Saturday, March 10, 2012

Jack Solo

Today we left the pistes behind and went for a real ski. Jack wanted to spend time with his friends but no one else was up for skiing off piste - and that's the only real skiing there is. Val Thorens is not my usual haunt so the day would be somewhat exploratory. The area is wide open and so it's easy to see where there is potentially interesting and safe skiing.

Jack was on wider "rocker" skis for the day so it would take a run or two just to get used to them - but we went straight onto a steep face where his nerve was tested immediately. The snow was slightly wind packed higher up and with a hard irregular base beneath the fresh layer - so it was challenging to ski and quickly exposed the limits of jack's technique. Despite his best efforts Jack had not managed to change anything significant over the past few days and the demanding conditions made that clear.

After a couple of runs we went in for a drink. The problem with poor technique is that is creates a vicious circle of tension building up in the muscles so exhaustion can set in very quickly. Jack being a typical "weekend warrior" type of athlete also means that he is not nearly as fit as he thinks he is - so this all stacks up. During the break I used a couple of wooden sticks that act as coffee spoons to bend into the shape of a skier and show the correct "seated" stance required for efficient off piste skiing. This was the moment for Jack when "the penny dropped" and he could understand the issues that were locking out his legs and generating such great tension. The "seated" stance permits you to keep your skis below you on the mountain on steep pitches - permitting the pivot of the skis from the uphill edges plus greater control of speed, turn radius and vertical movement. All of this is achieved with flexed legs - at the hips and knees - so this then lends to easier selective muscle relaxation.

In the first part of the video clip Jack is standing with the upper body very upright and the legs relatively locked at the knees and hips. There is a lot of compensating going on in the form of damage control to try to deal with the consequences and he is forced to use a form of up-unweighting to try to be dynamic in the turns. In the second part of the clip he is managing to maintain a flexed stance, keeping the legs relaxed and the upper body able to reflexively re-position itself due to the hips being loose. Jack was managing to bring together all that he had been working on and snap out of the mould that he had previously been well and truly stuck in. The video here shows a lack of rhythm and fluidity as he is concentrating on technique - but just prior to this on steeper terrain with no camera present there was good fluidity.

We had to do a small amount of climbing towards the end of the day - after the lifts were closed - and this exposed Jack's true fitness level. He probably came close to a heart attack - which would have been slightly unfortunate so far away from help. The lesson here is clear - as you age you should do more exercise not less - and messing around in the gym is absolutely not good enough. I recommend Jack to read the following  post - YOUTH The creeping effect of substituting adventure with comforts is the main issue in "ageing" so we have to work against this trend actively to prevent it. It's an insidious effect - like getting fat - that you don't realise is happening until it's too late. Samuel Ulleman is correct that "youth" is a state of mind. I don't think Jack will have any difficulty in relating to this.

We found one excellent trail off-piste - over the back between Val Thorens and Les Menuires - ending up right between the two. Here the snow had settled in the valley without being packed by the wind. The opposite side of the valley was linked to a high altitude lift from Les Menuires and opened up a massive area of off-piste. If we had more time that would have been the primary area to explore with the current conditions. This area is relatively hidden because people coming over from Courchevel are not going to get that far across as it's on the opposite side of the valley and they have to think about lunch and getting the lifts back without being stranded.

My only gripe for Val Thorens is the stupid parking and hostile "service" in the restaurants. The French are surly and rude - driving business directly to Canada at a great pace. You are forced to park in a car park in Val Thorens - but when you arrive the first car park - several kilometres from the village - is not open until 8am and there is no frequent shuttle service. All the other car parks are paying and you cannot enter them without having purchased a ticket in advance. The only parking area where you can buy a ticket before 8am is P0 which is at the very top of the village and around a large loop of road - having driven past all of the other parking areas. When I arrived there yesterday they had no places and suggested an open air parking that had it's own ticket machine. I went to that machine but it would only sell tickets for 4 hours maximum - completely stupid!  I had to return to P0 and buy a pass for P2 which did have places. Meantime the attendant said that I should have booked in advance - ignorant of the fact that internet bookings are not permitted at less than one week in advance. When I arrived at P2 - despite having paid for covered parking  there was only space outside and no refund on the price. This left me with a 20 minute walk up to the town centre in my ski boots and carrying skis. Other people were hitching lifts from passing cars trying to get back from the car park. I didn't see a single shuttle bus during my walk and it was now after 8am. In the evening I picked up a worker hitching to get home to Les Menuires. He told me that one night he had finished work at 3am and had to walk for over 3 hours back home in the snow - arriving home at dawn. Ever wonder why people prefer Whistler? 

No comments:

Post a Comment