The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Beech Mountain Won't Seem Quite The Same

Here in Lyon, everyone skis. Wouldn't you? I imagine Denver is much the same. Every day during the season--and the season can last into May and even June here--charter buses pull out of Place Bellecour at 0-dark-thirty in the morning and fan out to the ski resorts that are within two hours' drive. Through a tour company called Skimania, you can get round-trip bus transport plus lift ticket plus a box breakfast for under 40 eurobucks...and hell, you can't even drive to a resort for under EUR40 in gas and tolls, so that's a deal right there.

[You might want to click on these photos to enlarge them...kinda hard to see much except a big white blur otherwise.]

So I booked myself a trip to Alpe d'Huez [photo: rebel base on ice planet Hoth], picking that one mostly at random but also because Alpe d'Huez is the (in)famous finish of a mountain stage of the Tour de France. I schlepped myself down in front of the Poste early in the morning, found the Alpe d'Huez bus among the others, settled into a seat and passed out. When I awoke, the bus was creeping up the 21 switchbacks on the vertiginous road leading from the Isere valley up to the ski station--each hairpin turn bears the name of a previous TdF stage winner, and here and there are monuments to riders who died in the effort. [photo: heavy traffic on the Le Couloir run]

Turns out that Alpe d'Huez is a big resort, not so much in terms of a large town, but in terms of the sheer size of the skiable terrain. The vertical drop is over three times of any resort in the Southeast, and significantly greater than even the big Western resorts; there's one run that is ten miles long. [photo: looking down from the lift station halfway up the mountain]

A lot of that's over my head, though, so I stuck to the intermediate runs. Even those were quite long at times, and when I got to the bottom of the hill I'd be completely gassed, my legs jackhammering from riding out the moguls, and I'd have to catch my breath over a pint on a sunny terrace. All in all a good day skiing, though I did find out where the limits of my ability were on some of the steeper red slopes. The best part was that at day's end I could just collapse into a bus seat and zone out, sorta-watching Meet the Fockers in French on the bus' overhead video system. [photo: looking back up the hill. That peak in the background's the top, but I didn't go up there...no way down without miles of black runs]

I looked for some sort of braoder statement or conclusion to draw here about French life, but I couldn't come up with one. Skiing is fun. France has good mountains. I took some pictures. Fin.

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