This year the COPSE skiers chose a RocketSki trip to Serre Chevalier, a valley of inter-connected ski villages in the southern French alps about 90 miles north of the Med. We were based at the Hotel Olympic in Chantemerle (1200m above sea level).

We arrived on Saturday 28 January after a flight and bus journey via Turin. The hotel provided a set evening meal and buffet breakfast and provided the ski equipment and lift passes so we got everything sorted out in the evening after arrival.

In the mornings we had our breakfast at 8 o’clock after the school parties had finished. These school parties made up most of the hotel’s occupants apart from us, as on previous RocketSki trips. We were usually out of the hotel by 9:30 am for the short walk to the gondola lift that took us up to Serre Ratier at 1905 metres. From here, there are chairlifts to take skiers to the higher points. The Ratier gondola opened at 9 am and was quite busy early in the morning. It closed in the afternoon at 5:10 pm .

The first day some of us skied via Col du Propel 2404m to the main town Briançon 1326m on the far east of the Serre Chevalier ski domain, and lunched al fresco in the town.  It was sunny and mild but on the runs the compacted snow was still in good nick. More skiing after lunch and we were all taking it easy, Tim especially due to pre-emptive bruising, I as a pain avoidance strategy and Andrew because he’s cool. Due to closure of a green (easy) run (aka piste) skiing to our hotel was only possible via the legend Luc Alphand black run, black representing the most difficult of the pistes due to a combination of (a). steepness (b). presence of moguls (aka bosses aka bumps) (c). need to manage numbers by scaring off the timid (d). lumpy ungroomed snow (e). combination (f). other. Luc Al-phand was a challenge for the first day, especially after a happy hour lager in the Café du Soleil at the top, but it turns out the run is black largely due to (a). so was straight forward but potentially very fast save for frequent zig-zag turns.
After another delicious dinner at the hotel, some chose a whistle-stop tour of the resort led by Tom; shopping mall, yellow posting box,
games arcade with real football kicking, restaurants and the Station with personal introductions to the manager Beau; impressive; then back to the hotel bar. Next day we blasted around a bit more, enjoying the “Boarder Cross” and “Funny Cross”, basically race tracks wide enough for two, at a squeeze three skiers/boarders, with banked curves and sequences of large sleeping policemen; with these particular ones it was possible to go flat-out without becoming air-borne, others while not quite as extreme as the competition courses can still be  scary.

Following our introduction to Beau at the Station it was rude not to go and say hello for après-ski, starting at about 5pm when the ski lifts stopped running. There was a band playing, fronted by the English bar owner, and were very entertaining with several pop standards with added bawdiness in the lyrics and an original shopping list put to music. The crowd loved it and the amateur table dancers ranged from pensioners to teeny boppers. Plus, there were free shots delivered like communion wine by a barman steeping across the table tops. For me, and possibly my roomies, one drawback with such early après ski is not being able to stay awake after dinner and then waking up very early the next morning.

We had the opportunity on Wednesday to go on an early morning trip with the ‘pisteurs’ before the lifts opened to the public. The pisteurs are the people who check all the runs every morning to make sure they are safe to open and again in the evening to check that no-one has been left on the slopes. They also do things like checking the avalanche risk and triggering small ones where necessary to prevent dangerous build ups of snow. Most of the group left the hotel early to meet at the Ratier gondola at 8:15 am. We were taken up to Serre Ratier in the gondolas then we went in the big cable car up to Serre Chevalier at 2491 metres. This cable car wasn’t in use for the public while we were there as it is only used in the busiest periods. At the top we had a short talk by the pisteur about their activities then we all skied down the blue runs back to Serre Ratier, stopping here and there for some more information from the pisteur. As we were the first people on the slopes that day the pistes were all perfectly groomed so we had optimum conditions for the run down. At Serre Ratier we visited the pisteurs’ base then we were all invited to coffee at the hotel. After this experience we continued with the day’s skiing activities. In the evening we went out to a restaurant for dinner as it was the day off for the hotel kitchen staff.

The lift pass included days out in nearby resorts, for Serre Chevalier this was les Deux Alpes 1300m (COPSE 2005), La Grave 1135mm (for off piste advanced experts) and Montgenèvre 1860m (COPSE 2014).  Most of the group  booked to go on a day trip to Montgenèvre on Thursday, driven by an English mini-bus driver – a frame builder and keen cyclist – who en route promoted the area for its summer activities. The weather wasn’t great – misty – but it was good to visit old haunts, including a mountain restaurant with a most delicious and welcome bowel of hot veg soup.

Once back in Serre Chevalier we headed off to the Station. There was a different band on, playing pop music some with traditional i.e. non-electric instruments, and a daring Russell Brand look alike lead singer balanced precariously between stools as he sang about seeing a red door and wanting to paint it black. After dinner there was a quiz in the bar at the hotel, and COPSE won! And came second. And came third. There were a couple of non-COPSE teams.

A lot of snow fell during Thursday night but the last skiing day had fantastic conditions of blue skies and fresh snow. I (Bob) went with Lisa, Deanne and Sui from the top of the Combes chairlift across to the Vallons chairlift that took us to Col de la Cucumelle at 2505 metres. The weather was a bit misty here so visibility wasn’t quite so good as before but it wasn’t too bad. Sometimes in cloudy weather you get a lack of contrast which makes the snow surface difficult to see properly. From here we went down a long red run and then down to Frejus where we had lunch. The red run was quite wide and the snow was good so it didn’t seem very difficult although I’ve only done a few shorter ones before. At Frejus, we met Andrew, Brian, Karen and Paul and after lunch we went up a very steep and bumpy draglift then down a blue run to the Cote Chevalier chairlift. It was getting very cold and windy now and one of the other lifts was closed due to strong winds. Our lift stopped a couple of times on the way up in the cold wind and at the top it felt like a blizzard was blowing with horizontal snow. We set off down as soon as possible after a short delay to decide which route to take. There were two alternatives but one was more out of the wind. After descending a little way the wind had dropped and we continued back down to the Ratier gondola. We saw other members of the group at Serre Ratier and here at the end of the trip Keith, William and Jenny joined the other intrepid skiers and descended to the village down the black run whereas I joined the less intrepid skiers on the gondola. However, I heard that one of our group was overtaken on the black run by a little kid. No doubt a future ski racer.

It was another night in the bar and the next day we had a very scenic journey through the mountains and past the Italian Milky Way ski area to Turin and then home.

Thanks to Tim for organising another enjoyable ski trip. He fortunately recovered enough from his bruised ribs in time to go on it himself.

Paul and Bob.