautiful roads in the world, I had assumed this was the typical North American habit of describing everything as “amazing” or “the best”, it turns out that this was not the case, this road is truly awe inspiring, around every bend in the road is another spectacular mountain, lake or river that, for me at least, takes the breath away. Most the mountains were either jagged monstrosities that left me looking for possible routes up then realising they were way out of my capacity to climb; or huge faces possibly 2000m high, then realising that as I was already 2000m up in the pass this would make these possibly 4000m high, again way outside my skill!

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Big boys!

The cycling was tough, I am not sure if I am just tired or I was slightly effected by the height, apparently symptoms such as breathlessness can start from 1500m. To be honest it doesn’t really matter, I knew it was nothing serious even if it was altitude so I just kept plugging away. Even struggling up the hills I in awe of the mountains.

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oooooo pretty!

At about 12:30 I got to Saskatchewan River Crossing, perfect timing to get some lunch. I was under the impression this was going to be a small village but it turns out that it is a rather large service station with motel, grocery store and café. The food was overpriced and not particularly good but it filled a hole.

From the crossing I followed the 93 south and started to climb gain, part way through the clime there was almost a plateau, well really it was just a series of mini hills part way up the mountain. On one of the hills I came across my first black bear, and rather closer than I would like! The general advice is to keep at least 8 bus lengths from bears, I was maybe 8m… at a push… but he wasn’t really interested in me, he watched to make sure I wasn’t a threat, and I watched to make sure he/she wasn’t (hand close to the bear spray on my belt!) I yet again didn’t get a picture but I am sure you can understand that I was in quite a dodgy place to stop and take a pic!

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Curtesy of google… kinda how it looked…. not so flowery though!

After the bear encounter it was more climbing to reach the highest point of my trip at just under 2000m, my legs were dead and my lungs just couldn’t get enough oxygen for the exertion but onwards was the only way, and probably the quickest way to drop height.

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High point!

To be honest the next section was a blur of stunning lakes and glorious mountains but one thing I do recall is seeing a number of marmots that squeaked at me as I passed on the way into Lake Louise.

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I have no idea where I took this, possibly Bow Lake with Mount Jimmy Simpson?

Lake Louise to Banff (08/05/2017)

Today is a short day, 60km from Lake Louise to one of the places I am most looking forward to on the trip, Banff.

I wasn’t sure what route I was planning to take for this section as a quick glance at the road only showed the main road which is a duel carriageway and can get a touch busy at times. A closer look reviled the “old road” (everything is quite new here so its not that old!) Route 1A. This is a quieter road but involves more climbing than the main route, not that much o an issue after the last few days as I have decreased in altitude and the climbs are not as hard. The problem is the views weren’t great in comparison to the last few days but then they were magnificent.

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Not quite as grand as yesterday but still good!

The route took me through high Alpine meadows that had yet to come into bloom and a dark pieces of Canadian history that I wasn’t aware of, the Internment Camps.

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Internment Camp sign

Then it was down into Banff and to settle into the hostel for a few days rest.

To be continued…

 

 

Avalanche Stops Play

The last couple of days really have been stunning so let me tell you about them…

Jasper to Beauty Creek (04/05/2017)

Lets start with some numbers…:

Distance: 89.3km

Accent: 1206m

Highest point: 1610m above see level

But that’s only of interest if you are a numbers geek… Where I think you are reading this for the story so here we go…

I had been advised by one of the guys in a local bike shop to take Route 93A (the old road) rather than the 93 as it was for nicer. What he failed to mention was that it’s a lot higher and steeper that the 93, but the views were amazing and the road is quiet. As you follow the road you get stunning views of high lakes, often frozen still, and even higher mountains giving some purely breath-taking views, I can probably count on one had the amount of times in my life that a view has made me exclaim out loud, I have now probably added another 1/2 dozen to the list! The first is where the 93A crosses Whirlpool River and the view of a mountain (name unknown to me). I had to slam on the breaks and stop to ogle at the view for a while.

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Whirlpool River

From here I descended slightly to where I was to re-join the 93 heading south, at the junction of the road is Athabasca Falls, another rather pretty place. At the falls I ended up chatting to a few brits who had previously cycled the Grand Divide and where interested in what I was doing, it seems everyone wants to talk to the crazy person cycling in the snow in shorts!

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Athabasca Falls

As the miles ticked slowly by I was surrounded by even bigger mountains and the colour of the river slowly became more and more glacial blue and I was getting tired so took every opportunity to stop and look at the sights, in fact I have taken too many pictures to show you them all!

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Ooooo pretty!

Even the view of the tarmac wasn’t too bad with the towering peaks in the distance, you have to remember at this point I was already about 1200-1400m above see level so these things must be 3-4000m.

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Tarmac….

I stayed at one of the Hostels International Wilderness Hostels, there is no electricity and no running water, there wasn’t even supposed to be a caretaker at this time of year but Jennie had turned up a few day earlier than need to have a spring clean. Later on a younger group turned up and a fun night was had by all.

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The hostel

Beauty Creek to Columbia Icefield (05/05/2017)

Today has been the first proper day that I have any real problems with mother nature, it all started of fine as I left the hostel and headed up the tough climb that I knew was coming to what is possibly the highest point of my trip at 1938m and the Icefields observatory, the climb was tough, but not as bad as that to Duffy Lake, and I ended up walking the last 1/2 mile or so. I payed the extortionate fee to access the glass floored viewing platform and I am glade that I did, the views all around were stunning.

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Selfie and views of the Icefield

Whilst there the staff (people again talking to the nutter in shorts!) informed me that there had been an avalanche between there and Lake Louise, my next stop, and it had been a big one. They showed me a group of Facebook posts with pictures showing the road had been blocked by 20ft deep snow and that this covered approximately 100m of the road… there was no way I was getting through there today, possibly not tomorrow. I had no real option but to continue on to the Icefield Discovery Centre, it was the only place to stay before the avalanche, but it wasn’t going to be cheap.

So I continued on into the icefields (still in shorts….) and was rewarded with one of the most spectacular views I think I have ever seen. I had some lunch and checked in to the hotel after checking the state of the road (no updates). After settling in I went for a wander up towards the glacier but the trail is too much, (wet and snowy) for the gear I have, so I went to walk up the road and the weather drew in, so I returned to the hotel and am sat in the café updating you and looking over the amazing vista.

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Athabasca Glacier

If I am still stranded tomorrow hopefully I should get up to the glacier.

 

 

 

Jaunt in Jasper

So I have now made it to the mountain town of Jasper and here is how I got here:

Valemount to Jasper (30/04/2017)

Leaving Valemount I re-joined Route 5 heading generally north, I felt sluggish as I hadn’t been sleeping particularly well for a couple of days. You would think with all the exercise I would be sleeping like a baby but hey ho.

The conditions didn’t really change much, some proper white topped mountains peaking above tree line. This was pretty much the same for the first 20km (12miles) where I joined Route 16 heading East, at this point the road also started to ascend as I approached Mount Robson, the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies… I stopped at Rearguard Falls (still on the Fraser River, boy that’s a long river!) The falls are renowned for being the farthest point that salmon migrate up the Fraser River to spawn, about 1,260 km (783 mi) from the ocean. I had a couple of stops before this but I thought a quick walk to the falls may help. On the way back the skies opened and this time it was hail instead of rain, waterproofs were on again and a couple of mins later it had stopped but I was already moving an in no position to strip off, I really dislike riding in waterproof trousers.

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Rearguard Falls

A few kilometres after leaving the waterfalls the road straightens out and I got a view of what I think was Mount Robson and boy is she beautiful! Sheer faces with ledges coated in snow… man, I want to climb her one day!

The day wore on and the trees started to thin out and suddenly I discovered I was no longer next to the river but a giant great big lake, Moose Lake to be precise. The lake is stunning and with the mountains in the background I couldn’t help but stop (and not just because the legs being tired) the lake is 11.7 km long and 1.9 km wide at its widest point.

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Eve at Moose Lake

Leaving the lake I began to notice that the mountains starting to look jagged and fun and I couldn’t take my eyes off Mount Fitzwilliam, a mass of ridges and the nodulous extension to the north-east, I will really have to come pack with my mountaineering gear at some point! Not long after I was into the national park and heading into Jasper. Just on the way in to town I think I saw some elk, maybe :s

Once in town I headed to the hotel, showered, then headed out for a wander around town and check out what there was to see. The town is more touristy than those I have been in since Whistler but that was expected and its actually quite nicely done with buildings in a semi traditional style, also I am out of season so its quite quiet. I have a couple of days here to explore so quite looking forward to that, although unfortunately I don’t think I will be able to get into the hills as my gear isn’t up to 2500m mountains in potential winter conditions.

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Jasper

O and I forgot to mention I have now crossed a time zone, so only seven hours behind UK time!

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Crossing lines

Jasper (01/05/2017)

Most of today I have been wandering around town looking at the sights and eating… lots, but here is what I know about Jasper (thanks google):

“Jasper is an alpine town in Canada’s Alberta province, is the commercial centre of Jasper National Park. Amid the snow-capped Canadian Rockies, the park has glacier-fed lakes, forests and rivers. The Jasper SkyTram climbs to the summit of Whistlers Mountain, with views of downtown. The Jasper Yellowhead Museum and Archives presents exhibits on the fur trade, railway and early exploration of the park.

Elevation: 1,062 m

Area: 925.5 km²

Population: 4,590 (2016)”
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Jasper from the air… well mountain…
Jasper and Whistlers Peak (02/05/2017)
To day I had a trip up Whistlers Mountain (not the ski resort, this is a different one!) by the Sky Tram, which is effectively a gondola, but nice all the same! I decided to walk the 7km to the Sky Tram and I am glad I did the scenery is great round here!
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River walk
From the station at the top I was a bit naughty and continued to the summit in trainers and jeans, the snow is still thick up there with me sometimes going knee deep in it but the views were worth it. I met a nice couple of Canadians up there who I chatted to for a while  and took some photo’s for, they also offered to drive me back to town when we got back down which I took them up on. All in all a very pleasant day!
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 Views!

Whistler and weather

As I said in my previous blog I have been in Whistler so here is a bit of info on the place before I tell you what I have been up to…

Whistler Village is located at the base of the Two Peaks, Whistler and Blackcomb. The village is actually relatively new having been proposed as part of the 1968 Winter Olympic bids. Although the bid was lost the development went ahead and opened in 1966. To start with the two mountains were operated separately, this led to a lot of competition and improvements and upgrades unknown anywhere else. The competition between the two mountains led to the area being named as the top ski resort for many year. Eventually the two companies merged in 2003.

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Icy water on Alta Lake, Whistler

Whistler Blackcomb was the centrepiece of a renewed bid on the part of nearby Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics, which they won in July 2003. Whistler Blackcomb hosted the Alpine Skiing events.

As you would imagine the town is heavily focused on the outdoors industry with skiing during the winter and mountain biking in the summer being catered for by a host of shops, hotels and restaurants in the chilled and pleasant town, I actually prefer the resort to the European resorts I have been to, but I was here only at the very tail end of the season

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Whistler

Whistler (17/04/2017)

Today I got back out in the snow and got some skiing in. This is only about the third time I have actually skied and last time (in Jan) I ended the first day with a cracked rib and concussion so I was slightly worried when on the lifts up to the slopes but I only planned to keep to the easy “green” runs. Its was a cloudy day and as I got to the top of the lifts it was rather misty. I spent about 4hrs getting more confident and improving whilst the cloud got thicker and thicker till eventually I could barely see where I was going so decided it was time to head down and get some food.

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I spent the evening with Alex and Jack again and one of there house mates cooked an amazing vegi Tai curry (thanks again!)

Whistler (18/04/2017)

The much promised thunder storm hasn’t appeared but today was a full rest day of pottering round town, eating pizza, sitting in the sauna and Jacuzzi. nothing really to report but I am looking forward to getting back on the bike tomorrow and heading to Lillooet approximately 130km north-east.

Whistler to Lillooet (18/04/2017)

I had an early start today as it was planned to be a long hard one, the day started with waffles and maple syrup (hmmmmm….. 🙂 ) then it was onto the bike, I may have got slightly misplaced getting out of Whistler as I was aiming to go to the Lost Lake, but the paths were still too icy on the bike. The first section of the ride to Pemberton was relatively easy with a few ups and downs but nothing to right home about. I had a bit of a stop at Nairn Waterfalls to rest and have a nosey.

 Nairn Waterfalls
Next it was on to Pemberton where I stopped for a spot of lunch knowing that the next section had some pretty tough up hills and was quite rural (next town was approximately 100km and would be my destination for the day.) Just after this I entered into First Nation territory, this meant that the amount of dwelling plummeted and distances between them slowly increased until I passed the last property and headed along the long flat road with the mountains in the distance, since I started I knew that any time I hit flat lands I would have to make the most of it and push the speed a touch, so I upped the pace slightly to approximately 14mph and enjoyed the views of Lillooet and Birken Head Rivers.  Then the fun began…

Fun on the road.

The next 3 hours, yes I did say 3, was all up hill. I started ok, dropping to my lowest gear (I have named this gear Granny (don’t ask!)) and just tried to spin my way up, unfortunately by the end of the first switchback I was already in need of a break so I had one… by the end of the second I was panting like you wouldn’t believe and stopped just past the first of the broken down lorries of the day. A couple more switchbacks and my legs started cramping, this hill was a b£$%h and I was probably only half way up! It was time for me start walking, I might not be bike fit but my legs are used to walking up hills for hours at a time, so plod up pushing my 32kg worth of bike and equipment.

At times I tried to cycle for sections but the gradient was too much for me, even with the support and cheering from drivers going in the opposite direction! To be honest I can’t tell you much about the accent as I was just digging in and plodding up. So after 3 hours I had done 1000m of accent, some of which was 18% hill I was done and I knew I was only about half way and had another hill left!

The next 20km I used the down hill to try and recover, I was in the snowline now and taking on a lot of water and some of my snack. as I was descending I am sure I heard bear calls in the woods, but surely its still too cold up here? But the singing started to warn them that I was around (or scare them off!) After the 20km I came to Duffy Lake, an 8km high mountain lake that was completely and utterly frozen over , I had a quick stop at the far end to take on a Clif Bar, one of my snacks for the day, and to take a picture. I was down to my last bottle of isotonic too and it was helping my legs to get over the cramps but I was still weak, the hill had really taken it out of me!

 

Ice cold! Duffy Lake

The next 30km was mainly down hill so I used the momentum of the downs to get me up the short up hills. I gradually dropped out of the snowline and saw my first bits of wild life, first of were a few Mule deer that surprised me when they scrambled up a steep back that I hadn’t been paying attention to (lesson learned!) Next I had a call from a car coming the opposite way warning of a bear cub up ahead, unfortunately my gopro was dead otherwise I would have turned it on! It was at the edge on of the other side of the carriageway and from what I could tell was a very young grisly cub, mum was nowhere in site and I was singing again to let them know I was no threat but the poor thing looked scared of me (or my out of tune singing!)  This is the first time I have seen a wild bear and it was a cutie! Thankfully I didn’t meet mum!

After this I was into Gott Creak area and my god this place was stunning, huge monoliths of rock on all sides that dwarf anything I have seen before! For miles these huge mountains flanked me making me feel small as a hurtled through at 30mph, doesn’t sound much but on a 32kg bike that’s quite a lot! One final climb followed that I did my best to cycle up and I nearly managed it… but walk some more it was! The last section consisted of downward switchbacks of 13%, and I was most glad I had gone for disk breaks.

I was at Lillooet, the outskirts was dominated by a logging area and damn and the town itself is definitely a working town rather than a tourist destination, I swear I heard duelling banjo’s as I entered! Everything in town was closed by 20:30, having got into town at 19:30 and needing to check in this meant that my only food choice was whatever I could get at the petrol station. But by this point I didn’t care, I grabbed anything edible, headed to the hotel and about 20mins later was asleep.

I will stay here for a day as my legs are shot.

 

 

Coasting and crashing

Wow, what a start to the New Year! 1 week in and I’ve already had 4 days of adventure – skiing in the French Alps, and what an eventful few days they turned out to be!

So I spent a lovely Christmas and New Years down south with the families down south and as tends to be the case I caught a bugger of a cold so was pretty much laid up recovering before jetting of to the Alps. It was the first time I had been on a plane for a few years so that in itself was exciting. It had been 18 years since I had skied! (still struggling with that number, makes me feel old)

So we were supposed to meet at Gatwick at 05:15 for our flight… 05:15 comes and goes… 05:30… 05:45… Now anyone who knows me will know I am not to fond of being late, especially when there is a clear cut off, say a plane taking off! Thankfully everyone arrives at 5:50 and we are through security and on to the plane in no time.

A short journey later and we were landing in Lyon, befor what seemed like an extremely long walk to a transfer coach. I must be confess to being a little unfit after the Christmas excesses, but equally I may have over packed my 70ltr bag!

The transfer was worry. As we got into the Alps there was no snow on the hills. I watched the altimeter on my watch climb as we made our way up the valleys… still no snow… and then thankfully a few snow capped hills… and then more! By the time we got to Val D’Isere we can see that there was enough snow to ski, PHEW! This time it defiantly hadn’t just been me worrying!

On disembarking we are shown to our chalet and introduced to our great hosts, Josh and Charlotte before heading on into town to pick up our gear for the next few days including ski passes. Now I’ve never been to a French ski resort before and to be honest had not known what to expect, Val however wasn’t it. Mock Alpine buildings full of expensive outdoors/ski shops, and very touristy… As I said I had no idea what I was expecting!

Tom and I headed to the bar, Coco Rico for a pint or two, In the words of my Granddad ” you have to have one for each leg otherwise you will wobble all over the place!”, wise man my Granddad. After that we returned to the chalet for the first of our awesome meals -Canapés and sparkling wine everyday followed by a great 3 course meal and free wine! Living like a king! Then after a long day it was off to bed early for all!

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On the piste – Olympic run, Val D’isere

Skiing on day one was eventful… after just a couple of blue runs I managed to have a small spill, well I guess it was a rather large spill really! I have been told to embellish what has happened so here it goes… There was a loud roar and a mountain lion jumped out of nowhere trying to attack me, I head butted it as it knocked me off my feet before it ran off…. alternatively I just lost my balance and hit the ground hard enough that I possibly knocked myself out giving myself a juicy black eye, a potential cracked rib and concussion in the process. One of the group kindly described me trying to regain my feet as “look[ing] like Bambi on the ice” and that I had “left an imprint in the snow like a paper decoration”.

Thankfully there was one of the many mountain café/bars very close so I ended up in a chair cramming handfuls of snow onto a rapidly swelling eye!

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Jen looking sympathetic after my wipe-out! Thanks for the photo Jen

After making sure I wasn’t going to die the others abandoned me for a few more routes, whilst I gathered my senses. After about half an hour I was roughly back to normal and continued to ski until lunch when we headed back to the chalet. I took the rest of the afternoon off, the blow to the head had rattled me a bit. Thank god for the helmet otherwise who knows how bad it might have been!

Day 2 was another interesting one. We headed over towards Tignes where the weather had drawn in. At the tops the temperatures had plummeted and visibility had decreased massively. It got so cold that my beard froze solid and even in a mix of ski and mountaineering gear I was starting to chill (and I am lucky that I don’t normally get that cold). Even the hair up my nose froze in the temperatures of about -20C (with wind chill), this had never happened to me before even in Scottish winters and it was an odd experience!

We did a Blue run in this terrible weather but being unable to distinguish the ground from the air and the blowing snow we stopped early for a break at one of the cafe’s where I called it a day. My skills just weren’t up to this and so I got down in the quickest, safest way I could (another blue to Tignes itself)

Day 3 and 4 the sun came out to play and the mountains were stunning! I kept mainly to the green runs, trying to improve my skills. It wasn’t helping much but I blame the skis, however being in the big snow covered mountains who could want more!

By day 4 my eye was recovering so I could see the full beauty of the place, I may not be a skier but man its a pretty place to spend your time!

After skiing for 6hrs on the 4th day we headed into town and picked up a hire car before heading to Grenoble Airport and an uneventful flight back.

Anyway that’s enough of my waffle, if you have managed to make it this far then…. well go have your own adventure!